Thursday, November 19, 2015

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ® / Better Bets

Fashion Group International "Tastemakers" Luncheon

The luncheon
All photos: Laurel Marcus

Attending the FGI luncheon at Le Cirque on Wednesday brought me back to a time in a distant galaxy when both the internet and my children were in their infancy and I faced a not-so-secret addiction to televised home shopping. Upon learning that the featured speaker was none other than Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN, Inc. (#22 of Fortune's Top People in Business 2014, Forbes World's 100 Most Powerful Women, a UNICEF board member) who would be joined on stage by friend/neighbor of 25 years Michael A. Clinton, President/Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines (also highly celebrated in photography, running marathons on all seven continents and philanthropy), I was a little startled.


Michael Clinton & Mindy Grossman

I had recently been wondering how the shores of the home shopping channels (even that phrase seems antiquated to me now) were faring amidst the turning tide, uniform acceptance and ubiquity of online and other digital shopping platforms.  Even I have not shopped "from TV" in over a decade. This curiosity was in turn fueled by reading about Jennifer Lawrence's upcoming turn as Joy Mangano, industrial designer and inventor of that old home shopping staple, the Miracle Mop, in the David O. Russell feature film "Joy" due out Christmas day.

First there was the lunch to get through. Risotto with black truffles followed by sea bass fillet all seemed a bit bland however the table mate to my left managed to "spice" it up. The fragrance company executive oohed, fanned and inhaled the "perfume" (wrong color truffle for that), grabbed the bread roll from the wrong side and stuck one of the famous monkey plates in her Prada bag adding that this was number six in her collection making a "dinner party." Sure, if you plan on serving on a B&B plate...


Margaret Hayes addressing the audience

I was thankful when the dessert (creme brulee with berries) was served and the speakers commenced. After FGI's President Margaret Hayes introduced Kate Kelly Smith of Hearst ("the most important of our corporate sponsors"), Kelly introduced Publisher Clinton. "Mike with a mic" (as he called himself) then introduced businesswoman Grossman who has the "disrupter" gene and that's a good thing. "She's at the vortex of the disruption between media, technology and retail sitting front and center" he added. As we in the audience learned, she has always been a risk taker. The adopted daughter of parents of meager means (her father sold produce) was the first to go to college, which she did at 16. She was engaged at 19 to her high school boyfriend and preparing to attend law school -- "I was every Jewish mother's dream" except that something snapped. She decided against law school, against marriage and instead moved from Long Island to New York City. Fittingly, her advice to the Millennial generation: "If you're 23 and you're probably gonna live to be 100, you have time to do some other things with so many options open to you." She stressed that the guidelines include doing something "purposeful" with an "impact" and that there is a difference between "risk and suicide."


Left to Right: Nicole Fischelis, Marylou Luther, Ruth Sutcliffe,
 and Robert di Mauro

Although she did not find it a hindrance as a female in the business world she now works hard to promote diversity in the workplace. Grossman began her climb in the fashion industry through menswear labels Jeffrey Banks, Williwear by Willi Smith, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and eventually to Nike as VP of Global Apparel from 2000-2006 when she made the leap to HSN. When she got to the revolving door of HSN as the eighth CEO in 10 years she learned that if you have a platform and a voice you should not waste it. On the subject of the importance of maintaining a culture of collaboration and passion ("If there is a strong one you feel it as soon as you walk in") and it should begin from the ground up rather than from the top down. She also stressed that the corporate culture has to align with an individual employee's values in order for the individual to engage which is one of the things that HSN looks for when hiring. Incidentally, the culture tagline at HSN is "It's fun here"  is something that employees should be able to get behind.

Grossman also discussed specific points that are integral to the success of HSN including the idea of "storytelling" and putting the right product together with the right celebrity. She is responsible for elevating the content to what she terms "editorial programmed commerce" as well as learning to ride the wave or explosion of mobile centric (rather than television-based) shopping. Much like IMG has done with Fashion Week, HSN is striving for informative entertainment; even forming a partnership with Disney. "The world has ADD so you better engage them quickly" she added. HSN is reaching across digital platforms such as AOL and Periscope which they did with the Serena Williams show during Fashion Week.

