Posts Tagged ‘smythson

09
Apr
13

One Guy’s Guide to Outlet Malls


sawgrass-mills-02

I like nice things.  I also, at least try, to hold onto my familial frugality.   Buying something at full price has always been difficult for me – hence the full blown eBay addiction that occasionally rears its ugly head.  However, as much as I love the ‘Bay, it has one tremendous downside: the inability to physically see, touch and try-on what you’re purchasing.  Which brings me to the almighty Outlet Mall, the focus of this post.  Outlet malls (can sometimes) provide the bargains found on eBay and they also do not share eBay’s flaws noted above.  However, they have their own set of issues, which will be explored further below.  eBay is great in that it has an incredible selection of rare items AND it allows you browse these items while drinking a glass of wine in a bathrobe at home.  While some of the people you see at the typical outlet mall are only a half step removed from this, I would not recommend trying to mimic this experience.  If you want to visit your local outlet mall (if you have one), you will need to pry yourself off the couch to experience the joys (or, more often, horrors) that are part and parcel to such an expedition.  As someone who has been to many outlet malls on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale, please find some suggestions below that I hope will make your experience as good as digging through mountains of unsold goods in a crowd of people possibly can be.

1. Do not be specific

Almost daily, we hear the common refrain to “be specific”.  However, if you are looking for an oxblood suede belt with silver buckle, or a specific model of Tod’s loafers, or even just a “bathrobe”, and that is the primary purpose of your shopping expedition, than I would suggest not going to an outlet mall.  Outlet malls are places where you find things you aren’t looking for, but don’t find things that you are.  In other words, specificity is not the forte of  outlet malls.  From a time-cost persepective, you will spend eons of time trying to find that specific item you’re looking for.  Generally speaking, it’s not worth the time or trouble, particularly since outlet malls tend to be in the middle of nowhere.   Go to your preferred local store and spend a few extra dinero, or, easier still, troll eBay or Amazon.com in the comfort of your own home rather than sacrificing your day scouring sale bins at a distant outlet mall when your chances of success approximate the odds of the Cubs winning the World Series in the next twenty years (not out of the question, but history says that it’s highly unlikely).

2. Price, time and the sphere of availability

Walk into Harry Rosen, Bergdorf Goodman, Canali, Louis Boston, etc., and say that you would like a medium grey suit with pale blue pinstripes and they will likely have an array for you to choose from.  Same with the perfect yellow tie that you’re after, or the pair of brown boots you want for Fridays and the weekend.  It will be an easy, comfortable shopping experience (at least it should be).  When you reach the cashier with your purchases, you’ll see why: you pay for service and the ease and comfort described above.  Someone else is curating for you; sifting through the litany of options and providing you with precisely what you’re looking for with you barely having to lift a finger.

Outlet stores more closely resemble the following scenario: a dump truck pulls into the back of a warehouse and dumps a massive pile of loosely sorted apparel onto the floor for you to sift through with a crowd of fellow misers.  Much like Andy Dufresne, you will crawl through a pile of foulness to find the diamond in the rough.  This is part of the reason why they can offer goods so cheaply; they have stripped away much of the cost associated with good customer service.   I’ve made peace with this trade-off – just be prepared to spend quite a bit more time (and incur a substantially larger headache) per purchase than you normally would.  Furthermore, outlet malls bring clothes that would otherwise be out of your sphere of availability into that sphere of availability, which is the reason why it may be worth the trip.  That, plain and simple, is the value of outlet malls.

Pics-The-Life-Of-Clothes-1

3. Reach for the top; ‘zig’ instead of ‘zag’

Further to “2” above, I have found the most success (and the best deals) when I’ve focused on items that I couldn’t otherwise afford, but have been made affordable at the outlet.  I cannot afford a $3,000 suit; however, a $3K suit marked down to $700?  That’s what you’d pay at SuitSupply or other mid-priced establishments.  In other words, you are getting a far nicer suit at a price that comfortably fits within your budget.

