Can Brick & Mortar Fashion Retail Resurrect Itself? A #Video Conversation with #experientailretail — Le Board — Answers the Question

Hello readers!  Apologies for being so out of touch. I’ve been caught up experiencing some great beauty and fashion experiences that I will THEN write about.  And… I’m writing a book!  Yep. In fact, I will be surfacing some of my book via Beautyskew over the next months to get your take on it.  

But now let’s go back to the topic at hand.

Henri Bendel, a fashion institution for close to 125 years, is shutting it’s doors.  It joins a long list of retailers.  Living in Manhattan I see the demise of retail, especially fashion retail, all around me as almost every block near my neighborhood displays at least one for rent sign.

The struggles retail are experiencing are not new.  Thanks to online shopping, retail, especially fashion retail, it is in bad shape.  I’m as much to blame as the rest of us.  I really hate clothing shopping.  I hate the process of going to a store, then trying to find something, ANYTHING, that fits my body and the look I’m going after.  I hate waiting on lines, I hate poor sales help and I hate the atmosphere of being surrounded by loads of clothes that squeeze me.  So I stopped shopping.  I hired an amazing stylist and we shop online and occasionally run into a store and where she finds me everything.

But I’ve always been a believer in the role of a great fashion shopping experience.  I just think most brick and mortar retailers haven’t cracked it. With perhaps a few exceptions out there, most clothing stores see the retail space as a depot to unload their inventory.   Yet, physical spaces can offer SO much more, especially more than online experiences.  They can offer a sense of adventure, customization, emotion and true style.  They we can be meeting grounds and places to experience new sensations.  Sure, physical spaces allow us to literally try on the styles.  But it’s more than that.  It’s only in a physical environment can you feel, smell and examine the the stitching, fabrics and textures.   In this era of  online-everything, we crave the physical — maybe even more so.  We’re still human, and it’s a fundamental need to want to connect with the physical spaces a places around us.  In anthropology this need is called “place making.”

And it’s only in a physical environment that we can connect with human beings in a nuanced, deeply emotional way.  These humans can be expert stylists who seek to truly understand our  bodies; our needs and our aspirations or other like-minded people who want to share — whether that’s their excitement around fashion or feelings about other issues.  There’s no surprise there is still love for the open bazaar or souk or shuk.  These are places where shoppers shop, yes, but more than that they come together to share in a cultural experience. (I happened to have written my senior Anthropology thesis on the topic so I’m very close to it.)

Good news, I think I found such a retail space that gets it: Le Board.  Conceived and developed by Creative Director, Sofia Karvela (who also happens to be my stylist — lucky me!) and CEO, John Aghayan,  Le Board is a retail experience that merges fashion with entertainment and, ironically, leverages the medium of immersive technology and human interaction.  It can host events like trunk shows, offer immersive tech experiences like holograms and VR “Behind-the-scenes,” and share the talent of thought leaders via panel talks, and art shows.   Another bonus?  Opening end of September, the store promotes brands of women-led businesses.

Beyond the many different aspects of Le Board, is the the feeling the experience evokes.   The ultimate mission of Le Board, Karvela explains, is to provide a place where “women could feel a part of something a little bigger…we created this space so we could bring women together to feel inspired…Women with goals…to give them hope to believe that whatever they want to do can happen. We use fashion as a great to avenue to bring these women together to create a look for themselves to inspire to go out there and do great, big things.”

Let’s hear it directly from Karvela in the interview I conducted at the shop a week ago.  (By the way, I’m wearing a latex dress which was related to the event which Le Board hosted, Social China…You can hear it in the background :)) Click image below for interview.

For more information visit: weareleboard.com

Finally Going East: Creating Ties Through Beauty and Culture

As I hinted in my last post, there were some changes going on with my website which was why I’ve been a bit delinquent about my posts.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I’m officially a member X UNIPX INFLUENCE Program!  In other words, I’m now acting as an influencer in the Chinese market leveraging UNIPX media platforms which focus on pop culture, lifestyle, media and entertainment.  Here is a recent article my friends at UNIPX published that effectively introduces me to the market as a strategist and lover of all things beauty (It’s super easy to translate into English :)).

While I’m going to represent one of many different points of view from the U.S. market, I realize I need to wrap my head around views of beauty in Chinese culture too.  As you can imagine this can be a life long pursuit, but even just peering in to this new world could be give some insight.

