Archive for the ‘Minnesota’ Category

Time Capsule: The NorthernGRADE Film

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

This is what we looked like.
This is what was important to us.

We went searching for boots and bags and better bow ties,
and on the way we found ourselves friends.

This is a document of what it felt like in our American-made world
when we came together for goods we believed in.

Thanks to Larry and to Mac & Kat for setting up this Minnesotan magic,
and for letting me capture it for everyone to see.


Q & A – J.W. Hulme’s Larry Felitto

Friday, October 15th, 2010

In the wake of last month’s Northern Grade Men’s Market, I was invited by J.W. Hulme’s Head of Sales and Product Development, Larry Felitto, to stop by their St. Paul storefront/factory for what ended up being a four hour tour!

Talking at length with Larry, it really struck me what an exciting and empowering time it must be working within an American heritage goods label in 2010, with consumer trends being what they are. Just years ago J.W. Hulme was on the verge of collapse, and now their bags receive top-billing at Barney’s.

I find it endlessly interesting to look across our great land to see the various ways in which these “comeback companies” are altering their business or design approach to either celebrate, capitalize on, or sourly shun the undeniable trends in men’s fashion and the new generation of buyers now interested in old-timey out-fittings.

Speaking with Larry, it’s clear J.W. Hulme’s approach to these changes in the market and their customer-base is as solid and sturdy as the goods they produce.

– – – – –

WR: A few years back, just as the rugged, heritage movement was about to
 make its way into the men’s fashion scene, J.W. Hulme had a near-death 
experience. How did that come about and how was the company revived?

LF: After our current owners bought the company in 2003 the company began to grow very rapidly. The rapid growth out-stripped the company’s ability to fund that pace. At that point an investor was brought in to re-capitalize the company. With a healthier balance sheet we were able to make some strategic moves to grow the brand. We contracted with the Steven Alan showroom to represent our line in New York; they started getting our products into high-end retailers such as Barneys. A broader customer base began to respond to American products, and we were able to expand our collection while staying true to our quality craftsmanship and design.

WR: With a younger and perhaps more trend-driven demographic suddenly 
interested in J.W. Hulme, has that affected how your company is approaching business, either in marketing or product design?

LF: We are not a company that chases trends; our designs are timeless, made to last a lifetime or more.

WR: What have you learned from your customers who’ve been buying your 
goods for years and years?

LF: They have  taught us that “legacy” really means something to them. It gave us the liberty to tell our story more fully; touting our truly American-made product philosophy and history. We used terms like “heritage” and “legacy” long before the recent heritage buzz started. Those terms have had true meaning to our customers for decades. Many of our customers have shared sentimental stories like remembering “the bags in the attic” that their parents took out to the summer cabin, or the shell pouch their grandpa always took hunting. When our customers invest in JWH products they know they are choosing family heirlooms.

LF: Our customers regularly tell us that quality is worth paying; some say “cheap is expensive; I have to replace it every few years!” They make a direct link between quality and made in America; it’s one of the key reasons customers buy JW Hulme. The quality they expect from us also applies to our customer service. All of our products are guaranteed for life; we even repair and recraft vintage JWH bags. The fact that we are made in the USA allows us to deliver that kind of service.

(Photo: Vintage Gokey dopp kitt on display at the store. J.W. Hulme produced many bags for the Gokey label up through the early 1980s.)

WR: And then, what would you say you’re learning from this new batch of younger customers?

LF: When our products become heirlooms the next generation is confident we are there to take care of them too. The most exciting thing we have learned is that this younger consumer has really started to appreciate quality. This is not a throw-away generation. They place a high value on authenticity—they see right through gimmicks and faux brand stories.

(Photo: Left, a vintage Gokey bag. Right, the traveled/pre-washed Sporting Originals Canvas Carry-On Bag created to invoke the worn-in wonder of the original.)

LF: We didn’t have to make our story up; customers in the younger generations are engaged and intrigued with our 105-year history, and continue to ask us great questions about it. They want to know how things are made and who made them. It is fun to see these younger consumers discover JWH. We just keep doing what we do best and that’s exciting to them.

WR: Since coming on board at J.W. Hulme last year to work in sales,
 you’ve since stepped over into product development as well. What’s been 
informing your work in that area? Do you feel constrained by the legacy
 of the company or empowered by it as you explore new designs?

