MEET THE WALL DOGS (How advertising became street art)

At first everything seems to be exactly as you’d expect. New York is plastered with commercial images at every turn: on the sides of buses, in the subway, on cab doors and high up on the sides of buildings. But one advertising hoarding catches your eye. At first glance nothing looks unusual, but as you wait to cross the street you ponder it for a few seconds. Something about it has grabbed your attention and you’re not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the gentle sheen or the way in which the image fits around the window frames? And then it dawns on you: it’s hand painted.

Sky High Murals has turned the everyday advertising hoarding into an art form. Not just by showcasing their tremendous skills as artists, but also as performers: sky high abseiling artists. Sky High HQs in Williamsburg, a couple of doors down from the Brooklyn Brewery, is where our band of artist-abseilers plan their attack before jumping astride their motorcycles. They are the special forces of the advertising world, an urban gang of artistic Navy Seals in paint spattered hoodies. They call themselves ‘wall dogs’ as they spend their working lives chained to a wall. This is not a job for artists of faint heart or delicate disposition. Walldogs endure long hours, high above the city streets in sub zero New York winters and crazy hot summers. But they love it. It’s clear by their swagger, as they head out to another big project, that they feel like an elite squadron of highly sought after soldiers. On the website their list of things ‘you’ll need to become a walldog’ includes ‘strength, positive attitude’ and a ‘good alarm clock’.

In an age where large scale digital printing has never been easier or cheaper it’s clear that picking up the phone to Sky High Murals must offer a brand some serious added value. The obvious answer is that it brings an extra artistic depth to an otherwise everyday image. A global Nike campaign, for example, will see its images reproduced in thousands of cities across the planet, translated into hundreds of languages, in different formats and across all types of media. And yet, Nike will happily invest in the skills of a small band of abseiling street artists because of the extra dimension it brings to the campaign. Hand painted images add artistic value, of course, and street cred, definitely, but there is a more powerful message that sings out behind every individual brushstroke. Namely, time.

I believe the real message is that our advertising images took extra time, dedication and phenomenal skill to come to your street, so please take time to appreciate them. Our message is not the background noise to your city or yet another thin layer of visual clutter spewed from an uncaring and cynical global corporation. Our images, as well as being art, clearly produced by artists, are integral to the city itself.

Yet again Brooklyn has soaked up contemporary culture and regurgitated it in its own likeness. Just like Brooklyn’s take on fast food it has slowed down the things we take for granted and made them more locally relevant, more considered. Like its take on everyday objects it has transformed the ordinary into the artisan. Like its take on all things retail it attempts to integrate it into the community and the fabric of the city, as opposed to simply landing on it from the great corporate heights of commercialism. Even advertising can be Brooklynized.

This article is an extract from the recently published Brooklynization. Click here for a preview.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Mar 02, 2018   Brand, city, Retail, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

THE NEW PURITANS

The skies are thick with tweet-shaped arrows, raining onto the heads of our once untouchable heroes. Hollywood, Washington, Westminster, nowhere is safe. Politicians, producers, actors, comedians, academics, business leaders, no one can shelter from the Twitter storm. And beware if you find any glee from these sorry tales. Schadenfreude is a fleeting thrill that probably means you’re next. We’re in charge now. We are the New Puritans.

Those toppled are not just the famous, or figures of authority. Hollywood’s finest are our storytellers. Men and women who stage astronomically expensive tales of how we should live. They are the soothsayers that predict how our world will change and, in turn, our politicians and captains of industry attempt to keep us on course. And comedians are not merely clowns. They are our philosophers, who teach us how to think and how to react to life’s vagaries.

That little black slab of glass in our palms, our Great Overlord of Data (GOD) has given us a voice, and oh boy, are we putting it to work. Our vaguest thoughts and randomly vitriolic reactions are instantly published, and carry equal weight and as much momentum as mainstream media’s more traditional commentary. Reactionary homemade Youtube rants, for example, will garner the approval of many millions, whilst The Press struggles to fathom how to pay for content. The battle is won.

One thing is for sure: this is no blip. Social media is relentless. It doesn’t sleep at night and it will interrogate its victims with extraordinary fervor, scratching deep into their digital footprints, reaching back decades if necessary, until it finds something. Stay clean people. Yes, the age that brought us all free porn on tap has turned us into prudes. Until we’re alone, that is.

