CRESTON LEA – GUITAR BUILDER

Say "Vermont" and the images of winter come rushing in. Cabins, maple syrup, mountains bedecked in a sheath of white. Not today though.

It's an environment that can best be described as "a chewy eighty degrees" as I pull up to Creston Lea's shop in Burlington, which sits back from the street, just beside the former Rutland railway line. A sign announces "No Train Horn," which seems like a blessing to Mr. Lea's neighbors. Instead, the only sound they're likely to hear are those emanating from some of the most beautiful guitars I've ever seen

We start, as you might expect, at the beginning.

"I was doing carpentry and the carpentry was starting to morph into more shop-oriented work like cabinetry," Lea tells me. "I was also playing guitar in bands and was just interested in guitars. My friend Mark Spencer asked me to modify an old Squier Strat body for him so he could change the pickup, but then he just abandoned it at my house after I’d done the routing. I got excited to have a guitar part in the house and I kind of scrounged together other parts and made the guitar. I got as far as I could and learned a lot in the process and then took it to a repair shop for them to do the trickier things like cutting the nut and maybe some of the wiring, too. But it got me excited and I realized I could combine those two interests.

"That's how it began: Just taking these two things that I knew a little bit about and realizing they could be combined. The tools I had were sort of lighter-duty portable things you could haul to a carpentry site. That kind of stuff. I had a little shop space and, as I did less and less carpentry and more and more guitar work, I'd slowly upgrade the tools to heavier-duty, more stationary kinds of things. I just threw myself into it and taught myself by reading a lot of good and bad information and asking questions to whoever I could find." 

Clearly, he got the answers he was looking for. 

Since then, he's crafted Creston guitars for a wide variety of musicians, including Adam Ant, Jimmy Ryan, and Ian MacKaye. I ask what makes someone want to buy a custom guitar. "The answer in many cases," he says, "is the same thing that's sort of responsible for me getting into building guitars, which is dissatisfaction with everything. Y'know, like: 'I love this guitar except the neck isn't quite right' or 'This guitar is so cool but the color is kind of bugging me' or 'I wish it sounded a little more like this or more like that.' So, I think there's something appealing about trying to get it pretty on the money from the beginning by ordering something custom. Also, the big guitar companies have made so many billions of guitars and, as you know, the appeal of the handmade is sort of in fashion right now for reasons good and bad. But, I think people really like the idea that there's one guy building a guitar, one at a time, for somebody specifically. It doesn't necessarily mean more precision comes with that, because those big factories have it so dialed in. But, there's a creative collaboration that’s missing when you go buy a guitar off the rack somewhere. 

"I'm doing a guitar right now for a guy... I've made a bunch of guitars from spruce planks that came from his parents' property. They were originally framing planks for their house, which means the wall framing of the house is made from wide planks. On the interior side is plaster and on the exterior side are clapboards. But, they’d renovated their kitchen and had a bunch of these old planks stored in their barn, so I made a bunch of guitars out of them. Now, for this guy, I'm making a guitar with spruce planks that came out of his parents' house. The maple for the neck came from a tree on their property. His dad's a furniture builder, so he gave me a piece of granadillo for the fretboard. That's exciting to me: To make a guitar that he can't play without realizing the significance of the origins of the wood. That's a very specific example of what I try to do with each of these guitars, which is to make it so specifically for one person that is has real meaning to them beyond its function as just a musical instrument.

"There is something meaningful about making a guitar that's meant for one person to own forever. It makes them forget about their other guitars. Guitar players are so quick to horse-trade guitars back and forth. The guitar you love more than anything today might be the one you sort of can't stand in six months. I know that as a player myself. So, I'm really trying to make a guitar that has staying power as a favorite. And sometimes, I know that beyond just playing well and sounding good, that that other quality has to do with being specifically made for the person who ordered it."

That same spirit of personalization also shows itself in his partnership with artist Sarah Ryan, whose work has graced a wide variety of Creston guitars

"I've lived in Burlington for twenty years this year and I met her even before moving to town. We were friends right away. I really liked her from the beginning and really liked her work. 

"In the early stages of my guitar-making life, when I was just sort of obsessively looking at everything in the world and trying to imagine how I could or could not appropriate its aesthetic into guitar design, I was thinking a lot about these William Morris-kind of floral prints—like the paper designs he did—and trying to imagine how I could appliqué those designs onto a guitar. That got me thinking about a hand-painted guitar and she immediately seemed like the right person to ask. So, the next time I saw her, I asked her and she got really excited. I sort of thought she wouldn't want to do it, but she did. So she painted a guitar for me in green and black. It looked great. I thought it was the coolest guitar I'd ever seen.

"And then we made another one just to try another one. It was one of the few spec guitars I've ever made. It was a little more feminine. We both like the idea of more women playing the electric guitar in general and especially guitars that we make. I sold it to a woman in Houston. And then people just started ordering them. I think the next one was for Jaleel Bunton from TV On The Radio. I know she's painted over a hundred guitars now. Not necessarily full coverage, front and back but she's put her brush on over a hundred guitars. Probably closer to a hundred and fifty. To me, they're totally perfect.

"People will say, 'I really like these two-color, more muted ones.' or people say, 'I want as many colors as she can stuff in there.' And people are, maybe for the first time in their lives, allowed to make a design decision. More and more, it's just Sarah working on a little information from them and coming up with a new design that she feels is pushing her further while trying to deliver something that will make them happy. And no one's ever told me they're unhappy. Usually, people will say, 'I think this is the best one she's ever done.' That's always a nice thing to hear." 

It's those sorts of happy customers that have granted Lea a key bit of freedom — the freedom to turn down work. 

"I quickly realized that I didn't want to make any guitar I wasn't excited about. And it doesn't take much to turn me off from a guitar. If somebody really insists on some knob that I don't like, then the entire time I'm working on the guitar, I'm like, "Ugggh, this guitar would be so great if not for that ugly knob." I just don't like that feeling. It's not to say I never compromise, because I do. But I don't ever compromise on something that's really going to gnaw at me the entire time I'm working on a guitar. When I realized that I was busy enough consistently enough that I could turn work away, it really felt good. I'm so grateful to anybody who would write me and ask me to make them a guitar but there are so many guitar makers now. Why hire some guy who's not excited to make a guitar for you? There's somebody else who'd be dying to make that guitar. And I really want to stick with guitars I'm dying to make."

Here's what he brought to show us:

 

THE STANDBY – MITUTOYO .001" Dial CALIPER

"I have a lot of calipers but these are particularly jumbo. I'll use it for squaring up a bridge plate or a bridge cover or something by measuring off the last fret on the neck. It reaches thirteen inches so I can measure two points and make sure everything's square.

"They used to belong to my father in law, who passed away last year. He was a farm kid in Iowa who grew up fixing the tractor but eventually became a machinist at Oral B Toothbrush in Iowa City. Among machinists, the top of the totem pole are the tool and die guys and among the tool and die guys, the real kings are the mold makers. By the end of his life, he was a mold maker of the highest caliber. He was really supportive of what I do here and gave me a bunch of his old tools. It's nice to see his name on there. I use this thing for every guitar I make." 

