Springtime Wonders of NYC
Big Lights, Big Recon
Blackbird Spyplane is the Bay’s sickest 2020s-era cultural export, but don’t get it twisted: Due to geography-transcending transitive properties that are too complex to get into right now, and also it would sound like we were bragging if we listed them all, we’re New York’s sickest newsletter, too. No disrespect to any cool sletter-makers who call NYC home — you might write a sick sletter, but check in with your heart, take emotional inventory, and tell us who’s really Top Dog.
This is relevant because today we’ve got a “Blackbird Spyplane Wonders of NYC” special springtime report. O yes: in mid-May I (Jonah) touched down upon my native soil for a packed week of hometown recon. The trip was, in a word, ✨eNcHaNtEd✨. Whether you’re plotting your own visit, or you live in NYC but wish your life there was even doper, consider this sletter a beautiful lil Enchantment Transmitter —
FIRST — I hit up the Mulberry St. outpost of Oakland’s own ✨ Standard & Strange where the brand list has gotten exponentially more brolic since they opened, full of blue-chip Japanese lines (Visvim, Orslow, Kapital, Real McCoys) and deep-cut gems (Blluemade, A.E. McAteer, MotivMFG). And you know I took a spin through ✨ C’H’C’M’ (A. below), the Noho shop that’s been a when-in-NYC must-hit for ages. My eyes gravitated to several pieces by Japan’s YLÈVE (including the striped pima cotton shirt below top left) and the CLEAN gorpy runners from Norse Project’s Arktisk line (below top right), which I’d admired in pics online & was happy to confirm slapped in person…
My real focus was on Mach 3+ vintage sellers, though. In past NYC reports we’ve saluted institutions like Procell, Front General, and the truly top-notch spot we are today officially naming our ✨ No. 1 Shop for Men’s & Women’s Vintage in NYC: Lara Koleji✨…
Erin and I love this place. This time I was besieged by a SUMMERTIME-APPROPRIATE FLOTILLA of sick vintage band tees mixed in, by color, with ‘80s-era Hermès pique-cotton tees, lightweight Dries button ups, and more CDG and Issey slappers than I could process. The “high-low curation” at LK always manages to pack some surprises, features zero “filler” jawns, and never feels remotely try-hard. (The prices, in this era of ridiculous vintage inflation, are nowhere near as high as you’d fear, either.)
Besides Koleji, my targets vintagewise were 2 newly opened shops in Brooklyn, and they did not disappoint. In Greenpoint, I popped in on Spyfriend Kevin Fallon of ✨ Fantasy Explosion, whose new spot off Driggs (B. above) is only like a month old. There were faded old BMW tees, pentium-chip-drip-style embroidered Adobe caps, lungs-logo-era Nike ACG sneakers, and all manner of charming bric-a-brac — New York City Transit Authority flashlights, Sonic Youth and Wallace & Gromit VHS tapes, Peter Luger gravy pitchers, New York Times logo aprons. At Kevin’s previous storefront, and then on IG, he became a category-leading vintage phenomenon, and it was tight to see man’s taste & vision take physical form once again.
Nearby in Williamsburg, Spyfriend Kathleen Sorbara’s ✨ Chickee’s Men’s Store (C. above) is a whitewashed basement space, just around the corner from the original Chickee’s (where ladies were lined up on the sidewalk to get in when I walked past??) At the men’s spot, the energy was way more sedate, and the vibes as far as the jawns on offer were “lightly rumpled fancy boi.” I appreciated some ~$175 golden-tan ‘90s pleated Armani pants which I might have copped if they hadn’t been 2 sizes too big for me (and cut roomy to begin with). There were also a bunch of vibey ‘90s-era Banana Republic graphic tees, faded L.L. Bean rugbys, and a rack of handsomely worn-in “Continental Gentleman”-a** shirts by Brioni, Charvet and Turnbull & Asser….
They were also burning a candle by Frederic Malle that smelled fantastic, for all our Elevated Scent Enthusiasts out there.
Blackbird Spyplane is 100% reader-supported so we keep some of our best stuff behind the paywall. Come on into the Classified Inner Sanctum today — Jonah & Erin
MEANWHILE — Speaking of “fancy boi” vibes, after years of repping for ✨ Stòffa here in the sletter, I finally had a chance to hit their open-by-appointment showroom in Soho, taking a sumptuous detour into Rarefied-Yet-Approachable Understated Jawnoisseur Excellence (R.Y.A.U.J.E.)…
Stòffa’s pieces are designed in NYC and made in Italy. I was stoked to put their specially milled fibers between thumb and forefinger; to watch the late-afternoon light dance off all manner of deadstock tropical wools, three-yarn cotton terrys, and custom-spun linens; and, tossing on a few pieces, to behold as the d*mn drape RIPPLED and FLOWED about my frame….