Also crucial is the ability to "pivot." "Agile is the new smart" has become a mantra at HSN according to Grossman. The five "C's" that they are focusing on are: creating Content (meaning product exclusive to HSN, now at about 70% of inventory), reaching for new Communities (for example Univision), Commerce which includes being able to execute as needed, Customization and Convenience.  Recognizing that HSN has a "formidable competitor" in Amazon as well as their direct (and larger rival) QVC has made them realize that they have to do things a little differently. Towards that goal they have even sold air time to Toyota to teach women how to buy a car -- one of the "Pain Points" in life that Grossman alludes to wanting to address/find solutions to on air in the future.

As moderator we did not hear too much from Clinton however he did mention that Hearst was having its "best year ever" (hard to believe when Conde Nast is in the midst of an "annus horribilis" including layoffs, closures, and general reshuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic). He also touched on something recently in the news; Hearst's co-branding of a product called "Sweet" on the Snapchat Channel and that different content would be available here and on their websites than in print.

In her role as Vice Chairman of the US fund for UNICEF, Grossman added that she had just come back from a Guatemala field trip ("difficult and inspiring") and that they were able to get the government to change the marrying age from 14 to 18. Empowering women and children is obviously important to Grossman, not only in her day job but in her "circular life" which includes all facets from career to personal time in which she's a wife and mother.

During the Q & A session, FGI's Marylou Luther raised her hand and said to Grossman: "I think you should run for president!" to a round of applause. The CEO's response: "I wouldn't do well in politics.  I'm way too polarizing." Hmm...yeah, we've got one of those candidates already...




- Laurel Marcus






Better Bets:  Tis the Season in New York City

Lord & Taylor Holiday Windows 2015

Austin Mahhone
Photo: Fox News

On Thursday night, the holiday season officially began in New York City when Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue flagship store unveiled its holiday windows for 2015. Singer Austin Mahone was featured at the event which marked the 78th year that the company has given this special “holiday gift” to the city. The animated windows depict traditional holiday scenes.


Photo: Rhonda Erb

Liz Rodbell, president of Lord & Taylor, was on hand for the unveiling, which was just one of the highlights of a special Charity Day in the store to kick off the 2016 partnership between Lord & Taylor and Habitat NYC. Throughout the day, many of the stores’ vendors, including Carolee, Movado, Carmen by Carmen Marc Valvo and many others, featured special promotions creating a “carnival-like shopping extravaganza.” Customers were treated to a Carolee coffee and photo bar, hot chocolate and cookies from Movado, a candy bar courtesy of Calvin Klein, Chloe, Marc Jacobs and Philosophy and much more.


Photo: Rhonda Erb

Customers could purchase a $5.00 Charity Ticket for which they received in store discounts. All of the proceeds from the ticket sales will be donated to the Lord & Taylor Habitat NYC project. In addition, the store and its participating vendors will make a contribution to the project to fund the rebuilding of a single family home in Queens next year.


American Museum of Natural History

The Secret World Inside You


All photos: Eozin Che

What is the human microbiome? It consists of the trillions of microbes that live in and on your body (together they weigh about three pounds). Most of the ones living inside you are actually vital to keeping your body, and even your mind, functioning properly. The intricacies of this complex ecosystem are explored in depth in the American Museum of Natural History’s new exhibit, "The Secret World Inside You".


One of the exhibit’s most intriguing aspects is The Body Table; an interactive table that displays a fourteen foot projection of a pregnant woman’s body. By touching different areas of the display, visitors can learn the ways that microbes impact human health. The woman in the table actually speaks to and interacts with visitors as they explore the seventeen animated microbial scenes. She was created from a real life model, who was chosen through a casting call.


