Shopping Is Also the Drug

Dave Hickey

Bryan Ferry was so right: “Love is the drug.” But love is not always available in the form you want when you want it, whereas shopping is generally pretty much something you can do whenever you want, fulfilling wishes and fantasies and passing the time (whether or not you can pay for your purchases).

I haven’t really given my shopping habits much thought, but I was just reading an essay Dave Hickey wrote for Art in America in which he discusses the conscious vs. the unconscious mind. This was inspired by Timothy Wilson’s book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, which updates Freud’s gothic notions of the more submerged consciousness for the age of software.

I’ll leave the explication to Hickey, but in the essay he elegantly compares his conscious mind to Waldo Lydecker, the acid-penned critic played by Clifton Webb in Otto Preminger’s film Laura (1944), and his unconscious or adaptive unconscious mind to Joe Cocker. I can relate to this model, although I would cast Nick Nolte as my unconscious mind and George Clooney (as Michael Clayton or Danny Ocean, not Harry Pfarrer of Burn After Reading or Everett of Oh Brother) as my conscious mind.It was a slow moment in a tedious work week, and after reading Hickey’s essay I decided to stretch my legs and go shopping. And somehow I began reflecting on the nature of my shopping—how much of it is the product of rational thought and how much of it is driven by demons from the erotic mire or monsters from the id.

My unconscious mind

My conscious mind

Thinking about it I realized that I have bought several expensive cars and, if I remember correctly, several expensive art works and some pricey antique jewelry for my wife when hungover. Now, I have had pretty good results. I especially liked the 1995 BMW 735 that I bought after too much fun and kept for five years. My wife still misses that car.


Actually buying expensive items is one of the only activities that I have ever found was helped by a hangover. I don’t know if that deliberately self-inflicted malaise helps a sales resistance born of years of being a starving artist, but maybe that’s it. Guilt over those few-too-many may serve to assuage the guilt of spending. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have bought the Michael Goldberg abstract expressionist painting if I hadn’t had quite a few drinks at that benefit for Bomb magazine. And the same might be said of the Joseph Kosuth sofa. I actually regret not having a hangover the day I didn’t buy that 1973 Citroën DS station wagon on eBay. Will I ever find another?


I also believe that shopping releases endorphins. Or is there another, more exclusive neurotransmitter involved? It was a common saw in my childhood that women’s depression could be eased by buying a new hat. Of course women don’t wear as many hats today, and the hats they do wear lack that fantastic element that characterized those of the fifties and sixties; and now there is an entire category of drugs designed to do what hats by Halston or Lilly Daché or Schiaparelli once did. But do those drugs do as well? Somehow I doubt it. In fact I suspect that shopping is perhaps the most effective of all anti-depressants. It generally only has one side effect: debt. But a good shopper knows his needs and his rhythms and can turn this often mundane activity into something of an art (just as we do with cooking).

Yesterday I needed a boost and a relief from the tedium of office work (I wasn’t hungover but was suffering from allergies), so I skipped out and bought: a black cotton tie with white flowers; a black bucket rainhat and a lightweight cotton scarf from Agnès B.; and a silk tie (navy blue with golden birds on it) and a pair of pajamas at Paul Smith. It’s not like I went wild. I actually resisted buying a shirt and a sweater at A.P.C. I felt like I was very successful. I didn’t do a lot of economic damage, but I bought key accessories that would dress up existing clothes—except for the pajamas, which I thought might liven up my dreamlife. (They did. Those multicolored stripes seemed to have conjured up a certain erotic ecstasy, at least once.) The black bucket rain hat replaces a favorite one that I bought in the Burren, my favorite corner of Ireland, and then lost. And the scarf is part of my new Paris-inspired policy of wearing a scarf into weather where coolness is only a possibility. You see, all of these purchases, except possibly the tie with the birds on it, can be seen as rational decisions, even if they were initiated from some deeper urge. And as for the bird tie, well, I am considering that emblematic of my interest in augury, or the auspicious movement of birds which I have been studying lately.