Leading me through the 45-minute visit was Stòffa designer Agyesh Madan, and what’s tight is that anyone who hits the showroom will get the same treatment: Agyesh or another chill Stòffa pro will pull out mad clothes for you in different fabrics, depending on what you’re vibing off of / looking for, and as you proceed they’ll focus your attention ILLUMINATINGLY on details of construction; explain why such-and-such garment is sewn one way and not another way; tell you about their various multigenerational Italian fabricators; explain how they get their linen to feel so soft & look so slubby; and so on. If you decide you’re ready to cop, they’ll measure you, jot down any tweaks — maybe you want a boxier fit than the sample, maybe you want the hem cropped — and put a made-to-order piece into the ~six-week-turnaround “mamma mia” pipeline for you.
“I think some people are intimidated by the making-an-appointment thing, because they’re not used to it,” Agyesh said. This is understandable, especially the more virtualized & de-personalized clothes-copping becomes. I’ll admit that even a gregarious king such as myself felt a faint tremor of nerves as I rang the buzzer and climbed the steps. But the ambiance upstairs was so laidback, and there was so much to see & touch, that after a few minutes of hearing the dude who designed the clothes telling me about the clothes, I realized: This is the ultimate, platonic-ideal C.I.R.L.O.C. (Cop I.R.L. Only Challenge) experience. We should all be so lucky to coppeth this way !!
To state the obvious, Stòffa clothes are not inexpensive, but absent the marketing bloat, immense infrastructure and overall “hype tax” of a larger label working in this kind of rare air, they cost… less than they could. If I was in the market for a roomy (non-vintage) suit that I could wear for the rest of my days — crushing any and all functions under the weight of my “tasteful, ever-so-slightly louche” aura — I would give a miss to the big luxury designers and cop it here.
Look at big dog above bottom left and tell me you wouldn’t too!
REAL QUICK —
Peace to Spyfriend & GQ editor Noah Johnson, who led me on a whirlwind tour of the East Village one afternoon — among other spots, we popped into both locations of the Karma Gallery, and Karma’s fantastic bookstore. At the latter they have mad cool s**t, including a wealth of art books and ephemera — old issues of the Paris Review, vintage Wolfgang Tillmans books and old Agnes Martin Pace show invitations (top right above).
At the gallery we were blown away by Jeremy Frey’s stunning handwoven baskets, two of which are above. Born in Maine in 1978, Frey is, per the gallery, “one of the foremost Passamaquoddy craftspeople of his generation,” who learned “traditional Wabanaki weaving techniques from his mother, and by apprenticing at the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance.” He works with ash, cedar, sweetgrass, porcupine quills to make impossibly intricate baskets — priced “$15,000-$75,000” according to the gallery assistant when we popped in, in case you’re in the market !!
There are some other shows currently on & well worth hitting up if you can make them: Mark Bradford at Hauser & Wirth; the always-fascinating Trevor Paglen at Pace (you can read my 2012 New Yorker profile of Trevor here); the wildly gifted & Goated Spyfriend Daniel Gordon at Kasmin; and the Joel Coen-curated Lee Friedlander show at Luhring Augustine.
Speaking of banging around town with Noah … NYC, like life itself, would be nothing without bump-ins with the queens & the broskis. I spent this trip floating across sunny sidewalks linking with all manner of delightful Mach 3+ Spyfriends new & old (not to mention Mama & Papa Spyplane and a bunch of “Jonah Day Ones”). Shout out to Ben Detrick from Cookies Hoops (we got a drink at Clandestino), Larry from Throwing Fits (we got a drink at Clandestino), Nick and Phil from Small Talk Studio (I hit their new workshop in the Garment District), Issy Wood, Naomi Fry (we got lunch, then Issy and I walked up to Tribeca to see the Friedlander show), James Harris (his mom was part of a group show downtown), Willy Staley, Alex Press, Max Read, Vinson Cunningham (we all got brewskis at B-Sides after the Knicks lost), Dylan from Never Cursed (in town from Athens for a pop-up), Amy Auscherman from Herman Miller and Big Bijan from Intramural (who were doing a vintage event together). Riding waves, cruising hither & thither, building with some of the kindest out ?? — magical s**t.
I hit so many great restaurants, but more on those in a second. Because while I was in Brooklyn getting in these steps and peeping these vintage treasure troves, I also did a CLASSIC NYC GAS-OVEN SLICE TOUR that I wanna tell you about first…
On my M.A.R.G.H.E.R.I.T.A. Mindset s**t, I ordered one (1) margherita slice — no more, no less — at three (3) beloved spots, so that I could compare them in an informal, flight-style “bedrock slice” challenge…
At the end of the day, the podium results were crystal clear — and there was a “pizza champion upset” that no one saw coming: