Monday Morning Inspiration: Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, one of China’s leading conceptual artists, recently installed his piece, Sunflower Seeds, into the interior of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.  While at first glance all of the seeds look nearly identical, the exhibit actually consists of 100 million porcelain seeds that were each individually sculpted and painted in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen, which is known as the "porcelain capital" in China

When the exhibit was first installed, visitors were invited and even encouraged to walk, touch and  lay down in the seeds but last week they announced that the exhibition is now no longer open for human interaction due to the dust created when visitors walked on the seeds.  Either way,  I think the connotations typically associated with the term "Made in China," is brought into question.  The exhibit is up until May 2011 so if you are in London in the next seven months be sure to check it out.

*Photographs from the Tate and The Guardian

Monday Morning Inspiration: The Sketchbook Project

I'm a fan of sketchbooks.  I  bring one with me on every journey abroad and sleep with a Moleskine by my bed. They are filled with menus from some of my most memorable meals, ticket stubs from my favorite concerts and general observations and collections.  My favorite part about keeping a journal/scrapbook/sketchbook is not the process of filling it up.  Rather, the nostalgia I feel as I look back through them.

I was so excited the other day when I happened upon The Sketchbook Project while browsing one of my favorite blogs, written by one of my favorite people.

The Sketchbook Project sends each participant the same blank Moleskine and then based on the theme that they've chosen ("I'm sorry I forgot you", "Things found on restaurant napkins", "Make mine a double," "In 5 minutes"...etc)  each artist can interpret that theme according to their own style. After the sketchbooks are filled and returned, the books go on tour around the U.S. to various galleries and venues.  At the project's end, each book will be honored by being permanently cataloged into The Brooklyn Art Library system.  In light of our upcoming move, I picked the theme "Down Your Street" so I can document my first few months in the new neighborhood.  My hope is that the journey of filling this book will help me keep my eyes open wider and my thoughts a bit more present as I explore new territory and wander the streets.

Good Work: Silva/Bradshaw

I am in love with this jewelry from the design duo Silva/Bradshaw.

Artist/designers Matthew Bradshaw and Sergio Silva met while studying industrial design at Pratt.  They design some pretty gorgeous items and just last month they launched their jewelry line.  I love how their pieces are simple in form yet intricate and that the rings can also double as necklaces.  Either way, these are statement pieces.  I am also currently swooning over their Dyvel Table, which consists of two parallel glass surfaces held in tension by four wooden legs.  Spend some time on their site checking out their other amazing creations.

*via Co Design

Making it Happen: Hospitality

I've been a  long time admirer of restaurant and hospitality guru Danny Meyer.  He has successfully created some of NYC's best restaurants including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke and Shake Shack.  Every one of his restaurants has a unique point of view and offers some of my all time personal favorite dining experiences available in NYC. A few years ago he wrote the book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.  At first glance one might think  the book exclusively caters to the restaurant industry, but a few chapters in, it becomes clear that this books speaks to and provides insight for entrepreneurs and business leaders in any industry.

Towards the end of the book he writes about the importance of context when making decisions.  I found his criteria for making these critical choices particularly poignant as I decide how to expand my own business and take on new projects.

The "Yes" Criteria for New Ventures according to Danny Meyer

  • An in-depth pro forma analysis convinces that it is a wise and safe investment.
  • The opportunity fits and enhances our company’s overall strategic goals and objectives
  • The opportunity represents a chance to create a business venture that is perceived as groundbreaking, trailblazing and fresh
  • The timing is right for our company’s capacity to grow with excellence, especially in terms of having enough key employees who are themselves and interested and ready to grow
  • We believe we have the capacity to be category leaders within whatever niche we are pursuing
  • We believe our existing business will benefit and improve by virtue of or notwithstanding our pursuing this new opportunity
  • We feel excited and passionate about this idea.  Pursuing it will be an opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun!
  • We are excited about doing business in this community
  • The context is the right fit.  Our restaurant and our style of doing business will be in harmony with its location

Making it Happen: Happiness

Screen shot 2010-07-01 at 9.18.51 AM There has been a lot written about Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, who has been coined by many as one of the most innovative Internet marketers of all time and the fact that Zappos is a great place to work.  Why?  Because Hsieh genuinely revolves his business around the idea of happiness.  Happiness for himself but more so for his employees and customers.  I've read a lot of the articles written about his management style but this one in Inc. has stuck with me the most because it touches on the Zappos culture has a whole.  It's not about fancy cafeterias or ping pong tables, it's about making people feel valued and empowering them to make decisions and create the environment they that want to work in every day.

