Stinky Cremes: The Odor of Authenticity

The New York Times: “Among skin-care enthusiasts, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 has a formidable reputation for its exfoliating powers — and an extremely stinky aroma. Formulated decades ago, the French toner contains a hyperspecific blend of lactic acid, onion extract and plankton that loyalists swear will clear up acne and render your skin silky smooth. If you can withstand the assault on your nose, that is.” Danuta Mieloch of Rescue Spas comments: “It’s highly addictive because it helps to achieve healthy, glowing skin. You sort of can’t live without it …Women go to extremes to maintain their skin. A little smell — it’s a small price to pay.”

“P50 is not the only classic beauty product causing a (literal) stink. SkinCeutical’s brightening and firming C E Ferulic serum has a noticeable ‘metallic smell,’ says the New York dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman. ‘One of my patients told me it smells like dirty hot dog water’ … The phenomenon represents a sharp departure from fragranced creams and serums from other luxury purveyors … that leave behind a richly perfumed trail with every application. Yet not masking the au naturale aroma of ingredients lends a certain air of authenticity.”

Dr. Amy Wechsler, a New York dermatologist and psychiatrist, comments: “The thinking is that if something stings and smells bad, then it must be doing something … People associate medicine with a bad smell and bitter taste; so with skin care, they think there must be some really active ingredients in there … it’s like, ‘Oooh it’s supposed to smell bad,’ and it feels even more secret and special.”

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Perfumarie: The Nose Knows Retail

The New York Times: Mindy Yang’s Perfumarie in SoHo “specializes in blind perfume shopping, allowing customers to smell fragrances with all the branding removed … In her quest to encourage consumers to trust their noses, Ms. Yang decided to put perfumes on tap, labeling them only by number. She installed 32 identical fragrance spouts along the minimalist back wall of the space, removing any hints of branding, packaging or price information. Underneath each tap is a small gray stone tagine containing a white paper swan soaked in the mystery perfume”

“Customers are encouraged to sniff in numerical order, taking notes on a clipboard about the scents that set their synapses ablaze. The scents begin light, with airy and citrusy notes, and get progressively stronger. Ms. Yang likens this to beginning with white wine and graduating to a full-bodied cabernet. Shoppers are not permitted to know the name of the perfume they’ve selected. Instead, the vials are labeled with numbers, looking a bit like prototypes stolen from a chemistry lab … At the end of every month, Ms. Yang hosts a cocktail party to unveil the tap selections. She also posts the full list online so that customers can discover the truth about the perfumes they took home.”

“When customers pay for their first blind smelling, they have the option to become a Perfumarie Explorer’s Club member. Their scent notes are scanned into a database and saved for future reference … Ms. Yang hopes that by offering membership and stressing the community aspect of the store, customers will return month after month. She wants them to treat their past smelling notes like a library, learning how their taste evolves over time … she hopes it will be equally attractive to the industry as a street-level test lab.” She comments: “I am no longer interested in traditional retail. People need to learn how to be empowered to have a point of view and choose what they like for themselves.”

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City Girl Coffee: The Experience is the Message

The New York Times: “City Girl is bold and risky, from its bright-pink logo and packaging to its business plan’s central tenet: fighting gender inequity in the coffee industry. On average, according to the International Trade Center, women do 70 percent of the work in getting coffee to market but regularly cede or are barred from financial control, so City Girl gets its beans exclusively from farms and cooperatives that are owned or managed by women. In addition, the company donates 5 percent of all profit to organizations that support women in the industry.”

“Sales — principally through City Girl’s online store and in the Twin Cities’ high-end retailers, including Kowalski’s Markets and Lunds & Byerlys — are up 300 percent year over year. City Girl aims to break into other Midwest markets, including Chicago, St. Louis and Des Moines, and then to select cities on the East Coast … chief competitors have argued that City Girl’s female-empowerment message is little more than a marketing ploy.” However, founder Alyza Bohbot says “in this day and age, you can’t have a good product without having a good marketing story.”

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Fang Gourmet Tea: Steeped in Obsession

The New York Times: Fang Gourmet Tea: “For 15 years, it has been the de facto gathering place for the New York region’s most serious tea enthusiasts. And this season brings its premier event, for connoisseurs and novices alike: the annual Tea Tasting Expo. For the expo, which began in 2009 and runs this year from Dec. 9 through Jan. 7, the normally serene shop bustles as the staff trots out limited releases of Chinese and Taiwanese teas and teaware that draw drinkers from as far as California.”

“The costly teas and pottery are often unobtainable anywhere else in the United States, even for seasoned drinkers with connections of their own … But the expo is more than an opportunity to share rare and newly available teas. It also gives tea devotees, many of whom see one another only once a year, a space to obsess together … the expo is more about education and community than about profit. The shop is not a big moneymaker.”

“And unlike blockbuster conventions like the World Tea Expo (to be held next June in Las Vegas) and the Coffee & Tea Festival NYC (scheduled for March at the Brooklyn Expo Center), the Fang gathering is deliberately intimate. There are no keynote addresses, swag bags or sponsors … What brings drinkers back year after year is the promise of exceptional teas and conversation with kindred spirits.”

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‘Potheads’ Inhale The Instant Pot

The New York Times: Instant Pot is “a new breed of 21st-century start-up — a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth … devotees — they call themselves ‘Potheads’ — use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget’s praises to the unconverted.”