 

THE SPECIALIST – ROCKWELL DRILL PRESS  

"I only use it for one thing, which is to bore the 7/8” hole for an output jack on a guitar. So, I have that jig there to hold the body and I just turn it on and drill a 7/8”. If you try to do it with a hand drill, it tends to wander. And, on my other drill press, it would mean lowering the table to an annoying depth just for two seconds of work. So, I have this one.

"I bought it from this guy in Bethel, Vermont, who's a tool dealer down there. He's a really sweet guy who sort of wanders around in these barns full of tools. I was down there buying some other stuff and I saw it and I just really liked it. I didn't need it at all but I couldn't resist it. So, while I was loading up the table saw and the sander: 'Well, I'll take the drill press, too.' 

"I like everything about it. Some previous owner made that hand-turned little handle for it. It just sits there, waiting for me to make that one hole on every guitar." 

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – POWERMATIC BAND SAW

"Buying the band saw was the first big step that I took when I first realized that this was going to be an ongoing job for me, going from a handheld jigsaw to a proper stationary tool. I don't particularly love that saw itself. It was before I discovered various good tool dealers around here who sell older American stuff that's been fixed up. But, I’d been looking around for a band saw for what felt like forever. I was at the point of, 'I can't live another day without one!' So, I went and bought that Taiwanese Powermatic. 

"I use it for any curved cut or small cut. I have a much bigger Bridgewood band saw back there that I use for resawing or any kind of long, straight line. I turn on the Bridgewood like twice a month but the Powermatic is on, like, every hour. Roughing out a body or neck or making a template or rough-cutting a pick guard — all that stuff happens on the Powermatic. So I get to use it probably more than anything else in here.

"We have an open studio every September and one year Sarah said, 'Maybe instead of just hanging up our work, I should paint one of your tools.' So, she painted that saw. And now it's sort of the central thing in my shop. You can't walk in here without seeing it. It's a perfectly serviceable band saw but the really nice part about it is the doors that she painted. I can't ever get rid of it. "  

 

 Follow Creston and his work: Instagram | Twitter 

BRIDGET ANN CLARK – CERAMICIST

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It's an orange Autumn day in Greenpoint, the bescarfed crowds in front of Five Leaves undeterred by the recent temperature drop. A few buildings away sits a semi-operational woodshop that largely goes unnoticed and, beneath it, a ceramics studio, which is where I meet up with Bridget Ann Clark in the hopes of finding out how she came to produce her remarkable work.

"I've always done ceramics," she tells me. "Even though I was at Pratt taking printmaking classes, we were able to take other studio classes. I always had a ceramics class, except for my senior year when I was doing my thesis. But I still bothered them and went up there. I think I got on some people's nerves because I was taking up a lot of space and making a big mess and not actually in a class, but when you're paying to go to a school you kinda don't give a fuck. You're like, 'Well, I'm sorry that my creativity is inhibiting your ability to not have something in the way but at the same time, I don't really care.' So that's what I did.

It's that sort of drive that's fueled her success as an artist. Wait, no. Not artist. Never artist. Anything but artist. "I hate when people say artist," she mentions early on. "I know that sounds really weird. They're like 'She's an artist' but 'artist' falls under so many different categories. People who work on computers are artists. That's really hard and it's an art. There's an art to everything. I think that's such a vague statement."

As our talk progresses, the concept makes more and more sense. As much as Clark is focused on creating beautiful objects, there's an overarching utilitarian focus that pervades.

"My idea with working in ceramics and porcelain and using the medium is bridging the gap between design and function. I think there are many ways of doing that. I think that industrial designers are very good at that from a distance. I like that aspect, that they can do that. I was thinking of going into ID when I went to school but you're so disconnected from the medium and being able to react with what this material actually is. It feels very stale. So, I would say that my work is design-based function. You want to give it the element of something intriguing and something that people haven't seen before but you also still want it to be utilized.

"I don't feel satisfied if I'm not making things. My mother and father always were producing. My father being a woodworker, he was always creating, always building. I've never had a piece of furniture in my life that he didn't make. For me, that puts a lot of meaning behind things that I have. There's a reason to have what I have and it's not because I needed it. It's because somebody decided to make this for me and it's gorgeous and every time I use it, I have a connection instead of, 'Oh, this is just here to hold my T-shirts,' which I think is important and kind of the fulfilling of life in a lot of ways. That's what drives me to keep doing what I'm doing. The fact that people want to have that in their life and having it be something that I made is pretty awesome."

Perhaps what comes through most clearly is her appreciation for the people who've supported her work. "I take those compliments super-genuinely. To me, that's like: Okay, what I'm doing is actually worth something. The point for me is, people are going to look at what you're making and enjoy it and hopefully use it. That is more important to me than what I'm making in some ways. A friend texted me and said, 'I'm so glad you're doing this sale. You're bringing so many beautiful things into people's lives.' That is the sweetest thing that somebody can say—and that makes me want to keep making things."

Here's what she brought to show us:

 

THE STANDBY – PORCELAIN

"My go-to is obviously my clay. I use porcelain because I think it's really pure and I love the smoothness of it. It's almost like... when I'm working on something and I'm throwing something then I'm trimming it up so I can carve it, I start taking some of the clay off the bottom that's still really wet and too thick—trying to make the whole piece very even with thickness. I'll start taking my thumb and getting the extra semi-soft clay off. And there's something really nice about having this very soft, smooth, malleable thing in between your fingers. I'll just sit there for a couple of minutes and do this [mimes rolling a ball of clay between her thumb and forefinger], which is really weird.

"But there's something about porcelain that's very tactile and delicate at the same time that I really enjoy. It's very pure because there's no grit. I do love stoneware; It's not that I don't. It's so much easier to work with. But there's something about porcelain that's so... it's just super-delicate and beautiful and I think there's really something sensually gorgeous about it. It's very smooth and it's mud but it's purified mud. That's what I like about it. It's very clean... in a dirty way.

"So that's probably why porcelain, even though it's a bitch."

 

THE SPECIALIST – MASON STAINS  

"I love using these when I can because I get to experiment and see what's going to happen and mix colors and make colors and utilize them in many different ways. I can just figure out new colors and do new things. The colors change depending on the temperature that they're fired. They're not always going to stay the same color, which is exciting—something of that nature. I really love working with color but I don't get to do it that much. 

"These ones, believe it or not, I aquired from Greenwich House Pottery. Somebody had left a bunch of random things at the end of the school year, which means they are up for grabs for people who work there. So, I took these little packets. What you used to be able to do is, you would contact a purveyor of clays and you were able to buy little sample packets before you bought a pint of it so you could mess around with it and see if was what you needed. Now, you can't do that. You have to buy, like, a half a pint and really commit to the color. And so, you buy these mostly from Standard Supply. These ones came from Standard, which is where we get most of our clay.

