Thursday, May 31, 2007

Street Fairs, Festivals and Markets - London

It's festival season in London, and that's good news to those who love to wear hancrafted fashion.

Of course the markets like Spittalfields, Sunday Up at Brick Lane and Portobello Green run all year, but in the summer the artists and young designers and tailors get more exposure.

If you think handcrafted clothes are a bit granola, think again. Alternative fashion week at Spittalfields proves otherwise.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chocolate Eating Vegetarians Unite - Mars Recants

Who says it doesn't pay to complain? If I had a pound for every time someone told me, "it's not worth it," I'd be a multi-millionaire. In reality, if enough people make their voices heard, social (or culinary) change isn't far behind.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that Mars candy was no longer vegetarian.
The update on that issue is that enough people complained to make Mars reconsider this decision.

Here's the letter I received today from Mars:

Dear Sir/Madam
Thank you for taking the time to contact us in connection with the change of ingredients in our chocolate confectionery and ice cream range.

Please note that after recently changing the source of some of the whey that is used in some of our chocolate products we have received lots of feedback that this decision has made it difficult for some of you, especially those of you who are vegetarians, to continue to enjoy our products. We realise that we made a mistake and we apologise. We have committed that we at Mars UK will ensure that a selection of favourite brands including Mars bars, Snickers bars, Galaxy and Maltesers will be suitable for vegetarians in the near future.

Meanwhile we are currently experiencing unusually high volumes of contacts from our consumers and therefore we hope that you understand that, rather than answer your question individually, we are attaching a list of questions and answers we believe would be useful and help answer your enquiry.

Alternatively you can visit our web site ( for this, and other useful information.

Once again thank you for taking the time to contact us. Please do get back in touch, at the dedicated email address below, if your specific query has not been answered and we will do our best to get a speedy response to you.

Yours faithfully

On Behalf of Fiona Dawson
Mars UK

Q1.What are you announcing?

A1.We have recently changed the source of some of the whey which is used in our chocolate products made in the UK from a vegetarian friendly variety to one which contains traces of traditional rennet from animal sources. We have received lots of feedback from consumers and reversed this decision.

Q2.Are you reverting to vegetarian recipes for all of those products that were subject to the ingredient change?

A2.Yes, this announcement means that favourite products - Mars bars, Snickers bars, Galaxy, and Maltesers will once again be suitable for vegetarians.

Q3.You make lots of other brands - what about the suitability of them?

A3.Other products will also be suitable for vegetarians including Minstrels, Revels, and Ripple. However, Twix, Bounty and Celebrations will continue not to be suitable for vegetarians.

Q4.I'm a vegetarian - which products can I eat / should I avoid?

A4.Currently we cannot guarantee that our products contain vegetarian rennet. However, we are starting to change our manufacturing process with immediate effect. We want to get our vegetarian products on the shelves as soon as possible. During this process of changing the recipes we will provide updates on this consumer care website, on a regular basis. If you are not sure about the suitability of our products please call us on 0845 0450042.

Q5.Why did you decide to change the ingredients in the first place?

A5.We made the change to broaden our supply base in order to ensure we could continue to provide our consumers with products of consistent quality in the future.

Q6.Will you now consult with consumers on any future changes to products?

A6.Yes. This change was a mistake and we are sorry that we may have prevented consumers from enjoying the products they've always enjoyed.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Alexis Bittar - Soho

Jewelry made out of gold, gems and lucite sounds a bit like a throwback to the 50s, but Alexis Bittar is anything but that. The lovely handmade pieces sold here are perfect for people who like unusual jewelry and have money to spent on it.

Alexis Bittar
465 Broome Street

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'm not a plastic bag - eBay

I have to admit. I was initially attracted to the Anya Hindmarch "I'm Not a Plastic Bag" promotion. The shopping bag was cute, a beige canvas tote with a braided handle and the slogan, "I'm not a plastic bag," emblazoned across the front. The Anya Heinmark logo is understated but there, along with the motto "We are what we do" hidden inside. In England, it was sold at Sainsburys for £5, and sold out within hours. The same thing happened in the US at Whole Foods.

Then things got crazy. People started selling them on eBay for £30, £50, £100. Is there no end to greed? This seems contrary to the original intent. It feels like the bag has gone beyond environmentalism, beyond fashion, into elitism. Some would argue that fashion is elitist, but it doesn't have to be. Fashion often starts on the street, then is dropped when it becomes mainstream. The Lance Armstrong wrist bands are a good example of that. They swept American, but then, they were so cheap and easy to come by that they lost their cachet. Anya Heindmarch was probably trying to avoid that by manufacturing such small quantities, but I think it backfired.

A clever artist, Marissa Vandersee, is selling a bag at Sunday Up on Brick Lane, that looks almost identical to the Anya Hindmarch version, but sums up my current sentiments about the bag. It says "I'm not a smug twat."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Lidl - Wathamstow, Finsbury Park

Worst. Store. Ever.

I didn't think anything could get any more depressing than Big Lots. I was wrong. LIDL is filthy. Most of the stock was stacked along the wall in boxes. The cheese is injected with cheddar flavour and to add insult to injury, customers have to pay for bags.

This is the Finsbury Park LIDL, not much better.

Sterling Way
N18 2XZ London/Edmonton

269 Seven Sisters Road
Finsbury Park,

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fear is the New Pathos - Brick Lane

I've noticed many appeals to fear in recent advertising. The anti-smoking hooked ads are so scary the campaign was pulled due to public complains. The Ribena march of the lemmings ads, though funny, have a certain horror movie sensibility. Then there's the ad illustrated above for Obey clothing.

Is it just in London, or is it everywhere? Certainly evocative ads create a message that sticks in the mind of the observer. This reminds me of th Benetton ads of the 90s. While the Obey ad is graphically appealling, is the message appropriate in a city with a swelling group of militant religious fundamentalists? What is the call to action here: Embrace the veil? Oppose war in Iraq? or buy Obey products?

Monday, May 21, 2007

American Apparel -- Shoreditch, Notting Hill


Notting Hill

If you plan on visiting New York any time soon, it's worth waiting until you get stateside to do your shopping at American Apparel. While the prices are not cheap in the New York and San Francisco stores, it's worth paying a little more to get good quality. However, in London it seems the people who did the pricing just took the $ symbol off and replaced it with a £ symbol, with little, if any adjustment for the exchange rate.

See origanal post

176-178 Portobello Rd.
London W11 2EB
020 7243 8499

123 Curtain Rd.
London EC2A3BX
020 7012 1112

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Earlybird -- Stoke Newington

At first glance Earlybird looks like so many of the card and gift stores scattered around London. Cute small items like home wares, retro decorative items, stationary, tradesman mugs, gift bags and other carefully selected gift items fill the shelves. Unlike most other shops, at Earlybird some of the collection of greeting cards and wrapping paper are designed and made on the premises by illustrator and part owner Dominic Early.

This is also one of the only places to buy the hard to find "I heart Hackney" badges. For those who want to assert that they live in the "good" part of Hackney, "I heart Stokey" badges are also for sale. In fact, being in Stoke Newington, the shop stocks a lot of "I heart Stokey" paraphernalia, including mugs, bags and t-shirts.

86 Stoke Newington Church Street
London, N16
020 7923 3504

The Laden Showroom - Shoreditch

Lovely frocks by young and independent designers, line the walls. Each desiner's wares fit neatly into their own little nook. Quontom, Bohemia and Eucalyptus are a few lines seen recently, but they seem to change regularly.

103 Brick Lane
Shoreditch, London, E1 6SE
020 7247 2431

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gourmet Garage -- West Village

I admit that the first time I went into Gourmet Garage it was because Ted from Queer Eye took one of the hapless straight-guy victims there. That was before Queer Eye for the Straight Guy became boring, but that's another blog.

Gourmet Garage is not the super giant warehouse that its name implies. It's better. While some grocery stores have more variety, quality is emphasized here with gourmet pre-made meals, fresh bread, organic veggies, domestic and international cheeses, and they deliver.

117 7th Ave S
New York, NY 10014

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Forth & Towne is Shutting its Doors

Fans of Forth & Towne should get down there before June 15, when the chain is closing after less than two years. The sale should be good.

The tag line Forth & Towne splashed all over their advertising was, "Let the Chic Revolution Begin." The clothes looked nice in the ads, a bit Banana Republic, but perfectly acceptable. The models looked chic enough, but it was difficult to miss that they were a little older than the typical Madison Avenue fare.

What happened?

Were shoppers not ready for chic? The question should really be: was Forth & Towne chic, or just another arm of the Gap, targeted at the older shopper? Theoretically this could have been a good concept, except that the original Gap doesn't exactly target the youth market. Why can't this "older shopper" shop at the Gap, or Banana Republic? If the cuts in these stores are a bit slim to accommodate the spreading posteriors of older shopper, then the savvy storekeepers would add another size or two to the line to capture this growing market.

From a marketing perspective, having different brands makes sense. Gap is casual wear, Banana Republic can be worn to work, or the office party. Forth and Towne, however, veered off from Gap's usual lifestyle niches into the dangerous territory of age. Clothing is often sold in different age categories. Abacrombie and Fitch, Forever 21, Hot Topic, Delias and the Gaps own, Old Navy all unabashedly sell to teenagers, so why didn't Gap's attempt to sell to the middle aged, and beyond, work? Can this type of targeted marketing work at the other end of the age spectrum? In the era of Botox, pilates and Fabulous 50 year olds, I think not. Even the tried and true brands sold at places like Lord & Taylor don't try to sell exclusively to an older audience. Ralph Lauren sells to all ages and St. John has tried to make its brand seem more youthful by hiring Angelina Jolie as spokesmodel.