LF: Working closely with our sales reps at Steven Alan has been incredibly helpful, in that they are really listening to the desires of our national–and international–wholesale buyers.

LF: I have the unique opportunity (being a small company) to answer customer questions personally, and listen to our retail consumers’ requests and desires as well.

(Photo: Prototype for an upcoming JWH tote.)

LF: At least once a day I read through the old Gokey catalogs that we have archived (some dating back to the early 50’s). These catalogs are chock full of old designs just waiting to be updated to meet the demands of the modern customer.

LF: Definitely, I feel empowered by the JWH collaborative environment in creating new products, modifying traditional designs. It’s incredibly exciting that in our small company ideas become reality in just a few months, rather than taking years!

WR: Having co-hosted the Northern Grade Men’s Market with Pierrepont Hicks earlier this month to celebrate American/Minnesotan-made goods, what insight did you gain that you’re taking back with you to J.W.

LF: Authentic matters! Additionally, it was very insightful to see a young “fashion forward” consumer excited about our products and the whole idea of made in America. Maybe there is hope for my grandchildren to know what an antique store is.

WR: You’ve got a lot of new endeavors coming up at J.W. Hulme. Looking 
out at the year ahead, what’s exciting you most?

LF: Obviously, I’m really looking forward to our new line of bags coming out in Fall 2011 (my first foray into product design for an entire season) but in the meantime, we’ve got a series of small leather goods that are really going to be fun… leather can coolers, snap hook key chains, and our recently unveiled Hamline Pocket Journal, an iPad Case to name a few.

(Photo: iPad case prototype.)

– – – – –

After my half-day field trip with Larry, it seemed to me that what JWH seems to be doing so smartly in navigating the current trends in the men’s market is they continue to honor their company’s past without being imprisoned by it. They both acknowledge and invite the interest and input of their younger customers, and adjust their designs and product-lines to serve the men (and women) of today with the quality we all associate with yesterday.

The best part is, it isn’t calculated, and it isn’t a strategy. It’s just who J.W. Hulme is.

Smack Attack

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Since Minneapolis is sorta sub-arctic for almost six months a year, it would seem unlikely that the revival of the old-fashioned food truck would wheel its way this far North.

But with foot traffic heavier than ever on the North edge of our city due to the opening of the new Minnesota Twins stadium earlier this year, the enterprising restauranteur behind one of Minneapolis’s most upscale eateries, La Belle Vie, figured it was worth a shot setting up an establishment on the opposite side of the elegance spectrum with The Smack Shack Lobster truck.

Business must be booming because the two Friday evenings at around six that I tried to try the truck, either everything or almost-everything was sold out, though Smack Shack’s not scheduled to close until midnight on weekends.

While you (hopefully) wait for dolled-up, dead lobster you can opt to whet your appetite with a live-feed of still living critters on the Shack’s 42-inch monitor.

Theirs was my first Lobster Roll ever – so admittedly I’m not sure how it ranks worldwide. But I can say after just a few bites I was immediately intent on ordering them everywhere else I’ll dine in the future so I can assess with true authority the Shack’s sweet Roll.

On The Scene: Junk Bonanza

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

The beat-up best from around the country is once again up for grabs just south of the Twin Cities in Shakopee at the fifth annual Junk Bonanza.

Vendors and vintage-vultures alike are known to descend upon the epic event from as far away as Australia to witness hundreds of booths worth of weathered old wonders.

From emptied bottles of fizzled out soda pop brands to tattered telegrams to faded dressmaker’s forms the event is more or less an antiques assault on all one’s senses and a one-stop shop for battered but beautiful bargains.

The Junk Bonanza continues through September 18th down at Canterbury Park, so if you can see Minnesota from out your front window, you best U-Haul it on over there and stock up on other people’s old stuff.

On The Scene: Northern Grade Men’s Market

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Sitting smack-dab between the two coasts, Minneapolis isn’t often invited into the big fashion action, but Saturday’s Northern Grade Ad-Hoc Men’s Market proved that both the men and the makers of Minnesota are sturdy and style-minded supporters of the Made-In-The-USA movement.

With manufacturers Red Wing Shoes, J.W. Hulme, and Duluth Pack but three of Minnesota’s revered and revived brand names, there really was no better state in the Union to celebrate the return of American Style to its rugged, well-made roots on a September afternoon.