"The really nice thing about creating a color in a slip is that you get to know that (1) somebody else can't have this color and (2) you get to control that if you're taking a clear glaze and you're putting it over a porcelain slip that you have colored, you're keeping it very true to the material instead of coating it with something. Coating with a glaze is really nice. People like beautiful glazes. Glaze is chemistry; it's interesting, for sure. But, like I said, the reason I like porcelain so much is that it has it's own tactility that you can't match with anything else and it has its own sheen and it has its own body that's so gorgeous that using mason stains and making your own slips and making your own colors can kind of keep true to the clay itself. If I'm making a color and I'm making a stain and I, say, throw a little tea bowl, I color the inside what color I want. You're also using a brush and you get to see that happen after you have this finished product. It's not just this flat plane of color. It's a little bit of brushstroke, it's a little uneven, you get to see more of the white porcelain coming through. It feels more true to the material than slapping a color on there just because it's a good color." 

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – l.c. #20 12MM CHISEL

"I always use a chisel to carve everything that I have and this chisel was given to me by my mom. My mom was a printmaking major in college and my dad was a furniture designer. My dad bought them for my mom and my mom used them when she was in college. My mom was kind enough to lend this one to me, So, for some reason, I always use this one even though I have more that very graciously were given to me last Christmas by my dad. I don't know why. It's the right length in handle. It never hits me in the arm in a weird way. For some reason, I just like this one in particular.

"It's actually for wood carving. It's starting to wear down really bad because porcelain is way more dense than wood usually. So, I have to sharpen it like crazy. It's also very, very soft because it is forged steel and steel, unless it's stainless steel, is not very sturdy. So I have to sharpen it a lot. You're supposed to use it for woodworking. All the chisels that I have are meant for wood.

"There are tools that are made for ceramicists to dig into clay but you don't get the same texture. But, using the chisel, you get a shape that can't be reproduced with any other tool. When you're using a wire tool and you're digging into the clay, you're essentially moving it out of the way instead of cutting it. Watching many other potters while working at Greenwich House and seeing what they were doing showed me that this is actually completely different. That's where I was like, 'This makes more sense and this is what I want.'

"I think that's a really cool thing about being a creative person. You learn to adapt. You solve problems. I think that's really important and I think that when people stop doing that is when I would question their creativity in a weird way. That's what I love about creative people is that they'll always figure out a way. If it really means that much to you, you'll figure out a way."

 

 Follow Bridget and her work: Instagram 

 

 

TONY DeANGELIS – CO-OWNER, BLUE & BLACK BARBERS

Two steps down from a Carroll Gardens street, there's a shop where the number of tattoos per-capita approaches critical mass, where the beer on tap is usually from the excellent Other Half brewery up the road, and where you can get some of the best haircuts in Brooklyn. That place is Blue & Black Barbers.

Though co-owner Tony DeAngelis was born in the city, just across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island, it took a lot of exploring to end up with his own shop in Brooklyn. I spoke with him about that journey, which, it turns out, began nearly 2,500 miles away. 

"There was a brief period where I moved out to Arizona, just randomly," he tells me. "I moved in with some friends and I went to school for massage therapy. There was a school in the neighborhood close to where I was living and I was like, 'This seems interesting.' I walked in and signed up. 

"I got my license and I worked out there for a little bit. My plan was to start working in New York. When I moved back, I found out that New York City will only accept two hundred fifty hours from an out-of-state school, and they won't accept out of state licenses. They don't transfer. So, pretty much what that meant was that I would have to go back to school for another year and a half full-time and spend probably more money on school than I'd paid already. 

"I was a little lost for a while and just worked retail jobs. Then I noticed that the whole barber thing was experiencing a resurgence in a way. When shops like Freemans were opening up, you saw that there was something cool going on. From working in massage therapy, it made me comfortable working with people in a close environment and being one-on-one and touching people. I had the skills to do that so I thought maybe I could look into barbering. I figured, 'Why not? Let me take a crack at this.' So I went to barber school, I apprenticed at Freemans Sporting Club for about a year, and then I started working at other shops."

Of course there's a massive difference between working as a barber and opening a barber shop. Entrepreneurship certainly isn't for everyone. I was curious as to why he decided to take that leap. 

"It was one of those things where when opportunities come, man, you have to go for it. I was given an opportunity to do something really cool and it seemed worth it. My business partner used to be my client. I'd been cutting his hair for years and we both shared a lot of interests in barbering and in style and the whole culture of everything. So, we met up for a drink one night and started talking about maybe doing a shop together. We wound up saving our pennies and putting something really cool together.

"I'll be honest: I feel like sometimes, I get so wrapped up in work and being in the moment that I kind of forget. There are times here and there where I'm like, 'Wow. Okay, cool. I'm doing my own thing.' Those moments hit every once in a while but for the most part, I'm just kind of in the zone and I'm just working and doing what needs to be done. The whole idea is that down the line, it'll really pay off. 

"But it's really fun. What I really like about it is that we get to put our point of view on things. Sometimes, you work at a place and you're like, "Man, I really wish they would do X, Y, and Z" or "I really wish they would do this differently.' But now, I can change that. If that's not being done, the only thing that's stopping that is us."

Here's what he brought to show us:

THE STANDBY – Kouho shears

"Funny story: I was bringing a friend out to brunch for his birthday and I knew I had to go get shears afterwards. We were just hanging out and we had a few drinks with some buddies. I had a little buzz going on and we wind up going to the shear place and I spent way more than I wanted to on these shears. 

"At first I saw a pair that were like half the price that I liked but my buddy was like, 'Show me, like, the Ferrari of shears.' He's a photographer and he was saying, 'When I buy my camera, I always want to get the best.' And my buddy who works in computers was saying the same thing. They were like, 'This is your career. This is your job. If you're going to splurge on one thing, it should be this.' 

"So they start bringing out the nicer ones and before you know it, I wound up spending like double what I wanted to pay—but they felt right. They were really, really nice. Maybe it wasn't the wisest decision to go out shopping after having a few drinks but I got something I was really happy with that I know will last me the rest of my career. 

"What really made me like these is the way they felt in my hand. My hands fit into the holes perfectly and the way my hands were resting, it just felt natural. They also had a nice weight to them. They're really thick and nice. They just felt like the perfect pair. I guess they're not cheap for a reason.

"I've been using them for a few years now and I don't regret the purchase one bit." 

 

THE SPECIALIST – frank leder tradition "unter prima" tonic  

"I was doing some gift shopping at Modern Anthology for Christmas and I saw it and I was like, 'Oh, this is kind of cool.' I just loved the way it looked and I liked the way it smelled and I liked the idea behind it, so I picked it up.

"It's supposed to be used just to be uplifting and invigorating. In the way the company describes it, it doesn't have much of a purpose besides that. I guess when you're feeling a little bummed or dragging, you put a little bit behind your ear or splash a little bit on your neck. It's more of an aromatherapy-type tonic. 

"It's one of those things where I don't whip it out because, also, it's not cheap. And you don't necessarily want to be pouring it around because it's something that looks great the way it is, nice and full in the bottle. 

"Every once in a while I'll shake it up and throw a little bit on. And if clients ever ask about it, then I'll give them a little splash of it. I think it's more fun just to shake it up a little bit; it looks like a lava lamp. Every once in a while, someone will ask what it is. It sparks interest. It's a cool little product. 

"It doesn't really do much but it smells great. And that's what it's supposed to do." 

