Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You remember Jesse.  And you remember my giveaway.  Well, this is a mash-up.  I wanted to give you another look at Tommy, for a new generation.  Gone are the days of heavy-handed-logo-sweatshirts and baggy jeans.  Today the brand is clean and collegiate, all textures and warmth.   And what better way to show you than with dreamboat-Jesse and his array of casually-accidentally-handsome faces.  And, surprise! he brought along his brother, Curtis, who is equally dreamboatish, but in a different, more Matt Damon-y way.  

These days Tommy does big sweaters, plaids, and stripes.  They've hit the nail on the head, style-wise, with a blend of Hipster Irony and Old School Haberdashery; the everything-old-is-new-again aesthetic.  And today as we roamed the always-photogenic U of T grounds, these boys looked both 1950s-suave and modern-day hot.

Next week Tommy will unveil their Spring 2011 collection at Toronto's Thrush Holmes Empire, and (after my unsolicited blog love a couple of weeks ago) they've actually hired me to capture the party (Eee!)  I'll be sure to show you what's on tap, and share a few party photos too.  In the meantime, enjoy the Brothers Giddings.  And there's more to come of this shoot, but first we're off to the Bahamas.  See you in a few days.

There's still some time to get in on the giveaway (did you see the bags above?), so click over here and follow the rules: This Roving Tommy Duffle Bag Giveaway Sweepstakes Adventure.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

One of the most underrated musicians of my generation is Fiona Apple.  She blew onto the scene in 1996, a flurry of melancholic ingenuity and other buzz words.  She was a hit with her song "Criminal", though it's a woefully inappropriate song to represent her career.  Like so many female artists of the 1990s, she was painted with a broad angsty stroke, her own song "Sullen Girl" not at all helpful to her or her contemporaries.  

While she is introspective and typically-emotive, she's also a master of language, rhythm, melody and structure.  Her voice is smokey and strong, her phrasing thoughtful and so telling.  Every breath and note of her three albums is so purposeful, even the length of silence between tracks a decision.  

From her debut (Tidal, 1996) to her brilliant sophomore album (When the Pawn, 1999) to her latest (Extraordinary Machine, 2003) she leaves me wanting more.  There's talk she's back in the studio now, finally, preparing new music.

Apple says she knows she has a finished album when ten songs are done.  So here are ten of my favourites, which I hope become important to you too.  Listen carefully 3 minutes and 50 seconds into "I Know" for the greatest moment in her recorded career (if I may) when she channels Judy Garland and writes the most beautiful, restrained, unfinished lyric:  "And if it gets too late for me to wait, for you to find you love me, and tell me so, it's okay, you don't need to say it."

The Quintessential Fiona Apple

  1. Used to Love Him
  2. Not About Love
  3. Paper Bag
  4. Slow Like Honey
  5. Get Him Back
  6. The Way Things Are
  7. Parting Gift
  8. Never is a Promise
  9. Oh Well
10. I Know

Note: To keep the songs in this order (which you should do!) select all the files in the folder and then drag them into a New Playlist you've created in iTunes.  

Head to the iTunes store to snag her catalogue.  You will not regret it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Back when I first moved to Toronto, nearly 10 years ago, I took the easy way out and bought a bunch of white stuff at IKEA. A Klippan sofa, Tullsta chairs, a slew of beech tables, a few horrific pops of red,  and that was that!  Decorated like a low-rent version of American Psycho.  Well, guess what?  That's not a good look.

My tastes have changed since then.  Moving, mostly unscathed, through the matchy-matchy phase, we slowly replaced generic junk with special things found at antique shops, or roadsides, or on craigslist.  Nearly every piece in our apartment has some kind of story attached to it which doesn't include a side of meatballs or a Swedish instruction manual.  But nothing was expensive, in fact often-cheaper than new stuff from stores.  When I look around now, I see layers and interest and history. Not just things, but the reasons they're there instead.

Not that you asked, but these are my tips for putting together a room.  

While I don’t think my space is perfect, it does satisfy my eye and my mild OCD.  When putting together a space in your home, there are elements that can fly under your radar, causing the overall result to be mysteriously lackluster, though you may not be able to pinpoint why.  When you have "nice things" and a definite style, what might be missing?

Like an outfit, your room requires contrast. Without, everything is flat and nothing rises up. Remember, our eyes are really just very sophisticated camera lenses – They react to light, contrast, and depth. If these things are missing, our eyes don’t know what we’re looking at.  It’s science, baby!  If this might be what's lacking in your place, try swapping out a couple of throw cushions with something a bit brighter, whiter. How about a set of sheers under your dark drapes? Perhaps adding white mats to all your framed photos will do the trick.  On the flip side, shots of black can help too. If your room is looking a bit one-note (white and bright and airy) it might need to be anchored by something darker. A mirror with a dark frame, a dark throw on the back of the couch.  It doesn’t take much to crank up the contrast in a room, but you need it!

