Friday, February 27, 2009

The Obama Man

This post serves to introduce Stuart Hotchkiss as a guest columnist for The Crane Insider. Stuart is the owner of Capital Ties, a privately owned neckwear design and manufacturing business in Washington, DC. Prior to his life as an entrepreneur, Stuart served as President of Time Inc. Home Entertainment, a $200 million enterprise of mail order, retail and licensing businesses, all brand extensions of the Time Inc. Magazine Group. Stuart also was in charge of Time Inc.’s in-house advertising agency. We first met Stuart here.

By Stuart Hotchkiss

“He’s definitely a fashion icon. He’s brand new, he’s a black president, and he’s so handsome.” – Haute Couture Designer Guillermo Mariotto

Other than Harry Truman’s sartorial distinction stemming from his humble beginnings as a haberdasher in downtown Kansas City, no U.S. President has ever created such a fashion buzz nor made as important an impact on the clothes worn by his countrymen as President Barack Obama.

Several events in the 2008 presidential election campaign helped bring Barack Obama’s wardrobe into focus. Plenty of references were made to Mr. Obama’s conservative outlook on suits and his tendency to wear an open collar without a necktie.

Indeed, Mr. Obama's fashion preferences still carry an uncommonly high media profile. Like other industries looking to project our new President as their icon, the men's fashion industry is perfectly justified in creating new designs for “The Obama Man.”

For starters, sales of the dark-navy custom-made suit Mr. Obama wore on Election Night in Chicago have risen dramatically. The suit, made by Chicago’s Hartmarx and sold under its Hart Schaffner Marx label, is a sensible two-button model, with clean lines and made from a worsted wool and cashmere fabric. Hartmarx also made a tuxedo, a topcoat and a suit for President Obama’s Inauguration. Photo by Associated Press.

Of course, the fact that the candidate in question had a youthful, vigorous appearance probably didn't do any harm. Mr. Obama's air of confidence and slightly casual mannerisms are also likely to have been of some influence. In any case, it seems that the American male has definitely taken notice.

So what about other elements of the wardrobe? One reads that suit jackets are no longer mandatory in Oval Office meetings; suits are being worn without ties; and the President conducts interviews - for instance on the night of the Super Bowl - in a mere dress shirt. NBC Photo.

For the record, the practice of wearing a suit without a tie has been acceptable in casual to semi-formal situations for decades. It's common, in fact, for a man to loosen or remove his tie after the more formal portion of an event or function.

The President's formal public appearances have included very tasteful and fashionable neckties. Whether he's more comfortable with or without the tie, Mr. Obama knows when and how to look his best.

To get a true Washington perspective on the matter, I spoke with Craig Fox of Wm. Fox & Co., a haberdasher located a block from the White House who has helped dress Washington’s most powerful men since 1965.

“President Obama is definitely influencing the way men dress,” says Fox, “and it has already had an impact on what I am ordering from my suppliers.” Keep in mind the role of a bonafide haberdasher like Fox is to advise his customers what to buy, not the other way around. Fox sees a new curve and he is trying to stay ahead of it.

Neckties? Fox says the look is getting “ultra conservative – simple designs, and solids,” and “if a tie has a pattern, it’s so tiny that it looks like a solid.” Dress Shirts? “Real clean and crisp,” says Fox, “mostly blue and white solids.”
Photos on the right, top, President Obama's tie worn to sign the Stimulus Bill and, bottom, on his recent visit to Canada. Photos: Neck of State dot com.

Fox carries a nice selection of ties from labels like California-based Robert Talbott and Drake’s of London ; he carries a similarly nice selection of dress shirts from Pennsylvania-based Gitman Bros. and Hilditch & Key of London’s Jermyn Street fame; he is one of the oldest suppliers of Samuelsohn suits and sports coats, a Canadian brand.

Will “Made in America” trump European fashion? “At the end of the day,” says Fox, “it’s more about what a customer can afford to buy these days.” Perhaps it’s great timing that President Obama’s influence on fashion has been conservative, both in terms of styles and budgets.

One sad footnote to this story is that despite President Obama’s desire to avert further economic doom amongst America’s retailers, Hartmarx Corp. and its U.S. subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 protection on January 23, 2009.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Return to the Elegance of House Stationery

As I write from my home office, it's cold, it's snowy and it's windy. It's still February. So it's time to begin thinking about more pleasant things over the horizon.

A couple of weeks ago, the members of the extended Porter family (Wendy's side) sent in their requests for vacation time at the Porter House. This gem overlooks Phinney's Harbor in Monument Beach on Cape Cod, and has served as the family's vacation getaway since 1913. Built in the late 1800s as the boat house for homes on Phinney's Point, it's been in the family now for five generations.

In June, we'll have members of four of those five generations in attendance at a big family reunion on Phinney's Point, with the Porter House serving as the focal point of activity.

It occurred to me the other day - thinking about summer at the Porter House - that this is the perfect place for "House Stationery."

