A'S FAVES - AMERICAN MADE ROCKS

IMG_8005.JPG

I am a total water baby. Born and raised in California with my toes in the sand and my heart in the Pacific - I am really damn proud to have designed, built and launched AU & Co. here in the Golden State.

My designs are very much inspired by the ease of the West Coast and classic silhouettes. I love the idea of our pieces being simply styled with a messy braid, a strappy sandal and the perfect red lip. Just add a nice caramel tan, and girl, those Beach Boys will be singing all about you. We’re not interested in trends, we’re all about timeless design. Each style is built for effortless wear for years to come.

With California charm throughout our brand, making our threads here is incredibly important to us. AU & Co. is for badass babes who believe in timeless, sustainable style and one of the best ways we can offer that is by being an American made brand. So, what does that mean for you? A. If you shop with brands like us you’re a total badass, and B. Just like the farm to table concept, it’s important to know where your clothing comes from. Let’s have a quick chat on why shopping that little tag that says “Made in USA” is really rad. 

You’re loving your fellow humans  

Ever notice how clothing made in the USA is more expensive than other brands? Well, that’s because worker’s overseas can make as little as $10.00 per month. Shit, could you imagine working an entire month for a six pack of beer? It is super easy for companies to keep their pricing low when the worker’s making their garments are paid wrongfully low wages. 

According to The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, a 2015 report shows Chinese workers producing toys for American brands were working 12-13 hour days and sleeping on plywood bunk beds in crowded, dirty and freezing dormitories. In 2006 they found child labor in a factory in Bangladesh making clothing for American brands and we can't forget the collapse of a garment factory in 2013 killing over 1,000 employees. Those are just a few reported examples, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulating these issues overseas are underfunded and understaffed.  

When shopping American made you may pay a bit more, but you’re investing in brands that make their garments in regulated factories. The quality of environment is not only higher, but wages, standards and level of work are top notch as well. We have high standards for our coffee, brunch and cocktails (because life's too short to drink bad booze) so why not expect more from the clothing we wear?

IMG_8006.JPG


You’re taking care of Momma Earth

Beyond minimal rights for many workers overseas, environmental and safety regulations are not set to protect employees, consumers or our sweet Mother Earth. Not only are dangerous chemicals going into the air and water, but directly onto clothing. According to the New York Times in 2007, China was responsible for about 60% of product recalls - many due to dangerous chemicals on product made in their factories. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want formaldehyde hanging out on my crop top. 

IMG_8008.JPG

Even garments just traveling from overseas cause boatloads of pollution - literally. Americans buy 22 billion new pieces of clothing each year and only 2% of it is made in the US. A single garment cargo ship coming from overseas can produce as much cancer and asthma-causing pollutants as 50 million cars in just one year. Holy ship. 

Overall, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world - right behind oil. That is insane! By backing and investing in American manufacturing, you’re supporting development of renewable energy production, transportation and energy efficiency. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “This sector is going to play a key role in reducing greenhouse emissions and reliance on imported energy, but we must create new policies with more research and development in those areas.” 

That means the more we shop with American made brands, the more we invest in creating a cleaner fashion industry, keepin' mother earth happy. 

You’re creating LOTS of jobs

Let me just kick off this section by saying this - according to the EPI, it is estimated that every US manufacturing job supports an additional 1.4 jobs in other parts of the economy. Isn’t that just so badass?

Manufacturing employs workers at all skill and education levels and provides jobs with good wages for workers without college degrees. That, my friend, strengthens the middle class because it offers millions with economic opportunity. 

To put a cherry on top - that opportunity then trickles to high skilled jobs like technology development, engineering, design operations, transportation, testing and lab work according to the EPI. This domino effect is essential to American technology and innovation - you really can help tremendously by just shopping USA made. 

IMG_8009.JPG

This is all fabulous news! Little changes can make such a big difference, so ask questions, inspire others and expect more from the brands you shop with. 

No one and nothing is perfect, but we certainly promise to always have heart behind our brand. Our loyalty to you, your closet, mother earth and all her wild things is our foundation. With that, we hope to provide a collection that makes your look, feel and inspire so much good. 

