Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Project Runway is finally back! If you can't get enough of the show, you should check out the Project Rungay blog, which provides hilarious commentary on each episode.

Afrobella
has tips for preventing skin from turning ashy during the winter.

Business Week
has an editorial criticizing the new "Onslaught" commercial from Dove.

Great article in the Wall Street Journal and Proctor & Gamble's entrance into the luxury fragrance market with Valentino's Rock & Rose.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Finds: Target Coats

A couple weeks ago, the night after I posted my Friday Finds about winter coats, I walked into my friend Sidnie's room to find her wearing a gorgeous 50's style hunter green double-breasted wool coat with a rounded collar. It was classic and feminine but the neckline and color really made it stand out (not to mention the fact that it fit her perfectly). The interior was even lined with a pretty green paisley print. I immediately asked her where she found it, expecting her to mention some quirky boutique or pricey department store.

"I found it at Target, and if you can believe it, it was only $50!"

I immediately changed my Saturday plans to fit in a Target run. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large selection of lovely dressier wool coats. The last thing I need is another coat, but I couldn't help but try on a few styles, most of which I was quite impressed with. The construction was solid, the materials of good quality and the price was extremely reasonable. A number of styles come in funkier colors like bright red, blue, green and yellow, and they would really compliment a basic black or brown everyday coat.

There are many more styles available in stores, but here are a few of my favorite Target coats, most for under $50:

Mossimo Long Pleated Wool Coat, $49.99

Merona Wool-Blend Peacoat, $49.99

Mossimo Double-Breasted Jacket, $49.99

Mossimo Belted Long Coat, $59.99

Merona Skirt Coat, $59.99

Mossimo Long Jacket, $49.99

Isaac Mizrahi Double-Breasted Wool Coat, $89.99

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Customer Service Shift in Luxury Stores

Last week, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on how high end retailers (the Barneys, Chopards and Louis Vuittons of the world) are slowing shedding their snooty image in favor of giving all customers warmer service and more personalized attention. As someone who can't count the number of times I've walked into a luxury store to browse, only to get ignored by salespeople or given death glares, I was happy to read that retailers are recognizing the importance of treating all their customers well, not just the ladies in Louboutins and Chanel suits.

While luxury retailers may have previously prided themselves on their exclusivity and superiority, a changing marketplace is forcing stores to realize that they're losing sales and alienating many potential customers by this haughty attitude. They're also starting to realize that they can't rely on salespeople to identify potential big spenders by their looks. As our culture has grown increasingly more casual, it's becoming harder to "read" wealth on people. Walk though a luxury department store and you're likely to see as many women dressed in Juicy Couture sweat suits and Uggs as those in head to toe designer duds. Flip through any tabloid and you realize that the shopping outfit of choice for most millionaire celebrities is a casual jeans and flats look. So the old practice of ignoring or treating under-dressed customers with contempt is simply bad business.


Secondly, fashion brands are now being driven by sales of their lower end products: handbags, shoes and accessories. These now-ubiquitous items items are being purchased by people from every social strata. Ten or twenty years ago it may have been unthinkable for drop a month's paycheck on a handbag, it's now fairly normal for regular middle class people to save up to buy the occasional luxury item, even if they can't afford clothes by the same brand. Retailers and brands can't rely on just the wealthy customers to move this merchandise, since it's occasional buyers who are keeping most luxury brands profitable.

Finally, now that a number of stores have truly committed to giving great customer service to everyone (Nordstrom comes to mind), there's increased competition among luxury retailers to keep customers coming back. I've had really intimidating experiences at some stores and have chosen to never return. With my current financial situation (I've never purchased anything designer or luxury), I'm sure this is viewed as no great loss, but retailers can't afford to turn off customers for life. I don't think it's a coincidence that Coach has grown a ton in recent years, both in profits and popularity, when they're known for giving great customer service to anyone who walks through their doors.

Which stores have given you the best customer service experience? Which have been the worst?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When the Worlds of Art and Fashion Collide

I spend my mornings writing and reading about fashion and my afternoons learning about art (it's my major), so you'd probably assume that I'd be overjoyed to learn about the recent collaborations between leading contemporary artists and fashion brands as varied as Target and Louis Vuitton. Art for the masses, right?

Actually, when I got over my initial excitement that I could actually own a work designed by Cindy Sherman for $50, I started feeling uncomfortable with the whole idea. Recently, Takashi Murakami partnered with Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton on a line of handbags stamped with the artist's signature cartoon characters (yours for just $960!). What's even stranger is that the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art decided to open a boutique in the middle of an exhibition of Murakami's latest work, housing the handbags in glass cases next to his paintings and sculptures. Though I'm a firm believer that fashion is an art form, this blurring of art and commerce is pretty disturbing.

Does a traditional logo bag with a few cartoons stuck on count as art? If I go out and spend $50 on one of those towels ($48 more than I'd normally spend on an item whose primary purpose is to dry me off after a shower), can I tell people that I own a Jeff Koons work?

I think what bothers me about these collaborations is that it's difficult to characterize these products. It doesn't feel like a Murakami bag belongs in a museum, nor does it feel right for Cindy Sherman to be creating towels. But there's undoubtedly something appealing about these works, this idea that art (if it is art) can be owned and enjoyed by people who will otherwise never have the opportunity to bid at Sotheby's for the real thing.

Unfortunately, I don't think that most of the people purchasing the Murakami bags are doing so because they're seriously interested in the bag's artistic properties. They're doing it to show off their cultural capital, as people who appreciate and understand both high art and high fashion, as if sophistication and art appreciation are things that can be bought and displayed through a handbag.

Like fashion, art should not be the exclusive property of the wealthy or well-connected, and these collaborations feel like an extension of the discount designer trend we've seen in recent years, with high fashion designers creating lines for discount stores like H&M and Target. But visual art always seems like a purer medium than fashion, perhaps since we don't like to think of art as being created for the purpose of making money or being reproduced infinitely in the way that clothes and accessories are. Still, if the success of the Murakami bags are any indication, I think we'll be seeing many more artist/retailer collaborations in the coming years.

What do you think of art and fashion collaborations? Would you buy an artist-designed towel or handbag? Does this stuff count as art?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whose Beauty Reviews Do You Trust?

Hi Meg,

I am a fellow art historian (uh...sadly I have to have a day job to support my research but what the heck) and since I love research here is a question I could probably figure out if I really wanted to. Many...if not all of the major magazine are full of "Must Haves". Real Simple (which is hardly real or simple) does reviews called Road Tests on products. I have always wondered whether there is a correlation between recommendations and the magazine's advertisers? Perhaps this is hard to answer because everyone gets free products to review. And there are sooo many advertisers in these magazines it would be hard to avoid a conflict of interest. Perhaps you have a take on this?

-Judy

Hi Judy!

Glad to hear from a fellow art lover! Your question is a good one, and one I've thought about myself many times. It's funny that you brought up Real Simple, as it's one of my favorite magazines (my mom got me into it). When they do the road test reviews, it seems like they use regular people to try the products, which I give them credit for. But I think with every magazine there's reason to be suspicious that there's a lot of editing involved (these reviews aren't long anyway, usually just a couple of quotations) and editors are purposefully leaving out any negative information, since every brand is an advertiser or potential advertiser, and they don't want to hurt their relationships with the brands.

I honestly don't trust any product I've read about in a magazine. The line between editorials and advertising is way too thin, and the fact that no magazine is ever willing to really "trash" a product or brand makes me believe that they're not being totally honest. There are also so many cases where magazines hail certain products for years and years (*cough* Maybelline Great Lash *cough*) when there's a general consensus that the product sucks. This seems to be true for a lot of beauty blogs as well, many of whom have beauty brands as advertisers or are frequently getting free products or other goodies from P.R. agents. I still really enjoy reading these magazines and blogs, and I've been inspired to look into certain products as a result of their reviews, I just make sure that I've done my research and tried the product myself before purchasing.


When I'm looking for a product to try or want to learn more about it, I generally go to MakeupAlley and look through their reviews. The reviewers are (most likely) regular women with no connection to the industry and if you read through 20-30 short reviews, you get a good idea for the product and what type of people it works for. It's just another case where the more opinions you have, the more you'll know what to expect. I'll check The Beauty Brains or sometimes Paula Begoun if the product makes questionable claims, or to check that the product doesn't have any ingredients that might irritate my sensitive skin.

