Almost But Not Quite Edition

01CRITICAL1SUB-blog427In today's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica is extra critical.
First, he spends several paragraphs on the typical New York apartment dweller's closet dilemma. Does an over stuffed closet mean you have too many clothes or not enough closet space? Who can say –besides Marie Kondo whom we don't even want to get started with.
This philosophical storage discussion is all to lead us to Tomorrowland, not the section from the Disney theme parks, and certainly not the cinematic misfire from earlier this year, but the Japanese sportswear brand which just opened a sprawling boutique on Broome Street in SoHo (pictured at left).
The problem with Tomorrowland's wares is not that they aren't appealing, but are they appealing enough to try to cram into your already overstuffed closet/armoire/dresser/makeshift under-bed storage apparatus? It seems pretty clear that our shopper has not yet come to terms with his own wardrobe space issues. "What you have to watch out for are inessentials that look and feel like essentials," he writes, "clothes that are elegantly designed, well made, reasonably priced and seemingly unique, but which don’t solve an unsolved problem."
This is a problem peculiar to cities like New York where there is an embarrassment of retail riches to choose from, and one has the luxury of discernment. You might not necessarily have to pounce on the first great thing you see because, in all likelihood, there will be five more great things around the corner, anyway.
So he gets picky.

It was hard not to get excited looking at these clothes, though when I tried them on, that enthusiasm faded slightly. The fabrics felt just a hair too deliberate, even for the colder seasons.

It is all gorgeous stuff, but nothing there sings out "You must have me now!" in the right key. In fairness, our shopper concedes that the store is in its early days here, and given a couple of seasons, could hone its offerings better to the wants and needs of New Yorkers —or maybe just to our shopper. Tomorrowland may be better tomorrow, but The Shophound stopped by for a quick look last week, and we thought that Tomorrowland looked pretty damn good for today.

Critical Shopper: Reason to Keep Coming Back to Tomorrowland By Jon Caramanica
Tomorrowland 476 Broome Street between Wooster & Greene Streets, SoHo


Seattle Comes To SoHo edition

24CRITICAL5-articleLargeThis week's Thursday Styles sends Critical Shopper Molly Young to SoHo for a survey of Totokaelo, the vertically sprawling new boutique from Seattle that has become an auspicious addition to Manhattan's shopping roster. Our shopper, a Pacific Northwest native, offers an illuminating interpretation of Totokaelo's abundance of luxurious but loose, often shroudlike garments, "There’s something about the temperature and moisture content of the air there that makes a person want to swaddle herself in garments that are half hug, half anesthetic." The same appeal holds in New York, which has its own pressures that might make a person want to spend the day swathed in something cozy.
After a detour into the store's subterranean men's department —a literal man-cave— Young ascends the many levels of women's offerings to further explore. Totokaelo's signature look is not to be approached without some expertise, however, as our shopper describes some of the items she has encountered as making her look like "a sack of cornmeal" and, comfort benefits notwithstanding, "uniquely unflattering to all of my body parts". As for a peculiar preponderance of jumpsuits, our shopper writes, "If you’re in the mood to hit the playground or just to obscure your secondary sex characteristics, any of these will do the job."
Well, that is a very specific customer, but as we know, in New York, there is a store for every kind of person.

Critical Shopper: Jumpsuits, 7 Days A Week at Totokaelo’s SoHo Store By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Totokaelo 54 Crosby Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo.


Fancy Feet Edition

17SHOPPER4-master180-v2Today's Thursday Styles brings us Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's visit to shoe guru Louis Leeman's new boutique on Madison Avenue. Before taking on Leeman's store, Caramanica takes the opportunity to assess the current craze for extremely expensive, highly embellished designer sneakers. The term sneaker is relative here, as none of these shoes are actually meant for real athletic activity, but then, most of the covetable instant sell-out Nikes that get customers to camp out on the sidewalk for days in advance will never see the floor of a basketball court either. Our Shopper is more amused than appalled, and he calls Leeman the love child of his Madison Avenue neighbors, combining the craftsmanship of John Lobb with the unbridled glitz of Giuseppe Zanotti.
Ultimately, this is what seems to flummox our shopper. We never really thought he would go on a spree there, but it turns out that, along with noticing some consistency problems, Caramanica finds that the Leemans he tries on are neither  flamboyant enough to be outrageous nor classic enough to be elegant.