So cheers to all the badass babes who want better! 

Love, Alex
 

The Sounds, the Rooms & the Cause

Photo cred - @a.e._photo & Musician - @julayhanz⠀

Photo cred - @a.e._photo & Musician - @julayhanz

The Introduction
Over the last ten years there has been a pun intended, deafening explosion in the live music scene from all possible angles. The internet, the festival economy, and the unabashed social media culture surrounding music has forever changed the live music scene. Never has there been more opportunity to step outside your door and see wonderful artists creating wonderful sounds. Be it a 30 person bar, or a 30 thousand capacity stadium, an experience is waiting just around the corner.

 Artists and organizers are constantly looking for ways to enhance the music experience through opportunity, art, creativity, and community and with that in mind the idea of Sofar Sounds was born in London in 2009. While opportunity was never more at a high for live music, founders Rafe Offer and Rocky Start began to get disheartened with certain aspects of the live music scene. Intimacy was getting lost, artists were losing the ability to get close to their fans, and inexplicable hierarchies were being formed. They had the idea to invite some musicians over to a friendly space to collaborate and play with a small audience. This idea caught fire and in the many years and thousands of concerts since, Sofar Sounds grew in a “global, grass-root network of artists, hosts, and guests, all with the goal of helping to bring the magic back to live music.”

Photo cred - Garrett Coakley & Musician - @kyanmusic

Photo cred - Garrett Coakley & Musician - @kyanmusic

The Logistics
In 2017 Sofar (shorthand for Songs from a Room) has grown from the little flat in London to being live in over 357 cities and growing. This means that wherever you may be reading this it is very likely you can jump on Sofarsounds.com right now and track down your city to see what experiences are coming soon. When you sign up for alerts on your desired city you will see a range of upcoming dates for shows in your area. If the date is free on your calendar then you can reserve your spot and if the date is not free then clear your freaking schedule and reserve your spot. If you are selected then you will be informed the week of with an opportunity to add a +1 and a few days later the time and location will be revealed. It is as simple as that.

The Secret
One of the many things that make Sofar unique is that they hold tight the location of their events and don’t reveal the lineups until you arrive at the event. Aside from the fact that covert, secretive operations and surprise musical goodness is awesome there is more to the decision. Sofar believes that all artists should be treated in a respectful and equal way. Volume and interest in a music experience shouldn’t be based on reputation and hierarchies. All artists should have equal footing for spreading their art. Additionally the uniqueness of the venues calls for a bit of privacy at times. Which brings me to:

Photo cred - @rootdownintheshadow & Musician - @dollysband

Photo cred - @rootdownintheshadow & Musician - @dollysband

The Rooms
Sofar not only aims to give artists an opportunity, but gives members of the community that same opportunity to open up their space. My Sofar experiences have resided in San Diego and in that time I have seen shows pop up in people’s backyards, local recording studios, coffee shops, surf shops, and everywhere in between. The location is one of the defining facets of the organization that caters to memorable live music experiences.

The Sounds
Trying to categorize what music you might stumble upon at a Sofar show is an exercise in futility because categorization is not something they are interested in. You will witness new artists trying to break free, groups at stop 70 on their tour with a show later that night, or Carly Rae Jepsen singing directly to me (I suppose that last one was a fever dream and may I never break it). The shows typically consist of three acts given equal time with careful thought catered towards a diverse group. The small capacity allows each group/artists to interact with the audience and help spread their work in a way not readily available at much bigger shows.

Side note from your dynamic and handsome author: I couldn’t really find a spot to creatively drop this in but did I mention that each show is BYOB? No? Then yes, each show is BYOB.

Photo cred - @picaresquenola & Musician - @tankandthebangas

Photo cred - @picaresquenola & Musician - @tankandthebangas

The Cause
The timing of this write up is especially relevant because, in conjunction with Amnesty International, Sofar is participating in a global concert on September 20th called “Give a Home.” So I don’t mince any words “Give a Home” is:

"Thousands of artists in hundreds of homes… for the millions forced to flee theirs. A global act of welcome. Musicians, refugees and communities are coming together in homes all over the world to recognize the things that unite us: the shared love of music... and the need for a place to call home. Sofar Sounds and Amnesty International welcome you to join us at small, intimate gigs taking place on a huge global scale in support of 20M+ refugees worldwide. Because we all deserve a home, not just the memory of one."