Hosted within the Architectural Antiques store in Northeast Minneapolis, local mens boutique MartinPatrick3 anchored the handsome action with checked selections from Gitman Bros. Vintage and luscious leather overnighter bags from J.W. Hulme.

A black-to-brick rainbow of Red Wing boots rose over a salvaged fireplace mantle and past two rows of pre-war, movie theatre seats. (I hadn’t seen so many crepe soles in one place since I stomped out of my closet just three hours earlier.)

The Kansas City boys behind Baldwin Denim were among the friendliest at the retail event, offering expert advice on achieving the perfect dude-denim fit.

One of the brands I hadn’t recalled bumping into on the boy blogs before, Taylor Stitch, showcased the fine fabrics behind their shirting with a stash of swatches set all around our big, black world.

The rocking and most of the rolling at Northern Grade was provided by Erik Kosinken and his back-up band, featuring Your Lord Jesus Christ on (invisible) drums.

These two-toned Hulme bags were my favorite find at all of Northern Grade, although I hadn’t realized it until after I’d left. Soft and unstructured like a weathered old windbreaker, they couldn’t look better had you dug some out of the trunk of your Dad’s sedan and snatched ’em without telling him.

The Rock-Ola jukebox wasn’t up or running during the event, but with Dolly Parton and Dean Martin both trapped somewhere deep inside, don’t think I didn’t consider plugging the old puppy back in.

Carefully curated vintage watches and antique books on topics including sailing and stables were stashed near the back of the MartinPatrick3 station. Their mix of old and new items, as at their North 1st Street shop, always emphasizes the beauty of both yesterday and today’s goods.

I’d received a reminder e-mail from MP3 halfway through the afternoon making me wonder (then full-on worry) that the event wasn’t going so well, attendance-wise. But when I arrived I was plum pleased to see how buzzy and bustling the mini-market was.

Man, oh man, the place was alive!

Minnesota, you done made me proud.

Northern Grade Men’s Market

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The goods: All-American.
The guests: Mostly Minnesotan.

This coming Saturday, the pop-up-style men’s market makes its way to Minneapolis thanks to the mavens behind J.W. Hulme Co., Pierrepont Hicks, Red Wing Shoes, and Fox River Socks.

The Northern Grade Ad-Hoc Men’s Market will be invading an old, antique Barn Door/Church Pew store in NorthEast Minneapolis from noon until 7. I’ll be making an unscheduled appearance at some point in the afternoon, and I think I heard there’d be hot, straight-razor shaves offered on-site too. So needless to say, it’s THE place to be seen this weekend.

I best go on now, and grow out my scruff as quickly as possible. I refuse to clash with all the domestic plaids and leathers.

Fair Play pt. 1

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The great, big, huge Minnesota State Fair rendered in Miniature Mode via the much-loved, in-camera effect found on my Canon SD1400.

The ceiling of the central dome inside the Agriculture Building. Someone should grab a baby blue bullhorn and put on a bow tie and make an upbeat speech about something in front of that sign. Do it for your country.

I’d gone to the honey exhibit specifically to pick up a jar of the gooey stuff I regretted not buying last year, but they didn’t have any this year. I only have my own dumb self to blame and don’t I know it!

My favorite food from the fair under the “New” category, Deep Fried Twinkies On A Stick.

Just the concept of them rolls up the overindulgent spirit of the fair perfectly, which is the main reason I tried them. Smothered in strawberry sludge, chocolate, and powdered sugar, they were actually awesome and enjoyable and now personally preferred over my former favorite, the Funnel Cake.

(Not everything deep fried or on a stick is scrumptious by default, I’ll add. The battered/fried/skewered Snickers Bar I had a few years back was flavorless and fearsome.)

Further exhibits/signage inside the Agriculture Building.

Light-blue ribbon-winning corn cobs.

A fabulously font-ed, old school, color-photo Photo Booth. I don’t even know the last time I saw one of those!

I spent twelve dollars inside and, honestly, it wasn’t enough.

And lastly, the booth for my favorite food under the “Old Standbys” category, the Battered Australian Potatoes.

A non-mini-mode close-up of those crispy critters will kick off pt 2. of my State Fair photo posts, so stay tuned.