I believe that there are a few specific reasons as to why these situations present themselves and how best to capitalize on them.  The first is that people buy things that they know and recognize.  Simply put, most people recognize the names ‘Gap’, ‘ Hugo Boss’ and ‘Armani’, so items from these brands will not need to be as deeply discounted to sell, and will also be substantially more “picked over” due to their brand recognition.  Nearly everyone knows these names, but far, far fewer are familiar with Loro Piana, Pal Zileri, James Perse, Belstaff, Sundek, Grenson and even higher-end brands within a brand (eg. ’15 mil mil 15′ by Ermenegildo Zegna or Ralph Lauren Purple Label).  These brands make fantastic quality items that, at full retail, would constitute a huge splurge over other options for the majority of people, if they even knew what they were.  They may not sell at the retail store because, next to more recognizable names, people chose those recognizable names for the same price.  At an outlet store, they are suddenly deeply discounted because they were passed over, only to be passed over again for more recognizable brands, even at the outlet store, and therefore often discounted again.  I have, on several occasions after finding a gem gone to the retail store and asked for the brand, only to be told that they no longer carried it because it didn’t sell.  Undoubtedly, there are many that are familiar with these names, but far less than more common names, which gives you a better chance of scoring a great item at a great price from a brand that flies under the radar.  In addition, there are no ‘outlet brands’ for these particular marques.  Companies like J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Burberry, etc., make items specifically for their outlets, meaning that the dress shirt you think you’re getting an outstanding deal on is actually not the same shirt they sell in their retail store.  I covered the idea of “outlet brands” in depth in the following post: https://onemansstyle.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/one-guys-daily-tip-beware-of-clothes-made-for-outlet-stores/

The best way to find deals at an outlet store is to be familiar with lesser known brands that make high quality items.  In other words, where everyone else “zigs”, you need to “zag” to find the best deals.

Here is a “cheat sheet” of brands I’ve seen in outlets which are not as well known to the casual consumer as Banana Republic, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Prada and the like, and often are deeply discounted because of it (if you’d like to learn more about the brand, click on the name as each is link to the respective brand’s homepage):  Loro Piana, Pal Zileri, Vince, Belstaff, James Perse, Grenson, Sundek, Rag & Bone, Billy Reid, Smythson, Aspesi, Charvet, Oxxford, Battistoni, Brunello Cucinelli, Turnbull & Asser, Samuelsohn, Drake’s, Nudie, Balenciaga, Mabitex, Incotex, Naked & Famous, WANT Les Essentials de la Vie, Jack Spade, Barbour, Martin Dingman and Kiton.

In other cases, many customers are unaware that a specfic brand has a variety of quality levels, leaving extremely expensive items available at deeply discounted prices.  Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Ralph Lauren Black Label, RЯL, Ermenegildo Zegna ’15 mil mil 15′, Salvatore Ferragamo Tramezza, Calvin Klein Collection, Gant by Michael Bastian, Gant Rugger, etc., can provide, as many do not realize, a much higher quality level than a brand’s standard fare.

While many of you will be aware of some, or even the majority of the names found above, keep in mind that many are not.  Furthermore, many that are do not frequent outlet malls.  This makes the Venn Diagram’s centre very small indeed.

4. Best and worst outlets

First, it must be said that many outlet malls are not even worth bothering with.  Sadly, my native country of Canada has embraced the concept of the outlet mall in much the same way as Americans have embraced the sport of curling: half-hearted at best.  In Canada there are really two places worth visiting: Holt Renfrew Last Call (which, I believe, is only in Toronto now), and Harry Rosen Outlet (again, only in Toronto).  Basically, if you’re not in Toronto, you’re probably out of luck, at least locally.   If, however, you reside in, or near the United States, there are a number of great outlet malls potentially close by.  This is particularly the case if you live in an area frequented by tourists: New York, Los Angeles, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Niagara Falls, San Diego, Las Vegas or Phoenix.  Therefore, the first decision to make is whether it’s even worth driving out to the nearby outlet mall.  In many cases, it may not be worth it at all.

I’ve found the majority of my best deals at department store outlets.  Barney’s New York, Century 21, Niemen Marcus Last Call, Holt Renfrew Last Call (apparently there is a shortage of outlet store names, as somehow two share the same one) and Saks Off 5th tend to be some of the best.  Unfortunately, like every other store at the outlet mall, the value of these stores has been decreasing.  Formerly, they were the exlusive domain of unsold merchandise from their regular stores; however, lately they have begun to sell “outlet store merchandise” – clothing manufactured expressly for outlets (usually, they are named after the store itself, eg. Saks Fifth Avenue Green).  Nonetheless, these stores are still the cream of the outlet crop in terms of bargains, as there remains loads of items that went unsold at retail locaitons, providing some excellent access to nice things at good prices.

holtrenfrewlastcallcentury21

In addition, some of these stores, offer customer loyalty programs that provide even deeper discounts on items if you show the card associated with the program, or offer discounts if you sign up for a credit card.

The outlet stores I would tend to avoid are those that almost exclusively sell merchandise manufactured for outlet malls: Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, etc.  By and large, the prices match the quality of the items being sold.

