‘Genderless Danshi’ Defy Fashion Norms

“Just as some American males have embraced makeup, young Japanese men are bending fashion gender norms, dyeing their hair, inserting colored contacts and wearing brightly colored lipstick,” The New York Times reports. “Men like Ryuji Higa, better known as Ryucheru, his signature blond curls often pulled back in a headband, and Genki Tanaka, known as Genking, who rocks long platinum tresses and often appears in miniskirts, have made a leap from social media stardom to television celebrity.”

They are known as “genderless danshi” — “‘danshi’ means young men in Japanese.” Jennifer Robertson, an anthropology professor, comments: “It’s about blurring the boundaries that have defined pink and blue masculinity and femininity.They are trying to increase the scope of what someone with male anatomy can wear.”

“Young girls are the most ardent fans of the genderless danshi, making up the bulk of their social media followers and showing up at events … Nagisa Fujiwara, 16, a high school sophomore in Tokyo, was one of about 200 girls who lined up after the brief concert to take selfies with” Toman, a “genderless danshi” model and pop singer. She says: “He looks like a girl. But when you put that together with his maleness, I see him as a new kind of man.”

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Wine Labels: The Wallaby Paradox

Quartz: “Interestingly, wine drinkers claim they don’t find ‘has an animal on it’ to be a very desirable advantage for a wine label. But five of the nine top-selling wines in 2005 in the US sported animals on their labels. And wine drinkers … rated as second-most attractive a label with an animal—Yellow Tail, with its vibrant picture of a wallaby. The label that achieved the highest rating for attractiveness was Twin Fin, with its colorful picture of a classic convertible with a surfboard near the beach. The top two labels delivered on the characteristics wine drinkers say they like: eye-catching, unique, stylish, creative, clever, and colorful.”

“Interestingly, in a cross-generational survey of the importance of attractiveness, millennials and Baby Boomers both rated a wine label’s appearance more important to them than Generation Xers did. For the most part, wine drinkers of all ages agreed which labels were most attractive … Women preferred more creative, eye-catching, colorful, and ornate wine labels than men did. Similarly, women rated plain, less colorful logos lower in attractiveness than men did.”

“Almost half of the wine drinkers surveyed—49%—said the words on the back label are at least somewhat important to their purchase decision. Further, 55% said they read a wine bottle’s back label at least somewhat often … Consumers indicated that a description of flavors and aromas of the wine on the back label is the most important information … Awards and climate information may also increase purchase likelihood. The romantic story did not increase purchase interest.”

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Jack-in-the-Box Tacos: Repulsive & Irresistible

The Wall Street Journal: “More than 1,000 times a minute, someone bites into what has been described as a wet envelope of cat food—and keeps eating. Jack in the Box is known to most of the country for its hamburgers and bigheaded mascot. But for many of its devotees, the magic of the fast-food chain lies in its interpretation of a taco … A tortilla wrapped around a beef filling that is dunked in a fryer and topped with American cheese, lettuce and hot sauce, the taco appeared on the menu in the 1950s … Jack in the Box now sells more tacos than any other item on its menu thanks to a legion of fans who swear by the greasy vessels even as they sometimes struggle to understand their appeal.”

Aficionado Heather Johnson says the taco is “vile and amazing.” Fellow traveler Mike Primavera describes a “soggy, nasty middle” and the “rim of crunchiness on the outside.” He adds: “You can’t look at it too long before you eat it. You just kind of have to get it outside of the sleeve and into your mouth.”

“Despite some unusual qualities, Jack in the Box hears from a lot of customers that the tacos are close to authentic,” says Jack in the Box product marketing director Jen Kennedy. “We are always imitated but never duplicated.” She says the tacos allow customers to “take a break from the norm and instantly satisfy their cravings.”

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Paper Tigers: Calendars Keep Their Cool

The New York Times: “It may seem counterintuitive that a print product can thrive in the digital age. But the continued success of some paper calendars mirrors that of printed books, an industry that several years ago was confronting what seemed like the very real possibility that e-books would outsell the printed variety. Instead, a Pew survey this fall found that most readers still preferred their reading material printed on paper.”

“Bertel King Jr., in a blog post last year for Make Use Of, a technology and productivity site, made the case for paper calendars.” He wrote: “Having to open another tab, fire up another piece of software, or launch another app to access my calendar amounts to one more onscreen thing vying for my attention. Suddenly a paper planner starts to make sense.”