The Burren

The artistic shopper is precise, exacting, and wide-ranging. To be a good shopper you have to cover a lot of ground because you’ll never find all the things you seek in the same place. Or even in the same time. I periodically return to all my favorite vendors because even for those style-conscious who are relatively immune to the vagaries of fashion, change can surpise. For example, things come back into style. For years I was looking for tab collar shirts, like the ones I wore as a teenager and the ones Bob Dylan wore so creatively, buttoned and tabbed but without a tie, and this year, here they were again. The same for the club collar with a pinhole built in. I was unable to find these even used, but then this season there they were at Brooks Brothers in the fall preview.


About ten years ago I could not find a three-piece suit off the rack and had to have them made at Anderson & Sheppard. A few short years later the racks were following my lead. And I’m not going to even get into the saddle shoes and bucks story. (If someone can tell me where I can get a white powder bag made to brighten up white bucks, there is a reward in it for you.) Anyway, style might be permanent but retail fashion is cyclical, so those of us who are elaborately set in our ways must be vigilant or else elaborate in our commissioning of the bespoke.

For years I waited for ties to return to a reasonable and proper width, and had to content myself with wearing mainly Hermès ties and vintage, but today I have no problem finding ties in the 3-inch width range. If something is good and right it will come back. So I am always looking out for pants with a belt adjustment in the back, thin white hose, the perfect black raincoat, natural-shoulder sportcoats that button up around the neck against a chill, a good herringbone sport jacket, and the perfect polo coat. And it seems that just when you’ve despaired someone comes along and gets it right. Today I’m wearing one of my Black Fleece oxford cloth button-down shirts by Thom Browne. For years it was impossible to find the right cloth (not too thin), the right body (not too full), and the right collar roll. Mission accomplished, Mr. Browne.


But that’s why shopping is a drug. You get what you want, but you never get it all. It’s a lifelong quest. Last year I saw the perfect roll-up panama hat at the prototype for J.Crew’s “Liquor Store,” dreamed up by Mickey Drexler and Andy Spade, but by the time I got there it was gone. I probably need a 7 1/2. And a Citroën wagon.


Shopping is a drug unlike any other. I believe I have described how it can act as a sedative and anodyne. But shopping is also a trip, pun intended. Going into a store is a way of testing your own personal sensibility against that of another, often a sort of tribal personality that defines an affinity group. All stores have personalities and some of these are virtually archetypal. Think of mid-century Brooks Brothers; it was an institution that defined a way of life. Virtually all luxury brands with longevity have this quality—think of Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès. But you’ll find unspoken ideologies throughout retail, even at Wal-Mart.

Visit Wal-Mart and Old Navy and you can tell by your own reactions how you stack up against America. Visit Hermès in Paris and you might have certain illuminations regarding luxury and value.

Shopping can be a dangerous drug, of course, for those who can’t handle non-substances, but I find it consistently rewarding. If you want to understand America and the world you must shop. At least window shop. It’s an easy portal into the world of dreams we all share, that collective unconscious of aspiration and desire. You may find yourself hypnotized, but this is a test. This is our dream time, our sweat lodge. Should you find yourself entranced you can wake yourself up. Just memorize this little mantra: “attention shoppers…attention shoppers.”

All I Want for Christmas Is World Peace, Absolute Power, and Omniscience

I thought I was immune, but the biggest snowflakes I think I’ve ever seen just started falling outside and I went around the office singing, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Good thing I’m the boss. But I hadn’t had any twinges of Christmas spirit up till then. I mean, I did feel a sympathetic tug on the heartstrings when my son Oscar wrote his letter to Santa. I was really impressed with the detail and I was rather surprised that he informed Santa that certain items could be had at Kmart—I mean, Santa’s workshop is pretty well known.

Oscar’s mom did set him straight when he asked for DVDs of the entire Indiana Jones series. Santa makes toys, she said. He doesn’t stock movies.

