Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weekly "Shopping" Trip

For some reason I feel compelled to pull a hat trick and go on a blogging bonanza today so here's the third one in less than 24 hours.  It's more for me to record my thoughts so I don't forget things but hopefully, other people enjoy hearing about what's going on in my world too...

So every Thursday, I have three hours sectioned off in my calendar to shop without buying anything.  Definitely something I'd recommend anyone serious about being in the business consider doing in a structured way.  You'll learn a lot when you go shopping with the intention of learning as opposed to finding something to buy.  I went over to Bloomingdale's and found some wicked clothes.  It's a totally different thing to experience clothing in person as opposed to pixels on a screen or ink on a page.  Here are some of my favorites:

Suit by Aquascutum

Jacket by Moncler

P.S. How much better is THIS Moncler jacket than this... thing... that showed up on their AW09 runway show?  Reminds me of a queen bee or something haha

Alan Chan of Arbitrage

Just wrapped up our meeting for the Menswear Club.  I'm VERY happy with how it went.  Everything came together very well.  No projector problems, no one was late really, it lasted long enough to have substance but not so long as to drag on...  Among several things we went over with our members, I think the most valuable was having Alan Chan, the CEO of Arbitrage Clothing, come and share his thoughts and experiences.

I met Alan and his assistant Rory outside FIT and took them up to our studio.  At first, I thought Alan was wearing the same shirt I tried on when I first met him in their office around Grand Central last month.  After a little while though, I realized it was just the same purple plaid fabric that was used as an accent on a different shirt.  Still looked dope!  Here's the pattern I'm talking about:

He talked about how they got started and what kind of brand they have built.  Their core demographic is roughly aged 25-40, a working professional (NO TRUST FUND BABIES! haha jk... I'm sure he'd still take their business) and making $75,000+ a year.  Shirts retail for $100-$150, but he was nice enough to offer our program 40% off.

One thing that stuck out was him commenting on being worried about people stealing your designs.  His advice: if you have a great product, it'll be knocked off, as their hooded dress shirt has been.  See...  You have to just be more creative, stronger and run a better company.  Also, as a young designer, don't be afraid to seek feedback from people to see if they think it's a viable garment and something they could see themselves buying.

I feel like a lot of people got value out of it.  One of my classmates, Luis, has a family business in South America that manufactures suits and he and Alan were talking and exchanged info after the meeting.  Hopefully, they'll be able to give each other business.

If you want to check out some of their pieces, head over to  I've tried on a few of their shirts and I really like them.  Great fabric, nice fit and really cool details only the person wearing it would notice like the American cuff.

Kenneth Cole

Wednesday night, Kenneth Cole came to FIT to talk and answer questions.  I had to be pretty persistent to get in because I wasn't in the School of Merchandising but I still managed to get a third row seat on the aisle, front and center!  I really like him, the way he runs his company and his story.  The official name of the company is Kenneth Cole Productions.  Here's the story from NY Magazine:

Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. was born in 1982, when Kenneth Cole went broke. The designer had spent all his money making shoes in Europe, but when he came back to his native New York, he had no place to sell them—and no money to open a store. Enlisting the help of a friend with a giant truck, Cole nabbed permission to park it in midtown and sell shoes by applying for a film permit (hence the "Productions"); the fictitious film had the audacious title “The Birth of a Shoe Company.” The stunt helped sell 40,000 shoes in two days, and created a company, a legend, and an empire. 

He elaborated about it and said he wanted to present his shoe collection in a 40-foot semi trailer in NYC during a prominent event, which he couldn't afford to buy space at.  So he calls the mayor and speaks to his secretary about how he can do this.  She kindly informs him he can't, and they only grant permission to utility and movie production companies.  Next day, he changes the name of his company from Kenneth Cole to Kenneth Cole Productions, applied for the permit, and three weeks later, it was granted.  I fuckin' LOVE the "don't-try-and-tell-me-no-for-an-answer" attitude.  He was 28 when he founded his company and I really respect that he earned every dime he has and didn't shoot to stardom just because of favoritism among fashion elite.

I took a bunch of notes, and here are some of the best nuggets of wisdom I got:
  • It's easier to get credit from a company/bank that NEEDS business than one that doesn't.
  • I don't get much sleep but when I'm home, I just take drugs (kidding... maybe hahaha)
  • The best solution is never the most expensive and almost always the most creative.
  • "Look-good" industries are not doing well right now but "feel-good" industries are.  They've recently created a new collection of shoes he's calling the most comfortable, stylish shoe ever. Guaranteed.  And they're selling out like crazy (though he's playing the scarcity game with making them available).
  • Always provide value.  People don't need more clothes, and it's an honor for them to select yours to include in their wardrobe.
  • In good times, no one wants to hear creative alternatives, they just want to recreate what's working.  The world has never been more receptive to new ideas than at this moment.
  • Sustainability and being concerned with the environment is good but don't hold your banner too high because it's a hard thing to do. Also, there are higher priority issues that effect us NOW.
  • There is a more profound opportunity for meaningful social and sustainable change now than there has been in his lifetime, and there's no reason it can't be lucrative.
For the Q&A afterwards, I asked "What are some of your biggest failures, successes and epiphanies related to menswear and how men shop and behave?"