“Melissa Ralston, marketing director for BIC Graphic, said in an email that companies have found paper calendars to be an effective advertising vehicle with a mass market appeal. She said studies have found that 82 percent of recipients enjoy getting a calendar as a complimentary gift and 70 percent plan to do business with the company that provided the calendar.”

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Sneaker Culture: The Politics of Footwear

The Atlantic: “Though it’s been touring the U.S. since it opened in Toronto in 2013, the exhibition Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture generated frantic curatorial discussions … As the exhibition shows, over the last 200 years, sneakers have signified everything from national identity, race, and class to masculinity and criminality; put simply, they are magnets for social and political meaning, intended or otherwise, in a way that sets them apart from other types of footwear.”

“Politics … fueled the rise of sneakers as much as athletics … Mass exercise rallies were features of fascist life in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But sneakers could also represent resistance. Jesse Owens’ dominance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games stung the event’s Nazi hosts even more because he trained in German-made Dassler running shoes … Sneakers became footnotes in the history of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965, I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to feature a black actor—Bill Cosby—in a lead role. His character, a fun-loving CIA agent going undercover as a tennis coach, habitually wore white Adidas sneakers, easily identifiable by their prominent trio of stripes.”

“The growing popularity of sneakers on both sides of the political divide set the stage for a raging culture war over the shoes’ ties to criminality, or lack thereof … sneakers evolved from symbolic consumer objects into small-batch vehicles for unambiguous social commentary. In one notable example, the artist Judi Werthein designed the 2005 Brinco cross-trainer to assist with illegal border crossings from Mexico. Werthein distributed Brincos to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border for free, while also selling them to sneakerheads for $215 per pair at a San Diego boutique.”

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Beltway Plaza: The Future of Malls?

The Washington Post: “At Beltway Plaza, Spanish rings out from every aisle and the food court is populated by not Taco Bells, but various immigrant cuisines … Mostly, Beltway Plaza has found a niche as a large — and faintly 1980s — urban souk, hawking the necessities, and the oddities, of immigrant life … In a retail landscape that is increasingly bleak, could this be this the future of malls? … It’s the quintessential American mall, once flush with people, now scraping along as national retailers shudder.”

“Local real estate magnate Sidney J. Brown opened Beltway Plaza as an open-air discount mall in 1963 in Greenbelt, one of only three garden-filled towns in America developed for low-income families in the late 1930s under the New Deal … Greenbelt, envisioned as city filled with smartly manicured greenscape, eventually came to look more like a thicket of concrete and strip malls. But the mall, with its awfully affordable S. Klein Department store, a two-screen movie theater and a pizza parlor, was a hit.”

“At Jo-Ann Fabric, the sewing aisle, a beacon of immigrant industriousness, was humming … We trek to Import Cottage, where you can purchase brazen replica Louis Vuitton suitcases, large laundry bags emblazoned with ‘Charm of Africa’ and untarnished Indian costume jewelry … A stroll across the mall’s dated white-tiled corridors takes you past a cookie place that is not Mrs. Fields and a restaurant that is not Panda Express but Jodeem African Cuisine, offering the Ni­ger­ian specialties ogbono soup and fufu. There’s an El Taco Rico, about as large as a broom closet and just as dark.”

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Food Trends: Buddha Bowls & Ugly Fruit

The New York Times: “Each December, lists of culinary forecasts pour forth from public relations companies trying to elevate their profiles, food companies looking to sell more food and professional associations hoping to guide chefs as they try to translate the zeitgeist into menu items. Social media wonks have jumped into the pool, too, eager to show off their powerful search analytics.”

“Meals in a bowl are … driven by … yoga, Gwyneth Paltrow, the gluten-free movement, a new appetite for Asian street food and the demand for grab-and-go convenience … It doesn’t hurt that food in bowls can be visually attractive, perfect for an Instagram feed. At Pinterest, which is used by 150 million people a month, Buddha bowls filled with simple vegan or vegetarian ingredients are among the top items that users post. The name evokes the mindfulness with which a monk holds a bowl of food.”

