Thursday, June 26, 2008

With friends and spirits, choose wisely

Outside, it was a hot, muggy June afternoon in Houston. But inside the air-conditioned Sullivan's Steakhouse in Houston, a low-lit, intimate gathering of about 20 tasters gathered to sample vintage cognac, led by one of France's most respected authorities on the subject.

Pierre Szersnovicz, brand ambassador of Courvoisier, which bills itself as "The Cognac of Napoleon," explained to the tasters what goes into making a vintage product as they sipped from four Courvoisier brands ranging from around $45 to $400 a bottle. Szersnovicz, a tall, bearded man who cuts a striking figure in a navy suit and Ivy League rep tie, gives careful attention to the guests who swirl and sniff before the different cognacs encounter their palates.

The descriptive reactions flowed generously. "Very friendly," said one of the tasters. " I like the XO. I like the cinnamon."

As individual tasters developed their sense of entertaining style through hushed discussion among themselves, Szersnovicz also talked about how to maintain the shelf life of cognac after the bottle has been opened.

"If you keep it half full, in direct sunlight, it will taste different," Szersnovicz cautioned. Cognac should keep its flavor intact when stored in an enclosed place at room temperature. Unlike a bottle of wine, which is stored on its side to interact with the cork plug, a bottle of cognac is stored upright.

He should know. Szersnovicz, who has been with Courvoisier for 30 years, grew up with a father who owned a distillery in France.

As the tasting session progressed, the journey from dilettante to connoisseur was an enjoyable experience for the participants.

For Hanq Neal of Houston, the Courvoisier XO Imperial struck him as a cognac suitable for a festive occasions. "XO is great for holiday weeks," Neal said, alluding to the seven-day span between Christmas and New Year's.

In addition to the XO, Courvoisier's Exclusif, Napoleon Fine Champagne, and Initiale Extra were all sampled by the tasters. But Szersnovicz saved the best for last: A bottle of Courvoisier Esprit with four glasses encased in a wooden box with a replica Napoleon key, valued at $3,000. This bottle, however, was just for show.

After a few oohs and ahhs, the tasters engaged in a Q&A session, absorbing the knowledge from the master.

For more information on cognac, check out these stories in Driven and Business Week.

Monday, June 23, 2008

'Hancock' in need of style in a superheroic way

I arrived two-and-a-half hours early for an advance screening of the film "Hancock" starring Will Smith in the title role. I left the theater wanting more ... answers, that is.

Without getting into a critique of the film itself, I was puzzled with the selection of clothing for the aforementioned protagonist, who initially appears as homeless, replete with scruffy beard and tattered clothing. This would be the setup for a super-powered being with manners so crude that calling him a "hero" might as well equate to another four-letter word. (In the film, that amounts to seven letters, though you'd have to see the film to find out.) Smith's appearance (and demeanor) was rated R -- for ragamuffin.

Fast forward a bit, and Smith's beard is shaven and he's decked out in a silver, pique-lapel suit and a black shirt as part of cleaning up himself. As David Boris of the Be Better Guys might invoke: "Now that's better." But Smith's transformation seems too quick given the film's introduction of his character.

Finally, let's look at his superhero costume. A leather suit in the summertime is just too hot to wear outdoors. At least Eddie Murphy, in his 1980s stand-up concert films "Delirious" and "Raw," was able to pull off the leather-clad presentation within air-conditioned venues. In "Hancock," Smith quips his leather suit is "a little tight," but the real issue here is: Dude, you plan on sweating yourself or the bad guys?

And don't get me started on Smith's co-star, Charlize Theron, who starts out as a soccer-mom type who happens to have glamorous looks. Later in the film, she's Ms. Billie Badass on a mascara binge. Wouldn't wanna mess with her, yo.

Jason Bateman, the final leg of this triumvirate, appears the most sensibly dressed in his PR executive role who takes on Hancock as a "client." Props to the film's wardrobe folks who made Bateman look crisp in his outfits.

Perhaps clothes do not make the film, but in the case of "Hancock," they're an indicator of the film's progression, which is all over the place. The film's offbeat vibe presents Oscar nominee Smith and Oscar winner Theron in an unexpected light, with the subtle comedic timing of Bateman as the constant thread.

But get some clothes that are more sensibly suited for heroes!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Yes, your look counts for the interview

The last thing you want to think about going into a job interview is wondering if what you're wearing to the interview is the right thing. It is indeed distracting for applicants when they're trying to answer questions from interviewers, who likely are judging your every move.

The best way to turn pressure into confidence is preparation. Conservative attire is always the way to go. For starters: dark suit, white or light blue shirt, dark tie, black shoes.

For what not to wear, Diversity Inc. weighs in.

Take heed. And good luck.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Corporate casual sensibilities

Wearing ties to work has been declining steadily for men in the workplace. That doesn't mean there's no place for wearing one (corporate managers, lawyers, bankers still do, of course); however, casual menswear reflects a pragmatism toward comfort.

