RH Negative: A Restoration of Excess

The New York Times: “On the second Saturday in September, the new RH Gallery opened its doors to the Meatpacking District, looking just as you’d expect: a glowering, 90,000-square-foot landscape of poured concrete flecked with bronze, stone and glass, through which sails a flotilla of enormous gray velvet and white linen sofas … Welcome to the latest iteration of what began as Restoration Hardware, a chain of home goods that in recent years has become best-known less for dependable fixtures than its cumbersome catalog mailings, once reaching 17 pounds.”

“This is RH’s 85th store, and its biggest. It is architecturally quite lovely, the low-slung, hundred-year-old brick building erupting into a tough, industrial-looking glass and steel three-story structure with a rooftop garden and restaurant … It opened the same week the parent company of Henri Bendel announced the closing of all its stores, marking both another death spasm of a certain kind of retail experience, and the unlikely success of a brand that has placed the same Belgian linen sofas, French caned beds and reproduction African objects in houses across the country.”

“The new RH store was seven years in the making. It opened with a flashy party that had caviar bars and dewy-faced models, Martha Stewart and Ryan Seacrest.”

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The A5 Ozaki: Lunch as $180 Sandwich Caper

Jason Gay: A $180 steak sandwich is an indefensible purchase. It is a foodstuff strictly for vulgarians, a decadent symbol of 21st-century gluttony and the over-luxurification of everything. To buy it is to wallow in one’s privilege, one’s shameless indifference to the plight of humankind. Other than that, it’s pretty tasty … This $180 Katsu sandwich can be found in lower Manhattan, around the corner from Wall Street, at a hole-in-the-wall establishment called Don Wagyu. Don Wagyu is a spartan place with a small bar counter, a partly-open kitchen and a half-dozen stools. It is visible from the outside thanks to a red neon sign of a cow smoking a cigarette, a nod to the vaguely-illicit goings-on inside.”

“How could a sandwich cost as much as a plane ticket to Florida? This is, after all, the type of thing that makes the rest of the planet think New Yorkers are out of their minds. Was the $180 sandwich (aka the A5 Ozaki) a legitimate food experience or some kind of commentary on late-stage capitalism? … Ordering the A5 Ozaki is not a showy experience. The lights do not dim, the kitchen does not clap; it does not require much more of a wait than a turkey club at a diner. A slice of beef is encrusted with panko, fried, placed on toasted white bread and served quartered, like a preschooler’s PB&J. Nori-sprinkled french fries and a pickle spear are the only accompaniments.”

“But the A5 Ozaki was light and buttery to the point of being almost ethereal, as if the sandwich knew the pressure of delivering on its comical price. Which, of course, it does not. There is no sandwich that is possibly worth $180. But that’s the thrill (and the crime) of extravagance, is it not? Eating this thing felt right and completely wrong—more like a caper than a lunch.”

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Airlines Adjust Menus for Long-Haul Flights

The Wall Street Journal: “Airlines and scientists are studying the effects of spending 20 hours or more in an arid cabin at high altitude. They’re beginning to change everything from food service to cabin lighting and temperature to combat dehydration, jet lag and the sedentary effects of being belted into a seat for a day binge-watching movies … Singapore Airlines is working with nutrition and health experts at Canyon Ranch here to devise new menus and onboard wellness programs for its 9,534-mile nonstop trips between Newark, N.J., and Singapore, which will be the longest flights in the world when they launch in October. The airline will also add the long-distance wellness program to existing San Francisco and Los Angeles flights.”

“Out go potatoes; in comes cauliflower. Beverages are being selected to not only improve hydration but also promote bathroom trips to make sure people get up and move around to stimulate blood flow and stretch muscles … To learn more about passengers on long flights, Qantas enlisted volunteer frequent fliers to wear monitors on wrists and legs. It turns out there’s huge variation in passenger movement: Some passengers are active, others remain sedentary the entire trip.”

“Changes are already happening, such as delaying dinner on the evening departure from Perth to begin moving body clocks to London time. When it’s time to go to sleep, cabin lights turn amber and red, which facilitate rest. Blue and white lighting helps wake passengers up … Another area under review with Canyon Ranch: exercise. Singapore, like many airlines, already has a video suggesting some in-seat stretching to relieve tension and stimulate blood flow. The airline is updating the video with input from Canyon Ranch and is considering whether to do more … Qantas says it hasn’t ruled out having a trainer onboard to lead exercises.”

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The Hamptons: Where Filling Up is a Gas

The Wall Street Journal: “Stuart Markus is a full-time musician with one of the wackiest gigs around. Most summer weekends, he plays for the Maserati and Ferrari crowd at Gas Hampton … owner Sergio Celikoyar hired the musician as part of an effort to pry people out of their cars and over to his convenience store to spend a little more money. His aim is to create an aesthetic that screams Hamptons, not roadside pit stop.”

“Mr. Markus … gets paid by the owner about $150 for a three-hour performance, plus tips. Those can be as much as $20 a car. His filling-station set list includes Jackson Browne’s ‘Running on Empty,’ America’s ‘Ventura Highway,’ Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America,’ and—not surprisingly, given the crowd— Jimmy Buffett. One woman walked up to him recently on her way to the convenience store and asked if he played any ‘Jesus music.’ He played the first song that came to mind, ‘Amazing Grace.’ She tipped him $20.”

Celikoyar also “hired a local muralist to decorate the store as a beach, with surfboards, palm trees, sailboats and a lighthouse. Painted circus tents lead to the bathroom, which is so clean it drew praise from reality-television star Bethenny Frankel. She tweeted it was the ‘nicest gas station bathroom I’ve ever seen’ … On some summer weekends, when Mr. Markus isn’t singing, the owner pays a local magician to do card, coin and rope tricks. ”

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Slow Sizzle: Raising The Peak Steak

The Wall Street Journal: “There are cows that eat only grass and roam free. There are Kobe cattle, whose muscles are massaged for months to tenderize the meat they eventually produce. And then there are José Gordon’s oxen. An animal lucky enough to be part of the restaurateur/rancher’s herd in northwestern Spain gets to laze about in mountain pastures redolent of thyme and other fragrant herbs. It is stroked with metal brushes. It might even get a pedicure … the cattle in Mr. Gordon’s herd are allowed to live for years, sometimes close to their life spans of nearly two decades, before being turned into steaks for his restaurant.”

“Mr. Gordon, proprietor of Bodega El Capricho in Spain’s Castille-Leon region, believes he knows when an animal in his herd has finally reached its peak condition and is ready for the abattoir. He decides this by the look and feel of the animal. It’s a matter of instinct, Mr. Gordon says. A few weeks too long or too short can mean less-than-perfect meat … The current king of Mr. Gordon’s herd is 16-year-old Divino, a majestic animal of 3,700 pounds, nearly triple the weight at which most beef cattle go to market. Mr. Gordon has nicknamed him El gran jefe—the big boss—for his haughty manner.”

“Such care doesn’t come cheap. Mr. Gordon estimates each animal costs nearly $3,000 a year, in a combination of its feed, hoof care and vet bills, which is at least twice the cost of traditional ranching. A steer like Divino, who will probably go to slaughter this year, will have cost more than $30,000 to raise. Mr. Gordon says he breaks even on most animals, charging €120 a kilo (about $63.50 a pound) for a premium chuleta steak that he says is more delicate than regular beef … Mr. Gordon admits he loses money with some of the animals he keeps longest.” He comments: “I believe that what I do is mystical, magical. It goes beyond profitability. This is my work and my world. I would never change it.”

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Why America Screams for Ice Cream

Boston Globe: “From the tables of European royalty to a bag of 10 Hoodsies for $2.98 at Market Basket, the story of ice cream echoes that of the American experiment — democratization, fueled by technology, ingenuity, and mass marketing. In the three centuries since the first ice cream recipe was published in English, this frozen food has become an integral part of American identity. Ice cream forms the slushy bedrock of our childhood nostalgia; it’s what people are supposed to eat after a break up because it makes you feel better; it’s the thing that Americans replaced drinking with during Prohibition. It looks great on social media (31 million #icecream photos on Instagram and counting), and, of course, it tastes really good.”

“Ice cream is now a nearly $60 billion a year global industry, expected to grow to nearly $75 billion by 2024. Americans are no longer the world’s top consumers of ice cream — that crown goes to China — nor do we consume the most per capita (that would be Norway, that dark horse). But although we are eating less of it than we did even five years ago, Americans still love ice cream, consuming 13 pounds of the stuff per capita in 2016 and spending $6.6 billion on it in 2017. The ice cream industry in the United States has remained stable in large part because we’re willing to pay more for it when we perceive it as ‘premium’.”

Margaret Visser “writing in ‘Much Depends on Dinner,’ noted that ice cream has become ‘invested, in European and American cultures, with what amounts to mythic power.’ Though ice cream has become cheap, it has never been quite cheapened. It remains ‘a sound and tasteful alternative to the empty vulgarities of junk food,’ Visser wrote. It exerts a pleasant nostalgic pull, for that lost childhood, for an old-fashioned time past, for a golden era that doesn’t exist now and probably never really existed, for what Visser describes simply as ‘elsewhere,’ — the country, the holiday, the seaside. Or to put it another way, as Vora said, ‘Ice cream is just fun’.”

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Lightbox Jewelry: Lab Diamonds via DeBeers

The Washington Post: “De Beers, the diamond giant that for years has promoted gemstones as pricey and precious, said it will begin selling man-made diamonds that cost about a tenth of the price of a mined gem. The line of pink, blue and white laboratory-grown diamonds, which De Beers will sell under a new brand, Lightbox Jewelry, is designed to persuade shoppers to think of synthetic diamonds as a ‘fun piece of fashion jewelry’ instead of a lifelong investment, executives said. Prices will start at as low as $200 to appeal to a new generation of shoppers.”

“The lower-priced jewelry is as much about changing consumer habits and preferences as it is about economics, industry experts say. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings — bogged down by heavy student debt loads and stagnant wages — have less spending power than their predecessors did, but they have different values, too: A recent study by De Beers found that millennials would rather splurge on overseas holidays, weekend getaways and electronics than on diamonds.”

“Lab-grown diamonds — which are created in hot, pressurized chambers over weeks, instead of a billion years underground — have been growing in popularity as Americans spend less on traditional diamonds. The stones are increasingly marketed to younger shoppers as a cheaper, ethically sourced alternative to mined diamonds. But their chemical makeup is the same (all diamonds are made of just one element: carbon), and experts say they are indistinguishable to the naked eye.”

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The Truck Surf Hotel: Waves on Wheels

Fast Company: “The Truck Surf Hotel is exactly what it sounds like: a hotel. For surfers. On a specially designed, expandable truck … When it’s not in motion, the vehicle uses hydraulics to extend its interiors beyond the truck bed with moving walls, increasing the available interior space … every individual or couple–up to a maximum of 10 people–has their own private double room with a key card, a comfortable bed, air conditioning, and wireless internet.”

“On the truck’s first floor there’s a common area where the owners serve a breakfast buffet every morning. The rooms are on the top floor and each of them has wide glass windows that give each room plenty of natural light and views. The toilet and the shower are common for all guests. The two-floor hotel on wheels travels to the best surfing spots in Portugal and Morocco. “

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Slow Tickets: Swift ‘Reputation’ for Empty Seats

The Wall Street Journal: “The biggest pop star’s current concert tour isn’t a sellout. And that’s a good thing, according to some in the concert industry. Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ tour, which kicked off last week in Glendale, Ariz., is a test case in squeezing out scalpers and capturing more profits from ticket sales. The strategy … is to use aggressive pricing to limit the ability of scalpers to purchase tickets and later sell them at higher prices. In addition, a program from Ticketmaster is aimed at giving passionate fans earlier access to tickets at discounted prices.”

“One downside to the plan: empty seats at some of the roughly 36 stadiums on Ms. Swift’s 53-date tour. However, even if those seats remain unsold, the ‘Reputation’ tour already has grossed more on its North American leg than Ms. Swift’s previous tour in 2015 … For decades, artists and their teams have claimed ‘sold out’ shows as a badge of honor showing the high demand for their music. The new approach is raising questions in the music industry about whether an end is nearing for the days of instant sellouts.”

“The best seats—some with added VIP perks—cost $800 to $1,500 at face value for a given show, with those immediately behind them at $250 each. Spots in the back of the house go for about $50.”

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Lord & Taylor’s New ‘Flagship’: Walmart.com

The New York Times: “Lord & Taylor is teaming up with Walmart to create an online store on Walmart.com that will offer about 125 fashion brands, including Tommy Bahama, La La Anthony, H Halston and Effy. Billed by both companies as a ‘premium’ shopping destination, the new online store reflects Lord & Taylor’s desire to reach a wider audience and Walmart’s hope to attract a different type of customer.”

“For Walmart, the partnership is the latest attempt to reach a more urbane shopper. As part of that effort, Walmart has made a string of acquisitions over the past year, purchasing the clothing sites Bonobos and Modcloth and starting its own bedding and mattress line, sold exclusively online.”

“The Lord & Taylor online store on Walmart.com is expected to open in the coming weeks. Lord & Taylor will be responsible for shipping the clothing to customer’s homes. It will continue to sell the same brands in its stores and on its own website at the same prices as it does on Walmart.com … Lord & Taylor executives referred to their site on the Walmart website as a new kind of ‘flagship’ store.”

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