“Lynn Dornblaser, the director of innovation and insight for Mintel, has been trend-spotting for 30 years … The most important development on her list, she said, is the idea that healthful food and drinks are not luxuries … pointing to the growing sales of imperfect fruits and vegetables, often marketed as ‘ugly produce.’ She comments: “People who earn less than $50,000 a year are not buying gourmet olive oil or having Blue Apron delivered. But they’ve got a need for quality products just like everyone else does.”

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Holiday Seasonings: Egg Nog is Cool Again

The Wall Street Journal: “Pumpkin sprawls its way through supermarkets from September to November, appearing in foods from English muffins to yogurt. But many consumers reach pumpkin saturation by Thanksgiving. Food companies are trying to extend shoppers’ enthusiasm for a limited-time seasonal flavor into December to eggnog … Eggnog is appearing as a limited-edition flavor in other foods and beverages from Turkey Hill Egg Nog Ice Cream to an Eggnog Stout beer by Spring House Brewing Co … Starbucks sells an Eggnog Latte starting in November, while Peet’s Coffee’s Eggnog Latte pulls in customers during the holidays who are less likely to be regular coffee drinkers.”

“Eggnog may be a full-fat beverage, but that is less of a turnoff now that full-fat yogurt and milk are back in fashion among health-conscious shoppers … Its quirky, retro vibe is particularly appealing to consumers in their 20s and 30s.” Food consultant Amy Shipley comments: “There’s a whole rediscovering eggnog is cool again. People love something that they indulge in for just a few weeks.”

“Jelly Belly Candy Co. reintroduced its eggnog jelly bean flavor two years ago. Sales of the flavor are up 20% this year, says John Pola, vice president of specialty sales. ‘It has become the identifiable seasonal flavor,’ he says. While pumpkin jelly bean sales still outpace eggnog jelly beans, Mr. Pola sees that shifting. The company’s Christmas business is five times Halloween and Thanksgiving put together, he says.”

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Primark & The Art of Bargain Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “Shopping at Primark stores, stylish Brits know, requires strategy and skill. As many retailers struggle, the destination for trendy $5 sweaters and colorful $3 T-shirts is planning to expand in the U.S. beyond the handful of stores it currently has in the Northeast. The store doesn’t sell online, but operates in nine countries outside its home in the U.K. and Ireland. Its six U.S. stores include one at the original site of Filene’s Basement in Boston.”

“To visit Primark is to navigate throngs of people. They hunt through crammed racks for jeans that look almost like a pair spotted on the runway but at a fraction of the price, with the fear that they may disappear into another shopper’s arms in minutes … Primark stores are large, and product moves quickly. The largest store, in Manchester (UK), occupies 155,000-square feet over three floors.”

“On a recent tour around London’s flagship Primark store on Oxford Street, David Latham, commercial director of Primark, said products are generally organized into three categories. First, there are ‘basics,’ such as plain T-shirts and undergarments that might go for around £2. Then, there are ‘essential’ items like denim roughly in the £8 range. Finally, there are fashion items, which likely have higher price points and more in-demand looks. He recommended mixing and matching across these three categories. Savvy locals, said Mr. Lathan, come into the store ‘three to four times a week’.”

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The Drop: Fashion, Media & Millennials

The New York Times: Kylie Jenner “is part of a growing cohort of both individuals and brands that have embraced the sales strategy known as the ‘drop.’ It works like this: A seller controls the release of exclusive new items outside the traditional fashion cycle, cleverly marketing the impending arrival of the product to build demand. Pioneered almost two decades ago by the American skate wear brand Supreme, which took its cues from the Japanese street wear scene, the trend has gained particular momentum in recent years thanks to its adoption by some in the booming limited-edition sneaker industry: Kanye West’s Yeezy line with Adidas, for example, and Nike’s Air Jordans.”

Avery Booker, the chief executive of Enflux, comments: “They are excited not just by a product’s rarity, but also by what credibility owning that product can give them within their social media communities, as well as its possible resale value.”

“The flourishing secondary markets, fueled by online resellers and prompted by the growing clout of drop culture, has been one of the most significant changes to the retail landscape in recent years. Mere hours after the latest Kylie Lip Kit, Supreme sneaker or H&M/Alexander Wang piece has sold out on official distribution channels, these items are often available elsewhere on the internet, though with one or more zeros added to the price … The overwhelming majority of drop customers, whatever the product, are younger than 30.”

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