He said that guys are different from women... as he was entering the business in the early 80s, men had the same types of outfits and differentiated themselves from one another by what they did and how much beer they could drink.  Casual Fridays made formal and casual wear both wrong in a lot of situations.  His company filled the niche of cool clothing that was still casual that was lacking at the time. Sometimes though, you can overestimate men's willingness to embrace individuality.

It was a true but still lukewarm answer and he didn't really address what I wanted him to so I talked to him afterwards and he still couldn't think of any big, specific failures related to my question.  I got the feeling that my communication skills were sub-par in what I was trying to get out of him or he was being tight lipped and didn't want to give too much away.  I don't know...  Right when he was finished speaking, it looked like the Jonas Brothers walked into a high school cafeteria or something because he got swarmed with young girls (FIT is like 80% female after all) and there were flashbulbs going off like crazy.  I ribbed him about it when I went to talk to him.  I waited to be last.  Either way, it was a great event that I really enjoyed and got a lot of value from.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three versions of the same drawing

So I just finished an illustration assignment I'm pretty happy with...  All were pretty fun, but I enjoyed the first one the most.  It came out the nicest and can you guess how it was done?  No?  Okay... I'll tell you.  By fingerpainting!  Swear to god.  #1 looks too much like a drag queen for my comfort, but I think it's just the cherry red lips.  #2 pops out from the background awesomely.  #3 looks very well rendered and it amuses me to no end that I did it with nothing but my bare hands and made the background by wiping off the paint when I was done with a color!

In short, the first one is aight, the second one excites and the third one is tiiiight.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Post from The Sartorialist

"Style is a direct expression of your ideals.  It communicates to the world the character and personality traits you value and wish to attain."

Yes, and here is an excellent example from The Sartorialist.  Style is how you conduct your life.  Clothing is just a part of it, but is usually a manifestation of what's going on inside someone.  From the body language to the tie bar to the warm smile on the guy's face, he looks like someone who loves life and is full of joy.

On the Street....The Driver, San Francisco

One of my favorite encounters on this book tour was my driver in San Francisco.

As you can see he was very elegant and practically oozed self-confidence, dignity and pride in his work.

I love people who show pride in their work, regardless of the job.

This man's car was spotless, his shoes were shined and he knew exactly where he was going. He wasn't dressed like that for me, he had no idea who I was, this was just another day and just another ride done in his own stylish way.

I've said this so many times before, and recently in the intro of my book. Even though this blog is about fashion I don't really think about fashion when I look at this photo. I think about how he is communicating his sense of pride and self-worth; not by how expensive his clothes are but by how he wears his clothes, his posture and his politeness. This man is pure style.

Thoughts on Matthew Fenton's "You're Not a Brand"

I recently read an article related to "personal branding" from Matthew Fenton of Three Deuce Branding in my hometown of Cincinnati. After reading a lot of his other writings, I can see we agree on a lot. However, this article I contend with...

MAY 29, 2009

You're Not a Brand

You're not a brand.

Can we agree on that? It's not a bad thing, and it's not personal. I'm not a brand either.

There's a lot of fuss these days about "personal branding." And though I make my living as a brand consultant, I can sum up my feelings about personal branding in two words: "Mostly bunk." Some of it is tried-and-true concepts with a lazy new label. Some of it is authors trying to sell books. Most of it is flat-out misguided.

Allow me to present five arguments against the notion of personal branding:

The (mis)understanding argument. Branding is frequently misunderstood, so it follows that personal branding would fare no better. Too many people still think branding is only about what you say, not what you do - that it's only about external appearances, not internal truths. According to this definition, if your house has a crumbling foundation, your best move is to paint it.

This point of view results in exactly the wrong branding – and personal branding – techniques. And the people who apply them will tend to become self-promotional drones, more concerned about how they seem to others than who they really are.

The utilitarian argument. Would the world be a better place if we all thought of ourselves as brands and acted accordingly? I meaneveryone. You. Your spouse. Stan from the accounting department. Every single person at every single networking event. Your 13-year-old.

Play that one out in your head. I don't believe that perceiving oneself as a brand – as opposed to, for instance, a person – represents an advance for humanity.

The hierarchy argument. Branding is a subset of life, not the other way around. Put another way, brands can learn more from people than people can learn from brands.

When my clients face a difficult brand decision, I often recommend that one way to solve it is to refer to the rules of good living. However, at no point in my life, when faced with a difficult personal decision, have I asked myself, "What would Target do?" And I loveTarget.

The relationship argument. Brands arose from transactional relationships. Sure, some brands transcend this construct. But that doesn't change the fundamentals. Brands are signifiers within the sphere of commerce. You select and pay for the name you trust, and you expect to get something of equal or greater value in return.

Personal relationships are far richer and more complex, and are based on different motivations. To reduce them to the purely transactional would, at best, reflect a very cynical worldview.