The Great Minnesotan Get Together

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

The Minnesota State Fair starts today, and I’ve been counting down the days since the second I left it last year. For a few years in my life I wasn’t so into the fair because I felt it never changed, and it was always the same, the same, the same…

But now that’s one of the main reasons I fancy it so much. Every year there’s some new strange indulgence deep-fried experimentally or served on a stick to prove that a new year really has rolled around, but aside from that, the fair looks and feels exactly the same as it did when I was a kid.

And, aside from all the overalls and three-piece suits, it looks and feels not too terribly different than it does in all these decades-old photos.

Lessons learned last year:

1) Full funnel cakes are a better value and better tasting than funnel cake-bites.

2) Just bite the bullet and buy the big jar of honey with the handsome, green label, even if you have to lug it around for a few hours. It’ll brighten up your cupboard and your cereal for months.

Time Travelling

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Up in Northern Minnesota, time stands still in a way that wouldn’t be possible down here around home. And even when something you loved up there finally moves on or fades away, signs of it will still remain for many summers to come.

I’m trying to comfort myself here, but honestly I feel a little bit blue.

Forum Restaurant & Bar

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Originally a movie theater, then a beloved cafeteria, The Forum in Minneapolis languished as a series of clubs and restaurants since the early 1970s before being restored to its pre-war wonder under its original name as a chophouse earlier this year. (Don’t you love the retro riche of the word “chophouse”? I always do.)

With its mirrored murals and towering tiles, local historians now cite the refurbished Forum Restaurant and Bar as the best example of art-deco design in the Twin Cities.

As well, it glistens like an Epcot-style tribute to everything über-Minnesotan, with Vikings and Indians and pinecones as the main themes of the glasswork, and sparkling cocktails splashed with rhubarb syrup.

Aside from the woodwork and upholstery everything appears to be perfectly period, right down to the diamond doodads laid into the jadeite walls.

I think I was maybe wearing shorts when I first went, but next time I best break out a fedora, or at least some flannel.

The entire establishment is so Northwoods natty, I wanna look like I belong.

Trouble Makers

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

When was the last time you were a real rascal? There’s a real and rare thrill in rustling up some trouble, a thrill we willfully deny ourselves as we sulk into adulthood.

So pop an Old Time Sling Shot into your back pocket this weekend, perch yourself up somewhere sneaky, then fling bubble gum or your wadded up phone number at eye-catching passers-by until things get thrilling.

You’ll end up either engaged or arrested, but either option makes for a better story than whatever you had going on this weekend otherwise, I reckon.

Plus, you’ll be doing my homestate suburbs some ecological good.

Get this. According to Hickorees: “This classic sling shot is hand made from branches of the Buckthorn bush, a European hedge plant commonly found in suburban neighborhoods in Minnesota, and now considered an invasive species. Buckthorn’s hard “Y” branches are perfect for sling shots, and harvesting Buckthorn wood helps with efforts to control the species.”

So when that mean mom on your block starts wagging her finger at you for slinging away at all the pretty young things in your hood, flatly ask her when was the last time she did anything to help control an invasive species?

By the time she sorts out her answer, you’ll be halfway home and fantastically full of yourself. Just like a kid, but with cooler clothes.

The Perfect Summer Car Wash

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

My car is nothing fancy. In fact its pretty much a rolling disaster. But when I bother to spiff her up I refuse to take her anywhere but The Mermaid.

First off, The Mermaid’s logo and branding is pre-millenial, photo shoot perfect, and perched just about everywhere.

As you exit your vehicle, rolling waves murals carry you through the air-conditioned corridor toward the cash register (and candy bar/greeting card shop).

Before they drop you off on dry land, the painted waves roll you past a plastic dome of complementary donuts and pastries. (If its still early in the day and they haven’t all vanished yet. If its after 2pm, you’re left to just pout in the surf.)

Once you’ve paid your bill and picked out an Obama-themed birthday card for your mom/boss/parole officer, you can play with the chatty parrot perched in front of the car freshener section. Its at this point in my visit each time where I’m certain a strange Steve Buscemi film will shoot here someday.

After all this fluorescent and feathery fun, your car is usually already done.

The final mermaid bids you farewell, and your soaped up and sea-sprayed car carts you off into another two (but for me, more like six) months of dead bugs and grime.

If only every mundane errand could be ran in such amusing establishments as The Mermaid.