The National, The Naked and Famous, Gregory Porter, Hot Chip, and Jesse Ware will be amongst a thousand other musicians simultaneously playing in people’s homes around the globe for a great cause. For all the information you can visit Give A Home and put your name in for a spot in your hometown.

The Final Words
Whether you are an avid concert goer or don’t know where to begin with live music, Sofar is an organization that you can get behind for unique experiences and sounds. So stop reading this and signup, grab a drink, a friend, and a seat in whatever the secret location offers up and experience some music together.

May all your favorite bands stay together,
Tmax 

A's Faves - Custom Bridal


OUR DESIGNER, ALEX & SOME OF HER FAVORITE THINGS.


One of the best parts about being a designer is making ladies feel fabulous in what I dream up.

If there is a moment when a woman should feel sexy, beautiful, and confident (other than everyday) it's on her wedding day. I am so excited to offer custom colorways to brides and her bridal babes. 

 

MAKE IT YOURS

I love our Rosie velvet dress. It can so easily go casual or totally luxurious. You can go winter white, buttercream or add a touch of fur for your December wedding. I will work one on one with you to find the perfect shade that compliments you and your bridesmaids. Make it yours and make it one of a kind. 

 

 

 

let's chat

I want to hear from you! Email, phone, carrier pigeon - let's make your vision come to life. Even better, stop by our cozy office. Our doors are open to you and all your thoughts. Bring your Mom, sisters, besties to try on our styles and sip on some bubbly. Our Joanne dress is ready for any color.

 

mix and match

A jump suit is just as killer for your bridesmaids as a dress. Line those beauties up in our Margaret jumper or mix and match our styles. And don't forgot about the bride - wear our Margaret with a tulle skirt during the ceremony and remove it for the dancing. The ultimate party pants.

AU & Co. Custom Bridal white crop top and white skirt.jpg

 

go for it

Make your wedding style as unique as you are. I live by the idea that you can always pull it off. Dream big and we will do our absolute best to make it come true. The bigger, the better. 

time to celebrate

You're getting married! Major congrats. We would be honored to be a part of your big day so stop by our bungalow, bring your wedding scrap book and we'll open up champagne. Cheers! 

Love, Alex

http://www.auandcompany.com/bridal/

Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis

Photo courtesy of HBO

Photo courtesy of HBO

When I think of rock n roll music I tend to think of a collective exhale. The act of breathing out from whatever was holding you in. Rocking the eff out is a basic human right. It doesn’t even have to be related to music. Feeling stressed? Rock the eff out to your favorite tune. Long day at work? Rock the eff out and throw off those work clothes as soon as you step in the door. Little Philly break your heart? Rock the eff out and take down a quart of ice crea…

Whoa. Sorry, I had to cut myself off there because I just suffered rock whiplash and have found myself eating mint chocolate chip, in boxers, with “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” blasting out of the Pandora that plays through my Roku that plays through my TV and if Kellyanne Conway is to be believe my microwave is filming all of this.

What I mean to say is that rock and roll music has its foundations built on ultimate expression. It is loud and often times unfettered, it brings people together and builds friendships, it is a pure exaltation of love. And when that collective exhale is cut short the world takes notice.

On Friday November 13, 2015, an attempt was made to cut our breath short. What unfolded was a crazy series of events through the city of Paris that resulted in the death of 130 innocent individuals. 89 of those individuals were rocking the eff out to a rag-tag group of musicians hailing all the way from Palm Springs, California. Just like that a band vaulted into the mainstream to be forever marked by this event and become the unlikely torchbearers of rock and roll expression. Through Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis director Colin Hanks expertly takes the viewer into the heart of the band and the night’s events.