Once the bolus of lard, that is Weinstein, was flushed into the sewer the torrent of accusation it unleashed has been shocking. The drip, drip, drip of offense taking quickly turned into a downpour so strong that most of us now walk around with our jaws permanently open in outrage. You may tut loudly at the irrelevance of the sacrifice of say, the cartoon-sexy darts and F1 grid girls, but you wait. This is a cultural shift and its effects will become apparent very soon indeed:

Advertising will swiftly tone down the sexist imagery, that’s plain enough. But once this barrier is broken the flood of offence will surely follow. Expect every classic stereotype along with what and why we consume anything to be vigorously challenged at every turn: why are the old often portrayed as frail? And why are they so often white? Why are athletes so often depicted as black? Why are babies shown only with their mothers? Why are those ridiculed as bewildered and hopeless always men? Why should we be told what to aspire to? Surely it can’t be right to advertise provocative images of luxury products that will offend those that can barely afford to eat? And fast food advertising is clearly an affront to our investment in the NHS. When does a foreign holiday become cultural appropriation? And why on earth is advertising allowed for gas guzzling cars? Or high sugar drinks?

Oh yes, sugar taxes are a-coming. For very sound reasons, fizzy drinks will feel the heat first, but wait until you find out what foodstuffs governments are chomping at the bit to tax in the name of our health: yoghurt, all cooking sauces, ketchup, cereals, iced tea, soups, canned fruit, baked beans, and inevitably, wine. Needless to say, this will be on top of VAT and alcohol duty. Salt taxes will swiftly bring up the rear to create the perfect pincer movement. And why wouldn’t they, when the consensus is chanting that something must be done?

Taxes will become bespoke soon too. Just as parking fees spike to punish diesel owners, we can expect more of our choices to be taxed in line with how ‘bad’ they are considered. After all, your phone knows an awful lot more about you than just what car you drive. Oh how we’ll reminisce over the anonymity of cash.

In fashion, expect to see hemlines lowering by the day, and anything revealing or asymmetric to be ousted by long lines of buttons and tailoring of religious symmetry. Colours will shift towards the more subdued and sombre with bright, acrylic colours banished for a decade.

For some strange reason we have a few hypocritical loopholes in our culture that surely must be plugged soon. Rap and pop will have to mind its language in our new era of respect, so we can certainly look forward to the demise of the N and B words over the next couple of years.

And now that we have been fully educated as to the disastrous effects of plastic in the oceans, supermarkets can surely no longer brazenly charge for a bag they’ve just packed with plastic shaped prawn platters and thick plastic avocado holders. Expect to see much more loose product when we go shopping.

In design and architecture, whilst we’re unlikely to see the return of piano leg covers we are perfectly positioned for an aesthetic age of modesty. The trend for ‘conspicuous consumption’ in the form of exposed pipes and conduits, which has become so popular as an expression of function, will probably be seen as somewhat brash and we’ll return to shrouded, concealed and hidden services and mechanics. And as our attitude to car ownership becomes more hardline, cars themselves, electric included, will become demure to the point of embarrassment.

Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, we should prepare ourselves for the insidious march of legislation and censorship across social media, Facebook and Youtube specifically. Free speech is a lovely idea but it’s simply not practical when the public just can’t be trusted.

Remember when tolerance and free speech were the foundations of our society? Yes, so do I.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Feb 05, 2018   advertising, city, Future, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

SAN FRANCISCO: The King is Dead!


San Francisco is getting a new king.  I know this because the battle for power has left a dark, gaping hole at its very heart, on the elevated corner of Union Square. For this was where the mighty Levi’s flagship stood as a mecca and monument to the garment that dressed the world and changed it forever. But now in the very city that denim was born, there’s a ghostly void, a chasm that tells a tale of how things have changed here, and so very quickly.


Poor old Levi has not had an easy time of late. In perhaps the most competitive and nuanced fashion market there is, his historic indigo cotton has lost much of its cool to younger, louder types. Levi’s is a brand that carries almost universal love. Everyone has stories and fond memories to share, but too few actually buy. To be relegated from its proud Union Square pedestal is humiliating enough, but to watch its beautiful home annihilated is surely a stinging slap in the face for such an iconic and famously indigenous brand. So now, the busy cranes and earth movers dance upon poor old Levi’s grave to make way for a shiny new shrine; a palace made of glass nonetheless, designed by the world’s finest maker of glass palaces, Sir Norman Foster. Only the richest company on the planet would have the audacity to dethrone the old King of San Francisco in such a public manner. Yes, it’s Apple.