5. Buy with purpose, not for price

You may think that the teal blazer is kind of cool and it’s down from $722.98 to $89.99!  How could you lose on this deal?  Well, after it sits in your closet, unworn, for 2 years, the economics no longer support this particular purchase.  Don’t buy something cheap, buy something because you know it will be part of your regular rotation, or you have a specific purpose in mind for it (wedding coming up, been looking for an orange tie, you can never have too many socks…).  It’s cheap and you may not have otherwise been able to afford it (“I’ve always wanted an Hermes tie… it’s just too bad it’s pink, yellow and orange, with pictures of bunnies on it…”), but that doesn’t make it a wise purchase.  I have a number of items I’ve bought at outlet malls that I wear/use all of the time (my go-to carry-on bag, a number of my favourite ties, some favourite shirts, one of my favourite suits) but I’ve also had a few losers haunt my closet after the fact.  You really need to win much more than you lose, otherwise you are negating the savings you believe you are getting via outlet shopping.  Only buy something at an outlet mall if you’d buy it in a regular store.  More is not always better when it comes to a wardrobe; I find that I gravitate towards certain items time and time again, and the remainder simply take up precious storage space in my condo.  Buy like a surgeon, not a drunken gambler.

teal

6. Get in, get out

Outlet mall trips are like commando raids – you want to get in and get out as quickly as efficiently as possible.  The decending hordes typically do not get there until mid-afternoon.  Be smart and go first thing in the morning.  You do not need to into every store and wander around.  Only go into the ones that you actually may make a purchase in.  Do you really need to wait in line to get into the Coach Store?  (Hold on – you WANT to get into the Coach store….?  Your problems are bigger than I thought….)  Outlet malls are exhausting places; don’t blow your stamina at places that are a waste of your time.  If you’re there with your wife, girlfriend or friends, and your attention is starting to wane, often times there are restaurants with bars to grab a bite to eat and a drink (often times at very cheap prices – they want you to stay as long as possible, not to go elsewhere to find something to eat) when you’ve just about had enough.

08
Apr
13

One Guy’s 10 Tips for Traveling in Style


I love to travel.  I always have.  Even though air travel has, generally speaking, deteriorated to the level of subway travel since 9/11, doesn’t mean it has to for you.  I somehow found myself on more than 40 flights over the last year and I figured I would pass along some of my tips for traveling in style.

In no particular order:

1. Your suitcase is the single most important item you bring with you

It can make your traveling life a breeze, or be a constant headache.  I almost never check a bag.  Of those 40 flights I’ve taken, I’ve checked a bag on less than 5 of them.  Twice were due to the extended nature of the trip, and the others were out of necessity (I moved cross-country twice this year).  Other than that, I can almost always cram my things into the generally allowed two carry-on bags.

A few years ago, I purchased a suitcase from Japanese store Muji.  I cannot imagine living without it now.  Muji is a cross between Ikea, H&M and… nothing that North America really has (other than Muji, which you can find in New York City, and online).  They make a wide variety of products, including household goods, clothing and luggage.  I own their black, wheeled, carry-on bag and it is outstanding for the price.  Their luggage is incredibly light, smart looking (it’s simplicity defined), durable, with lots of interior space, and most importantly has 4 wheels on the bottom.  I cannot stress the importance of having a rolling suitcase with four wheels enough: it will make your life much, much easier.  Instead of dragging your roller behind you, you can now walk normally with your bag rolling beside you (which surprisingly makes a large difference).  You can also nudge it ahead in whatever line you inevitably find yourself in.  Basically, it almost does the work of rolling itself along for you.

Muji

2. Add a passport case

While the Muji suitcase is decidedly ‘downmarket’, it’s always nice to mix a downmarket item with an ‘upmarket’ item.  Especially when this item can assist you in organizing your travel essentials. In Canada, when boarding a flight, one has to always show a piece of photo I.D., along with one’s boarding pass, even for domestic flights.  Trying to flip open a passport to the right page, hand said passport and boarding pass to the gate agent while lugging your coat, the aforementioned two carry-on bags, a coffee and whatever else you may be carrying, is a collosal pain in the ass.  Smythson of Bond Street’s passport cases are made out of beautiful leather, keep your passport open to the picture and also have a space for your boarding pass.  This prevents your boarding pass from looking like a piece of origami when you take it out of your pocket (or worse, losing it), while also letting you hand one thing to the gate agent rather than two.  It is also great for storing other travel documentation (Frequent Flyer membership cards, NEXUS/Global Entry cards, etc). It keeps your travel documentation organized in style, which is always nice and lets you simply toss one thing into your bag that has everything you will need to board a flight. If I didn’t already have my Smythson, I’d definitely look at the offerings from WANT Les Essentials de la Vie (a line of leather goods from Montreal that actually has a stand-alone store called ‘Passport’ in the Island Airport in Toronto), Valextra or, if you’re looking to save a few bucks, the Aspinal eBay store, which sells slightly imperfect or previously monogrammed goods.