Maybe it was the lighting — diffuse, soothing, slightly yellow — but in the mirror, they seemed almost dull

It turns out that on Madison Avenue, the middle of the road takes you nowhere.

Designer Louis Leeman Puts a Swagger in His Shoes By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Louis Leeman 793 Madison Avenue at 67th Street, Upper East Side


A Jester's Revival In SoHo Edition

10CRITIC1-master675The Critical Shopper makes a return in today's Thursday Styles as Molly Young drags her brother Ned to the recently opened Moschino boutique in SoHo. We have been to Moschino and experienced its gallery-of-fashion-puns aesthetic for ourselves, but our shopper has revived the ageless trope of bringing a rube to experience high style. She collects her brother from painting crates on a Chinatown roof (?) to the sleek store which expresses designer Jeremy Scott's recent reimagining of the Italian label. "Like wandering onto a cereal box" is Young's rather apt description of the stage-set-like store where Scott is presenting not only his own interpretations of the Moschino style, but more than a few apparent replications of products that made the label famous in the first place.
Truth be told, The Shophound has always found Moschino to be tremendously entertaining as a brand, but one we wouldn't be caught dead in. Mainly, it's because we have always felt that one's clothes shouldn't be funnier than oneself, however brother Ned ultimately feels otherwise.

During our circuit, Ned became ensorcelled by a pair of denim shorts ($325) printed with a trompe l’oeil pattern of other denim swatches. He tried them on.
“You look insane,” a salesman said.

Like a good sister, our shopper buys matching pants for herself which she describes as "not so much pants as a vortex of denim Op Art".
Are we to buy this story?
Perhaps we are just jealous that Ned is apparently a gentleman handyman who has $325 to blithely throw away on shorts that sound truly ridiculous looking.
And, really, who wouldn't be?

Critical Shopper: At Moschino in SoHo, a Tweety Bird Sweater and Other Charms By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Moschino 73 Wooster Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo
Flagship Flash: Moschino's New Boutique Is A Double Nostalgia Trip For SoHo


Blasé In The West Village Edition

06CRITICAL1-master675-v2Today's Thursday Styles features Critical Shopper Molly Young's trip to a store that sounds vaguely like others that have come before it and others that will probably come after. At Calliope, each item is carefully chosen and tagged by hand to make a perfectly curated array of very special merchandise. Its owners describe themselves as "Purveyors of things we like", and, as such, they join a host of New York shopkeepers, some wildly successful, others less so, who open stores not as a means of creating income, but more as a creative expression of their own rarefied tastes. New York City's retail scene would be nothing without these merchants. Sometimes they are relatively innocuous neighborhood stores that last no more than a few years, and sometimes they wind up as influential players like Geraldine Stutz's legendary Henri Bendel of the 1970s and 80s (back when it was still at 10 West 57th Street) or today's Kirna Zabête or Odin. The ones that succeed propel shopping forward. It's hard to know where Calliope falls on this spectrum, but one thing is for sure: Molly Young is over it.

As pleasant as all the refinement was, it did not have much effect on my pulse. I wandered the store, poking at my brain and senses to react, but they couldn’t engage. I am simply not curious about the type of person who finds her personality reflected in a Brazilian quartz crystal to the degree that she is willing to pay $410 for it. Shopping can be a gesture of self-expression, but it can also be a lapse in critical thinking.

The Thursday Styes —and the Sunday Styles and T Magazine for that matter— probably wouldn't exist if it weren't for $410 Brazilian quartz crystals and the people who find their personalities reflected in them or some other equally extravagant item. New York is full of stores stuffed to the rafters with things that cost way too much, and while it seems easy to turn ones nose up at all of the people who buy the stuff in them —and there are always more than you think there are— if it weren't for them, there wouldn't be much for the Critical Shopper to write about at all.

