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


More Grenson Shoes
Than You Have Ever Seen
Are Now At Freemans Sporting Club

While the folks at Freemans Sporting Club have had to say goodbye to their famous in-store barber shop, they are making good use of the space in a way that should make their regular customers very pleased by devoting it to a pop-up shop for British shoe brand Grenson. A classic English shoe brand founded in 1866 and known for its high quality but slightly sleepy fashion sense, Grenson's fortunes changed in 2005 when it brought designer Tim Little on board to give its product line some pizazz. Now its CEO, Little made Grenson a coveted brand by turbo-charging its classic style without going totally off the rails. Now it is beloved by shoe aficionados for chunky triple soles and bold, inventive broguing details as well as for sturdy the Goodyear welted construction that allows you to wear a pair practically forever with proper care and maintenance. FSC is hosting the pop-up which boasts the largest selection of Grenson ever presented at retail in the U.S. and will also offer customers an exclusive opportunity to design their own shoes and contribute to creating a style that will ultimately be made exclusively for the store. Don't dawdle. The pop-up is only going to be open for six weeks, so if you wait for actual Spring weather to arrive before you shop for your Spring shoes, you may have missed the boat, but if you are a Grenson enthusiast, you probably planned a trip down to Rivington Street the minute you saw our headline. Don't miss it.

Grenson Pop-Up Store through early April at Freemans Sporting Club, 8 Rivington Street between The Bowery & Chrystie Street, Lower East Side


Earnest Sewn To Shutter Shops In Advance Of 2014 Relaunch

Fans of premium denim brand Earnest Sewn will have only a few more weeks to stock up on their favorite  denim styles before the company's shops on the Lower East Side and in the Meatpacking District (pictured above) close down due to new ownership. The once coveted label's trademarks have been purchased by Anthony Frym, an industry veteran, who will relaunch the brand sometime next year with a new store in an as-yet-unannounced location. Not much is known about Frym's plans for the brand beyond his work to set up new manufacturing in California for the new Earnest Sewn, so he will  maintaining its "Made in U.S.A.' heritage. We have to note that Frym purchased only Earnest Sewn's trademarks, not its operations or retail stores, which is why they are closing. Since co-founder and creative force Scott Morrison departed the brand a few years ago, Earnest Sewn's wholesale business has diminished to almost nothing as retailers turned to other labels, including one that Morrison started himself. Whether or not Frym will keep some of the line's most popular (and still highly relevant) jeans models like Harlan or Kyrre is unknown, as he will basically be re-building the brand from the ground up with a new creative team. The label's website (pictured below) now features only a "Coming soon" message along with an encouraging switch to a clean, sans-serif lowercase logo more like the one it originally used before it switched to an overall "Ye Olde Denim Store" aesthetic. “For me, it still has a very strong American brand image,” he tells WWD. A countdown clock on the homepage points to February 16th as the day to mark for more news of Earnest Sewn's future.

In a sense, this is the story of what happens to a premium denim brand when Scott Morrison leaves. For example, the once red-hot brand Paper Denim & Cloth faltered when Morrison, who was instrumental in developing it, left to start Earnest Sewn. Morrison's intriguing new brand with its unique, Japanese inspired wabi-sabi detailing, easily stepped into the stores that dropped the declining Paper Denim, very much like his current, even more expensive, artisan-inspired brand 3x1 has pushed Earnest Sewn out of influential denim stores like Barneys and Ron Herman. Recently, new owners are also in the process of re-launching paper Denim & Cloth as a premium label after it tried to trade down as a more moderately priced line, but they are now facing an even more crowded market full of connoisseur labels like 3Sixteen, novelty driven brands like Naked & Famous and ever more popular overseas imports like Sweden's Nudie. In about three months, presumably, we'll get a better idea of how Earnest Sewn's new life will unfold.

Earnest Sewn Changes Hands (WWD)


The Backpack That Screams For You

Even the most devoted New Yorker will have to admit that city life can be eaxperating at times. There are any number of people who will, at some point, make you want to let loose and tell them off in the loudest, most aggressive way possible, but decorum (and, not incidentally, the fear of some violent retribution) generally keep most of us from expressing our occasional frustrations. This week we got wind of an accessory that can silently make your point for you, or even just express all your inner angst with one, creepy turn of your back.

The folks at the avant-garde Lower East Side boutique ØDD tell us that the Kofta Screaming Backpack designed by Konstantin Kofta is made by hand in Ukraine from molded lambskin with sterling silver hardware, and available exclusively through the store for a mere $957. (For anyone not feeling confident enough to express their true feelings, there is another style which literally gives you a spine for $1,255.) That may seem like a steep price to pay just to scream at the immediate world, but imagine the relief you'll feel by getting all those bottled up emotions off your chest... or your back.