I have been asked a few times what I want, and I’ve been thinking about that and also what I will give to the nears and dears and the compulsories. Here are a few thoughts.

Every year I get stuff I don’t want. Stuff for the home that would never ever see the light of day in my place and clothing and accessories that are so alien to my taste that it makes me wonder if I’m getting my point across. My father-in-law has given me a black pullover three years in a row. I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but at least he remembers my name. I’m dropping hints now. In the past I’ve said please don’t buy me anything for Christmas both to my wife’s family and my own side of the bloodline. It hasn’t worked, but then last year I made a breakthrough with my mother.

Why don’t you get me something from Harry and David, I asked? I thought that might work, since Harry and David was something I remember being under the Christmas tree when I was my kid’s age. They’re the people who invented the “Fruit of the Month Club” and they sell really good fruit and sundry comestibles by mail. Last year my mom sent really good pineapples, pears, and apples. Really good. There were even edible apricots, an endanged species. And now they offer the Organic Fruit of the Month club. This is really a perfect gift for those whose tastes in consumer gifts are not exactly our own, especially if they happen to live in an area (such as most of the United States) where you can’t get a good piece of fruit.


Things have changed in recent years, but we have lived through many decades now in which fruit was mainly bred not for its taste but its appearance and its shipping qualities. But Harry and David have fruit that tastes like fruit tasted before the agronomists started fucking it up. For me beautiful, perfect fruit is genuine luxury, not pashmina and zebrawood. I can’t wait for the peaches. So to make a long story short, if you’re related to me by blood or marriage, please send fruit, no clothes or ceramics or chess sets.

I’ve been in the habit of sending some choice vintages around town to clients and the like and may do so this year. I’m a big Champagne fan and I will probably be sending out a few cases of Pol Roger—the bubbly Winston Churchill liked to sip. So legendary is this preference that Pol Roger named their premium vintage champagne Cuvée Winston Churchill. This old house, dating to 1849, specializes in the brut or dry style and so they catered to the English palate. The Britons like their champers as dry as their wit.


For my money Pol Roger’s Brut Reserve is the perfect everyday champagne. If you’re celebrating your new contract with the Yankees you might want to pop a bottle of Krug, but if you’re simply celebrating life on a diurnal basis, you can open a very excellent bottle of Pol for about forty bucks and it blows away everything else in that range with its clean dry taste. I prefer it to the more expensive, yeasty Veuve Cliquot.

Recently I got a gift package from a pal from Petrossian, the well known international purveyors of caviar, and it was marvelous. It made me think about caviar again and this year it’s back on the menu for the holidays. I come from a cabal of caviar aficionados. Once one of my homeys gave me a kilo of Sevruga for my birthday and a few of us sat around drinking Champagne and ate the whole damn thing. But in recent years, due to the criminal behavior in the area of the Caspian Sea, there has been a terrible lack of good caviar. Imporation of Beluga caviar, from the endangered sturgeon of that name, was banned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005. In 2006 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned all trade in Caspian sturgeon caviar because of unethical practices, exempting Iran where the culture (or is it the ayatollahs?) seem to have upheld quality. On the Russian side of the sea things deteriorated terribly, and it seemed that they were willing to kill the good that laid the golden egg just for his foie gras. (What a tortured metaphor, sorry!) Anyway, the Caspian article became rare and prohibitively costly and this led to the development of alternatives.

It turns out that America, despite killing off most of its sturgeon (the Hudson used to be full of them), has turned things around somewhat to the extent that we are now producing some excellent caviar. I didn’t try it for years, thinking that Tennessee Paddlefish just didn’t sound that appetizing. But it turns out that the fish eggs being peddled by Petrossian and my other caviar stop, Russ and Daughters, the venerable Lower East Side shop (on Houston Street), are really fantastic.