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – disposable-blade straight razor

"In New York, by law, you're not allowed to use straight razors that don't have disposable blades in barber shops. You have to use more of a safety-type straight razor. I got it when I was apprenticing under Ruben (Aronov). He was cool, man. He's a good dude. He's a really talented barber. He comes from a family-line of barbers. He was really precise and skillful. It was really good to apprentice under someone like that. 

"Ruben, was like, 'Hey, I'm picking up these razors from Russia that are kind of hard to get.' And all the guys really liked them there, so I put an order in for one and I've had it since. 

"It's put-together well. It's durable. It has a lip on it, right where there would be a point in the razor, that just fits the razor well. It provides a good shave but it lowers the risk of nicking somebody. 

"I use it every day on every client. I do all my shaves with it. Any time I use a razor, this is the one I'm using." 

 

 Follow Tony and his work: Instagram | Twitter 

 

 

 

KYLE RIDINGTON – WINE DIRECTOR

"It's a blanc de blancs that's been given a little more care. You'll feel the weight. You'll feel the dryness. You'll feel that sort of slight bitterness at the end." This is what Kyle Ridington told me as he poured a wonderful glass of champagne (an NV Simon-Selosse, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru) at his restaurant, Piora. We've done this more than a few times and I'm grateful for it. What's impressive isn't that his descriptions are spot-on; it's that he's able to provide them without the least bit of pretension. He's just a friendly guide, helping you to discover what you like.

He tells me it all got started in Wicker Park, Chicago after he'd given up a career in business marketing. "It was the first restaurant I ever worked at and I was tasting wine with the wine reps because they were introducing our staff to all the new wines on the list. I was tasting and I was thinking, 'Man, is there a way I can make a career out of this without lugging around a fucking—can I curse?—a fifty-pound bag full of wine, going up to restaurants blind all day?' I didn't want to do that but I wanted to get into wine somehow.

"I discovered this whole sommelier career. It intrigued me. I read about it and what it encompasses and I bought a couple of books and I called my father. His advice to me was, 'Well at least if this whole sommelier thing doesn't work out, you'll have an expensive hobby.' So, that's when I knew."

Since making that decision and getting certified through both the International Sommelier Guild and the Court of Master Sommeliers, he's gone on to work at a bevy of Michelin-starred establishments, including L20, Sixteen, and his current home, Piora. Additionally, in 2014, he was a finalist for GQ's Best Dressed Sommelier, which isn't surprising because, c'mon, look at the guy. He's also launched a program at Piora called "Champagne Made me Do It." Each week, he features a different Champagne Cuvée, which he pours by the glass in the hopes of getting people more exposed to champagnes that they would normally have to pay bottle price to experience. 

"I think all too often, when we find ourselves in situations where we are maybe a little bit uncomfortable or confused, we go to things that are very familiar to us," he explains. "For instance, if we go to a French restaurant in Paris, we don't speak French but we notice Croque Madame or Croque Monsieur. We'll probably order that or Steak Frites because that's recognizable. I don't think a lot of people would usually veer off the road and order something they had no idea about. I feel like people use champagne the same way. They go to the usual suspects. They go to the Veuves, they go to the Dom Ps from Moët, they go to the Heidsiecks, they might go to Laurent-Perrier. Typically, people tend to leap towards the bigger brands because the bigger brands have a larger output of wine, have a better media presence, and have higher marketing budgets. 

"Champagne is usually seen as more of an expensive product, a celebratory vessel and I just wanted to pull the reins on that and say 'You know what? Champagne is an approachable beverage to consume daily as well as to purchase daily.' I wanted to really take the bubbles out of champagne and stress how it's a wine, just like a Burgundy or a Bordeaux or an Italian wine or something from California. There isn't wine and champagne; there's just wine. Champagne just happens to have bubbles in it."

Here's what he brought to show us: 

THE STANDBY – wine by andré dominé

"I feel like a lot of people are finding wine books kind of old news due to the fact that the internet is so up to date. The wine world—regions and territories and laws—is always on the move, always being revised, being changed, new laws are being created. But what I like about this book is that it's got great pictures, it's got good maps, it highlights notable producers—kind of the go-to producers in a lot of the regions. It's very detailed and very consistent. I know it's becoming a little out of date but, still, a lot of the core parts of the region will never change and that's stuff that I can go to for a quick read or I can highlight these basics when I teach wine classes for the staff at Piora. I was kind of vibing with the book. I felt it, I liked it. 

"I designed a whole syllabus so each month we have one class on the content of wine regions, or making wine, or vineyards and viticulture. The other wine class we have each month is a blind tasting class. I'll be honest, the content about the wine regions is fascinating and fun but it can be, y'know, a bit mundane and a little tough. But they really like the blind tasting part of the month. That's kind of the educational reward. It's the part that everyone looks forward to. 

"We do blind tasting, we break down wine, I help the staff to decipher between different types of wines—to not be shy and really jump in and break apart a wine. Because it's tough. When you drink a wine, you might not think about it but if somebody's walking you through and touching on different aspects of each wine, it brings a little bit more clairty about what you're drinking. 

"I love this book. I assigned a book, a Jancis Robinson book, to all of the people in the class but this book is like my own personal book. I'll copy some pages from this book and hand it out to the staff. It's kind of like my secret weapon."

 

THE SPECIALIST – rambro necktie by noble custom  

"I got this from a website called Noble Custom. It's this gentleman—he sells ties, and pocket squares, and bracelets, and he does bespoke shoes. So, I bought this tie from him because I loved it. I thought it was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. I think in the world of formality, you need to learn to be playful and have fun with it. I feel like a reason why a lot of people don't like wearing suits or getting dressed up is because they don't know how to dress up. This is one way to show that you're having fun. You can wear an article of clothing that's considered formal but you can do it in a playful way.

"We're in the West Village. I mean, a lot of our guests come in wearing plaid shirts. Sometimes, we're the only people wearing a suit or a jacket and trousers. So, you've gotta loosen it up and have fun with it. It's good because being a sommelier, to some people, is a very intimidating thing. It's a good conversation starter. It can break the ice fairly easily so you can get past the bullshit and get on to what's important: Getting them a wine that they want to drink.

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – 1976 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou st. julien bordeaux

It's funny because I really don't drink much Bordeaux. I have, but it's not really my wine of choice. My grandfather and grandmother were moving out of their house that they'd lived in for fifty-odd years and over the course of the years, he'd built a bit of a wine cellar through wine gifts that he would receive from people during the holidays. So, he had some old rieslings from the seventies, he had some old Bordeaux. He gave me about a case of wine and I had this '76 Ducru-Beaucaillou, which is one of my favorite estates in Bordeaux and I never opened it. I take it with me to every job that I work as a good luck charm.

It's been shaken around a lot. But the surface area from wine to cork, what they call the ullage, looks really good. Usually, when you have old bottles of wine, you lose a lot of wine to evaporation over time. But not a lot of wine has evaporated, meaning that not a lot of the oxygen has gotten in this bottle so it actually might be okay. Maybe I'll find out some day. 

 

 Follow Kyle and his work: Instagram | Twitter 

WESLEY VERHOEVE – PHOTOGRAPHER & WRITER

If you're lucky enough to find yourself walking around with Wesley Verhoeve, there's a good chance you'll run into someone he knows. He's a blend of magnetic and memorable that invites conversation and makes for the foundation of lasting friendships. You'll hear a cry from across the street and meet someone who remembers him from his band, or who met him a few months back while they were walking a dog in New Orleans, or who asks him if he's that guy from the cover of the New Yorker.

It's a bit ironic that he's the center of so much attention, seeing as the bulk of his career has been focused on shining the spotlight on others. We sat down in his apartment not too long ago to discuss that journey, which has ranged from running a record label, to starting a company centered upon limited-edition accessories, to his most recent project, One of Many, a portrait and writing series exploring twelve smaller cities and the creative individuals who call them home.

"In a way, all of those things are kind of the same thing, which I didn't realize as I was going from one to the other," he begins. "In essence, whether it's the music company, or GNTLMN, or One of Many, or even curating art for WeTransfer—all of that essentially is: I come upon a very talented person, I get excited about them, and then I want to help shape and share their story. I want to tell their story in such a way that will reach a lot of people and, through that audience, help that person. It's all in service of that person that I come across. It's me getting excited about interesting, kind, creative people and applying my skill set to try to best present them to the world."

When asked about his choice to feature less-heralded cities for One of Many, his answer is immediate. "Well it's just more interesting, isn't it? I mean, why would I tell New York people's stories again after everybody else has? I'm much more curious about what's going on in Charleston or Denver. I'm much more interested in the stories that have been told less often. The story of the cool creative in New York, or the tech guy in San Francisco, or the movie/TV person in LA—we know those stories. So, I think it's more interesting to go try to find those other people in other cities."

And find them he has. "I've been very pleasantly surprised by how open and welcoming and kind and proud these communities have been. People are excited to talk about their community, their city. They're proud of it. People have taken me back to their house and cooked dinner for me. Very kind and welcoming. Not that I thought people were going to be the opposite of that but I certainly didn’t expect this degree of kindness, warmth, and openness."

Of course, the connections he's forged aren't limited to his subjects; he's gotten some wonderful feedback from readers as well. "I get a lot of emails from people who will say, 'Really enjoyed the Nashville one and I feel very inspired. I'm going to Nashville in three weeks and I'm going to check out some of these people in person.' One couple from Seattle even ended up moving to Charleston. They were wondering where they were going to move and they were considering Portland and New York, but after reading the Charleston essay, they added it to the list, visited, and decided on moving there. 

"It's been a great way to come across like-minded people and form a relationship with them. It wasn't the reason I set out to do this, but it's definitely been a pleasant side effect."

Here's what he brought to show us:

THE STANDBY – TOPO DESIGNS BACKPACK

"Topo is an outdoors apparel and bag company in Denver. I bought it when I photographed them for One of Many. I was interviewing and shooting Koan Goedman of Huckleberry Roasters and he suggested that I’d walk around the corner to see about Topo as well. I went over there and I interviewed Jules from marketing, and Josh, who runs the store, and ended up loving their backpacks so much I bought one after we were done.

"It's an urban backpack. Less suitable for serious outdoor hikes, but great for me to travel with to shoots or my office. It’s stylish, simple, and functional, with a compartment for a laptop. There's nothing extra about it. It's a little bit dirty now, but that's because I've been using it every day."

 

THE SPECIALIST – SIGMA 35MM F/1.4 DG HSM LENS

"I used to shoot with a Canon 35mm f/1.4, which is a very well known lens and considered to be quite excellent. I was renting that lens because it was very expensive. I couldn't afford to buy it. Traditionally, Canon lenses were considered the best lenses because they're really high quality glass. Sigma was always the cheaper cousin; totally solid but not amazing. 

“This particular lens came out not that long ago and it got rave reviews. When I was talking to the guy at Adorama, he said that he'd tried it and it was actually better, yet also five or six-hundred dollars cheaper. So all of a sudden, instead of a fifteen-hundred dollar lens, this is an eight or nine-hundred dollar lens, which, after I saved up some money, I was able to purchase. Long story short: It's a great lens. It's better than the Canon in my opinion. It's really crisp and clean. It doesn't have any distortion really, for a relatively wide angle. It just works. It's a workhorse. 

"I don't think people would consider it a portrait lens, traditionally speaking, because you would go for something more like a 50mm or an 85mm. Those are considered, for sure, portrait lenses. The 50mm is very small. If I took a picture of you with a 50mm, I have a lot of face and not a lot of everything else. Because I'm capturing communities, I wanted to have some more stuff around that you could see. So, If I'm at a workshop and it's a woodworker, you can see tools and a bench and his or her work. Whereas with a 50mm, you're going to see the person's face and a bunch of blurry stuff, which is beautiful but not what I was going for with this project. This is a little bit more perfect for environmental portraits, if you will. If you want to take pictures with a lot in them and you can see all of the things, this is great. 

"The other thing about the 35mm is: I'm traveling by myself with a backpack and no assistant, walking eight, nine hours a day from one shoot to another, so I can only bring so many things. If I had a car, I could bring a bunch of lenses, but in this case, I want to be able to walk everywhere and not break my back, so that means I bring one lens. This lens."

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – NOBLIA WRISTWATCH

"The watch is my grandfather's. It's from the fifties. It's from Russia. It's not any kind of a fancy brand. It's purely sentimental. I never wore a watch as a young person because at the time, the watch fashion was very bulky and I have pretty small wrists and so it looks kind of clunky in my opinion. When I was around twenty-eight years old, I decided that it was time to wear a watch. I asked my mother if there might be a family watch around, and she sent me pictures of two watches that had belonged to her father.

"My grandpa was a career military officer, so he wore watches all the time. He fought in World War II, and afterwards remained in the Army, making it to the rank of Sergeant Major.

"Anyway, they had two watches in the safety deposit and this is the one that I liked very much right away. Plus, it's much more—it's more petite, really, than a lot of watches. That's what I was looking for anyway. So my mom sent it to me, including the band, and I started wearing it. I get a lot of compliments on it. 

"Actually, I forgot about this part: This watch is very summery and nautical in style. I started wearing it in summer, got used to it, and then once it became fall and winter and I realized it didn’t really suit those seasons as much. I did some research on the brand and because it's not a particularly valuable, expensive, fancy brand, I was able to very affordably pick up another one with a different look. 

"And then I—obviously because this is what I do; I make everything into a project and get obsessive about things—all of a sudden, I went a bit overboard and started buying up the prettiest ones I could find with the idea of selling them to friends who loved mine. Once I had collected fifty of them, which took me three years, I put up a landing page for GNTLMN, which was originally going to be watch-oriented. I ended up not launching with the watches. I started with bags and other items first, but the watch is really how that project got started.

"When I asked my mom originally if there was a family watch, I'm sure it was a combination of 'Well, I sure can't afford to buy one' plus I'm also curious and sentimental so let's see if there happens to be one. If there wouldn't have been one, I would have probably just gotten a cheap Timex and that would have been it. 