Critical Shopper: At Calliope, Beautiful Things for Beautiful, Moneyed People By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Calliope 349 West 12th Street between Washington & Greenwich Streets, West Village


The Subtle Detail Edition

02CRITICAL1-master675This week's Thursday Styles features Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's discovery of Craft Atlantic's Greenwich Avenue boutique in the West Village —no easy task as the shop has been obscured by scaffolding for a good portion of its brief existence. Perhaps apropos of this, our shopper takes a while to get to the meat of his story this week, opening with a breakdown of sorts of the current menswear fascination with humble basics once thought relegated to the gymnasium, simple sneakers, tees and sweats. After dropping the names of a few currently admired practitioners, he finally turns his attention to Craft Atlantic, which he places in the center of this trend, extolling the subtle, travel-inspired details featured on the store's self branded goods. 
Our shopper likes it, even if he isn't quite swooning, and is at least sold on the carefully tweaked neckline on a simple tee. "In fact, shopping solely from here may ensure that you don’t stand out at all. Given this, it’s important to remember that the new basics are in actuality a test. Think how easy it is to get credit for flamboyance."
If this doesn't sound like a breathless endorsement, look at it this way: Being a stylish gentleman doesn't mean chasing down every whim of the ever more creative but sometimes ill-advised men's fashion set. The Shophound has been to Craft Atlantic, and we must say that it is the kind of place where the connoisseur will find beautifully detailed basics to admire and buy —they are still the backbone of any well-dressed guy's wardrobe— and also the kind of place where the well-meaning but less confident guy who wants to look up-to-date can rest assured that he can't go too far wrong. Call it a gateway shop for guys who aren't quite ready to navigate slightly more directional stores like Odin or Carson Street Clothiers on their own, playing a vital role in the ongoing effort to get more guys who might otherwise be indifferent to dress better. 

Critical Shopper: Craft Atlantic Puts Modesty on Display, With Surprises By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Craft Atlantic 115 Greenwich Avenue at Jane Street, West Village 


The New 5 & Dime Edition

This week's Thursday Styles presented The Shophound with an unusual coincidence. Just as we were about to post our review of the new Danish import tchotchke shop Flying Tiger in the flatiron district, Critical Shopper Molly Young filed hers.
Spoiler Alert: Our opinions do not differ that much in this particular case, but we have a lot more pictures to post without any usage or rights concerns, so feast on our gallery below for a better look at just a small sampling of the delightfully cheap crap the store offers.
We both found the layout maze like, with Ms. Young likening it to a smaller version of fellow Scandinavian Ikea's similarly circuitous store plan. "Working your way through Flying Tiger, you get the sense that a bunch of lunatics in Copenhagen has been given unlimited access to Chinese factories and the mandate to “design a bevy of fun crud” for global distribution," she writes.
The sheer randomness of the company's offerings accounts for most of the shop's appeal, helped in no small part by the low prices with most items below $5 with many at $2 or $3. It's the perfect store for someone with too much time on his or her hands and too little money. It's a magpie's delight filled with shiny stuff, most of it useful, but none of it plain. There are desk accessories, tabletop supplies, crafting gear, candles, eyewear, magnets, drinkware, pens and pencils and tons of other mundane stuff that some design department in Copenhagen has jazzed up with bright colors, flowers, strawberries or an animal motif. It's all too cheap to worry about whether or not any of it is in good taste, and that's the point. While our shopper likened it to Ikea, The Shophound was reminded of the kind of humble variety stores that have long since been obliterated existence by the Walmarts and Targets of the world —the kind of place you might go if you needed some paper napkins, wrapping paper, a stapler, some needles and thread and some notebook paper without having to go to more than one store. Flying Tiger seemed to us like the slightly tipsy version of such a long lost place, and judging from the long line of customers waiting to pay on a steamy Tuesday afternoon, plenty of other people have been enchanted by the store. Our shopper writes,

Flying Tiger is not a store for people who harbor any kind of consumption neurosis. It is a monument to the act of shopping as pure recreation, divorced from aim or object. Nothing in sight is something you need.

We would quibble with that last line.
While Flying Tiger is definitely a danger zone for compulsive buyers, need is a relative term. Nearly everything we saw had some practical function, even if it was all dolled up in colors imported from an 80s teen comedy. The trick is knowing the difference between something you could use with something you actually will use, and resisting the temptation to just buy it anyway because it's so freaking cheap that who cares anyway?.
Easier said than done.