Bringing The Body Table to life took months of collaboration by a team that included Joe Levit, Bob Peterson and Eozin Che, who brought their expertise to the roles of researcher, animator and programmer, respectively.  They shed some light on the experience of making the table come alive…
What was your role in putting The Body Table together and how much time did you spend working on the project?
Joe Levit: I’m the writer/researcher on the media team within the exhibition department. That means I normally complete the logic, conduct the research for and write the content that will appear within the team’s media interactives (not including films, which our colleague Sarah manages or handles). For this show, I was almost exclusively working on the content for The Body Table, because there was a lot of research to do for such large project. In addition to selecting the stories we wanted to tell in the Table, I wrote the narration that the actor conveys and the text for each of the 17 animated stories. I also did a lot of research regarding the ecological relationships between us and bacteria, or bacteria versus other bacteria, and provided our animator Bob with some visual references for each story. I spent the better part of 7 months doing this.
Bob Peterson: I am the animator for The Body Table. How Long did it take? Over a period of months, as the curators and everyone in the exhibitions department contributed their incredible ideas and creativity. 
Eozin Che: I’m the programmer for this Body Table project and I spent 1 month + one week.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced in putting it together?
JL:The biggest challenge I faced personally was finding the answers about how these interactions probably actually occur. Keep in mind that many of these interactions have never been shown before in public in an animated way. We are breaking new ground with many of the stories, bringing unseen battles and assistance to life for viewers. I think the biggest challenge for the team as a whole was figuring out how to meld the narration and stories as seamlessly as possible, from both a story and graphics standpoint. That took a lot of time to discuss and figure out.
BP: This field of study is so cutting edge and there is so much to explore and discover. In working closely with Robert DeSalle and Susan Perkins it was a fun challenge to recreate these amazing ecosystems and the creatures who inhabit them.The head of our department Helene Alonso gave us incredible direction and freedom to create and explore these unseen worlds for The Body Table. Our project director Ariel Navarez did an incredible job helping design the table and directing the talent. Brett Peterson and Eozin Che were the wizards behind the programming and Joe Levit did a great job with his research and writing. We had a blast and we all learned so much working on The Body Table. We just hope the visitors exploring these “unseen worlds” at the exhibit have just as much fun as we did  creating this experience .
EC: The biggest challenge I had was the application’s performance issue. Since we have many different visual contents including background video and animation,17 feature players, animated sensors, lines and sub-images, it was definitely challenging to get everything work well together in appropriate play speed without any delay. I tried a couple of different iterations in code structure and solved the issue by using image sequences to play videos instead of normal movie clips.(So now, each animated body story is a sequence of over 1500 images) Now you can check high-resolution animations in the most smooth speed in the Body Table.


What is your favorite part of The Body Table?
JL: My favorite part of the Body Table is the way that the public can passively and in a subtle way pick up on the ideals of four principles of ecology (Niche Adaptation, Commensalism , Mutualism and Competition) while simultaneously engaging with one of 17 stories that give them information they might use to improve or better understand their own biology and relationships with microbes.

BP: The process of creating the BodyTable with my colleagues has been my favorite part.  They are an amazing group of talented people. The Museum of Natural History in and of itself, is such a unique place here in NYC. And I wish the general public would have the opportunity like I have had to see the incredible work that takes place behind scenes of every exhibit in every corner of the museum. Its the ultimate collective of many brilliant talented people who everyday successfully mesh Art and Science.

EC: My favorite part of the Body Table is the moment that highlights selected stories for each different chapter. (Niche Adaptation, Commensalism , Mutualism and Competition) What I really like about it is its vivid color change and integrated animation consists of vivid color change on the background, clear narration and beautifully refined small animations on sensors that attract the audience to try it.

"The Secret World Inside You" runs from November 7, 2015 to August 14, 2016. Take a break from the usual holiday fare and pay a visit to this enlightening exhibition. It’s an experience that will change the way you see yourself interacting with the world around you.

- Rhonda Erb

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