House stationery is a wonderful tradition going way back where a family engraves an illustration of their home on their stationery. House stationery is available for use by members of the family or by anyone staying at the house. Many times house stationery is in supply at a second home or a vacation home, where the pace of life tends to slow and one can become more reflective.

I found some excellent examples of engraved house stationery when riffling through the archives the other day:

If this strikes your fancy, you should consult with your stationer, who will be able to contact Crane's Art Department for instructions on submitting images and to request a quote for custom artwork. There are some up-front costs, but the reward is well worth it.

Because of the image I hope to use (see below. Painting by Wendy's very talented cousin Tyler Ryder) I may opt for a full-color digital image on Museo Artist Cards. Luckily, I'll have time to explore my options. After all, it's still February.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Vintage Ephemera Designs from Austin Press

I was sent a package of samples from Austin Press in San Francisco the other day, and wanted to share with you the letterpress artistry of Kimberly Austin on Crane's Lettra paper.

Located in the historic San Francisco Shipyard, Kimberly creates beautifully crafted ephemera on her vintage presses. Inspired by a collection of rare books and alphabets, Austin Press offers a rich assortment of ready-to-write and custom tailored note cards.


Friday, February 20, 2009

A Note From and Salute to Bravo Company, 82nd Airborne in Iraq

We recently received a letter from a member of Bravo Company, 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division. He is a Sergeant and a Forward Observer deployed in Baghdad. With this information alone, one has to believe that this is one rugged paratrooper.

Here's part of his letter:

"I had some of your amazing stationery when I left, but I ran out. And nothing else will do after you have had cotton. Most people think in today's age, that e-mail is everything. But mail is still a huge part of soldier morale we depend on when we are abroad."

Needless to say, our sargeant will soon have a new supply of Crane stationery.

Given his statement about mail and soldier morale, I hope you all will find an opportunity to send a gift, a goodie package, a box of stationery, to one or more of our troops serving overseas. Check with your local American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Red Cross, or do a Google search for "gifts for troops in Iraq."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

NY Times Career Couch: Print Your Cover Letter!

Just a quick note to let you know about an interesting article in today's New York Times.

The newspaper's Career Couch columnist Phyllis Korkki presents some rock-solid advice to job-seekers:

A Cover Letter is Not Expendable

It's an enlightening read, especially for those who think the world revolves around ones and zeros.

Here's one real-world example if you haven't seen it already.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sonic Commercial: Money Made from Trees?

Hi Gang:

Just a quick appeal for your assistance. I figure we're less than six degrees of separation from this one.

I heard from two people at Crane today that Sonic Restaurants is running a commercial with a mom and child, where someone says "money is made from trees."

Now, of course, we all know that our nation's currency is made from recovered cotton and flax fibers, not from trees. But if today's reports are true, Sonic's ad agency believes the opposite.

Don't get me wrong, I love these ads. I think they are clever, with lines delivered beautifully by their ensemble of improv artists.

But, but, but. Money may grow on trees, but no trees have been used to make U.S. currency paper. And certainly no tree has ever been sacrificed to purchase a Sonic burger.

So please help me out. Send me a link. Send me a video.

And you shall have some Crane stationery -tree-free, of course!

I thank you in advance.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer's Guide to the Rest of Your Life

Time to buckle up, Baby Boomers, and get ready for the rest of the ride - wherever it may take you. And to help us get there, we (OK, I said it) now have some valuable assistance in the form of The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer's Guide to the Rest of Your Life by Jeffrey Johnson and Paula Forman.

According to the authors, "You've focused on your goals, achieved almost everything you had your eye on, and now that you've arrived, you ask yourself: Where am I?

"Many boomers are surprised to find themselves stuck in the middle of the hourglass, constrained by the choices they made earlier in life and downright afraid of the retirement days that stretch ahead. But as the voices in The Hourglass Solution confirm, it’s all a matter of perspective: you can remain stuck in that narrow channel for the rest of your life—or it can be a passage to an expanding future of possibilities."

Johnson and Forman both hold PhDs - Paula in Sociology and Jeff in Psychology - and both are veterans of the upper echelons of the advertising industry.

In The Hourglass Solution, Jeff and Paula tackle the "sense of ennui, fear and confusion that confront many of us who are 50 and older, and offer up stories from those who broke free from the neck of the hourglass."

You’ll meet a successful attorney who’s ready for a life change. You’ll hear from a big-city banker who packs up and moves to Phoenix, to the surprise of friends and family. Also there are stories of a couple looking for ways to reconnect after caring for aging parents, a former accountant who finally does buy that dreamed-of diving shop in Costa Rica, and a couple who downsizes to travel.

Jeff and Paula have created a blog here. You can also contact them via e-mail here.

"We hope you will send us feedback on what topics interest you and perhaps tell us your own story. If you feel “stuck” in mid-life and see few options — we might have ideas. And if you have found an Hourglass Solution we would love to hear about it."

I may just take them up on the offer. Perhaps you should as well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Lasting Value of Giving a Pen

By Glenn Marcus

My dad passed away last year, and when I started the process of going through his things I found a box with my name on it. A pen box it was.
As I opened the box I found a set of Parker 75s in sterling silver. What made this particular set all the more meaningful is that it was a set I had given my dad many years ago.