Photo coutesy of HBO

Photo coutesy of HBO

Before explaining my thoughts on the film I want to take a moment to remove myself from the narrative and say that my heart goes out to each and every person who lost their lives that night. Not only in the Bataclan Theatre, but around the city. I struggled on how to approach this obvious aspect of the story and decided to face it upfront. These people are not to be forgotten. The awful individuals who carried out these acts had two objectives. One was to kill and one was to threaten the idea of rock n roll and the freedoms expressed through it. They succeeded in one aspect of their mission, but this film proves that they completely failed at the other.

When I finished watching this movie I was struck with the idea of love that unexpectedly repeated itself over and over. In a small act of rock and roll I am going to forgo literary structure and detail my findings:

1: Love of Friendship

Hanks starts the story with the genesis of the friendship of Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme who would go on to form The Eagles of Death Metal. The two grew up together in the strange oasis that is Palm Springs. Through interviews a love between friends quickly reveals itself. From Homme Pulling Hughes out of the pool as a teenager to Hughes embracing his friend the night they return to Paris, it’s a friendship that is more rock n roll than anything I have ever seen.  As the story of the band unfolds it becomes clear that their quirkiness and laid back style is straight from the mind of Hughes. Overtime the band grows and shapeshifts, but at its core you always have Hughes smoking a cigarette and wearing a cape.

2: A Love for Humanity

In the defining act of the documentary we hear the retelling of the night’s awful events through the words of band members, fans, and loved ones. It is truly chilling, and as a person who constantly finds themselves in concert venues exactly like this one it was hard to watch. What rises through the terror is incredible acts of compassion and a love. Anecdotes of total strangers helping translate so the band can rush off to safety. People giving their lives to protect the ones they love. Police responding with bravery. Homme calling Hughes to let him know everything that his son is being cared for. The stories that are told in these mere minutes provide a lifetime of examples of the care and compassion many people are eagerly waiting to dole out every single day

3: Love for Music and Community

Music and community is what brought each and every member of that show together. The Eagles of Death Metal community is why it was so important for Hughes and crew to return and complete the show that they started. Hanks does a wonderful job in showing that the love of music and the sense of community it inspires is the reason everyone has been able to process and grow from the experience. Hughes understands what his band means to others, and as difficult as it was, he returns to the city to strength the community and embrace the music that allows him to do the only thing he was truly meant to do.

Photo coutesy of HBO

Photo coutesy of HBO

To those unfamiliar with their music it is important to know that it is as carefree and wild as it gets. Albums titled Zipper Down and Heart On tell you all you need to know. An event like this completely flipped the script on the meanings of this band and their songs. Little did anyone know that these carefree songs would be the ones that got a community to move on. It is a powerful example of the meaning and importance music can play in all aspects of life. When something comes along and threatens that we must all get together to do everything we can to make damned sure it doesn’t happen again. So keep making loving friendships, expressing compassion, and building your communities. Nothing is more rock and roll than that.

May all your favorite bands stay together,

Tmax

You can catch Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) on HBO Now and HBO Go.

Five Cocktails to Get You Through a California “Winter”

Drink.
Spirit. 
Brew. 
Booze. 
Refreshment. 
Libation.
Cocktail. 
Intoxicant. 
Mixer.
Hooch.
Moonshine.
Elixir. 
Cure. 
Savior. 
Courage. 
Alcohol - the respected and highly valued liquid that’s been giving us hangovers since the dawn of mankind. I’m currently drinking the classic Gin & Tonic, but you, you may be leaning more toward a frothy Piña Colada, a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio, or the distinct taste of a lukewarm Natty Ice, half-filled at the bottom of the game winning cup in beer pong. No matter the choice, the curious nectar that has been banned, worshipped, and brewed in back alley bathtubs is good in my eyes. So, cheers to you and yours, and enjoy these five cocktail recipes that I’ve added a little RG spin to - hopefully they get you through this brutal California "winter."

