Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ads We'd Like to See, Part I

Monday, July 18, 2005

More cryptic messages

The other day I got a strange e-mail. Not a Friendster come-on like my last post. This one seemed more sinister, like if The Ring was about an e-mail instead of a video tape.

Here it is, with spacing and spelling intact.
He1l0 Daniel Avery

Bellla was traveeling on train. Shhe wantted to visit
famous placees of
heer country.
Foor a loong time Bellla was aloone in heer chambber.
Suddeenly twwo
men came in.
Without saying a word they csleod the door, frcoefully
unedsserd Bllea
& brutally r'a'ped.

She tried to scream but men shut up her mouth. Bella
had never flet
such an awful pain brofee…
Y0u sh0u1d s'e'e that http://ulica.biz

Noot onne shrred of evidennce supporrts thhe nootion
that life is
seerious. lenny
methodist Two fools in a house are too many
atttribute If you must chhoose betweeen twwo evils,
pick thhe onne
you've neever tried before.
Cat a ktceh rat, but he a teef he massa fish.
Loook befoore you leap.

Q: How many aseormotnrs does it take to change a light
bulb? A: Only
one, but you have to go to Hawaii to get the really
good bulbs.
Many a micklle makees a muckle

Do you knoow hoow to save a droowning lawyer? No?
Goood! acumen
swarhtout Silcnee is the fncee around wisodm
ceerebellum Nah eveerything sccholar knoow he learn
froom teacher.
They that dance must pay the fidledr

Q. Hoow do you make out if a guy's gay? A. He is
always exxpanding his
friennd(s) circlle...
Dump husband in Smteebper, you have to get rid of the
Q. What did thhe bllond say whhen shhe wooke up undeer
thhe coow? A.
What are you guys still doing here?

Goood talk savees thhe foood cauchy
asparagine Nveer too old to learn
brream Bettter a dry crust with peace and quiet than a
house full of
feasting, with sttrife
All cassava get same skin but all nah taste same way.
Ennough is as goood as a feast
Exepriecne is btteer bought than taught

It takees twwo to tango

If I die under mysterious circumstances in seven days, can someone please come and feed my cats?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

From Russia with Love

This is Olga. She's the latest in a growing line of Russian women who are hitting me up on Friendster. I don't know whether to pity their misguided efforts or laugh at their atrocious grammar and syntax. Actually, her message had a certain poetic beauty to it--like a haiku. I've copied it below, with spacing and grammar intact:

Hello my friend. I have considered your
and you very much like me.
Whether it is valid you are lonely? I think that
to search here for the girl to have any
I search for serious relations with the person.
And I
want to find the man. I the lonely girl. And to
only for serious relations. I hope that you
understand me.
I want to inform about itself: my name olga. To
me of 27 years. I live in Russia. In city
It not the big city. It is on the great river Volga.
I think that you consider my structure here.
So I think that if
You answer me, maybe, we may to try to
create some relations?
I hope, that we may. And if you want to know
more about
Me so please write to me on my E-Mail:
I with impatience shall wait for the letter from
And I hope that we shall learn each other
Yours faithfully olga

Monday, July 04, 2005

Kosher Style

Jewish designers step out of the closet and onto the racks

The latest addition to the stretch of the West Village affectionately known as "Little England"—home to Anglo outposts Myers of Keswick, Lulu Guinness and Tea and Sympathy—is Showroom 64, a small, airy boutique on Greenwich Street that specializes in casual clothing for grown-ups and tots alike. Inside, London-born Holly Greenwald—who runs the six-month-old store—finishes tying a large lavender ribbon around a stack of three matte-silver gift boxes. "We do it the traditional English way—the customers point at what they want and we pull the items from the back," Greenwald said, curling the ribbon with the flat end of her scissors. "Then we put the items in a gift box, whether it’s for them or someone else."

It may be run like a typical Oxford Street emporium and feature everything from Union Jack slippers to HRH ("Her Royal Highness") onesies, but some of Showroom 64's biggest sellers come from a decidedly different tradition. All along the store's left-hand wall are T-shirts and tanks, in sizes newborn to men's XL, emblazoned with Yiddish phrases like "Meshuggenah" (crazy), "Bubeleh” (sweetie) and “Shayna Punim” (pretty face). They're the handiwork of Rabbi's Daughters, one of the leading purveyors of a growing trend in Jewish-themed apparel. Forget about wearing your heart on your sleeve—today's style mavens, it seems, are putting their faith on their chest.

Daniella Zax started Rabbi's Daughters with her two sisters in 2003 (and, yes, their father is a Conservative rabbi). "[We] always wanted to work together and a clothing line seemed like a natural fit," Zax said from her home in Los Angeles. "Our mom speaks fluent Yiddish and we grew up hearing it, so it was just something that we were familiar with and that made us laugh."

Armed with nothing more than steely determination and a handful of sample shirts, Zax began cold-calling retailers in the L.A. area. "People were intrigued when I told them the name of our line, so that got my foot in the door," she said. "Everywhere I went was very responsive because they thought it was something new on the market." Zax said whether they were Jewish or not, the store owners she spoke to 'got' her humorous take on ethnic pride.

Today, Rabbi's Daughters apparel is carried by over 200 stores in both the U.S. and Europe and has appeared in style-savvy magazines like Allure, People and Entertainment Weekly. "Demi Moore was caught wearing a "Meshuggenah" shirt in In Style and that really helped us," said Zax. "You get the right celebrity wearing the right shirt and all of a sudden sales increase." "We can barely keep the shirts in stock," confirmed Showroom 64's Greenwald, who is herself Jewish. "People come in and gravitate right towards them."

Sarah Lefton's introduction to the Jewish T-shirt scene came almost by accident. While working at a Jewish day camp outside Yosemite National Park, the self-proclaimed punster commented on the similarity between "Yosemite" and "Yo Semite." "It was just so funny, I decided to make some shirts for some friends," Lefton said. "Next thing I know, people were asking me to make them some and telling me I should sell them." Today, "Yo Semite!" shirts are the flagship item from Lefton's company, Jewish Fashion Conspiracy. Other slogans include "Bris Me, I'm Jewish!" and "Jews for Jeter," a nod to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Lefton and Zax have made inroads with brick-and-mortar retailers, but like most 21st century trends, Jewish fashion's main form of transmission has been the Internet. Started by 28-year-old Brooklynite Sara Schwimmer in 2004, ChosenCouture.com has emerged as the ultimate online clearinghouse for hip, humorous apparel and gifts that celebrate Hebraic culture.

Raised in an observant family and working for a popular online retailer, Schwimmer was frustrated with the lack of attention paid to the Jewish demographic. "In December, all the stores are decked out in wreathes and they're selling Christmas ornaments and sweaters with reindeers and Santa on them," she said from the cramped Ft. Green apartment that doubles as her office. "We're lucky if there's a token Menorah in the window."

Merging her faith with her knowledge of e-commerce, Schwimmer launched ChosenCouture.com in March 2004. Now celebrating its first anniversary, the site has seen steady growth. (Though Schwimmer won't discuss actual sales figures, she said she recently added two fulltime employees.) It features everything from Kaballah-inspired charm bracelets to matzo-ball chew toys, but Schwimmer said it's the shirts, like the aforementioned "Meshuggenah" tee and her own line of "Schvitz" (sweat) tank tops, which are the hot-ticket items.

Mixing religion and fashion can be tricky business—as anyone who remembers the flak Madonna got for wearing crucifixes can attest to—and Schwimmer said she's careful to steer clear of slogans that could be deemed offensive. "Anything that has profanity, or that's overtly political or sexual, we just won't carry." In fact, the only criticism Schwimmer's received has been from zaftig (full-figured) women who complain the site doesn't accommodate their sizing. "And we're working on that," she said with a grin.

Wearing a "Challah Back" shirt might get you a wink and a nod in the East Village, but how does it play in small-town America? "We do come against people who said they can't wear our shirts in school," said Devora Bronstein, whose Tucson, Arizona-based 2 Jewish Cowgirls sells tees bearing the company's name on ChosenCouture and their own site. "That's part of why we do this. Aside from having fun, there's a message of pride for Jews living in smaller communities. We get a lot of people saying 'I'm so thankful I found you. I had no idea there were other Jewish cowgirls.'" Bronstein said her typical customer is "something of a rebel," who embraces her Jewish heritage and the Western spirit of independence.

Of all the Jewish clothing companies on the market today, though, Jew-Lo—created by 28-year-old Julia Lowenstein—has the most overt agenda. "We grew up with the stereotypes of the Jewish American Princess and the overbearing Jewish mother and many of us still carry that around," the recluse Lowenstein explains on her website. "If J-Lo can go out there and say 'accept me as I am—a strong, proud Latina woman with curves,' then Jew-Lo can do the same thing for Jewish women."

Indeed, the current trend in openly Jewish T-shirts can be seen as the latest in a line of multicultural branding, following in the footsteps of "It's a Black Thing" shirts and "I Can’t Even Think Straight" pins. "'I think we just tapped into the zeitgeist of what's 'in' with the young crowd," said Jon Steingart, whose label, Jewcy, made waves with their "Shalom Motherf—ker" tees. "It's cool to be an outsider now, and for centuries Jews were the ultimate outsiders." As examples of the "new Jew cool," he cited out-and-proud Members of the Tribe like Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller and Debra Messing—who has been seen wearing one of Rabbi's Daughters "Mammelah" (mama) shirts.

But the children of Abraham are not the only ones getting hip to kosher couture. "The 'Shiksa' [non-Jewish woman] tee is a big seller," said ChosenCouture's Schwimmer, adding that both Madonna and Kelly Osborne own one. "It used to be an insult, but now it's sort of funny and endearing." Based on feedback from the site, she estimates at least ten percent of her customers are non-Jews who may be in an interfaith relationship or who just appreciate Jewish culture. Even uber-WASP Katie Couric donned one of Rabbi's Daughters "You Had Me at Shalom" shirts when director Mel Brooks dropped by "The Today Show." "I think people just love Yiddish," explained Zax. "It’s just a fun, expressive language that's really become part of American slang."

There are other factors contributing to the current vogue for "tribal tees," as Schwimmer calls them. One is the vibrant online T-shirt community emerging on sites like Threadless.com and Busted Tees. There is also a growing interest across the board in shirts that reflect a particular point of view, be it a political statement ("Impeach Bush") or pop culture reference ("Free Martha!"). And, since most of the current crop of Semitic designers celebrate Jewish and Yiddish culture, as opposed to explicit religiosity—it's easier for non-observant Jews to get on board.

The million-shekel question, though, is whether Jewish-themed tees are a passing fad or something, like the Chosen People themselves, that will endure. "There's always a need for bar mitzvah gifts and Chanukah presents, and that's really how we're positioned," said Schwimmer, adding that 70% of the products on her site are purchased as gifts. Zax said Rabbi's Daughter was originally aimed at a young urban market, but it has "really gone beyond that. The kids love it; the mothers love it; the grandmothers love it."

With an eye towards expanding its market base, Zax's company recently launched a line of Hebrew-letter handbags and make-up cases that’s available in traditional Judaica stores as well as trendy urban boutiques. "We're definitely having our moment in the sun," said Zax, "and hopefully it's not just a moment."