"But, in this case, it worked out." 

 

 Follow Wesley and his work: Instagram | Twitter 

 

 

CARLEIGH QUEENTH — HEAD OF CERAMICS, CHRISTIE'S

It's not every day you meet an 18th and 19th Century ceramics expert. I'll be honest: It's not a profession I knew existed before having met Carleigh Queenth. Turns out, however, it's a role she's been preparing for all her life.

"My grandmother collected ceramics and she got me interested in them. My grandma was sort of a hoarder in a sense. She bought lots of things thinking they would make money someday—Beanie Babies, collector's glasses from McDonalds, etcetera. Her ceramics were legitimately much nicer than that. She had Newcomb pottery and McCoy pottery. She would go to tag sales or antique stores and find things that she thought would be worth more someday. She and my grandfather had tons of these types of things in their house. She was a social worker. She also worked for the Health Department at one point. When we would go to restaurants, she liked to threaten waiters and waitresses that she was still with the Health Department, even though she wasn't.

"It was a quality-time thing that we did together. We would look up the marks in the marks book and then she had a Kovel's, which is a pricing guide for collectibles, and we would price them. I became interested in it through her. My mother also made ceramics so between the two of them, I had a strong inclination towards them. We did that until I went to college, basically. And it wasn't all the time and it wasn't every time but it was a fun thing that we did together that I enjoyed."

So, what actually goes into this unique profession? She answers with a smile, "My job is basically to be 'Antiques Roadshow' all day long and more in-depth. After the catalog comes out and is posted online, we start receiving inquiries from potential buyers and I answer their questions. I reach out to people that I think could be potential buyers that may not have necessarily seen it. I help set up what we call 'the view,' which is the exhibition of the items in the sale, which requires trying to make everything look artfully arranged in a very short turnaround time—you usually have a day or two to set everything up. I also work at the view; I'm there to answer questions for potential purchasers or just people who are interested. On the day of the sale, I'm usually on the telephone, bidding on clients' behalf."

She's also occasionally called upon to work with celebrities and their collections. Naturally, I was curious. "Who," I prodded, "is the last famous person with whom you've worked?" She politely declined to name the individual, citing Christie's respect for its clients' anonymity. I tried another approach: "No, really. Who?" Still, she deftly evaded answering. As a result, despite having no basis for speculation, this interviewer is left no recourse but to believe that it's Prince.

Interestingly, she explains, for an industry so steeped in history, the experience is more dynamic than you'd expect. "I'm learning new things all the time. When you're engaging with these different objects, each object has a different history and engages with a different part of the past. You'll be cataloguing something and learn about a historical figure you didn't know about who is either depicted on the object or owned it. Or you'll find that it was made in commemoration of a event that you had very little knowledge about and in order to properly understand it and price it, you have to learn that history and get a lot closer. So I'm constantly learning new things. It's definitely one of my favorite parts of the job."

Here's what she brought to show us:

THE STANDBY – STICKPINS

I usually buy a large box of these. I've actually only run out once and it was very difficult to find another box of the right length. I had a lot of interns buying and returning a lot of pins because they didn't understand what I needed or why I needed them to be a certain way.

I use them to feel for restoration on porcelain. Most collectors care about any underlying issues, visible or not, with the structural integrity of the piece. Traditionally, a lot of people used to use their teeth—sort of how people can tell real pearls from fake pearls. I can use that method and sometimes still do if I don't have a pin. It feels like enamel on enamel when the object is unrestored. When it's restored, it feels soft. It's the same with the pin: It feels soft or somewhat sticky if it's been restored. And I don't have to worry about accidentally eating lead paint all the time. 

 

THE SPECIALIST – SHORTWAVE/LONGWAVE COMBO BLACKLIGHT

The longwave blacklight shows a lot of old restorations and old overpaint. Often it will make small hairline cracks that might be hard to see more visible. With a lot of new restorations, they often use a clear spray that doesn't glow under the blacklight, which is why the pins often are more helpful.

The shortwave can be very helpful in other ways. It can show soft-paste versus hard-paste porcelain, which in the case of the Sèvres factory is showing earlier versus later. You can use the shortwave to show Samson, which was a European manufacturer that imitated most European factories as well as Chinese works of art in the 19th Century. It usually glows a distinctive color, versus the normal dark purple, which is what hard-paste porcelain glows. If I'm having trouble figuring something out, I go to the blacklight as a way to help me solve the problem. It's definitely good to blacklight objects as much as possible, but if you're processing a large quantity of lots, sometimes it's just not feasible. So, I use it for the tricky questions. 

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – TAPE MEASURE

It's a bright pink that's become progressively less bright pink over the years. I bought it for myself as a present when I first became a Specialist, so about nine years ago. As I'm sure my colleagues could tell you, holding on to a tape measure for that long is a pretty impressive feat in itself. People are constantly losing them or breaking them. It's so easy to leave places, but I've managed to keep track of it for all these years.

Junior Specialists have borrowed it and stretched out the tape and squeezed it to retract it over and over while I slowly go insane thinking they're going to break my precious tape measure, but it's withstood the trials of their youth. It's managed to come back to me every time I've thought I've lost it. I basically travel and go on every visit with it. Every single thing that goes in the catalog gets measured. Every single thing that I list when I go on a visit, whether it's for an estate tax appraisal, a selection for sale, an insurance appraisal—it's getting measured, and I'm using that. 

 

Follow Carleigh and her work: Instagram

ZAC FELTOON — INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER

We sit in violation of about nineteen city ordinances, drinking Mexican beer on the street, talking about what first interested Zac Feltoon in design. Apparently, it all began with a spoon.

“In high school, I had the same ritual every morning: wake up, have breakfast, go back to sleep for 30 minutes, shower, and head off to school. One day, without thinking anything of it at first, I used a different spoon from our drawer than I usually did, and from the first bite, it made my experience of eating cereal better.

"Before that moment, I ate cereal every morning and it became a mundane ritual that I didn't pay any attention to. When I came downstairs this particular morning and used that spoon, it made me notice this major part of my day as if it was the first time. I think the most important moment was when I started to analyze the spoon: Deeper head, thinner neck, heavier handle... it just fit me better and the ratio of milk to cereal was better. Later that morning, I came downstairs for school and told my parents what happened, I knew something was important about it, and I asked, 'What does this mean?' and they said, 'We don't know.' So I went to school. When I got back, they had an answer for me.

"My parents—an architect and a photographer—had always encouraged me to go to different classes: glass blowing, pottery, sculpture... all of these different classes, but I never considered myself an artist like a lot of my friends at the time who were definitely artists. I still draw on the lessons i learned then in my work. When I got back from school that afternoon after encountering the spoon, my parents called me into the living room and said, 'We think what you're talking about is industrial design. If you can find a summer program to try it out, come back to us with some options and we can decide.'"

He ended up studying at University of the Arts in Philadelphia under Mike McAllister, then the following summer at RISD, then finally, as an undergrad at Pratt."This is funny: I thought, I had applied early admission, but it turns out I didn't. Looking back, I guess it's a good thing that I got in, I didn’t really have a backup plan. It made my guidance counselor crazy. She called me a bullshitter. In high school! I knew how serious the process was... maybe I didn’t show that to her."