You can well imagine the board meetings at Levi’s that spruced up the language of this deposition as ‘bringing it’s flagship back to the people’, but it’s not convincing anyone. This was a battle of the icons, and the richest and cleverest won. It seems this new age of retail has turned everything upside down. Denim, the ultimate symbol of cool, has been out-cooled by the nerds that made technology trendy. Marlon Brando would be appalled.


The king chose well. Apparently, Steve jobs personally called Sir Norman Foster to ask for help a few years back, and the first results of their little chat opened in Istanbul in May this year. From the top of the brand new Zorlu shopping centre the new Apple store looks like a giant MacBook. He didn’t let them down.


Foster is also busy on what must surely be one of the most difficult design jobs ever: none other than Apple’s HQ in Cupertino. This will truly be the home of the world’s greatest superpower. The colossal spaceship that sits at the centre of its 170 acre site will house 13,000 bright young things. Steve Jobs wanted the space to reflect the Californian landscape he grew up in. Now there’s a brief.

So, while San Franciscans await the imminent arrival of their new king they are at least allowed a glimpse of some deliciously tantalizing artist’s impressions of the new royal residence, and magnificently minimalist it promises to be. The toughest taskmaster, the world’s greatest architect and a mind-blowing budget must surely give us the eighth wonder. Watch this space.

The King is dead, long live the King!



  Howard Saunders   Aug 28, 2015   Apple, Brand, city, Levi's, Retail, San Francisco, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

Meet PAM


Don’t hate the hipster. The much mocked, sock-free chap who scoots around town on his gear-free bike with his razor-free chin in the air is changing the way we look at the world. He dresses like a pioneer-pilgrim with a big beard and rolled up denim because that’s what he is, and we have a lot to thank him for. He is reshaping our towns, shops, restaurants and brands for a generation sick of the mass produced and the mediocre. He is an ambassador for a new retail world, one that is stripped of fakery and corporate bullshit. The brands he loves emanate the very essence of what he stands for and he is never, ever seduced by marketing rhetoric and glossy advertising. At least, that’s the theory. Of course, as Peter York points out in his new book ‘Authenticity is a con’ it’s all fakery anyway, which is about as nihilist as saying ‘we’re all going to die anyway’. Absolutely true of course, but perhaps not very helpful.

The hipster, as all cultures before it, is simply the extreme expression of our new view of the planet. When punk pioneered its irreverent attitude to music, art and authority we did not need to stick safety pins through our nostrils to join, and ultimately enjoy, the powerful groundswell of change this reactionary culture brought us.

So far from being a just a quirky fashion subculture the hipster is spearheading the way the majority of us feel right now about our retail landscape. The hipster is Post Apocalypse Man (and woman, of course) that grew up after the financial crash, at its epicentre here in New York. To be precise, PAM was born in Brooklyn, just a few yards across the water from Wall Street, and spread quickly throughout our angry urban centres including Pearl District in Portland, Mission in San Francisco, Shoreditch in London, Fitzroy in Melbourne and Kreuzberg in Berlin.


Actually, the earliest sightings of the species just preceded the turn of the millennium. Perhaps he was born out of an impending sense of a new era emerging, but it was the crash that really launched PAM into the world. In 2008 we all knew things would have to change and PAM was there to take the helm and direct us towards a new landscape of aspiration.

New York’s PAM wants his local stores to sell local produce, he wants his clothes to be made in his own country, the place where denim was invented after all. He wants his beer to be brewed locally, preferably next door to the guy that fixes the fixie bikes and the barber shop that manages all the town’s beards. (And, of course, he wants his knives handmade by Cut Brooklyn too: http://www.andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/the-knifemakers-tale/) A Trumptonesque retail utopia? Perhaps not. Look how swiftly the big brands have attempted to showcase their local credentials, their sense of community. Then consider how your own attitudes to the big supermarkets, burger and coffee chains have changed. However cynical you may be, do you not find yourself more attracted to limited editions, the artisanal and the bespoke, whether it be beer, bread, cheese, chocolate, coffee, handsewn leather goods or handmade bicycles? You think this is a coincidence?