Petrossian is offering an American caviar sampler that explains everything without a word, with 50 grams each of Hackleback, Chataluga Prestige, Alverta, and Royal Transmontanus caviars. I’m working on the words. Check back in 2009. Russ and Daughters is offering what they call American Ossetra from California (awesome), Hackleback from the Mississippi River Valley, and Paddlefish, which resembles Sevruga and is quite delicious. Here’s some of Russ’s paddlefish roe:


I like buying American. Haven’t quite talked myself into a Yankee car in a while, but I will give our native caviar my 100% endorsement. Buying this will help those pesky Russkies get their environmental act together.

What else do I want for Christmas? Well, after racking up more frequent flier miles than ever this year I have decided to give up on my old-fashioned spurning of luggage with wheels, and I’m hoping the wife or Santa provides me with a big rolling carry-on to match my other T. Anthony luggage. And then last year I asked for a Canon G9, the compact digital that all my photographer friends carry. Just holding the thing made me want it, and since my compact Panasonic Lumixes with their nice Leica lenses have smashed sceens, I needed something new, but there was an error and somehow I got a considerably more costly Leica, which is a fantastic camera but won’t even fit into my cargo pants, making it tough to do the undercover kind of photography I like to do as a sneaky bloggeur. And I can’t figure out how to work the thing half the time. Maybe this year Santa will listen more carefully.


I may not be Terry Richardson or Todd Eberle, but my friend Olivier Zahm, the guru-in-chief of Purple Fashion, can take artistic pictures under highly challenging nightclub conditions, so hey, I need this camera. From what I understand it can take a great picture almost by itself.

What else? I have asked Santa for an Irish passport but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve been thinking about a sauna. There’s a really great shipping container made into a sauna by Castor Design. This is no ordinary sauna, but a freestanding structure that is a recycled shipping container with a traditional wood-fired stove, with such extraordinary features as solar power, iPod stereo, guitar hookup, magnetic truck light, wool toque, and bronze antlers. This is built in Canada by Canadians who seem determined to walk the thin, jagged line between fine art and demented design. These guys also make a nice set of headphones with antlers on them, some cool stools and tables and an incomparable “invisible chandelier,” custom-made from burned-out light bulbs lit from within.



And what do you want for Christmas? By the way, if your kid asks there are seven candles in the kwanzaa kinara, and the reindeer’s names are as follows: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. The one with the red nose, Rudolf, got that way by eating amanita muscaria or fly agaric hallucinogenic mushrooms, as reindeer are wont to do. Eating these potentially highly toxic mushrooms has been known to cause flying.


Notice the similarity of this mushroom to Santa Claus.


A Fitting (Room) Heir to CBGB


In this space on October 17, 2006, I discussed my feelings about CBGB, the famous birthplace of punk rock on New York's legendary Bowery. Mainly how I found the mass whinging over the demise of this down-at-the heels landmark excessive and hypocritical, even as a longtime patron of the historic nightspot—yes, even as an alumnus of that notorious stage. CBGB changed the world and it changed my life. Among the acts I saw there: Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Suicide, the Contortions, Television, DNA, Elda and the Stilettos, the Damned, Robert Gordon, Mink de Ville, Heartbreakers, the Fleshtones, the Patti Smith Group, Jayne County, Tuff Darts, the Dictators, the Marbles, the Dead Boys, the Mumps, the Feelies, the Sic Fucks, the Steel Tips, the Shirts, Pere Ubu, the Kojaks, and even AC/DC. It was a whole new world of music.

My own band, Konelrad, the world's first socialist-realist rock band, performed here. In fact we caused a riot, a sort of low-key Altamont when Hell's Angels, upset by groupies throwing the bikers' drinks at our guitar player, began using the latter as punching bags. That night I got to use Mick Jagger's line from Gimme Shelter: "Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters, why are we fighting?" It was great.

CB's was an interesting club. It was pretty big and had one of the longer bars in New York City. Just inside the door was a coat check which had been converted into a space where the dogs belonging to the owner of the club, Hilly Krystal, could take a dump anytime they wanted. Still, it was cleaner than the patrons' bathrooms downstairs.