Well, he's clearly done bullshitting. For a young professional, he's done quite a lot, including creating custom desks for an award-winning interior design project in Austin, helping a client receive a patent for a handle he crafted that aids emergency teams in hospitals, and doing retail design work for brands like Uniqlo. "It's a really, really wide range and I absolutely love that."

And yet, his first answer to my asking about what he's accomplished was, "Not enough." It's a drive that's apparent throughout our talk. He wants to try everything. "If I love woodworking or I love metalworking," he explains, "then I can love injection moulding. One of the things I love about what I've already done is I've built this ability to talk and understand and communicate a design intent to people that I've never met and in industries I haven't had any overlap with yet. If you can get really quickly to the thing that someone loves about what they do and what they're going to bring to the project, you can impart what you love and what you want to bring to the project, then no matter what the industry, no matter what the program, no matter what the medium, you now have a common ground on which to build. And I think that has brought me—who cares commercial—but at least personal fulfillment and a feeling of success in the work that I've done so far."

Here's what he brought to show us:

THE STANDBY – pilot razorpoint, papermate flair medium, pilot fineliner

"The old standby is now one of three black pens. And it's taken me—I know it sounds silly—but it's taken me years to find these pens. The first one is a Pilot Razorpoint and it's actually the pen that my dad uses as an architect. He always has one but he mashes them into the paper. I don't like to do that.

"I think it definitely has it's place: To get a really fine line. But, I think that it wears out too quickly. And the little yellow branding on it is a little… ostentatious, so I don't always like it. It's tertiary to the others.

"The second one is a Papermate Flair Medium. Do they make a large? I've never looked into it. I think this is the absolute best pen in the world. It's a felt tip. It wears down really well. It lasts for a while. It's cheap. You can buy 'em in the hundreds. There's something about it. You can go from thin to thick and it is always good.

"The final one is the Pilot Fineliner. I was only recently introduced to this pen by another designer and from the first time I used it, it has changed the way that I sketch."

 

THE SPECIALIST – makita 18-volt lithium-ion drill

"This is my favorite tool in the entire world. I don't remember where I bought it. I didn't do any research into the best drill or anything, but it was a moment where I had a big enough job that I needed the right drill and I went out and I knew I had the money for it. Up to that point, I always bought the thing that could get me by to the next thing and, as a product designer, that's really emotionally tumultuous. This, to me, represents the moment when I could buy exactly the thing that I wanted and it has proven to be exactly the tool that it promised to be.

"It came with two batteries, a fast charger, an amazing variable clutch, two speeds. It doesn't burn out, it's light, it's extremely well-made. It fits perfectly in my hand. It has an LED light, which isn't gimmicky. In this tool, which I don't get to use all the time because I'm no longer physically building or installing very many things (which is okay for the moment. Every once in a while, I get a chance to get back into the shop). I’m often really hard on a lot of products and I want them to be perfect. With this tool, I don't care if it gets banged up, I don't care if it gets dirty, I don't care if it gets scuffed—because it is designed to do exactly that."

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – moleskine journal

"This has been with me since 2006. I got to school in 2004 and for whatever reason, I'd never had much experience with Moleskine and always thought that the pages were so thick that the work that I put in it needed to be at a certain level. I just never used them. I always used shitty notebooks because I knew I wasn't there yet. So when I bought this Moleskine—I think it had to be one of my first if it wasn't my first—it was a book that I knew I wanted to write in as a journal and it was a product that I knew I was going to live with for years.

"I'm about a quarter through, as it looks like from the dirt. Maybe a third. I used to write a lot more in it. I started it when I was traveling abroad. I got to study at the Bauhaus and then I went across Italy and Greece and I wrote in it every day. So my entire journey is in there. It's one of those things that when I need to work through something, when there's something that I can't just sit and think about, I go to this. To me, the way that I think about the product itself helps to reinforce that the ideas that I'm putting in here are at a certain level—that they're worth being in this book."

 

Follow Zac and his work: Instagram

ANA ASNES BECKER — GUITARIST & SONGWRITER

It's an unseasonably brisk June night when I meet up with Ana Asnes Becker at a tavern beneath the elevated subway. She's just gotten off work at the Wall Street Journal, where she designs and develops interactive graphics for their website and we've shifted boroughs to Brooklyn. But, then again, traversing New York is nothing new for her. "I've always had at least one foot in the city," she tells me. "I was born in Manhattan and lived there for a while. My folks split up. My dad moved to Park Slope and my mom did a bit of a suburb hop. So, I commuted between Brooklyn and the suburbs."

There's no more commuting, and she's maximizing that extra time, performing solo as well as with her two bands, City Mice and Fruit & Flowers. "City Mice," she explains, "is kind of my baby. I write all the material. I would call our stuff power pop but with a bit of an edge. It's like we're a punk band that plays pop songs. But it's not pop punk. It's the opposite of pop punk. It's punk pop."

As for Fruit & Flowers, "We're a brand spankin' new band, fronted by my friend Caroline Yoder. All of us are songwriters." As result, there's an interesting blend of voices and sounds. She tells me it's "garage-y rock," but with a bunch of variety. "We've got a little psych flavor in there, we've got a little surf flavor in there, we've got a little post-punk flavor in there. Everything's kind of dark and sexy and rockin'."

I ask how she became interested in music; she starts talking about a record store. "It was in Park Slope, on fifth avenue between first and second streets. I think it's a laundromat now, a fancy dry-cleaner kind. At one point, I had to get a birthday present for a friend of mine. It was freshman year of high school. So I would have been thirteen still—I'm a baby for my grade. I went into the record store and this guy, Josh, he was like, 'Well, what does your friend listen to?' I said, 'I don't know. He likes Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd'—you know, classic rock bands. So Josh was like, 'Give him this... but you should listen to it first.' He sold me Marquee Moon by Television. And I listened to it and I was like, 'Holy. Shit. Music can sound like this?' I grew up on the Beatles and I was listening to classic rock as you do in high school and it just blew my mind. So I gave it to my friend. I don't know if he liked it or not. 

"But I went back to the record store and, the second time, this guy named Nick was behind the counter and I told him, 'I've just heard Marquee Moon and it was amazing. What else should I listen to?' He gave me Gang of Four's Entertainment. And after that, I was just done. What I thought music had been was only an insignificantly tiny fraction—and I need to know what music is. That's how I got hooked." 

Here's what she brought to show us:

THE STANDBY – 1965 Holiday Bobkat

"I think Harmony briefly made guitars branded as Holiday at some point in the sixties. I got it at Southside Guitars on Grand Street in the neighborhood. I like those guys. It's the first guitar that I ever bought for myself, at least in part (my mom pitched in for my birthday. Thanks, mom!). I started playing guitar when I was thirteen and my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer. Before I bought myself this guitar, all of my guitars were ones that I inherited from my dad. Except for my first guitars—a mini acoustic and a Squier he got for me to learn on. 