The reality argument. My friend Tricia is funny. I don't think she has a funny brand. And I don't think she's trying to brand herself as funny. I just think she's funny.

I also know a number of professionals who are outstanding at what they do. It might be market research, or agency-client relationships, or personal finance, or lawn care. Whatever it may be, I don't think that's their brand either. I think it's one thing, among many, that makes them who they are.

You don't really think of the people you meet as "brands." Do you?

I've heard the counter-arguments: "I'm in the market for a new job. Aren't branding tactics relevant?" Or, "What about my professional expertise? Isn't that my brand?"

Those arguments are valid, to a point: Specifically, to the point that you equate personal branding with the accentuation of your authentic strengths. Anything beyond that is bullshit, not branding.

I'll be the first to tell you that a brand is only as good as its perceptions in the market. But it would be fallacious logic to suggest that any kind of perception is thus the result of "branding." You may possess expertise, and you may be perceived as such. That doesn't make you a brand.

If you're in the job market, I'd certainly recommend doing some things that great brands do. I'd suggest that you target your search, differentiate yourself, and tell a compelling story. But these aren't good ideas because some brands apply them. They're good ideas because they work.

Also remember that great brands are built through consistency, and in no other way. So if you just start "branding" yourself to find a job – there's that coat of paint again – then I don't like your chances. If you didn't have a network of believers before your job search, it will be tough to create and activate one.

So, I repeat: You're not a brand. You are many, many things, but a brand is not among them. And that's as it should be. Let's spend less time trying to be good brands, and more time trying to be good people. The rest will work itself out.

A version of this post appeared in the Business Courier of Cincinnati on May 29, 2009, in the column "That Branding Thing."


My Response:

I think you would agree that being conscious of your reputation is indisputably a positive thing.

The only pitfall there is to thinking in terms of branding related to yourself is leaning to far over toward the side of perception vs. reality. If you're weighting way more time to working on and thinking about how to project that you have certain skills as opposed to cultivating those skills and strengthening them, you need to swing back the other way. For example, if I spent 20 hours a week for 3 years working on my online presence and 2 hours a week to developing my design sensibilities, I would be a tragedy of a designer and look like a huge smoke-and-mirrors liar when people got to know me and choose to do business with me. But to devote zero time to that is just as bad; just a little extra effort will get you very far.

Keep in mind though there is NO other area of business that can give you the explosive growth that good marketing can, as too can good "personal branding" aka managing your reputation. But if you can't deliver what you're "branding" yourself to be, then you'll also begin to develop a reputation of letting people down too. So, yes, have a strong foundation of integrity, confidence, and all the other alphabet soup of positive traits, but to write off consciously managing your reputation and crafting people's first impressions of you is advice I wouldn't heed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I recently applied to an annual design competition called Fusion.  It pits the two best fashion design schools in the country, FIT and Parsons, against each other for the title.  It's kind of like an OSU vs. Michigan college football rivalry except with A LOT more estrogen and champagne takes the place of kegs for the winning side.

Anyway, this year, there were over 250 people that got it together, created a collection and applied (there are currently 1,184 members of their Facebook group).  I put a ton of effort into my application and, in all honesty, lost track of how much work I put in because I was having such a fun time learning about fashion illustration and letting my creative juices flow.

I was selected as one of the top 20 applicants among the field at FIT to be whittled down to the final 15...  When I got a call from the director, Jimmy Ramey, I can't say I was surprised, but I was caught WAY off guard at the moment.  Actually, I pretended my roommate was saying something to me so I could gather myself.  He asked the typical questions about why they should pick me and how my construction skills were, and I did my best to answer them passionately and truthfully.  The last question was really amusing to me... a friend of his named Mariel, whom I've since made friends with, wanted to know what the cologne I sprayed on the inside was!

Hahaha... as I leaving the day I was turning the application in, I sprayed my cologne, Black Walnut by Banana Republic, on the inside because it smells very woodsy and is scented with cedarwood.  As my collection was themed off lumberjacks, it was perfect... though I kind of did it for my own amusement and didn't think anyone would notice!  COOL!!!

Anyway, turns out I did NOT make the cut for the final 15, which, yes, was a huge disappointment, but I was still super excited to stand out that much among a field of the best applicants in the world.  Not to mention, at the time, I'd only been sewing for less than two months and just completed my first EVER garment (a pale yellow dress shirt) the same day!  I am on the alternate list now so if one of the 15 FIT designers is removed or drops out, I'm on deck.

Regardless, the reason I came to New York to study fashion is so I could learn to make clothing I am passionate about and I will be assembling my collection still, though on a little more relaxed time frame.

I'm planning to have the collection completed May 28th, the weekend after school gets out, and presenting it in Cincinnati.  I am working with a few friends, who are pros at hosting events, to have a party over winter break for the fabric and other supplies.  I'm estimating $1,000 is a safe number to aim for.  I've posted my collection below.

In short, I was inspired on a flight into LaGuardia Airport when I saw the colors of the lights of the city and started thinking this was all forest once.  Lumberjacks and other people like that helped clear the canvas on which the city was built.