Hilly lucked into a gold mine with CBGB (& OMFUG), as the marquee read. That stood for Country, Blue Grass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers. I guess that was Hilly's idea. He seemed like the kind of guy who would have rather been listening to Waylon Jennings. But then Television wandered in off the street, saw the stage and PA and asked if they could play there, and the rest is history. Sort of. History is a strange thing. Spike Lee's film Summer of Sam, which takes place in about 1977, shows a punk show at CB's, and the audience is a bunch of pogoing, safety-pin-punctured leatherettes with dayglo Mohawks. Not authentic. In fact, nobody called punk rock "punk rock," and everybody then dressed kind of regular, in denim and leather with a little sharkskin and rockabilly thrown in. The full-dress caricature punks did eventually show up, a decade or so later when the place had become institutionalized and a venue for hardcore and other mutant forms of "punk." And CBGB became a sort of caricature of its former self. Sometimes death is better than lingering. What was the old punk expression? Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. But CB's was on life support for years.

I lived in the neighborhood but I tended to avoid the place because I usually had no interest in the maybe six bands that would be playing on a given night, and might not have mixed well with the trenchcoat-mafia, fourth-generation rebels that now frequented the place. I'd rather go the Knitting Factory or the Blue Note. But of course I looked kindly on the place until people began protesting the raising of the rent and getting political, or pseudo-political, about it. I'm sure Hilly had the chance to buy the place many times over but didn't bother until those market forces the Republicans are always talking about kicked in and Bowery real estate went through the roof. But there was something hypocritical about the whole thing. Hilly had been raking it in for years. It wasn't a charity. I felt that if Patti Smith was really that upset she should have put up the money for Mr. Krystal to buy the joint. But it's more fun to blame the capitalists who ruined the city by eliminating slums and crime.

Eventually I got so tired of hearing about it I must admit I was totally ready for somebody to take over the lease and turn it into an Italian restaurant. But instead, rather to my surprise, I was on my way to Whole Foods the other day to pick up some unpasteurized cheeses and Balthazar Bakery bread when I noticed that a new marquee was there, where the former club had been boarded up. John Varvatos.


Now I'm sure that lots of people are finding some "sell-out" angle in this, but I don't mind at all. Any clothing designer that uses Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper for models is okay by me. I immediately walked into the store and, what do you know, my close personal friend James Chance was playing there. Well, on the stereo system. James was singing his jazzy version of James Brown's "King Heroin." It was too perfect. James played here live on many occasions, with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and with his own bands the Contortions and James White and the Blacks. At this point I'm sure he'd rather be playing here on the store stereo than playing live in a CBGB filled with dayglo-haired teen tourists.

In the front of the store is a good selection of vinyl for sale. Then there is a bunch of pretty high-end vintage amplifiers and stereo receivers and other components. There are some Fender telecasters in a glass case, undoubtedly played by someone historic like Tom Verlaine or Richard Lloyd, and then there is the big old famous bar. It was the first time I had seen it without a Budweiser on it, but it looked beautiful and polished. Just behind that are a lot of clothes and a little stage, not where the original was, but fully set up with drums, amps, mics, the whole thing. I guess if the salesmen feel like jamming, there you go. I'm not really sure. I didn't stay long, because I had cheese on my mind, but I figured I'd come back some time and try on some of those dead-man's boots they have for sale. Like Ralph Lauren, Vavartos offers choice vintage stuff alongside the new merch, and some of it looked refreshingly gnarly. At my age you can either buy a Corvette or a pair of studded motorcycle boots.

Anyway, I approve, slightly conditionally, of this neighborhood transition. Jesus, it could have been Starbucks.