There is pretty good evidence that locally produced food is better for you as well as the planet, but this misses the point. Buying locally made stuff gives us the warm glow that comes from investing in our own community, nurturing the very thing we have neglected for the last half century and seem to be rediscovering in the digital age.


PAM has revolutionised our bars and restaurants too. Barely a decade ago we were quite content with a mood lit, heavily tableclothed establishment with an encyclopaedic menu and an invisible kitchen. Not any more. PAM style spaces are stripped back with open kitchens and a focus on food rather than furnishings. Menus are getting shorter too, so short in fact that we are learning to love the set menu again. On a recent trip, after a terrifically on-trend dinner at the buzzing Bullerei restaurant in Hamburg, supercool TV chef Tim Malzer whisked me away to his Off Club. He passed me a menu that was blank apart from the words ‘Fuck Off’ tastefully printed in varnish onto the thick black paper. Was Tim trying to tell me something? Well yes, you get what you’re given here you see.

You can also thank PAM for the single dish restaurant (The Meatball Shop in New York, Johnny Casserole in Chicago, Cereal Killer Cafe and Blacklock in London etc) as well as for the meteoric rise of gourmet street food in all our major cities. PAM expects you to be an expert now and if it ain’t niche PAM just ain’t interested.


As I’ve said many times, trends don’t come from above, from big, clever, corporate think tanks: they are brewed inside us. As our aspirations and emotional needs twist and turn, then so does the world around us. So remember, when you next raise a single eyebrow behind the back of the hipster in the coffee queue as he asks about a particular bean’s provenance, this guy is changing the world for the better. He’s a goddamn hero.

  Howard Saunders   Jul 22, 2015   Blog, city, Food, Retail   4 Comments   Read More

NEW ORLEANS part 2: A Taste of NOLA

The first thing I did after landing in New Orleans was to dump my bag in the room and head out onto the streets. On the basis I travel at least a couple of times a month this was actually rather unusual. Most of the time I’m feeling tired, a little post-airport-security-sensitive and I’d normally spend some time unpacking, adjusting and trying to fathom out how to switch on the TV without accessing the 90s porn. Not so in NOLA. The streets emit a constant energy that induces a state of FOMO (fear of missing out). In fact, I’d only been here five minutes when I stumbled upon a mini Mardi Gras that had broken out in celebration of…well, no-one seemed quite sure. Any excuse to party must be the city’s motto.


The humidity here puts you immediately into a drinking state of mind, so you actually have a practical task as you explore the cobblestone streets of the famous French Quarter: that is, find a suitable spot for a drink, a snack and maybe a lowdown on places not to be missed. We quickly made ourselves at home at the oyster bar in Royal House. Lauren, the gap-toothed shucker was exactly who you want on your first night. A bit of a local character that could shuck ’em as he shared a few stories and chatted you through the must-haves. This is the place I watched the waitress knock back a dozen chargrilled (topped with melted parmesan butter) as she gossipped on the phone during her break. The shrimp ‘n grits is excellent too but our favourite was the blackened shrimp jambalaya. There is nothing fancy about the place or the food here. It’s just classic, good value creole cooking and I actually preferred it to the guide book’s sweetheart, the Acme Oyster House, probably because the latter is so goddamn crowded.

Avoiding bawdy Bourbon Street becomes an art here, at least if you’re over 25 it does, so next stop we settled for a gentler, cleaner, trendier looking bar called Kingfish (named after the controversial ex Governor who was assassinated in 1935) just around the corner on Chartres Street. Don’t let its somewhat swish interior put you off, the cocktails and food here are both elegant and well considered. And Justin, the mixologist (showing off below) was charming: humble, quietly hilarious but very serious about his liquor. Under ‘libations’ on the cocktail menu you must try the French Pearl, a delicious mix of gin, lemon, mint and, of course the local favourite, herbsaint served in a cute little antique glass.The ‘Lil’ Eats’ menu is particularly creative: crab claw lollipops with a smoked remoulade, Louisiana sportsman’s gumbo with crowley popcorn rice or the BBQ shrimp and waffles served with Hopitoulas cream made with locally brewed IPA. Oh yes, we tried it all.