As I held the pens, the last value of a good pen as a gift was reinforced. Here were great pens that I had given to my dad years ago, with which he wrote for many years, and now, some 20 years later, they are returned to me as one of his final gifts.

There are not that many gifts that we can give that can have such a lasting value.

I was always impressed with the sterling silver Parker 75. The pen line was commissioned by Kenneth Parker, the son of George S. Parker, and the President of the company at the time. The designer of the pen was a man named Don Doman. The Parker 75 recognized the 75th Anniversary of the company.

The pen, at the time, was the high-end model for Parker, made from 92.5% solid sterling silver, and with a distinctive cut-grid pattern. The first of the Parker 75s sold for some $75 - five times the price of the Parker 45. Over the next 30 years, the 75 Line would be produced with a variety of finishes.

But this pen is special to me. Yes there were plenty of other gifts I and others had given my dad, many of which were being sorted for the inevitable garage sale, but my dad had these pens put aside and marked to be once again given as a gift.

The sterling silver was by this time dark and gloomy looking. But, with some careful rubs of silver cleaner the pens were once again shining. A soak in water and the nibs cleared themselves and the pens were ready to write.

We all joked about who will be clearing out my estate and that I better start earmarking my pen collection now! How true. So if you are like me, and have either a large pen collection or a few pens that you cherish, put some thought into who you would like to give the pens to as gift.

I was lucky, in that my dad used to write with broad nibs, so the pens I got back, although smaller in body size than the larger pens I use today, had nibs that were just right for me. When selecting pens to give to others, consider their preference. No use in giving a fountain pen to someone who would only write with a ball point.

If giving a fountain pen, think about the nib. If the person has small delicate writing, no use in giving a pen with a broad nib. To me the nibs are very important, as they define the writing experience.

So, give some thought as to where your collection should go, after you go. There is the potential for lasting mementos to those who will appreciate the gift for many years to come

Glenn is an avid user of fountain pens, and enjoys the connection a fountain pen owner has with his or her pen, the selection of ink and quality of paper that maximize the writing experience. Visiting pen companies and pen stores, his web site is a directory and review of great pen stores, pens and ink. He enjoys correspondence with other pen users around the world.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Crane CEO Spotlighted in New York Times

Happy weekend, everyone.
I just wanted to let you know that Crane Chairman and CEO Charlie Kittredge is the subject of the Saturday Interview feature in the New York Times.

Here's a link.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The 101st Post: Crane Paper Boats?

I noticed two things today. This is my 101st post as The Crane Insider, and I came across this picture, stuck in the corner of my Picasa files:

This is a 19th-century photograph of a Crane paper boat. I don't know exactly when it was taken, but my best guess is it's about 1875, and I'm pretty sure it was taken at the E.A. Waters paper boat (yes that's right) factory in Troy, N.Y. These boats were all the rage at the Saratoga Regattas for quite a while.

This is one example of many where paper was the medium of invention; the go-to material for experimentation. No aluminum, no plastic, no other engineered materials like we have today.

The paper for Waters' boats was made at Crane mills in Dalton and Westfield, Mass. They also made paper for paper collars, drive belts, hats, wastebaskets, umbrella stands, and (yes) observatory domes.

I'm thinking that I need to team up with a fashion designer to bring back the paper collar, but that's for another time.....

I know only a tiny bit about paper boats and other similar products, but I know somebody who really knows his stuff. Read on.

And thanks to all of you who have stopped by. I'm having fun, and I hope you are too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Elegance of Calligraphy by Maria Thomas

I have long been an admirer of the swirls and swashes of calligrapher Maria Thomas. Luckily, she has created many stationery designs for Crane, so I regularly get to see her beautiful work engraved in three dimensions on 100% cotton paper.

This year is no exception. Maria's art graces fully a dozen of Crane's new Greeting Cards, which should be in stores any time now.

Here are four of my favorites:

Maria and Rick Roberts, her partner in business and in heart, also have this thing going called "Zentangle,"an intriguing artform. I just learned about Zentangle, when I received an invitation to an event coming up at Paces Papers in Atlanta. Right about now, with temperatures in the teens and the wind whipping up the snow, Atlanta sounds pretty good, but I just couldn't swing it.

Maria and Rick describe Zentangle as an "easy-to-learn method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. It is a fascinating new art form that is fun and relaxing. It increases focus and creativity. Zentangle provides artistic satisfaction and an increased sense of personal well being. Zentangle is enjoyed by a wide range of skills and ages and is used in many fields of interest."

Here are some examples of Maria and Rick's work:

Monday, February 2, 2009

"The Wealth of a Nation is in the Strength of its People"

That's what is engraved in a gentle arch of type on the large steel engraving plate. This is one of those antique hand-cut plates that we were going through a little while ago. I'd sure like to know its origin.

Underneath the type is a lighted torch flanked by scrollwork. And over the arch are nine engraved images of athletes in their sport: basketball, weightlifting, figure skating, tennis, rowing, football, baseball, diving and running.

Any ideas?