And I believe that John Varvatos is genuinely rock and roll. I mean, as genuinely as anything rock and roll can be. Because rock and roll is ultimately a pose. And despite the fact that at some point in the history of what is called punk, "poseur" was about the worst thing anyone could call you, the whole point was posing until the pose took and your dreams became authentic. Today, in the world where the Bowery is where millionaires live, authenticity is what you make of it. I wear it, therefore I am.


SoHo Just Got Hipper


I was heading south on Greene Street from Houston, after checking out Moss, the coolest contempo home furnishings store, and going to that horrible post office with the insanely rude "I can't be fired" management, when I noticed something new. A great big new Paul Smith store had opened very quietly, more or less across the street from Kelley & Ping.

I went inside and, before I knew what hit me, I'd bought three ultrahip new shirts: two florals and one sort of op art. I sense a bit of 1967 in the air, especially there. It's a great store, and it's huge compared to the one on Fifth Avenue which is smaller than some people's closets. This is the best menswear news in ages. And the new suits and shirts and socks are really great. They even have a big selection of great books. I picked up the Mondino guitar book as a birthday present. I wish their wide ties were a little thinner or their thin ties were a little wider, but why nit pick: This is one of the best men's shopping experiences in New York.

Here's one of my new shirts (displayed in my living room). Maybe I'll start a band.


Howard's End

Howard Street runs just four blocks in Soho, from Mercer Street to Centre Street, so chances are lots of cab drivers don't know it. But it's a gem of a shopping area. Especially the part where Crosby Street begins. You can start your tour of Howard Street at the Visionaire Gallery, at Mercer and Howard, which shares a space with Visionaire, the publication, and V, the spectacular fashion magazine. This is a good time to visit because they currently have a fantastic magazine show up, featuring the rarest and most peculiar periodicals on the planet (including my own literary magazine, Bald Ego). It's a delightful and educational show, and many of the magazines are for sale.

Farther east on Howard, just east of Crosby Street, is E. Vogel, probably the best bespoke shoe shop in the city. Vogel is famous for their custom-made riding boots, which are notoriously light, comfortable, and flexible, but I actually learned about them from guys who stand around a lot. Several of my painter friends, who spend a lot of time on their feet, have their shoes made here and swear by them for comfort and durability. Next time I'm flush I plan to try a pair. Their samples are certainly handsome, too.


A few doors West of Vogel's you'll find the chic, discreet shop of Ted Muehling, one of the most interesting designers and accomplished artisans in the city. Several times a year I find myself hiking down Crosby toward Ted's door, hoping to find a gift for my wife as the clock ticks down toward our anniversary or Valentine's Day. Ted makes extraordinary jewelry that is both classical and contemporary, and he also designs incredible tabletops, glass, and porcelains. His amazing and rather pricey porcelains are manufactured by Nymphenburg in Germany, and often they express his fascination with nature. Around the shop and in his studio in back are scattered interesting branches, eggs, nests, shells, stones, and other sublime natural, found objects. I love the porcelains and I always have to remind myself that I have a six-year-old to avoid spending even more money. Ted also sells the designs of Lynn Nakamura, Stephen Allendorf, Lee Hale, and Gabriella Kiss, all of whom share a kindred sophistication and elegance.


My wife loves jewelry, and I think I enjoy her jewelry as much as she does. If I were rich I'd probably head up to Fred Leighton on Madison Avenue more often. I think that's probably the best collection of antique and estate jewelry in New York, but sometimes my good taste causes my jaw to drop there. But then I discovered another fantastic collection of antique jewelry and amazing objets d'art at De Vera, a sort of mini-museum of delightful things on the corner of Crosby and Howard.


De Vera is run by world traveler Federica De Vera, and it sells genuine antique jewelry as well as a collection of his own creations, such as necklaces made from ancient sigils and intaglios. There are also exotic boxes, cigarette cases, cufflinks, daggers, vases, icons, santos, opium pipes, Asian lacquers, artisanal glassware, watches, statuary, and oddities. It's not only a remarkable gift resource, it's one of the very best browses around.


