What I've Been Watching and Reading

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a handful of the articles, books, shows, conversations and documentaries that informed, inspired and entertained me throughout the year. I hope that a few are also informative, inspiring and entertaining for you.

Elon Musk in Coversation

2012 was a standout year for entrepreneur Elon Musk. After rocky, touch-and-go starts, his three California-based companies--Space X, Tesla, and Solar City--all hit major milestones. If, like I, you are fascinated by him, then this July conversation with Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy is worthwhile viewing. He's shockingly accomplished--and incredibly understated. A nice combination.

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New York Fashion Week Grows Up

There has been a whole lot of sexy going on in New York this past week. That's normal, for this time of year. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which began last Thursday, wraps up today. And while the après Labor Day fashion buzz is nothing unusual, what has struck me this go round is that the transition people have anticipated for ages has finally happened: New York Fashion Week has grown up.

Maybe it was the move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center two years ago. Maybe it was the seasoning of a crop of talented younger designers--ProenzaAlexanderJasonZac--filling in behind the old guard--RalphDonnaCarolinaOscar--creating a solid platform for a new guard--WesReedthe OlsensSophie. Maybe it is the culmination of six years of tending and nurturing of the CFDA by wise, multi-term President, Diane von Furstenberg. Whatever the reason, this was not a hit-or-miss New York Fashion Week. One collection after another was fabulous. Sexy was dialed-up to 10. 

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Christo in Colorado

For five decades artist Christo has been inspiring and infuriating, uniting and dividing communities large and small, urban and rural, around the globe.

Last Friday, nineteen years after he and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (who passed away in late 2009), conceived of their proposed Colorado project Over the River, it came one step closer to fruition. The Colorado State Land Board approved two land leases necessary to allow the project to move forward. As with his other works over the years, Over the River will be a temporary installation--5.9 miles of shimmering fabric panels suspended above the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado for a two week stretch--if all goes as planned, in August 2014.

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A Neophyte's Guide to the Singularity

I have capitulated. I have stopped avoiding the Singularity.

For the past couple of years--at least--I have been catching threads of chatter about the concept of the Singularity--loosely, the point in time when, through Artificial Intelligence, genetic engineering or other technological manipulation, a superhuman intellect is born. I have heard just enough to be weirded out. So I've avoided the topic all together.

Of course, I have also been curious. So this past weekend I decided to commit a few hours, dig in, learn more. And I proved Lev Grossman right. In Time he wrote, “People are attracted to the Singularity for the shock value, like an intellectual freak show, but they stay because there's more to it than they expected.”

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Taking it to the Streets

Today the Guggenheim Museum kicks off a six year commitment to catalyzing conversations on 21st century urban environments: BMW Guggenheim Lab.

Over the course of the Lab's life, three commissioned structures will travel to nine cities around the globe. Teams of programmatic curators in each will draw together artists, scientists, economists, architects, political leaders, environmentalists, musicians, educators and others to lead discussions on local development and growth issues.

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Monday's Miscellany

 

Fab.com is a daily deal site à la Gilt, targeting design aficionados. Launched less than two weeks ago, it truly is fab. Beautifully executed--naturally--it features a great mix of small items and serious investment pieces by household name and emerging designers, as well as small, regional artisans. Upcoming sales include mod furniture from Objeti, hand crafted New Moon rugs from Nepal and super-glam chandeliers from Avenue Lighting.

The other reason that the company is fab is that CEO and founder, Jason Goldberg, is an active practitioner of transparent management, and his blog posts, both pre- and post-launch, are a terrific companion guide to the site. They provide insight into the behind the scenes ins and outs of launching a start-up from a CEO who is clearly interested not only in building a great product but also a great company--and, so far, is hitting the ball out of the park.

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Considering Alexander McQueen

Yesterday I went to the Met to see the Alexander McQueen retrospective Savage Beauty. I thought I might beat the crowds by going first thing on a Tuesday morning. No such luck. One of the guards on duty told me that it's never not packed, every day from open to close. The exhibit has broken Met attendance records, been extended by a week and surely could go even longer than its currently scheduled run through August 7th. Suffice it to say--there's a reason it's drawing crowds. Just go.

Curated by Andrew Bolton of the Met's Costume Institute and designed in conjunction with long-time McQueen collaborators Joseph Bennett, Sam Gainsbury and John Gosling, the exhibit is exquisite, not just because it offers the opportunity to view McQueen's stunning pieces at a pace, but also because it does so with the same level of craft, care and love that he devoted to his work. It must have cost a bomb to produce--each of the eight rooms is a separately produced high-end showcase, beautifully lit and soundtracked, helping to compensate--as much as humanly possible--for the cheek-to-jowl crowds.

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Phil Jackson's Spiritual Mashup

This photo makes me laugh--especially Dennis Rodman, second from left. What a handful. It was taken in 1997 after the Chicago Bulls had won five out of the six NBA championships they would take under Phil Jackson, before he moved on to coach the LA Lakers.

This past weekend I had a conversation with a friend that prompted me to pull Jackson's book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior off the shelf. He wrote it in 1995, when he was in the middle of his run with the Bulls. It was re-released in 2006, and I read it after that, several years ago.

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Patron of the New

Patron of the New is über sexy.

A friend tipped me to the just-opened TriBeCa store last week, so I stopped in last weekend. Oh. My. God. Located on Franklin Street in a stunning, prototypical TriBeCa space--soaring ceilings, concrete floors, columns down the middle, beams across the top--Patron of the New. is an elegant celebration of all that is fabulous in smart, super high-end fashion.