865 Market Street
San Francisco, CA, 94103

Monday, May 14, 2007

Shopping For Candy?

If you're a vegetarian, forget about eating Mars Bars, Twix, Maltesers or any other chocolate made by Master Foods. The company has switched over to cow rennet.

Considering he's in the food business, it's a bit ironic that Master Foods' corporate affairs manager Paul Goalby hasn't quite grasped the concept of vegetarianism. What is a "strict" vegetarian? I'm sure the definition is as broad as the reasons people decide not to eat animals. Those who do it for their own health probably wouldn't care what kind of rennet is in the foods they eat, but they wouldn't be eating candy bars anyway. Those who do it for religious reasons are probably appalled by Goalby's cavalier attitude about their fear of accidentally violating laws that they believe would stop them from getting into heaven. Those who don't eat meat because they care about animals probably make up the largest group of chocolate eating vegetarians. Would they mind eating bits of baby cow in their chocolate bars? Probably. Perhaps he is talking about the occasional vegetarian, the vegetarian for fashion. Would this group care? Probably not. Perhaps he was misquoted? I don't know. Click this link to read for yourself.

If anyone else is annoyed about this, here's Masterfoods email address:

Teuscher -- Union Square

Giving a Teuscher chocolate to someone feels like a real gift, even if you can only buy one piece of chocolate. As would be expected from any handmade Swiss chocolate, they taste lovely. Chocolates are flown in from Zurich each week, and the ingredients taste fresh, and the fillings really taste like the name of the filling: champagne, orange, raspberry.... Chocolates, even individuals, come wrapped in lovely little packages of twisted paper made to look like whimsical creatures.

307 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Giant Robot - Haight Ashbury

Giant Robot is part gallery, part gift shop, and don't they have a magazine too? Toys, clothing, art, books, comics, this store is dedicated to Japanese pop art. If, like me, you love Tokidoki, this place is heaven. Of course, not everything is Japanese. Many books on street art, modern, fringe-type artists and architecture that meets the Japanese sensibility of the small perfect thing are sold here. The small, perfect thing is likely to be a tennis shoe, a clapped out kitchen in Hackney, a monster doll or an exquisite piece of art.

622 Shrader St
San Francisco, CA 94117

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nida -- Hayes Valley

Nida is one of those places that, while small, the collection is finely edited. It may not have hundreds of clothes to sort through, like MACY's, but unlike MACY's nearly everything you touch is beautiful. Mid-range lines like Mark by Marc Jacobs share the rack with more exclusive labels Costume National, Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela. The labels are not the draw here, though. It's the individual pieces that have been chosen for each label. This is one of those rare stores that show equal care with both women's and men's lines.

544 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102

Friday, May 04, 2007

Chinatown - San Francisco

Speaking of Chinatown. This optician gets the prize for creative use of decorative fireworks and pig signs in a window display. The glasses are almost hidden by the New Years' display.

Grant St.
San Francisco

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chinatown - San Francisco

Chinatown is not all fake handbags and plastic tat, especially China Town San Francisco, which is one of the historic gateways for Chinese immigrants to America. It's got history; it's got dirt; it's got places for the adventurous to eat; but mostly, it's got shopping.

In the olden days, tea was a precious commodity carried in hard pressed blocks and often used as money. Tea was pressed into molds and carved into decorate tablets. You can still buy these in Chinatown. I don't know it they're edible, but they're beautifully decorative. They're a good conversation piece and make great houswarming gifts. Chinatown is also a place to buy pearls galore, but don't shop for jewelry unless you know the value of what you want, prices are fluid, depending on the customer.

It's also a great place to buy tea sets, strange small gifts and old world items such as ant chalk.

Grant Avenue and Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94101

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Different Light Bookstore - The Castro

Lady Godiva was a freedom rider....

Who knew that Bea Arthur had a big following among drag queens? Come to think of it, there is that drag show that recreates episodes of the Golden Girls verbatim. And Bea does sport a look that look that most men could adopt fairly easily, with the right flowy caftan or slouchy boot. Nevertheless, it was a sad day when I realised that I had missed my opportunity to see my idol at A Different Light Bookstore.

In addition to great celebrity appearances, A Different Light sells mostly books and videos that could possibly be of interest to the gay community, but don't expect all gay porn and overwrought lesbian love stories. Shoppers are just as likely to find a book on carpentry or child rearing as they are to find the latest Bear of the Month Calender. It's got a broad magazine selection and quite a few videos. Despite the range of the book selection, the book section seems to be shrinking a bit as the video section expands. Doesn't anybody read anymore?

489 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114