Are your colours competing? I’m a firm believer that all colours can go together if they share a level of saturation. Purple and blue and red and green and yellow all in one room harmoniously, as long as they carry the same weight. Try putting a pastel alongside a jewel tone, you’ll see what I mean: they will compete, and each will inevitably come out looking confused. But army green with slate blue and deep mustard?  Beauteous.

The same goes for scale.  You can mix styles and eras if their size relates well.  And don’t get trapped in the notion that a small space requires small furniture. I’ve never met a “condo-sized” sofa I liked – Scale it up! But, like colour, make sure that the relationship between your pieces is appropriate.  You don't want one occasional chair to be significantly taller than another. While they don't need to match (and often shouldn't) something will seem amiss if your guests are at radically different levels when seated together.  Remember your coffee and end tables, too.  They need to play well with the other pieces in the room - like your outfit, make sure each element relates.  

Are you playing with shapes?  Think sunglasses – If you’ve got a square face, bust out the Jackie O’s. If you’re an oval, you might need something with some edges. Same goes for rooms and furniture and placement. If something isn’t quite right, perhaps everything is too linear. Swap out your boxy dining table for a round one. Or hang a round mirror on the wall. Or twist your armchairs at an angle, rather than perpendicular to something else. Don’t get boxed-in. Alternately, don’t get too free-and-easy. Your room might need some structure – It can’t be all gauzy fabrics and roundness. Balance it out!

Like a meal, each room needs a bit of acid. Throw in pops of mustard yellow or a shot of lettuce-green or peony-fuscia. Orange. I’d call them neutrals, frankly. I think shades found in nature can be considered such, when used in small doses. You’d be surprised how these unexpected hits of colour can really work and can add needed-interest to a space.  

Consider the elevation of the objects in your space: Is everything on one level? How does your eye travel about the room? Is it drawn up to notice artwork on the wall, then back down to note the gorgeous rug? Or does it run along the top of each chair, the back of the sofa, suddenly darting upwards to a painting hung too high, and then back down to the kitchen island and across every doorknob and light switch in the place? That ain’t good. Your eye should wander gracefully, all around.  

Depth and texture are huge for me. I can’t stand a blank, flat wall of colour with a blank, flat sofa pressed up against it, with blank, flat throw cushions tossed around. The whole thing is the decorative equivalent of a pair of coveralls in a workshop – Not an outfit!  Use wallpaper, or choose a sofa fabric with some depth, some texture. Like you’d accessorize your clothes, do the same with a room.  Layer things in.  Don't be afraid to build a collection, stacking special items in front of each other, even framed photos obstructing others a little.  This will draw guests in to get a better look, to see how these treasures relate.  Nothing pleases me more than a new visitor poking around our shelf, gliding about, taking it all in.  These things on display tell people our little stories, walk them through the smallest details of our lives.

Consider the materials you’ve employed. Every room requires a bit of all things: metal, wood, fabric (velvet, wool, tweed, cotton, silk, leather, hide), glass, natural stone, and natural fibre. Also consider the gloss-level of each object. Like pharmaceuticals, balance your highs and lows. If everything is shiny, nothing is shiny. If everything is matte, the whole room will fall flat. If you were putting on jewelry, you’d surely wear just ONE pair of diamond earrings, no? Showcase your favourite items, don’t cannibalize them by overdoing.

Lighting!  Good lord. The number one way to murder a lovingly-thought-out space is by butchering the lighting. Why do you think movies and theatre have Lighting Designers? Because it’s an artform that must be considered! Low-wattage! No fluorescents or bare bulbs overhead! Keep it warm and soft and plentiful. You need to have total control over every aspect. Dimmers, dimmers, dimmers!

I use some of these ideas when I'm cooking, plating a meal, or putting together an outfit, too.  If something seems off, I run through a list of possibilities in my head.  Often adding a tertiary colour to an outfit (maybe a tie, or a different belt) or arranging a sauce differently on the plate just changes everything.  

(Thanks for reading.)

With just one week until our trip to the Bahamas, we're in full-blown Salad Mode.  That vanity-driven final push, when you realize you'll be in thigh-high swim trunks in no time, and eating light and lean is an essential self-manipulation to go confidently shirtless in public.  

The Niçoise salad is a favourite, its components adding up to a hearty and filling meal.  I'd never made it with fresh seared tuna so snagged a pound of wild yellowfin at the St. Lawrence Market, thick and bruise-coloured, its weight and density satisfying in the hands.  Seared for mere moments on each side, you should achieve a scant eighth-of-an-inch salt-and-peppered crust, with a bright, glistening centre.  The sear gives the fish a perfect blend of textures, cutting the squeamishness associated with raw fish, and adding a nice warmth to the salad greens.  Alongside steamed green beans, purple potatoes, pretty little heirloom tomatoes and halved hardboiled eggs, the Niçoise is the king of the Substantial Salad.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I promised some photos of the TOMMY by Tommy Hilfiger duffle bags I'm offering as a giveaway.  Those will come soon, but in the meantime, some shots of the great details on these bags.  