SmythsonWANT-Les-Essentiels-De-La-Vie-passport-wallet

3. Loafers are best

Sadly, we are now all one step away from being al Qeada in the eyes of the security personnel at North American airports.   We’re scanned, frisked and generally dehumanized as we slump through security with our shoes off, and pants de-belted.  Rather than spending 3 minutes searching for a chair to re-tie your shoes on the other side of security, go with some loafers that allow an easy on-off transition on either side of the metal detector/body scanner/guy-named-Jim-with-rubber-gloves-on. One caveat for this piece of advice is if you require boots for your trip – in that case, it will likely be best to wear them as they will take up an immense amount of your available luggage space.

Loafers

4. Wear a blazer or coat

Similar to the loafers, I always wear a blazer or coat (depending on the season), preferably with a number of pockets.  This serves a few purposes.  First, it allows me to toss all my metallic items (change, wallet, watch, etc) into the pockets before I get into the security line so that once I get to the security line, rather than dumping all of these items messily into a bin, I simply remove my jacket.  Furthermore, as airports and airplanes swing wildly in temperature, it’s always good to have a few layers.  In addition, I find that gate agents, lounge attendants, flight attendants and the like treat you much better when you’re a little bit more dressed for the occasion.  Finally, packing a blazer into a suitcase will make said blazer look like you slept in it when you reach your destination.  Save the headache and just wear it (you can always lay it over your carry-on luggage in the overhead bin if you get hot). Having more storage space on your person while traveling is always of benefit.

Boglioli

The best jacket for travel tends to be more casual, with a fabric that won’t get too wrinkled (or looks good a bit wrinkled), with soft shoulders and a few usable pockets. A good example is the soft-shouldered Boglioli with patch pockets that can be seen above. Obviously climate and time of the year are important when choosing a jacket as well.

5. Noise cancelling headphones

A frequent flyer’s best friend.  They can take that crying baby six rows behind you and replace him with peace and serenity.  If you travel more than a few times a year, these are well worth it, particularly for long flights.  I have a pair of Bose, which seem to be the most common, but I’m sure there are other reputable brands out there.  My girlfriend borrows them when she’s looking for some peace and quiet to study at home as well, so they’re not a one-dimensional purchase. I would note that they are typically not allowed for take-off and landing, so make sure to bring some earbuds (which are allowed on many airlines if plugged into their in-flight entertainment system) for these two times, and also for walking around the airport.

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6.  Scratch off the size

As mentioned above, nobody is beyond suspicion anymore in the security line.  Don’t even think about bringing more than 3.0 ounces of liquid or gel through that line or you will be met with an extended dialogue along the lines of: “Sir, can you please come over here for a minute.  Are you aware that you cannot bring liquids over 3.0 ounces through security?  Blah blah blah….”.  Yet, there are things you want to bring when you’re not checking a bag that don’t quite fit into those guidelines.  If the size is close, do what I do: scratch off the size.  Security personnel will, almost without exception, only throw away something if they can PROVE it is over the limit.  Even more annoying is, that while there may have originally been more than 3 ounces of liquid in a particular item, I rarely travel with new products and therefore there’s likely around 1.5 ounces left and the “3 ounces” listed on the side is merely academic. Save that pomade from the garbage and simply scratch off the size – I’ve been doing it for years and have never had even the slightest issue.

7. Don’t bring it as you can likely get it for free!

Along the same lines of #6, there is another way of getting around liquid restrictions, especially if you wisely are not checking a bag: don’t bring them. Many people are not aware that nearly all hotels will provide you (free of charge) a host of common items upon request. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, shaving cream, razors, mouthwash are some of the most common. Obviously soap, shampoo and conditioner are also standard fare. I would also save luggage space by not packing things like slippers and bath robes, as hotels will also lend you these (if they’re not already in your room when you check in, call the front desk and request them). Also, you can take these products home with you and use them on future trips, or throw them in your guest bathroom at home.

Even if you’re not staying in a hotel, travel size versions of these items are available for next to nothing at nearly any drugstore chain. $3 will kit you out with just about everything you need and so don’t stress about hauling your medicine cabinet across country.

