Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chicago - superlatives of the Windy City

This recent StyleForum thread on Chicago v. NY led to a rather wide-ranging discussion on the self-satisfaction of San Franciscans and New Yorkers, the lack of "style" among Chicagoans and other comparisons. My post on the superlatives of Chicago apparently piqued the ire of others. It is remarkable how individuals are not truly individuals at a basic level - their affiliations and loyalty drive them to a large degree to do and say some rather silly things.

Here's an excerpt from my original post:

...detractors and killjoys dismiss Chicago as the "Second City" but others, including myself, regard it as the quintessential American city for its geographical setting (situated between the Great Lakes and the prairie) and the pivotal role it has played in industry (e.g. retail, meatpacking, transportation), culture (jazz & blues), architecture and ideas (think Chicago School of economics).

Here's a brief list of where Chicago comes out on top in my book, an obviously subjective list for the most part:

(1) Best RTW/MTM suit made in America - Oxxford Clothes, based in the West Loop of Chicago
(2) Best restaurant in America - Charlie Trotter's
(3) Best symphony in America - Chicago Symphony (with strenuous objections from Boston, NY Phil, Philadelphia, Cleveland Orch duly noted)
(4) Most intellectual student body and campus in America - University of Chicago
(5) Best hot dog in America - Chicago style (w/sliced pickle, onions, peppers)

Item number 4 on my list ruffled quite a few feathers. Suffice it to say that in higher education one ought to distinguish between perceived brand and intellectual productivity. As this opinion piece on the most famous university in America amusingly illustrates, substance is often overshadowed by brand.

The same principle applies to clothing - beware of brand, but be aware of substance (e.g. quality). Caveat emptor.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tips for successful blogging: My 5 P's

As promised in an earlier post on blogging, I've compiled a list of tips and pointers to help get your thought process started. Perhaps you've thought about starting your own blog. If you're interested in making an impact, let me suggest that you need the following ingredients:

Great things start from interests, ideas, places, professions, books, music, even clothes - anything - that you are genuinely interested in developing, exploring and sharing.

For the blogger who wants to make an impact, know why you are blogging. Think of it as a "mission statement" for your blog. The content will follow.

Point of View
Give your conversations a distinct personality and face. Think of the magazines Giant Robot or Wallpaper, the grassroots Democrat Howard Dean or the Mayor-elect of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa - each projects a distinctive voice that plants a memorable impression in the viewer, voter or reader.

Parlay - "To increase or otherwise transform into something of much greater value" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). Fashion something unique, timely or entertaining that gives you extra pull and currency for your audience.

Remember that every blog has the potential to become a chat, a personal conversation with someone who might be a great contact for you or your business.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two works of lyrical modernity

This evening I attended a concert at Walt Disney Hall featuring LA Philharmonic players performing the String Quartets Nos. 10-12 by Shostakovich. The program notes describe these pieces as works of "philosophical lyricism". I agree completely. These quartets combine a remarkably vibrant lyricism shot through with a sense of fracture and alienation that is quintessentially modernist in spirit. Quartet No. 10 was written in 1964 - just 40 years ago.

When I sat down in my seat I noticed an older man sitting two seats to my right in the row in front of me. He looked rather familiar and as I overheard bits and pieces of his conversation I suddenly realized that he was Frank Gehry, the architect who designed Walt Disney Hall. I'm not one to eavesdrop on other conversations but I couldn't resist catching the little stories he was telling to the other couple in his party - such as being brought to tears on first hearing the wonderful acoustics in Disney Hall and the rather long struggle to bring the building to fruition.

When we broke into intermission, the woman next to me leaned over to Mr. Gehry and said something - presumably a compliment of some sorts. I leaned over as well and congratulated him creating such a beautiful concert hall. Like the Shostakovich quartets, Disney Hall is marvelously "lyrical" but in an unconventional sense.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The human resources gap in men's tailoring

There are two gaps actually: generational and geographical.

The first gap is generational because the tailoring tradition has remained largely with the older generation as jobs and skills have migrated to "softer" more cognitive skills. Tailors are getting older and their replacements are virtually nowhere to be found.

The second issue - the importing of foreign skilled labor - is a logical byproduct of the generational gap. The US has long relied on importing tailors from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Southeast Asia. However, as these countries continue to develop economically and experience higher living standards, the incentive to live in the US has declined and the supply of foreign workers appears to have dwindled. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, John Daniel, a cut-make-trim factory based in Tennessee, has gone as far as actively recruiting Turkish tailors and assisting in their emigration to the US.

This seems to be the only real solution for higher end, tailored clothing manufacturers in the US. Tailoring is an artisanal process based on tacit knowledge and practitioner-based experience acquired over time. The best tailors today seem to have worked with the best tailors of a previous generation. And so on. Once this "path dependency" is broken, the industry itself may founder.

On a related note, I came across this interesting discussion thread on tailors in Southeast Asia. AskAndy member Matt discovered a Vietnamese tailor Chuong, a 30-something fellow who directly chalks on the fabric - a technique called "rock of eye" requiring great skill and confidence as a tailor.

This interesting find is suggestive. The key to overcoming the human resources tailoring gap in the US and other advanced economies may be found in identifying a fresh source of semi-skilled and motivated apprentices in Asia, Turkey and elsewhere. This shouldn't be confused with outsourcing, rather it is to ensure skilled tailoring is a domestically sustainable artisanal industry.