So the first thing I did was look into my past research.  To explain to my colleagues and clients how views of beauty differ across cultures, I compared how Americans vs French, Russian and Chinese natives interpret beauty.   Initially I jumped into social media and published research.  While it’s a few years old (I’m looking forward in my new role to motivate me to do update this), and I’ve had to generalize a bit, I believe some of these themes stand the test of time.   What intrigued me the most, and it surfaces in the article written about me linked above, is the true duality of inner and outer beauty in China.  While concepts of inner beauty are in “vogue” in Western culture, when we talk about beauty, let’s face it, we are really referring to our outer appearances.  From an outer beauty perspective, the Chinese tend to view a healthy body and skin, as well as white skin, and an sense of approachability as attractive.

As a woman wrote in social media (translated into English): “Actually health is beauty.  It’s better to get up early, do some exercise everyday and focus on the balance of whole body.”

At the same time, Chinese culture deems traits like confidence, intelligence and honorability as beautiful.  As another stated:

“Out long tradition emphasizes more the inner beauty of a woman.  Beauty is not only your appearance but also your charm, characteristics and nobility…..”

Of course this is only scratching the surface. But imagine if we started thinking about or appreciating beauty this way. I’m not saying that all the Chinese notions of beauty will be right for us here. In fact, maybe by sharing some of our more enlightened notions of beauty with them we can all grow. I’m looking forward to learning more about these differences, experiencing and adopting some of them myself.

Speaking of experiencing them, I tried to do just that.  While I couldn’t take the next flight to Beijing, I did the best I could and headed down to NYC’s famous Chinatown to explore the beauty world.  I went shopping with my friend, Kristi, at the neighborhood beauty shops, and indulged in some beauty treatments a few weeks later.  Not surprisingly, the shops offered way more beauty products from Korea and Japan than from China.   But that didn’t stop us from partaking. 🙂

In terms of beauty treatments, I went on a lark to a place that had a website offering manicure and blow outs on Canal St.  The manicure didn’t seem any different than one I would get at a typical salon uptown.  But the hair experience certainly was.   (Let me caveat by saying this is certainly not a comparison of all Chinatown salons since I only went to one. )  The first thing that happened was I was asked to sit on one the of the blow out chairs while a woman covered my collar in plastic.  She then gave me a 5 minute shoulder massage — which was awesome.  Here is where it gets really interesting: while I’m sitting there, she takes the shampoo, pours it on my head while another woman squeezes water out from a plastic bottle to be mixed with the shampoo.  The first woman washes and massages my scalp for another 5 minutes as I’m sitting right next to a gentleman getting his hair cut.  So I’m thinking, do they not have sinks?  What’s the deal?  They do! I know because after the 5 minute wet hair massage I’m led to the sinks where my hair is rinsed and rewashed and then conditioned.  Clearly a healthy, clean scalp and head of hair is a MUST!

Another interesting difference between “western” blowouts and and the ones I experienced myself or saw on others in the salon, is emphasis on smooth and straight (vs full volume).  I was not surprised at this look given the high preponderance of Japanese straightening products that have made their way around the globe, and especially in Asia.  Given the humidity and my general lifestyle the look lasted a day or so but experience was a blast.

No doubt beauty is more than skin deep.  But I’m not referring just to inner beauty.  Rather I speaking about how much beauty is a product and reflection of culture.  While there may universal truths about physical symmetry and health as markers of beauty, it’s so evident how our rituals around, beliefs of and issues with beauty tells us a world of information regarding our values, social politics, environment and the list goes.  This is one of the key goals of Beautyskew: to shed light on culture through the lens of beauty. More than that, as evidence of my new relationship with UNIPX media, beauty can be a vehicle to connect with and learn from others, even those from a totally different world.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this great new relationship, sharing what I know and learning from others too, maybe just maybe, helping to build some amazing bridges.

To get a taste of some of the Chinese-American beauty influencers on U.S. soil, check out Soothingsista and Francis Lola.

A Call for Eroticism

In this week’s edition of The New Yorker, I came across a quick story by Peter Schjeldahl, “The Roaring Stetties,”  about the artist Florine Stettheimer.  In anticipation of The Jewish Museum’s retrospective of her work, the story gives us a taste of this New York-based artist living during the end of 19th century and first half of the 20th .  Based on the story, Stettheimer seemed fascinating, bold and talented.  In 1915, Stettheimer painted the first full-length nude self-portrait by a woman.  No coincidence the image accompanying the article was a copy of this very painting.  It’s quite beautiful, tasteful and arresting.  Never would I hesitate to share this story and the image with my children.  In fact, I would be proud too!