Company founder Robert Wang “listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device’s pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat. Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.”

“At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot’s sales came through Amazon.” Mr. Wang also revealed a secret: in every official photograph of an Instant Pot, the unit’s timer is set to 5:20 — a series of numbers that, when spoken aloud, sounds like ‘I love you’ in his native Mandarin. ‘It’s a subliminal message,’ he said. ‘It shows how much we care about our customers’.” He adds: “We know we really make a difference in people’s lives. It’s really gratifying.”

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Philz Coffee: All You Need Is The Secret Ingredient

Business Insider: San Francisco-base Philz Coffee “has the cash to fuel an expansion and a key ingredient to become the next Blue Bottle: individuality. It looks nothing like a cookie-cutter coffee chain. At Philz, a diverse set of customers sit around mismatched pieces of furniture and drink coffee brewed one cup at time. Employees are encouraged to express their personality through interactions with customers … The venture-backed coffee chain started from humble beginnings. Phil, who was born in Palestine and grew up in the Bay Area, ran a corner bodega in a gritty neighborhood.”

“Today, the original Philz location on 24th Street still looks like someone’s grandma’s house. Couches sink like they’ve been lived in, and floor-to-ceiling murals spark creativity … Unlike coffee chains that offer only light, medium, and dark roasts, Philz boasts more than 20 vibrant blends with names like Canopy of Heaven, Philharmonic, and Sooo Good. You won’t find any lattes or over-the-top blended drinks — like you might find at Starbucks — on the menu. But flavor descriptions like “cardamom, maple, earth” or “toast, berry, vanilla” have customers drooling.”

“Baristas brew one cup at a time using a pour-over method, which allows them to make each drink exactly how the customer likes it … Two to three minutes later, a barista calls the customer by name and invites them to take a sip. Baristas say they’re happy to remake the drink until the guest is 100% satisfied … According to a Philz employee, the secret ingredient in every cup is ‘love’ … The company aims to have more than 50 locations across four major metropolitan markets by early next year. There are shops in Colorado and Boston in the pipeline.”

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KitKat: Just Plain Weird in Japan

Los Angeles Times: “Two years ago, KitKat’s marketing manager in Japan won an internal corporate award. His prize: a golden trophy shaped like one of the iconic chocolate bars. Today, the manager, Ryoji Maki, doesn’t remember why he won the award. But he’s immensely proud of what it inspired. ‘That’s how I came up with creating a gold leaf-covered KitKat,’ he said. Before long, the chocolate wafer bars were on sale in Tokyo for about $18. ‘They were like an edible golden trophy’.”

“Maki’s creation joined a long, and ever growing, list of distinctive, fun or just plain weird KitKats found only in Japan. The country is a KitKat-lover’s paradise, with so many unique varieties — an estimated 300 — that some travelers visit Japan just to try them. Many flavors are alien to the American palate, and they go far beyond Japanese staples — such as sake, wasabi and green tea — and into uncharted territory: ‘French salt,’ ‘college tater’ and ‘Muscat of Alexandria’.”

“The candy with the European pedigree went on to conquer Japan thanks to constant invention — blueberry cheesecake, cherry blossom and melon — and a linguistic coincidence that makes KitKats here a harbinger of good luck … the chocolate bar’s English name is a cognate — it sounds like kitto kattsu, which means ‘you will surely win,’ a sort of good luck blessing. Nestle leveraged the association into huge sales.”

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Merry ModelXmas!

Boing Boing: People who drive Tesla’s Model X have a cool ‘easter egg’ feature built right into their vehicle: a holiday music and light show set to the tune of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards In Winter”! When activated, this all-electric luxury vehicle will display a synchronized show using the car’s headlights, turn signals, and falcon wings.”

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Late & Great: Johnny Hallyday

“He was an idol, in other words, blasphemy incarnate. His death is that of a god who was in fact mortal. People say they can’t believe he is dead, simply because their belief in him, their faith in him, will not die. Many people never believed that Elvis died. The same will happen with Johnny.” – French philosopher Raphaël Enthoven on the phenomenon that was Johnny Hallyday (from The New York Times)

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Shanghai Surprise: World’s Biggest Starbucks

The Washington Post: Starbucks has “opened its largest store in the world: a nearly 30,000-square-foot compound that does much more than simply serve coffee. The new Starbucks Reserve Roastery … in Shanghai, is the first non-U.S. location of a new series of shops designed to offer a more ‘immersive’ experience for coffee lovers, according to Starbucks.”

“It includes three coffee bars, one of which clocks in at 88 feet long — the chain’s longest to date. The coffee bars will serve brews made from beans grown in China’s Pu’er in Yunnan Province … A two-story, 40-ton copper cask towers over the store, refilling the coffee bars’ various silos … As a nod to the local beverage of choice, it also includes a tea bar made from 3-D printed materials, and an in-house bakery employing more than 30 Chinese bakers and chefs.”

“The experience seems curated to keep people milling about the store. It is the first Starbucks location to integrate augmented reality, which refers to technology that combines real-world surroundings with tech, in this case the customers’ smartphones. They can point their phones at various spots around the cavernous room to learn about the coffee-brewing process … The store’s boasting rights as the world’s largest won’t last long, though. The company plans to open a 43,000-square-foot location on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in 2019.”

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