Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

22 FEBRUARY, 2010

Blog-Turned-Book Success Stories: Part One

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Maps of Utopia, posh Brooklynites, and what Whole Foods has to do with high school mixtapes.

The web may have its share of questionable content and lowest-common-denominator taste, but it has also democratized the content industry in a powerful way — with its low barrier of entry, anyone with a smart idea and excellent content can draw an audience and become the go-to authority in a niche or a publishing superstar of eclectic interestingness. And just like every waitress in LA dreams of being discovered by Hollywood, most superstar bloggers dream of getting the coveted and tangible acclaim that is a book deal.

We love nothing more than to see well-written, meticulously curated and brilliantly conceived content get the credit it deserves. And we’ve gathered proof that it is indeed possible. Here are five of our ten favorite blogs-turned-books.

BOX BOTTLE BAG

It’s no secret we’re big package design geeks — because, let’s face it, framing is everything; ideas are only as powerful as their presentation, and what are packages but presentation vehicles for the products that come in them?

For years, The Dieline has been our favorite go-to for packaging goodness. This month, they’re finally releasing the much-anticipated anthology of said goodness — Box Bottle Bag: The World’s Best Package Designs from TheDieline.com.

The book features 224 pages of richly visual, meticulously curated package design gems, including the site’s biggest hits as well as a handful of never-before-seen projects from legendary designers.

CASSETTE FROM MY EX

We’ve featured Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves before, and we even included it in our curated gift guide for books, so we won’t overelaborate.

Suffice it to say this lovely mixtape revivalist project takes the cheesiest parts of nostalgia and turns them into a wonderful celebration of youthful creative romanticism.

STUFF WHITE PEOPLE LIKE

It’s been nearly two years since Christian Lander’s brilliant, relentlessly funny-cause-it’s-true Stuff White People Like first drew critical acclaim from hipster pundits alike. The blog was so brilliant, in fact, that it got a book deal a mere three months after its launch, a pace of success that’s practically unheard of.

Wittily written and often surprisingly insightful beneath its surface humor, Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions is as much a cultural portrait of a certain Obama-loving, New-Yorker-reading, Whole-Foods-shopping, Scandinavian-furniture-admiring socioeconomic subset as it is a diagnostic tool for your own chronic white-clicheness.

STRANGE MAPS

We love the geeky art-science world of cartography. So when our favorite maps blog,
Strange Maps, got a book deal, we covered it promptly.

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities features 138 of the most fascinating, absorbing and remarkable maps from the blog’s 3-year history of culling the world’s forgotten, little-known and niche cartographic treasures. And it too made our book guide last year.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book is brim-full of priceless anecdotes from our collective conception of the world over the centuries.

THE SARTORIALIST

In 2005, Scott Schuman set out to photograph stylish people on the street, then began uploading these photos to a no-frills blog.

Little did Schuman, a.k.a. The Sartorialist, know that over the next few years, his blog would gain such enormous cultural traction that it would elevate him to the most influential observer of street style. TIME Magazine even named him one of the Top 100 Design Influencers.

Last year, the blog put its money where its mouth is, releasing the sleek, stylish and all-around gorgeous The Sartorialist: (Bespoke Edition). (Sure, you could settle for the paperback, but that would be like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on TV — you still get it, but half its glamor and beauty are lost.)

From Milan to Miami, Beijing to Brooklyn, the book is a global portrait of exquisite taste, an addictive and indulgent intersection of voyeurism and aesthetic appreciation.

UPDATE: Here’s Part 2, with 5 more

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28 OCTOBER, 2009

Interview with Mary Tomer, Brains Behind Mrs-O.org

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Fashion, politics and how to live every blogger’s dream.

Today, we’re picking the brains of Mary Tomer, creator of the uber-successful Mrs-O.org blog-turned-book following the fashion of Michelle Obama. Mary’s book, Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy, is out today and we sit down with her to talk about the inspiration behind the project, culture’s conflicted relationship with fashion, and the notion of high-low style.

q0

Hey Mary, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, what inspires you and your brand of creative curiosity.

Hey Maria! Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you a bit. I’m a 28-year-old account planner at BBH New York. I moved to New York to work at BBH four years ago, an ambition that involved repeated trips on the Fung Wah bus from Boston and back.

Before working in advertising, I spent a few years at a Boston-based private equity firm. Advertising appealed to me as a field that mixed business with creativity, and in that respect, would better suit my strengths.

What inspires me? Fashion bloggers Tavi and Jane Alridge (of Sea of Shoes), tea and chocolates with my mom at the MoMA cafe, foreign travel, glossy fashion magazines, and, of course, Michelle Obama, Mrs.O.

q1

What was the original inspiration for the Mrs. O project?

Michelle Obama’s style was on my radar for most of 2008, but it was during the Democratic National Convention in late August 2008 that I became captivated. By the second night of the convention I was googling to learn more about Michelle Obama’s style — details on what she was wearing and what others thought. I expected to find a blog dedicated to her style, but surprisingly, it didn’t yet exist. I thought others had to be as interested as I was, if not more so, and that a blog was in order. I approached BBH to help me create it, and a less than three weeks later, Mrs-O.org launched.