The Zappos Way of Managing

by Max Chafkin

How Tony Hsieh uses relentless innovation, stellar customer service, and a staff of believers to make Zappos.com an e-commerce juggernaut -- and one of the most blissed-out businesses in America

What would make you happier in your life?"

Tony Hsieh asks me this question as we sit at a booth with half a dozen young people in one of those absurdly lavish lounges that can be found only in Las Vegas. It's called Lavo, setting of recent Paris Hilton and Nelly sightings and the city's newest hot spot. The theme is an ancient Roman bathhouse, and so, in addition to the normal nightclub features -- thumping bass, low tables, dim lighting -- there's the distracting aspect of two scantily clad women performing a risqué bathing routine, complete with damp sponges and music.

It's a strange setting for an interview -- especially for an interview with Hsieh (pronounced Shay). He's a thoughtful, low-key fellow who seems out of place in such a louche setting. Indeed, he seems oddly oblivious to his surroundings, which makes sense, given that he runs what is arguably the decade's most innovative start-up, Zappos.com. Hsieh helped start Zappos in 1999 as an online shoe store, and the company has since expanded to all manner of goods. Zappos booked $1 billion in gross sales in 2008, 20 percent better than the year before. It has been profitable since 2006.

At a time when most business leaders are retrenching, Hsieh is thinking big. In late 2006, he launched an outsourcing program to handle selling, customer service, and shipping for other companies, and last December, he started an educational website for small businesses that charges them $39.95 a month to tap Zappos executives for advice. Hsieh has said Zappos will eventually move beyond retail to businesses such as hotels and banking -- anything where customer service is paramount. "I wouldn't rule out a Zappos airline that's just about the best customer service," he announced at the Web 2.0 conference last fall.

But Hsieh, 35, isn't interested in talking about any of this right now. He's still on the happiness thing. "On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you right now?" he asks, informing me that, right now, he's at about an 8.

I think for a second and then respond, "Maybe a 7?"

This isn't polite conversation for Hsieh. "I've been doing a lot of research into the science of happiness," he says. In addition to asking everyone he meets what makes him or her happy, he has also been studying books on the subject, especially Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis, which uses social psychology experiments to evaluate the world's great religions and philosophies and concludes that ancient wisdom and science are both useful tools in the quest for contentment. Hsieh is working on a system to supersede both. "I've been trying to come up with a unified theory for happiness," he says.

Read the rest of the article here

GOOD: A Picture Show

Screen shot 2010-02-09 at 10.13.23 AM GOOD Magazine recently featured some of Dan's photos from a project he did during the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing that were part of a larger multimedia piece he did for PBS.  The project focused on the hutongs, traditional courtyard residences, that are currently being demolished to make way for new roads and buildings.  Dan is passionate about China and its intricacies and I think these photos exemplify that.  I love the way he has captured every day people doing every day activities yet their surroundings are far from what we would consider normal.

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You can see the multimedia piece here and the GOOD Picture Show here.

Good Work: Paperfinger

paperfinger Our dear friend Bryn Chernoff is the master behind Paperfinger .  She was kind enough to do the calligraphy on nearly all the paper elements for our wedding, from our invitations to our escort cards and even our guest book.  Recently, Style Me Pretty,  a must see for all brides to be, did a recap of our wedding and gave Bryn the credit she deserves for her amazing and unique work.

Good Work: Le Labo

lelabo3 I often talk to people about what differentiates one company from another. For me, the companies that set themselves apart are the ones that understand what it means to be a brand and use their brand to create a unique experience for their consumers.

One of my holiday gifts this year was a bottle of perfume from Le Labo. I walked into a Le Labo boutique while in LA last year but didn’t know which scent suited me best. After the holidays, Dan and I went to the Le Labo store on Elizabeth Street and picked out a bottle of Rose 31, a combination of musk, rose, cedar wood and cumin. They actually market it as a masculine scent but I smelled it and loved it.

The company is unique in the sense that all the perfumes are “made to order,” which according to Le Labo, guarantees that the freshest, fullest fragrance is captured. All the perfumes come in a simple vintage looking bottle and a label personalized with your name. It is then packaged beautifully into a box with the same personalized label. It is impossible to walk out of their store, your customized bottle of perfume in hand, and not feel as if you are holding something unique and special.

Le Labo is a great example of a company that combines high-quality products, interesting packaging and a unique retail environment to create a memorable brand experience.

Le Labo has three boutiques- NY, Tokyo and LA. It is also available at Colette in Paris, Liberty’s in London, and select Barney's locations.