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To Market, To Market

I generally do a decent job of keeping up with what's going on in New York. But this is a big city--so every once in a while something does manage to get by me. And occasionally it's something that's right under my nose, in my own back yard.

Early last week I learned for the first time of Essex Street Market, only blocks from my home in Nolita, on Essex between Rivington and Delancey on the Lower East Side. That a food market so close by had escaped my attention came as a shock--I love markets. And not just for the quality of the products and produce found there. I mostly love the spirit of community and connection that markets foster--with other shoppers, farmers, vendors, purveyors. So I hunt them down.

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All Hail Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington is one fierce bundle of awesome. If you've never heard of her--and if you're not obsessed by triathlons or you don't know someone obsessed by triathlons, you may well not have--she is one of the dominant triathletes racing today.

Chrissie's specialty is the Ironman distance--a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a marathon--a 26.2 mile run. This past weekend she raced Ironman South Africa. She won, naturally, just as she's won every single other Ironman she's raced since debuting at Kona in Hawaii in 2007.

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Green Energy

One of the things that grounds me is running. I've run off and on since I was in college, but it's only in the last few years that I've gotten serious about setting goals, training, running longer distances. Half marathons are my favorite.

There's a significant amount of tweaking you can do for your running performance via nutrition. And as I've gotten more serious about my goals, my eating has changed a lot. I ensure that my energy stays pretty even all day by eating five times a day and by making sure that every time I do I get a good mix of fat, carbs and protein. And I've eliminated a lot of sugar. Not all of it. But a lot.

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Master Craftsman

I have a very funny, charming dog, a five year old, white French Bulldog. He catalyzes lots of conversations everywhere I take him in New York. And, this being New York, on occasion those conversations take place with celebrities. My personal rule of thumb for these encounters is to roll with the moment, resist temptation to turn them into anything other than exchanges about my dog.

On Tuesday this week I broke that rule. I was in Ricky's on Broadway in Soho, standing at the cashier. I looked up to find fashion designer Ralph Rucci saying something to the effect of "You have a beautiful dog." This would be the equivalent of Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas or Richard Rogers complimenting an architecture aficionado on her hound. Not a household name celebrity, but to someone in the know--a legend. Time stood still.

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Champion Trailblazers

I watch very little televison. To the extent that I do, I find I'm generally drawn to shows on Bravo, Sundance and PBS. I don't think I've ever spent time watching anything on USA Network, home to shows I'd never even heard of--White CollarPsych and Fairly Legal, for example--before recently learning about the network's annual Character Approved Awards.

(And by the way, this isn't necessarily a commentary about the intellectual caliber of the television that I do watch. Bravo offers plenty of lowbrow viewing options. I've been known to dabble in Millionaire Matchmaker on occasion. And The Real Housewives of New York City was on my DVR for a while. Before I cut myself off.)

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Unorthodox Performances

Earlier this week I had the fortune of having a conversation with Paul Haas. Paul is the Founder and Artistic Director of musical ensemble Sympho.

Sympho is grounded in a very specific vision for what classical music can be in the 21st Century: collaborative, engaging and mobile. Others innovating in the world of classical music are doing so by inviting new technologies and partners into the traditional concert hall venue. Sympho—which is described on its website as a concert production company--is getting up out of the concert hall, stepping into and being informed by unusual and unorthodox performance spaces.

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Promote Peace

If you are a film, television or documentary producer with projects in far flung corners of the globe and you don't yet know about the UN's Creative Community Outreach Initiative (CCOI), you should. This tiny but effective four person team provides creatives with access to UN facilities, film and photo archives, experts and even field resources and contacts via the UN's offices around the world.

Established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2009, Ban recognized the benefits that might accrue to the UN from proactively reaching out to those most passionate about storytelling. Introduce them to a trove of untold human interest narratives, capture their imagination, help them to accomplish their professional goals successfully, and thereby further the UN's own--to promote peace and a better future. It was a savvy move from a big bureaucracy, very much in keeping with the times, reflecting a fresh, collaborative mindset--in strong contrast to the No Trespassing stance the UN has historically held toward the entertainment industry.

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Exacting Detail

I absolutely love the windows of E.R. Butler & Co.. Really, to call these windows is to do them a disservice. Located on the north side of Prince Street between Lafayette and Mulberry, they are four vitrines, tall, deep, grand, used over the last three years to great effect to showcase the work of high-end, indie accessory, jewelry and furniture designers such as Ted Muehling, Philip Crangi, Wendy Stevens and Chris Lehreke.

The displays are always dramatic. And the windows have an air of mystery. Incongruously embossed in gold at their base is “E.R. Butler & Co. | Manufacturers”. There is no immediately discernable relationship between display content and proprietor name. Manufacturers of what?

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Love Life

Ayse Birsel is a designer, a Turkish designer. In tandem with her Senegalese husband, Bibi Seck, she runs award winning studio Birsel + Seck. They've created products for Hermann Miller, Target, Hasbro and Johnson & Johnson and were among the designers featured in Patricia Moroso's colorful and celebrated M'Afrique salon at the 2009 Milan furniture fair. In May last year they participated in Headspace, a symposium on scent sponsored by SEED Magazine, Parsons and MoMA.

Birsel + Seck's trademark design process is an innovation tool they call Deconstruction + Reconstruction--break stuff down, let it get messy, put it back together again, even better than you found it. Ayse has road-tested Deconstruction + Reconstruction not only in her work, but also in her life, and she is using it as the framework for a workshop, Design the Life you Love, to teach others to stir things up, give their perspective a good shake, move things forward.

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