Dress codes, however formal or informal, have some common denominators on appropriateness (such as, no bikinis or Speedos unless you're job is a lifeguard on the beach). There might be some leeway on wearing shorts on weekends, when it's likely that fewer people are in the office.

The Wall Street Journal, required reading in the business community, should know. Christina Binkley's column breaks down examples of what embodies "business casual."

Denim is quite comfortable to wear when you're in a blue-collar or non-managerial position, but as you move up to management ranks, denim gives way to khakis and ultimately, suits and (yes) ties.

So, when you go into a new job, size up the style of dress that's reflected in the workplace. Then, adapt your style to that environment. It is possible to overdress, such that your coworkers may tease you about interviewing for another employer. That should not discourage you from stepping up your appearance now and then.

Bottom line is, comfort is the goal. Looking good should fall into place in relation to your work environment.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The short story on shorts

The length of men's shorts over the years has piqued my curiosity over the years. Growing up in the '70s, shorts for basketball (pre-Jordan era) and tennis (think John McEnroe) were, well, short. For swimming, however, the bikini-like Speedo was even shorter. Shorts, whatever their length, have a functionality in sports, which often influences fashion trends.

Thanks to Michael Jordan in the early '80s -- longer, baggier shorts have become the norm in the NBA, and has carried over into everyday casual wear. In tennis, shorts have gotten relatively longer over the years, but Spain's Rafael Nadal took them to another level in recent years: below the knee, Capri style.

Capri pants (or shorts?) are hardly new. According to Wikipedia, Capris were designed in the late 1940s by Sonja de Lennart and gained popularity among women thanks to The Dick Van Dyke Show in the '60s. Nadal, the reigning four-time French Open champion, certainly has brought Capris full circle.

Capris are different from "plus fours" in that the latter are usually made of wool and have fasteners or elastic that keep the hem fitting snugly around the leg.

I prefer Capri-length shorts primarily because they do not expose knobby knees and are a better complement with summer sportcoats. With shorter shorts, I would opt for a cotton or linen sweater when the sun sets, but not a sportcoat that exceeds the length of my shorts.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer chic in action

"The roof ... the roof ... the roof is on fire!"
--Rockmaster Scott & the Dynamic Three

The classic '80s anthem heard in many a nightclub to this day quickly symbolizes how hot (and funky) a crowded dance floor can get.

So having a social function while the sun's still out in H-town (the 'H' is for hot, by the way) requires some shrewdly simple sartorial selections for maximum comfort and, of course, style points.

How does one achieve coolness? Well, start with cotton or linen, short sleeves and some common sense. If you anticipate being socializing outdoors for an extended period of time, bring a golf towel. It will absorb sweat better than a handkerchief, which you might save for the moment someone might cry on your shoulder. (Don't hold your breath, though.)

Any professional man can look cool. In casual attire, a professional conveys confidence and an easygoing demeanor to which others are naturally drawn.

Two such working professionals in Houston, Mike McGuff and Michael Garfield, understand economy in their clothing choices. McGuff, whose blog has earned a loyal international following, and Garfield, a.k.a. The High-Tech Texan whose marketing skills are the stuff a success story is made of, are unassuming in their appearance.

McGuff prefers a Polo golf shirt, Levi's and Rockports, while Garfield wears Tommy Bahama from shirt to trousers to shoes. Neither allows you to see him sweat.

That's the litmus test for cool.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Beating the heat with sensible fabrics ... and timing

If "going green" is the "in" thing with regard energy efficiency and environmental conscientiousness, then wearing the right natural fabrics for the summer months should be a complementary step in that direction.

To that end, cotton and linen should lead the charge in temperatures that challenge the 100 degree Fahrenheit mark these days. Sunscreen is a must before you step outside. Also, you might wish to take a jacket or cardigan sweater with you as you enter the air-conditioned workplace, which sometimes can feel like the inside of a refrigerator after escaping the outdoors.

The safe bet in making sure you don't sweat through your clothes before starting work is to change into them at the workplace. Wearing shorts and a presentable T shirt en route to the office would be acceptable, but it is better to take a discreet route to the rest room or locker room once you get inside the building.

In casual work environments, wearing a polo or banded-collar shirt can take out the need for a tie. Khakis should be the primary option over denim, in case you may need to take clients out to lunch at a four-star restaurant that may have a dress code that frowns on denim. And rubber-soled shoes offer comfort without sacrificing appropriateness. Sneakers are much more comfortable to wear to work, but change into shoes once you get to your desk.

Much of beating the heat is common sense (drink plenty of liquids, stay in the shade, etc.) and clothing is no different. If you want to remain cool in your vines, have a spare change of clothes just in case.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent dies at 71

The New York Times reported on Sunday that famed designer Yves St. Laurent has died in Paris. Click here for more.