If I take a step back, I see a few other influences that were more subconsciously at play. Through the years, my mother has imbued a fascination with Jacqueline Kennedy’s style. In Michelle Obama, I instantly felt that my generation had found its Jacqueline Kennedy.

At BBH, there was a definite appetite for new types of creativity, particularly in the digital space. That was coupled by past experience working on Zag — BBH’s brand and innovation unit — that invites everyone at the agency to propose ideas. I wanted Mrs-O.org to be as stylish as its inspiration, and knew that BBH would help me to achieve that.

q2

Over the past few years, many street fashion blogs have emerged as champions of decentralized, democratized, power-to-the-people fashion. Mrs. O is similar in a lot of way in its overall mission of “fashion democracy,” but opposite in going about it through centralized focus on a very famous public persona. How do you see Mrs. O relate to street fashion beacons like The Sartorialist?

Through both the first lady’s style and street style blogs, I think we see an increasing value placed on creativity in fashion, as well as a kind of reappraisal of luxury. The latter became apparent to me while working on Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy and interviewing various figures in the fashion industry.

Repeatedly, designers spoke of their customers rejecting an empty facade of luxury that they might have bought into a few years ago, instead choosing garments that are of genuine, real value, whether priced high or low. That seems to be the underlying driver behind high-low style, embraced by the first lady as well as the muses of street style blogs.

q3

You’re a fellow planner — a rather complex, hybrid discipline that lives in the epicenter of the ad agency environment of cross-pollination of ideas and skills. What role has this played in fostering the Mrs. O idea and bringing it to life?

The idea for Mrs-O.org was born out of a personal passion and interest in Michelle Obama’s style. But in many respects, I was also planning on autopilot. For example, the idea required recognizing a gap in the market coupled with a growing consumer need, defining a clear voice for a brand, etc. It just all happened a bit more intuitively and with less process than usual. And actually, before I was a planner, I started out at BBH in account management. I think the hybrid skill set has been an asset here.

On the flip side, this experience has also taught me a lot as a planner. I never considered the value I would get from moderating a blog, but things like stimulating and steering conversation, and listening to your audience all feel quite applicable to planning.

q4

There’s always been an interesting social tension about fashion. It’s surrounded by an air of glamor and creativity, but there’s also a lurking perception that it’s a somewhat superficial, inferior, non-serious thing to revere. At the same time, politics is a space to be taken seriously, there’s even a certain solemn reverence about it. And Mrs. O lives at the intersection of the two. How do you balance that tension?

I’m continually trying to wrap my head around this. The oft asked question is: Are you selling Michelle Obama short by focusing on her fashion? In truth, I don’t know anyone who’s only interested in Michelle Obama’s style. But at the same time, I think that the clothes bring their own kind of substance — as part of our culture, and in shaping our social history — that is often overlooked.

The dress codes that accompany politics do make it all the more complicated. On both the blog and in the book, I’ve tried to present a balanced perspective, by acknowledging the story behind the clothes themselves, but also presenting the context in which they were worn.

q5

Almost four decades ago, another Mrs. O became the first First-Lady-turned-style-icon. If blogs were around then, who would be writing the then-version of Mrs. O — Peggy Olsen, Betty Draper, Joan, or Sal? (You didn’t think you’d slide by without a Mad Men reference, did you?)

Ah yes… Probably Joan. She seems both interested in fashion and a bit enterprising. I almost chose Betty, but she might consider blogging to be improper.

Mary’s wonderful book, Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy, is out today. It takes a closer look at America’s modern style icon with more than 120 photographs of the first lady, placed in a rich historical and biographical context that captures Michelle Obama’s revered charisma, intelligence and substance through a fascinating journey into her personal style.

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08 SEPTEMBER, 2009

Valentino: The Last Emperor

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Quirk, glamor, and what six pugs have to do with the epic battle of art versus commerce.

The world of fashion — you either love it or hate it. But regardless of where you may fall on the spectrum, it’s hard not to love Valentino: The Last Emperor — an incredibly engaging and entertaining documentary-but-oh-so-much-more about the legendary designer. Because it’s not a story about fashion, it’s a story about passion and love and the charming, stubborn, heartfelt quirk of genius.

Earlier this year, the film swept the independent film festival circuit with phenomenal critical acclaim. From director Matt Tyrnauer, it offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at Valentino’s half-century reign as a true emperor of fashion, focusing on the years between his 70th birthday and his dramatic final couture show. It bespeaks the epic struggle of art against commerce, as the label is forced into a corporate takeover and Valentino has to reconcile his passion for style with the urgency of figures.

But putting all the glamor (he dressed Jackie Kennedy), eccentricity (his six pugs ride in private jets) and grandeur (the Alpine mountain house is astounding) aside, perhaps what makes the film most fascinating is the candid and touching human story between Valentino and his one-time life partner and now business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti.

In this excellent interview, Tyrnauer talks about the incredible world that unfolded before him as he peeled apart Valentino in 270 hours of footage shot over 2 years.

Valentino: The Last Emperor is out today on DVD.

via VSL

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