"I started playing out a lot and I wanted to have a guitar that if I broke it, it wouldn't break my heart. All of the ones that are connected to my dad are pretty priceless to me—very priceless to me. And the idea that I'd be schlepping it around and maybe someone would spill a beer on it or someone would break the neck... you know, shit happens. I wanted to get myself a little insurance. But I've fallen in love with the Bobkat. It's amazingly friendly. It's really easy to play. It's also short-scale, which works because I'm short as fuck. It's tiny. It really fits me: It fits my size, it fits my personality. The pickups are really cool. They're gold-foil pickups, which is interesting. They're not Humbuckers or the standard Fender single coil. They sound really warm and nice. The Bobkat's become my best friend. I use it almost every day. This is the first night I haven't had band practice this week. So it's just me and Bobkat every day, hanging out. She's gorgeous, Bobkat. They're all girls. Even Ol' Blue. Ol' Blue's a girl, too."

 

THE SPECIALIST – Steinberger m series

"The Steinberger used to be my standby but I had to retire it for sentimental reasons to keep it safe. It's one of the ones I inherited from my dad. It's a headless guitar, kind of goofy-looking. For certain things, though, you just can't beat it. It's so responsive. It's begging you to shred on it. It's like, 'My action is so low. My neck is so thin. I'll do whatever you want me to do. Just shred on me.' So when I need to play the really notey parts, or if I'm recording and I'm soloing, a lot of times I'm using the Steinberger just because it's so sleek. You couldn't fuck up if you wanted to.

"When I think of guitars—oh, God, it's so corny. I sound like such a jerk—but it's like they have personalities. And the Steinberger's very submissive, in a sexy way. It doesn't argue with you. Other guitars I've got, they'll talk back to you. They'll be like, 'No. Don't bend that string that way.' You have to make concessions, or you have to understand it. But the Steinberger, it's like a dog with it's belly up. It just does the thing, whatever the thing is." 

 

THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – "ol' blue" – 1960s fender stratocaster

"This was my dad's. I remember very clearly him playing it. It's probably worth a lot of money because it's a strat from the sixties, but I couldn't ever sell it. I started playing guitar when my dad got sick and now his guitars are what I have left. They were so dear to his heart. I wanted to learn to play guitar so I could have something of my dad's that I would never lose, and now I do. So, I think his actual guitars are something I could never part with, especially the strat. He gave it to me shortly before he died and it was really meaningful to me that he did that. He trusted me with it. It was really special to him. He even named my brother Strat. That probably paints a pretty good picture.

"So I started learning to play guitar when he first got diagnosed and he lived for about a year and a half after that. So he was around long enough to see me start getting good, but not quite long enough to hear any songs I wrote. Sometimes I play that guitar and I look at my fingers and sometimes my fingers look similar to my dad's fingers. The way they move, and the shape, and the shapes they make on the guitar. And I think about his fingers playing on the same frets. The same exact frets. It's really a special thing. It's a lifeline." 

 

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KYLE STUDSTILL — DESIGNER, COMPOSURE

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"Growing up, my parents let me make my own mistakes," Kyle Studstill tells me between sips of beer in Carroll Gardens. It's a freedom that surely served him well, empowering him to get involved in a wide variety of endeavors: Advertising, trendspotting, consulting, and—oh yeah —military intelligence analysis. But his newest venture, Composure, might just be his most personal. 

Borne from a desire to produce something more tangible, Composure is a fashion brand centered around richly patterned silk and wool scarves, all handmade on New York's Lower East Side. "I wanted to do something that was just what it is," he says, explaining that his experiences demystifying data to tell stories were gratifying but ultimately a bit abstract. "A scarf is just a scarf."

Of course, there's more to it than that. For Studstill, it's also about asking what the well lived life looks like. As we finish our drinks, he tells me that Composure is, in part, a way to explore that question. "I'm trying to find the answer for myself and trying to build a community around it."

Here's what he brought to show us:

The Standby – rOtring 600/0.7mm mechanical pencil

"There are a couple of really nice things about it. There's a certain weight to it that makes you feel like it's been designed by an engineer who really cares about the way people really experience a thing. It feels like there's been a lot of care put into how it's been designed. Everyone has their own version of what feels nice to them. This happens to feel very nice to me.

"It's my primary sketching tool. When I was a kid, I never considered myself as able to draw. It's taken me a long time—it's really only in the last few years where I've developed a certain confidence around, "You know what? It doesn't have to be perfect. It can just be a sketch." I picked up this pencil and all of a sudden, I was able to do sketches the way I thought I should have been able to if I was a real 'illustrator.'

"I often carry smaller notebooks for when I find myself thinking about different kinds of ideas, whether it's a product I want to design or an initiative I'm thinking about. For example, if a friend has approached me about collaborating on an event, I'll use it to sketch out pieces of what that event could look like. I draw these charts and graphs. It's really a go-to tool for me to articulate abstract thoughts."

 

The Specialist – Antique Detailing Scissors

"The detailing scissors are my way to make the slightest adjustments on things that probably nobody notices—but it's precisely that I don't want them to notice. I want to feel like I'm putting the right amount of care into something. One of the most important ways I can show the person who wears the scarf that I care about their experience is to pay attention to the details.

"These were gifted to me by my girlfriend, who is one of the reasons I picked up a sewing machine after years of not using one. I have a very arts-and-crafts kind of mother. I was in front of a sewing machine a lot when I was a kid and, for any number of reasons, I just didn't continue with it. Over time, I was talking about the fact that I used to do that—that I used to make stuff—and so, a few years ago, my girlfriend got me a sewing machine. As I continued talking these kinds of things, like craft and detail, she found these really beautiful scissors. I don't know much about the story except that they're antique and they're beautiful and I've really enjoyed them. They're the thing I pull out to make sure everything is on point and there's something really nice to me about that."

 

The Sentimental Favorite – Nessa Scarf

"This is what I call the Nessa scarf, but really the reason why it's a sentimental favorite is because the fabric that I use is this purple floral print that was actually the first fabric I ran into where I was like, "I should make a scarf out of that." This is years and years ago, when I first got to the city. I had no idea I was going to build something like Composure at the time. I don't even know what drew me into the fabric store, but I went in. It's on the Lower East Side, just south of Stanton. The guy there has incredible stories of growing up in the former Soviet Bloc. He's just a really awesome guy to have built a relationship with. I still get fabric from there.

"Back then, I was just new to the city and I even took a photo of this fabric, which was on this reel that he had and now I can look back on Facebook and see this photo from five years ago where I said "I'm going to make a scarf out of that someday." Once I started thinking about Composure and centering it around scarves, I figured I'd go back and find the fabric. The guy still had it. It ended up being the first scarf I really made so, to this day, I still keep it around. This one here, I've never sold. You can tell it's the very first scarf because the fabric is actually inside out. I actually fucked it up.

"Each scarf that I have in the collection is made with these people in my life in mind, who embody virtues or inner perspective that I've found help us find the vision that lets us do our best work. The Nessa scarf has really come to —I don't know the right word. I've never said it out loud.—I attribute it to my friend Lisa who was a very strong inspiration for me even coming to a point where I could say, "Oh, I should make scarves." She represents a kind of humility to me. It's become one of my favorites in the whole collection."

 

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