French Pearl cocktail at Kingfish, New Orleans

One of the coolest new places to eat in N’awlins right now has to be Cochon. Not the posh Cochon but the hipster-friendly Butcher nextdoor. If you or your partner has a beard then this is the place for you. If you both have beards then it’s definitely the place for you. As the name makes pretty clear, Butcher is all about the meat. This is post-apocalypse man’s mecca with a primeval passion for dead pig served in a no-nonsense environment. Everything is made in-house: the pickles are pickled here, the smoked meats smoked, the cured meats cured and the sausages sausaged. We barely spoke as we bore down on the delicious hot Boudin, the charcuterie plate with spicy fennel pastrami and country terrine, the extraordinary Muffaletta and the clever (and very tidy) Le Pig Mac. This was all washed down with a gorgeous local IPA by the name of Lil’ Smack. (Thankfully, when ordering a couple more I was spared the eye-roll)



Cochon and Butcher are part of the Donald Link empire that includes the famous Peche seafood restaurant. He’s won endless awards and if you can only try one thing from one of his posher establishments go to Herbsaint for the Banana Brown Bread Butter Tart with Fleur de Sel Caramel. It’s wonderful.



Next morning was all about finding THE coffee. The two places we picked out were Spitfire and Arrow Cafe. Both were friendly in that laid back hipster kinda way. Arrow gets extra points by being part bike shop. Cool coffee shops are like a litmus test of a city and tell you whether or not there’s a new food culture emerging. No question about that here. We followed coffee with an eggy breakfast at Envie on Decatur Street which felt like a proper locals hang out.

The perfect NOLA hidden gem has to be Killer Poboys. Set right at the the back of a dark and dingy Irish pub, KPB is a tiny hole-in-the-wall standing-room-only space serving gourmet creole sandwiches. Do not miss the seared Gulf Shrimp with an Asian twist, or the Glazed Pork Belly Poboy with a rum and ginger syrup. The Grass-fed Beef Meatloaf is exactly what this place is all about: high quality meat served the way you least expect it. Brilliant stuff.

By contrast, that evening we had a gentle meal at Coquette on Magazine Street. It opened just after the crash in 2008 but still has the feeling of settling in. The big dining rooms are stripped back elegant, successfully finding that delicate balance between posh and trendy. Firstly, the bread here was unforgettable. Important thing, bread, just like coffee. It sets your expectations and we weren’t disappointed. The vibe was a tad stifled but the roast chicken in the silky vadouvan French gravy was sublime, as was the smoked catfish.


The best night we had, for an all-round atmosphere and food combo, was at Paladar 511. Just opened in a cavernous warehouse on the edge of Marigny this place is set for great things. We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen and were instantly at the centre of all the action. Head Chef and owner Jack Murphy was everything you want from a hip young chef: super busy but able to laugh with his team and wear his hat back to front at the same time. He selected a fab bottle of Grenache for us to go with the fried arancini and lamb sausage, followed by blueberry pie and honey lavender ice cream. A very decent night.

Time was limited but we fitted what certainly felt like an awful lot of food and drink into our four day stay. If you want classic, Creole cooking at a place that feels like it’s been there for a thousand years, served on a crisp linen tablecloth, head for the Commander’s Palace, August, Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Mr B’s Bistro, The Court of Two Sisters, Mother’s or K Pauls. For something a little edgier, the list is long and getting longer every day: Toups Meatery, Brown Butter, Ursa Major, Balise, Cellar Door, Boucherie. I couldn’t try them all but I know a man who has.

Finally, and only because I can’t not mention it, pick up a pound of Mississippi Mud from Laura’s Candies. ‘She’s’ been making it on the premises since 1913 so not only is it a local icon, it’s ridiculously wonderful.

Every good city has a thousand restaurants. What makes New Orleans feel special is the mood that lubricates it. I learned that the hip young chefs relish having the established places just up the street and will recommend that you try them. They talk enthusiastically about new competitors opening too, like they feel they’re part of a new momentum. I guess it’s a kind of harmony that can only be achieved in a place that’s more of a non-stop party than a serious city.


  Howard Saunders   Jun 18, 2015   Blog, city, Food, image, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More