But why is a painting of a nude woman any different than other images of naked woman we witness all too often in today’s culture on the internet?  Would I want to show these other images to my children?  My initial response is “no!”  But why? My question reminds me of a post a wrote a number of years back about the difference between erotic art and pornography.  Below is piece from that post:

What explains why pornography is considered base while erotic art is deemed beautiful? In both cases we lay our eyes upon the beautiful (or sometimes not so beautiful) human form.  According to Robert Scruton in Beauty, pornography objectifies the body whereas erotic art represents the embodied person — soul, personality, character….

What struck me about the argument is Scruton’s own words: “My body is not an object but a subject, just as I am…I am inextricably mingled with it, and what is done to my body is done to me.”

His thinking has implications way beyond pornography for me.  Essentially he’s elevating the role of our bodies.  They aren’t just flesh and bone, they are inseparable from ourselves, from our essences.

Keeping our kids shielded from pornography makes absolute sense.  Pornography demeans us and distances ourselves from our bodies.  And the reverse should be true as well.  We should not only deem erotic art differently from pornography, but actually encourage our kids to view it.  They will get a taste of talent and challenge themselves to understand the art in the context of its time.  But perhaps more importantly, they will hopefully embrace the human form and see it as something beautiful not some distant “piece” of who we are, or even worse, a source of shame.  Instead they will see it as inherently part of us, and as such, will  respect it, treat it well and love it that much more.  In a time and culture where we have so many conflicting feelings about our physical selves, let’s at least give our kids a sense of our bodies as sacred and worthy of self-care.  I truly believe such a stance towards our physical selves will make us healthier, happier and more respectful of others’ physicality as well.  Imagine that: we will not only be more loving and protective of our own bodies, but more accepting, caring and cherishing of others’ bodies too.  Could this help to stop body shaming and actual physical harming others?  Maybe.  I hope so.

I would love your reactions to this and I’m looking forward to the exhibit and may even some of you all there :).

 

Election Protests & Reacting With Grace and Style : Lessons Learned From NYTimes’s Bill Cunningham

how-to-be-a-more-impressive-person

I had one of my usual circuitous, yet brilliant, conversations with someone from my team this week.  You know those dialogues that starts going in varied directions but then comes full circle as we start to see how these different directions connect?  I love those!  During this particular discussion, we touched on a range of subjects — from human insights, to NYC traffic, to learnings from the recent election.  We also somehow got to the topic of the late and much-missed Bill Cunningham of the New York Times.  For those of you unfamiliar with him, he gifted us with wonderful images and videos of the people of NYC.  When we got to the topic of Bill, we must have spent 20 minutes just gushing over how great he was — all his great work, his sense of curiosity, and his humble but so-uplifting attitude.  Even his intro music to his videos makes me smile wide!

Ah, Bill.

Despite Bill’s simple, unpretentious personal style (he rode an old-school bicycle everywhere, wore something akin to my father’s ordered-from-Sears office uniform everyday, and never tried to hide his Boston accent), he had a deep but fun appreciation for others’ sense of it.  You could feel his energy and absolute love for people.  The streets were his playground and canvass.  The people of New York were his subjects, the camera his tools, and his columns and quirky, lovable slide shows were his masterpieces.  People loved getting photographed by him — you can see it in all of their broad smiles — and fashion designers looked to his work for a sense of current looks.  Essentially, he peered into the mini-world of street style and elevated it for us.  Bill gave the people of NYC an extra dose of dignity.  He shared the amazingness of people’s everyday behaviors.  And he saw style as a way for people to express themselves.  Bill would say things like: “Everyone can put fashion down and that it doesn’t mean a thing.  But it does!  Because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits!”

You can imagine why Bill’s work should be celebrated in this blog.  We are all about embracing beauty.  But I’m celebrating him for whole other reason.  And it’s this reason that he randomly made an appearance in work conversation about the election and human insights.  (Note: our brains don’t just leap to random thoughts for no reason.  We may not consciously realize the connection at first, but our brains do!)  Bill surfaced because he represents EXACTLY what we all need to do post election: be humble, observant, celebratory of others’ cultures.  While he was not a fashionista himself, he could see and, more importantly, appreciate, the beauty of others.  While he didn’t put a lot of creative effort in his own wardrobe, he took such pleasure in others who did.  He recognized the small but brilliant behaviors we express to give our selves happiness, meaning and fulfillment.  And we ALL do this in different ways.  We just need to start appreciating both ourselves and others for it.