ØDD 164 Ludlow Street between Stanto & East Houston Streets, Lower East Side


Lower East Side Oasis Edition

09zCRITICAL4-popupToday's Thursday Styles finds Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica utterly enthralled by Ale et Ange, the greatest Lower East Side men's boutique you have probably never heard of. Our shopper admits that the store is easy to miss, yet once inside, he characterizes the place as the long sought solution for men who are desperately looking for style but hopelessly unable to find it on their own.

They need to have their hands held without looking like they’ve had their hands held. The clothes must be loud enough to announce themselves, but quiet enough to appear as if they weren’t bought for that purpose.

He seems especially charmed by the store's warmth and personal interior touches, and it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see that Ale et Ange is the sort of independent boutique one often finds in New York. They succeed (hopefully) on their owners' drive and ambition, and if all goes as planned, they can develop into something bigger like a chain or a successful wholesale label. This store sounds like it is in the early stages of this narrative. Caramanica has been taken with the store's thoughtfully designed sportswear, and particularly with its signature, colorful caps. This is an accessory best left to the more confident and less in need of direction, but in the accompanying photos, we can see that many have been made in the kind of rich, African prints that became a hallmark of this past Spring's men's collections thanks to Burberry's Christopher Bailey and cult favorite Mark McNairy's work for the premium heritage label Woolrich Woolen Mills. If Ale at Ange's owners, Osoré Ale Oyagha and Eloise Ange Simonet can ride that wavelength between the personal and the commercial, they'll have a bright future. Having a fan at the Times' Style section certainly won't hurt.

Critical Shopper: A Guy’s Perfect Closet, Only Bigger By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Ale et Ange 40 Rivington Street between Forsyth & Eldridge Streets, Lower East Side


VANE x Sebago Get Conceptual
On The Lower East Side

Last week, the creative collective VANE and the super-classic shoe brand Sebago unveiled "Dark Forrest", the latest effort from their four-year old collaboration now being showcased at its own concept shop. If you are wondering what kind of common ground the two seemingly disparate entities could find, then look no further than Rivington Street, where the five piece collection is on display along with a few specially chosen pieces from Sebago's regular collection and a vintage selection of designer sunglasses and Rolex watches.

While the line retails for a bit more than Sebago's famous Docksides boat shoes, the prices remain relatively accessible, topping out at $220 for the decidedly non-preppy, multi-strapped "Ridgeline" boot (pictured below), which takes the traditional handsewn look in a much more street savvy direction. Other styles mix canvas, suede and even patent leather in ways that effortlessly bridge the New England and Lower East Side sensibilities. Wear them right now or save 'em for the Fall.

VANE x Sebago Concept Store 125 Rivington Street between Essex & Norfolk Streets, Lower East Side

More images after the jump



VANE x Sebago Get Conceptual
On The Lower East Side
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J.D.Fisk's Boot Solution

JDFisk There is no way around it. We are in the middle of a boot season. Guys who used to be able to get away with a consistent uniform of sneakers are finding themselves rolling up their jeans to show off and even tuck into a pair of smart, weathered lace-up boots.
The only problem?
There are an abundance of options out there, but such boots are not cheap. What's a guy to do when Rag & Bone's seeemingly perfect version is over $500 even though they are made in CHINA?

It's a predicament to be sure, but the new label J.D. Fisk has come to save the day for your ankles. Last month the baby brother of popular women's brand Dolce Vita opened its own outpost on Ludlow Street just below Stanton. It's a compact little shop, befitting the Lower East Side, but it's got just enough space for a well edited, classic selection plus a few extras. Better yet, pretty much nothing is over $300. Considering the rugged quality of the products is a fair investment for a pair of tall, lace-up boots or, for the adventurous, a spiral zipped roper-style in black roughout suede.

There are also a few oxfords and loafers for the preppy-minded, and to round things out, bags and belts from downtown favorite Billykirk. Made in Mexico (hey, at least it's on this continent) J.D. Fisk's boots are sturdy enough to last well beyond the current trends, by which time they should be perfectly broken in.

J.D. Fisk 159½ Ludlow Street between Santon & Rivington Streets, Lower East Side

Left to right: the Caleb $289, the Franklin $198, the Cooper $279


Freeman's Sporting Club
Gets Refined

The Shophound found ourself on the Lower East Side yesterday, and realized that we hadn't visited the original Freeman's Sporting Club store on Rivington Street for a couple of years. Even though they have a new branch on the more often traveled Bleecker Street, we thought we would stop in for a fresh look at the original as the trend for arcana of all sorts in menswear that the store/barber shop has helped fuel has reached a peak this season.