7. Packing

I’m not a “list” person, per se – except when I travel.  I typically jot down a packing list a day or two before I leave.  I always organize my list into two columns – the first, is items that, if forgotten, would essentially ruin or greatly hamper my enjoyment of a trip (passport, glasses/contact lenses, wallet, cell phone, iPad….).  The other is essentially everything else.  However, there are some items that I don’t worry about because they are easily replaceable.  Toothpaste, deodorant and socks can be purchased anywhere for next to no cost (as discussed in detail above).  Don’t lose sleep over the small stuff, make sure you have the essentials and you’re basically in the clear.

Inevitably, you will only use 3/4 of the things you bring, so come to terms with that and slowly cut back on how much you pack.  Unless absolutely required, you should be able to fit all you need into two carry-on bags.  If you’re really pressed for space, buy a decent suit bag and fill it with things on hangers (and the bottom toss in a couple of pairs of shoes).  Keep in mind that it will be heavy and cumbersome, and you will hate lugging it around after 10 minutes, but it will get everything you need to your destination (and, because they’ll be on hangers, with far fewer wrinkles).  I try to avoid this approach as carrying a clothing bag is simply not fun at airports. On one occasion, I had a wedding with four separate events, each with vastly different levels of formality, forcing me to use drastic measures to get to everything onto the plane and back.

8. Relax and make the best of it: Having a beer is all about context. 

Having a beer at 12:30PM on a Tuesday in your apartment?  Sad.  Having that same beer at 12:30PM on a Tuesday on Opening Day at the ballpark?  Carry on and enjoy – in fact, have another.  The airport, along with ballparks, stadium tailgate parties and the cities of Las Vegas and New Orleans are essentially “judgment free zones” when it comes to (the responsible enjoyment of) booze, so use that to your advantage.  Airports in particular are becoming both less hospitable (hot, crowded, crumbling, low-ceilinged prisons with endless lines) and, in certain instances, more hospitable (there are some great restaurants, bars, shops, etc springing up in a number of airports.  For example, the Anchor Steam Bar in San Francisco, Mill Street Bar and Brewery in Toronto, Ike’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, Anchor Bar in Buffalo, etc.).  Either way, pull up a stool and enjoy a pint of the local specialty.  I’ve found some amazing beers that I would never have otherwise tried this way, and even familiar beers and food items just taste better in their home locale.  Beef on a weck, buffalo wings and Gennesse Cream Ale just taste better in Buffalo; the same goes for Anchor Steam at SFO, Brooklyn Lager at JFK, Fat Tire at DEN, Yuengling at PHL, Mill Street Tankhouse at Toronto Pearson, barbecue in Houston and guacamole in Cancun.  Sit back and enjoy the ride – don’t get stressed at the airport, use it as an extension of your vacation.

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9. iPad

There is no greater travel tool than the iPad.  It fits into the seat pocket in front of you; is light and easily packed; lets you communicate with others via FaceTime, Skype, etc; holds movies, TV shows, e-books and music; allows internet access in the airport and on certain airlines mid-flight; and, you can now even put your boarding pass on it, making it a “one stop shop” for when you’re traveling.  While in-flight entertainment is improving (especially in Canada, where you can easily amuse yourself with the bevy of options on Air Canada seat-back TV systems) but you still want that ace in the hole in case your screen is the one that’s broken or you’ve seen the movie that’s playing.  The iPad can replace your laptop (especially if you have a keyboard for it) and is significantly smaller (huge plus when it comes to traveling) and lighter (even bigger plus).

10.  Skip the line

If there’s a way to skip any line at the airport, find it.  Programs like NEXUS, Global Entry, Known Traveler, etc are programs in Canada and the US that let you access special security lines and customs lines, speeding up your airport trip significantly.  They’re really worth the half-hour interview and $50 for the three years of benefits you receive.  Many airlines have credit cards that allow you to board the plane early, avoid baggage fees, access a special security line and/or access the first class lounge (this is a great benefit, especially if there’s a flight cancellation – everyone else will be forced to line-up at the gate or at customer service, while you can go to the lounge and get treated far better, far faster).  If you travel on a particular airline regularly (but not quite enough to gain elite status), it’s worth looking into these perks and finding a way to attain them. There are many easily accessible websites which detail the best credit cards for earning points and earning status and/or benefits, or even setting up a “mileage run” whereby you fly simply to earn miles to gain status (seems insane, but if you fly enough on an airline, the above listed benefits can be hard to live without).

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