If you have any money left after visiting these fabulous stores, you can walk a few doors up Crosby from De Vera and check out a great selection of Vespas. Vroom!


And While You're in the Neighborhood…

A couple of blocks below Nom de Guerre—I mean further downtown, not in the sub-sub-sub-sub-basement—are some really great stores. Whenever I'm in Florence I go to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a truly fabulous institution. It's a pharmacy, founded in 1612, that sells its own fragrances, candles, herbal remedies, tonics, liqueurs, and such. You may have seen it in The Silence of the Lambs, it being one of the favorite haunts of Hannibal Lecter, that creepy connoisseur. You'll never find a more atmospheric store than this one, run by nuns for almost four centuries on Via della Scala. Where else are you going to find the four-hundred-year-old anti-hysteria remedy Acqua Anisterica, today known as Acqua di Santa Maria Novella? Well, actually now you can get much of what you'll find in the Florence Store at Santa Maria Novella of New York on Lafayette Street between Houston and Prince. It's no renaissance storefront, but it is a very handsome place, loaded with wonderful products ancient and surprisingly modern—such as their line of ceramics.


This is one of the best gift sources in New York. If a man had mistresses he could buy them all different scents here. My wife and I just pretend we have multiple personalities, and so it comes in handy to have the bathroom cabinet stocked with Acqua di Colonia in Tuberosa, Potpourri, and Melograno (pomegranate). There are wonderful scented candles, great shaving products, and accessories. When you're downtown, check it out.


Also, I'm loathe to recommend antique shops because… what if they get popular? You won't find the good stuff anymore. But I will mention Paula Rubenstein on Prince between Lafayette and Crosby for one good reason: I've never bought anything there. I've come close, but let me explain: I have way too much stuff. I love looking in the window there. I never walk by without looking to see what oddity has been added to the floor-to-ceiling stock. You'll see rare pieces of mid-century modern furniture, twisted folk art, rustic bespoke furnishings, utterly peculiar amateur oil paintings, vintage photos of sailboats, antique commercial signs, huge balls of string, industrial and commercial furnishings of bygone days, and an amazing collection of quilts and blankets. Almost everything is a curiosity of some sort, and absolutely everything has patina. I'm sure Ralph Lauren envies this little spot.

Related: The GQ 100: Our continually updated archive of the best stores for men in America.

The Real Style Underground


You enter Nom de Guerre like you enter the subway. You walk down a stairway at Broadway and Bleecker and there, right next to a copy shop, is one of New York's most resourceful boutiques for cool male apparel. The windowless shop is on two floors, basement and sub-basement, and when the R train goes by it's like an earthquake. If there's a low-rent district in Manhattan this must be it, but that could be why there is such a great variety of hip vines for chill cats. You've got to be in-the-know to find the door (hint: it's next to Swatch).


Nom de Guerre's own line is fly yet classical in concept—no victim-wear here. The clothes are made with excellent materials and created with quality to endure. The fall collection was inspired by a film about a Russian navy ship posted in the arctic, so there's plenty of fine cold-weather gear here in heavy wool-cashmere, flannel, heavy cotton fleece, and raw denim. It's one of the best places around for parkas, peacoats, and sweaters. They also offer rare sneakers, the kind that don't look like they were designed by mad scientists—I bought a fantastic pair of plaid Jack Purcell lowcuts here a few seasons back.


You can also find a smart selection from other excellent lines, like A.P.C. and Fun by Comme des Garçons. And very selected books and periodicals, too, like Me Magazine.

Check out the shoulder button detail on my new heavy black cotton sweatshirt.


You can also pick up their highly recommended merch at Stel's in Boston, Colette in Paris, Nomad in Toronto, Loveless in Tokyo, Blackbird in Seattle, Liberty on Regent Street in London, 1206 in Copenhagen, and Fred Segal in L.A. and Santa Monica.

Related: The GQ 100: Our continually updated archive of the best stores for men in America.