So what does this all mean, really?  What is Bill actually teaching us …especially with regard to the election results?

I think it’s something like this: no one is totally stupid, wrong or misguided for living the way they do or thinking the way they do.  We have to stop looking inwardly and crying in our soup.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest changes in government that we don’t agree with, like Trump’s pick today of Exxon CEO as new Secretary of State.  What I am saying that we have start looking outwardly with a keen eye and respectful, considered mindset.  We need to be more observant and try to understand and appreciate the brilliant behaviors that we so often overlook in others.  We don’t do things for no reason — whether its wearing chevron stripes or voting for Trump.  We have to give others the respect Bill gave every person on the street, i.e., observe, dig deep, learn and understand, and even appreciate others.  And by doing so we not only grow but we also give others a sense of dignity.

Oh another thing we learned? We can’t forget to have a bit more fun with what we and others wear too, of course! 🙂

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women's Independence?

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.48.35 AM
Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.
In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.
To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.
The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).
While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.
Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women’s Independence?

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.48.35 AM

Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.

In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.

To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.

The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).

While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.

Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Weekend Observations: Is Graffiti Art Worth It?

5Pointz
As I was getting a few minutes of “elliptical time” this weekend, I watched NY1 — the only channel my apartment gym gets these days.  Because NY1 only broadcasts the latest news around NYC, you end up seeing the same scenes and bite-sized stories about seven times over the course of a workout.
This weekend, one scene caught my attention.  Graffiti artists in Long Island City were pushing to have “5 Pointz” turned into a historical landmark.  Why now?  The City is looking to demolish it and build two residential towers in its place.  By turning 5 Pointz into a landmark, the graffiti mecca is saved
As a New Yorker, I totally sympathize with need to create more housing.  Apartments are in high demand and extremely expensive.  The more we can build, the better for everyone.
But in this case, I share the passion for the 5 Pointz protestors.  This site doesn’t represent just another mural on a side street.  It’s a museum of graffiti from a whole slew of international artists.
If you’ve read many of our past posts, you know that I’m a huge proponent of beautifying our cities.  But is beauty more important than housing?  Maybe.  While housing does shelter a large number of people, beauty enhances everyone who sees it.  And that enhancement can lead to happiness, inspiration and hope.
So, is graffiti art worth a protest, even the cessation of important construction?  Yes.
 

Weekend Observations: Why Street Art Matters

Hudson River Boardwalk Sculpture
Hudson River Boardwalk Sculpture

As Mayor Bloomberg begins to end his reign as leader of this great city, everyone has been talking about the gifts and the messes that we, New Yorkers, are left with as a result of his mayorship.  Since I’m not a major follower of politics, I can’t really participate in these discussions.  But one thing I do know is that he has left the city much more beautiful than when he received it.  From the High Line to the Hudson River boardwalk to the sculptures that have popped up over the decade, there’s no question that the city has become a more colorful, and lovely place.
Beyond the great view, though, this legacy of his has resulted in profound benefit to our society.  To see beauty around us not only brightens our day but, more importantly it inspires us.  For my children to see beauty around them gets them thinking, imagining, and, ultimately, believing that they too can make something beautiful.  And this is especially true for many of our underprivileged neighbors in NYC.  My children have been born into privilege.  And this means that they take for granted that no matter what they want to pursue, they will get the emotional and financial resources to make it happen.  But for children who don’t necessarily have the backing of their family or school, seeing solid examples of beauty can both inspire and remind them that they too may be able to make their creative dreams come true.
I’m not naive enough to believe that kids with fewer resources will have it easy.  In fact, as this beautiful and heartbreaking Guardian article by Chris Arnade shows, so many creative poor children give up.  But being exposed to beauty, at the very least, sparks their imagination and gives them the hope that maybe, just maybe they can turn their ideas into reality.

Pic of the Week: The Beauty of Raw Advertising

IMG_20131014_171553I’m walking to work yesterday and looked up to see this raw, simple ad for yoga.  I just love how it fits right into the landscape.  It is not only simple, and straightforward, like the buildings that surround it, but this ad communicates a quiet confidence that represents all of Chelsea, NYC.  The net result? Striking.