One is camo with orange detailing, and the other is orange with brown and tan.  The bags have two great pockets inside, lined in a preppy-corporate bengal-stripe, a clever counter to the military/roadside pylon aesthetic.  That orange is about the brightest I've seen lately, but somehow, against all odds, it works.  

You certainly wouldn't miss your duffle sliding off the baggage carousel.  

A terrific waxed-canvas weekender, these would be perfect tossed into the boat or even strapped to a roof rack.  These bags aren't fussy, they're casual and utilitarian.  If you're your lucky enough to win, I think you'll love it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We've all seen the spike in moustaches lately.  And some are better than others.  (Mine, if you've been wondering, began long before Movember and isn't nearly as charitable.  In fact, I think it might actually make people sick.)  Anyway, our best friend Nick continues to primp his impressive 'stache for prostate cancer research.  Visit his page to donate!  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here we are, mid-November, the final days of fall petering-off, each one a bit shorter, a little dimmer, a touch colder.  It's timefor moody music and root vegetables. So tonight we had both beets and turnips, alongside a loin chop of lamb.  And brussel sprouts.

Buttered Brussel Sprouts

Sauté two shallots and four cloves of garlic in a pan for a few minutes.  Steam a pound of brussel sprouts for 3 or 4 minutes, then halve them, and toss into the pan, adding a bit of water and a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.  Allow to brown lightly before tossing a handful of raisins and a dash of pinenuts.  Allow to cook away for a moment or two.  Add four tablespoons of butter and allow the flavours to come together.  The sprouts should be tender, but crisp.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Their bitterness is a nice counter to the sweetness of the all-spiced-turnip purée and the lamb, and the earthiness of the beets.

A NOTE ON THE WINE Castello di Farnetella Lucilla 2007 ($18.95, LCBO) Great with lamb, it's sweet and rich and lovely.

FULL DISCLOSURE While in the midst of writing this post, we moved onto another bottle.  2007 First Press Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95, LCBO)  Fruity, with a subtle bite-in-the-cheeks finish.  So tasty.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Wednesday night I had the great pleasure of attending a dinner to celebrate Tommy Hilfiger.  The brand is 25 years old and opening a slew of new stores around the world, including here in Toronto. 

And they're changing things up a bit.  

If you've seen a fashion magazine lately, you've likely been sucked into the fantastic four-page ad from their new campaign. The Meet the Hilfigers angle is cheeky and sexy: Beautiful people, beautiful clothes and gorgeous photography. And there's something about a giant group portrait that really gets me, so this one soaked up my attention for more than a few minutes.

I'd never really considered myself a Tommy customer, but, suddenly, in just one picture, I saw it.  

Tommy's new diffusion line (TOMMY) is classic American, all tweeds and plaids and checks, rich colours and ivy league-touches.  Chunky knitwear, collegiate stripes, and terrific leather goods.  Everything looks moneyed and effortless, at-once casual and gussied-up.

The new line comes at a time when popular style has settled into prep, with a twist.  Elbow patches and button-down-collars, but paired with military or leather.  Kicky skirts with menswear, for the ladies, and snappy colours for the guys. They're checked-in to everything that's happening right now: reclaimed vintage, nerdy stuff, midcentury, and doing what great designers always should: Leaving room in every piece for the consumer to make it his own.

Canadian Fashion Icon (italics required) Jeanne Beker hosted the dinner, alongside Hilfiger's (handsome) CEO, Gary Sheinbaum.  He was a super nice guy and couldn't get over how fun and nice Canadians are.  When he asked me why we're so cool, I told him it's because the world's expectations of us are low, so we always exceed them.  (Ha!)

The event was held in Parkdale at one of the city's newest and hippest spots, Parts & Labour.  Exectuive chef, Matty Matheson assembled a lovely 6-course meal, from a maple-infused soup to a shockingly-tender loin of beef served with lentils and beets. I've been hearing about P&L for a few months, and now it's on the list.  If a restaurant can pull-off a great meal for 45 people, chances are it'll be spectacular for 4.

(Photo above from Wireimage. The rest are mine, except, of course, the TOMMY ads.) 

You must remember Jesse from these photos.  Aside from being totally dreamy, he's also in an aptly-named band, Brighter.  They're four sunny guys who play cheerful pop-rock.  When food gave way to booze, the band played a couple of songs, to everyone's delight.

Oh!  And I'm thrilled to announce my first-ever giveaway.  Tommy has generously gifted a fantastic duffle bag (it's huge, like a slightly-shrunken, ultra-chic hockey bag.  Perfect for weekend trips to the cottage.)  And you can win it!  Keep it for yourself or check a Christmas gift off your list.  (I will update with a photo soon!  In the meantime: trust me.)  See below.  Enter now!  

(And, hey, why not retweet this too, while you're at it.  Thanks!)

UPDATE Joe over at www.joeisthenewblack.com has posted a photo of the TOMMY duffle.  I've got two to give away, one in camo and another in bright orange.  Your odds of winning are way up, people!  My own photos of the bags will come soon.

UPDATE 2 Check out sneak-peek #1 of the bags here!