Critical Shopper: Flying Tiger Copenhagen: Where All That Glitters Is … Glitter By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Flying Tiger Copenhagen 929 Broadway between 20th & 21st Streets, Flatiron District

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NoLita Eclectic Edition

11CRITICAL1-articleLargeToday's Thursday Styles has sent Critical Shopper Molly Young the kind of quirky, personal boutique that seems to be a rarer than ever breed in a Manhattan retail scene that is slowly being choked by rents that only banks and chains can reasonable thrive under. In fact, A Détacher, the NoLita mainstay has been forced into its own migration south from Mott Street to Mulberry Street in what is the also shrinking colony of Little Italy.
Thankfully, the store's disarmingly random merchandising philosophy appears to have survived the few block's journey intact. "The store feels personal to a degree verging on taboo, like sneaking upstairs at a dinner party to poke around the host’s walk-in closet," she tells us, and concedes that it suitable more for fulfilling the whimsical wants of customers who don't actually need anything.
Of course, that purpose could apply to a vast number of New York retailers. It's the individual, often inscrutable touch that sets A Détacher apart, and also its lack of concern for more conventional store presentation.

It’s also an experiment in behavior modification. The quantity of goods at A Détacher is spare, and few are displayed at eye level; a retail consultant would walk in and pass out from the sheer defiant inefficiency of the merchandising.

—which is frankly, on a certain level, the kind of thing we do need more of.

Critical Shopper: Eclectic and Personal, A Détacher Outfits a Niche Audience By Molly Young (NYTimes)
A Détacher 185 Mulberry Street, between Broome & Kenmore Streets, Little Italy


Summer Shack Edition

04CRITICAL3-articleLargeIn today's Thursday Styles, our Mr. Critical Shopper, Jon Caramanica, is kinder than we might have expected to the resolutely preppy Vineyard Vines store that recently appeared on what he calls the "lower Upper East Side". It's a brand that offers not so much fashion, but a particular style that remains constant and generally included pink whales on a kelly green background in some form or another. "... it is a label that offers the veneer of dignity in undignified situations: the beach cookout, the college football tailgate, the frat rager, the 9:30 a.m. marketing meeting," he tells us as he proceeds to describe the allowing shirts in a colorful but just a little washed out color palette, toeing the preppy line of not wanting anything to look too new or fresh. The "five-alarm leisurewear" apparently takes classic northeastern summer/weekend wear and gives it just enough of a jolt to look fresh not to jump start the recently completed classic American trend, but to attract the eye of those who never really stopped dressing like that, but there really is no in-between with this stuff. You are either a patrician devotée like Walter Cronkite, Colin Powell or John Kerry whose testimonials hang on the shop's walls —which should give you some idea of the age of the target customer— or you avart your eyes when passing by. We can't say for sure that our shopper this week is truly one of the latter group, but we have read enough of his reviews by now to be pretty certain that he is not one of the former at heart.

Critical Shopper: Vineyard Vines Takes Leisurewear to a Colorful Dimension By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Vineyard Vines 1151 Third Avenue at 67th Street, Upper East Side


Longhand Specialist Edition

21CRITICAL1-master675In this week's Thursday Styles, Molly Young is less our Critical Shopper than she is our enthralled one.
Ms. Young has discovered the kind of arcane little store that chain stores and real estate investors have made increasingly rare these days. CW Pencil Enterprise is a tiny shop devoted exclusively to writing implements of graphite wrapped in wood —no fountain pens or magic markers, just pencils. It is clearly a labor of love, and what it lacks in commercial potential it seems to make up for in earnest charm, "as if Captain Ahab opened a boutique of whale trinkets," our shopper writes.
And who really wants to give a critical assessment of a store designed to preserve interest in a slowly dying writing tool? Certainly not our shopper. The merchandise is highly affordable and adds a nice touch to a desk. Our shopper is converted to a pencil believer mainly because they really are still useful despite our current cultural predilection with communicating by keyboard,

Because pencils have a credible use, this single-minded store is able to transcend its novelty status. It’s more like a guitar shop than, say, a place devoted solely to popcorn or ice cream sandwiches (both of which are actual stores that exist within a five-block radius of this one).

We're sold. hope they have good sharpeners.

Critical Shopper A Pencil Shop, for Texting the Old-Fashioned Way By Molly Young (NYTimes)
CW Pencil Enterprise 100a Forsyth Street between Broome & Grand streets, Lower East Side