And if you can try a product before buying, definitely do it. Sephora and Nordstrom are two retailers with a great reputation for giving out generous samples, then accepting returns if you're unhappy with the product. It's always good to check your store's return policy on cosmetics before you buy something, especially if it's pricey.

I'm a really skeptical person, so I hope I haven't turned you off beauty mags or blogs, but I'll use their reviews as a jumping off point to do more research before I buy. I expect readers to do the same things in response to reading one of my product reviews. Every review is subjective and I can only speak to how well (or poorly) the product worked on my body, with my particular skin and hair type. What appeals to me in terms of texture, scent or packaging could be a major turn-off to another person. But as I've pointed out before, I make it a point to always state when I've gotten a product for free, so you never have to question whether I'm biased because it was a gift.

How do you guys approach beauty product reviews online and in magazines? Any other tips for researching products before buying?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Preparing for a Phone Interview

Though I'm still having a hard time believing it myself, I'm finally a college senior, which means that I'm less than nine months from being unemployed if I don't get my act together and find a job. It's a scary but also exciting position to be in, and this month I've begun sending out applications, networking with alums and old co-workers and spending endless hours tweaking details of my resume.

A few days ago I got a callback for my first real job interview, which will occur on the phone in a couple of weeks. I've had phone interviews before, and while they always went fine, I tend to prefer an in-person interview. It's always difficult to get a full picture of what the other person thinks of you when you don't have the benefit of physical cues, and I always feel so disconnected when I can't look someone in the eye when I talk to them for the first time.

But there are benefits to having a phone interview as well. You can sit in the comfort of your own room, in your normal clothes, and most importantly, you can use a cheat sheet to get you through the interview. You can also write down information during the interview (I always try to write down the interviewer's name, so I can thank her by name at the end and then send a thank you note to her office after the interview's over).

I am a huge fan of the phone interview cheat sheet, as it's the best weapon against those moments where you just lose your train of thought, which can often make or break the interview.


To make a cheat sheet, I first come up with a list of all the probable questions I'll be asked. There are generic questions that are asked in just about every interview such as, "Why do you Want this position?," "What makes you qualified for this position?," and "Why do you want to work for our company?" I'll formulate full answers to these questions in my head or practice saying them out loud and then I'll write down a few words or phrases to jog my memory when I'm in the actual interview. Since interviewers love specific answers, I try to make sure that I don't have a generic "I think your company is really cool" responses, and use the word cues to remind myself of really compelling reasons why I want and would be great for the job.

Interviewers often ask situational questions like, "Tell me about a time when you showed leadership.," "Give me an example of a situation where you worked under pressure." or "What do you do when you have to work with people you don't get along with?" These are by far the most difficult questions to answer if you aren't prepared. To prepare for these, I'll list 5-8 different situations that challenged me and but that I overcame through the use of various skills. It's hard to think of these situations, but I try to write down a variety of different experiences working in different jobs, classes or outside organizations. I practice telling the stories, keeping them fairly short and sweet, with the moral of what I learned or how I handled a tough situation, at the core of the story. Writing down these cues really helps when you're racking your brain for a good story during the interview.

Finally, interviewers always ask if you have any questions at the end of the interview. This is a good opportunity to further show your knowledge of the company or their products and services, and I like to write down a few specific questions to ask. To prepare for this, I'll do research on the company by reading everything on their website, searching for news articles about them and if I know someone who has worked in the industry or at the company, asking them what questions they recommend that I ask. This research is really important and can come in useful during the entire interview, as displaying your knowledge of the company shows that you're really serious about the job and want it badly. It can give you an extra edge that separates you from other applicants.

This might sound like a lot of work, but I think that it can make all the difference in the world if you feel confident and prepared when going into an interview. A cheat sheet doesn't have to be a long, formal document, just a list of short phrases to inspire you when you blank on a question. It also can really help to ask a friend to ask you common interview questions, so you can start formulating answers out loud to practice for the real thing. If you're a college student, be sure to take advantage of the resources at your school's career development center. They often can tell you what to expect in your interview, give you more information about the company or industry and help you improve your resume. If your interview is for a job that you really, really want, it only makes sense to do as much as you can to prepare yourself.

Anyone else have tips for surviving a phone interview?