Here's what we liked:

  • The hand-tailored suits made from dead-stock British fabrics —Freeman's signature product— actually look better than ever. We remembered them as looking self-consciously vintage-y, heavy and old fashioned, but they seem to have shifted to more subtle, lighter and more classic fabrics for a more contemporary but still elegant look. There are also smartly styled Harris Tweed sportcoats with just enough detail to be interesting without looking like you have just arrived from a pheasant hunt in the English countryside.
  • Shoes! There are still Quoddy handsewn moccasin styles to be had but F.S.C. has added a small but exclusive ready made selection of limited edition shoes from the formerly custom-only bootmaker E.Vogel, one of the city's best kept secrets. Sure, they're $825, but in the world of handmade men's shoes, that's actually surprisingly reasonable
  • As men's stores all over the city have gone hog-wild for lumberjack plaids, Freeman's has gone subdued. Of course, there are plenty of flannel shirts, but the patterns and colors are subtler and more sophisticated than we remembered, and will likely still look good when fashion's fascination turns away from foresters toward the next archetype.
  • Freeman's has remained true to its "Buy Local - Made In The U.S.A." ethos. Now hat the company is growing, they haven't suddenly shifted production offshore. It's nice to know that when investing in quality merchandise of a certain price range, you are also supporting skilled artisans, many of whom whom work less than a borough away.

And here's what we didn't love:

  • Typically, The Shophound likes to browse in peace. We don't mind being acknowledged, but we, and most people we know, find excessive fussing annoying. However, one would think that when trying on an $1,860 coat, a salesperson might check and make sure we had the right size, or even point us in the direction of the mirror —You know, make the most marginal effort to try and sell us something that we appear interested in.
    Or not.
    Just go back to your Blackberry. We're sure that's much more important.

So overall, the pros far outweigh the cons, and Freeman's Sporting Club is not only holding up well, but seems to be evolving and possibly transcending its niche. They should be around for a while —as long as they step up that service.

Freeman's Sporting Club 8 Rivington Street between Bowery & Chrystie Streets, Lower East Side
and 327 Bleecker Street at Christopher Street, West Village


Orchard Street's BBlessing To Close


What does it say about the Lower East Side that one of its premier retailers is abruptly closing? Influential Orchard Street menswear shop BBlessing's end-of-season clearance has turned into a Store Closing Sale as the boutique shuts its doors forever on Saturday. Is this some sort of signal that the retail revival on Orchard Street and its environs is in decline or is it just a blip?

Aside from its own brand, BBlessing also promoted labels like Surface to Air, April 77, Rag & Bone and emerging companies like Fingers Crossed, Timo Weiland and Lova.

We're not sure if it's a landlord dispute or just tough business that has sunk the boutique and its unique blend of preppy and Goth-lite, and we are not yet clear if its brand will somehow live on as a label to be sold in other stores. Hopefully, the store's young proprietors will re-emerge sometime soon, but for now, Orchard Street will have another void in the block just below Houston Street.

In the meantime, what's left of the store's stock will be on sale from 60% to 90% off, although we're not sure of their usual Saturday evening drinks and music will be so festive this week.

BBlessing 181 Orchard Street at Houston Street through 7/31
BBlessing Closing Shop at 181 Orchard Street (Bowery Boogie via Racked)


Denim Arcana Edition

Criticspan-articleLargeThis week's Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica documents his descent into the denimhead cult from which few have been known to return. No more pre-washed, whiskered denim for him! Seven for All Mankind? Citizens of Humanity? Feh! It's authentic unwashed denim from here on out.

He starts off innocently enough with a pair of vintage style raw denim Levi's 501s, the denim gateway drug. His search for a proper chainstitched hem leads him inevitably to Self Edge, the Lower East Side denim specialists who will shorten your jeans the right way for a mere $25. (For the record, Earnest Sewn will also hem with a chain stitch, but we are pretty sure they will only alter or repair Earnest Sewn jeans). Of course, now he has walked into the lion's den where the prices escalate exponentially as the tiniest details become more obscure and so ever more captivating.

The wall of jeans at Barneys New York may be overwhelming, and the struggle between 511s and 514s at the Levi’s store might make for a momentary distraction, but Self Edge, with its selection consisting largely of micro-variations on a theme, forced existential grappling: Am I articulate enough to make an appropriate selection, and then properly pull it off?

Yes, it turns out he is and winds up with a pair of $350 Iron Heart jeans made of 21 oz. denim which is almost like wearing pants made of plywood. We congratulate him on his entry into the exclusive circle of enlightened jeans wearers, but we must warn him about the chafing. That breaking in period has got to be a bitch and a half.

Critical Shopper | Self Edge: Denim for a City That Takes a Tough Hide by John Caramanica (NYTimes)
Self Edge 157 Orchard Street at Rivington Street, Lower East Side