The Cersei Lannister

Inspired by the unusual rainy weather we’ve been experiencing here in Southern California, this cocktail is meant to warm your cold, cold heart. Or, you know, to spice up the usual glass of “insert any red wine varietal here” that you have every night, and to be super cozy by the fire. Makes one serving. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz. Red Wine - any will do. You’re pretty much making a mulled wine here, so don’t throw the big bucks at this bottle. I prefer a slightly tarter, fruitier wine for this, like a Beaujolais, as you’ll be adding some sweeter components. 
  • 1 oz. Brandy - again, any will do. I used St. Rémy VSOP. 
  • ½ oz. Orange Juice
  • 2 oz. Apple Cider
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks (one for recipe, one for garnish)
  • 5 Cloves (whole)
  • 1 Anise (whole star-shaped thing) 

What to do:

  • Throw everything except the Orange Juice and Apple Cider into a small pot, stir, and bring to a simmer. 
  • Cut the heat and add the Orange Juice and Apple Cider. 
  • Strain and pour into a mug or a glass that can handle heat. 
  • Garnish with cinnamon stick

This also works well in large batches. Do the maths to make it big, then follow the same instructions. I believe in you. You can do it. 

 

Snoop Juice

Not gonna lie, this is gin and juice. I added some mint. Next version I’ll work on adding some “hemp” infused simple syrup, but I’ve got to wait for California to make it official official before doing that. Cool lesson though - when in doubt, add mint. Works for a lot of things, not just cocktails. Bad breath? Add mint. Bland Chocolate Chip Ice Cream? Add mint. See what I mean?

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Gin - I used Tanqueray, but any gin will do. 
  • 2 oz. Orange Juice
  • 5 Mint Leaves
  • A few more mint leaves for garnish

What do do:

  • Put mint leaves in a drink shaker and muddle them until fragrant. 
  • Add some ice, gin, and orange juice. 
  • Shake it a lot. This is best done to any and all Snoop songs - dealer’s choice. 
  • Pour and serve in martini-ish glass and garnish with mint. 
  • Continue to listen to Snoop
 

The Dude Abides

Another hot one for those cold nights that seem to keep creeping up on us. This is a take on a White Russian, except, well, it’s hot. I think The Dude would abide, but hey, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. Coffee - if you’re like me, you always have extra coffee in the morning, which is great  for this cocktail. No, I’m not saying I make this in the morning and head to work. But I am saying that I do this on a Saturday and Sunday. Or, anytime during the week once I’m home from work, you animals. 
  • 2 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • 2 oz. Kahlua
  • Optional - whip cream on top. Honestly, this makes it, especially if you have your own nitrous oxide whip creamer that you can add heavy cream and brandy to to make this extra sweet and boozy. 

What to do:

  • Add everything to a pot and bring to light boil. 
  • Remove from heat and serve in a giant mug of coziness.
  • Add that whip cream, duderino. 
 

Parks and Rec

I couldn’t just make a Ron Swanson (any reasonably aged brown liquor in a glass) and consider it a cocktail worthy of this post. So I decided to add some other awesome ingredients and call it a Parks and Rec, first, because I love that show, and second, because you can make bigger batches of this and take it on the go for some good wholesome outdoor day drinking. Baba Booey. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Bourbon (from Indiana, if possible, because Pawnee, duh)
  • 4 tsps. ginger-pear simple syrup (litrally, the recipe is below)
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • 5 small pear slices (like the size of a quarter) for muddling
  • 3 small, peeled ginger slices (same as your quarter like pear slices) for muddling
  • 1 thin pear slice for garnish
  • Lemon twist for garnish

What to do:

  • Add the simple syrup to a drink shaker. 
  • Add the ginger and pear slices that are for muddling and muddle away. 
  • Add ice to shaker
  • Add bourbon and lemon juice and shake vigorously
  • Pour and serve in a bucket glass over ice
  • Garnish with pear and lemon twist, because TREAT YO SELF.
 

Stone Groove

I’m not sure if I have this authority, but I am going to use AU & Co.’s blog name for a cocktail I just made up (patent pending). The light, flirty color of the Stone Groove cocktail, would look at home in the hand of any badass babe wearing the Joanne. This cocktail is made from home-grown products, just like every piece in the AU collection. Go on, get a little taste of AU!

Ingredients: 

  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • 2 oz. Grapefruit juice
  • 3 tsp. Grapefruit-rosemary simple syrup (recipe below)
  • 2 Rosemary stems (1 for muddling, 1 for garnish)
  • 3 Grapefruit twists (for muddling)

What to do:

  • Add simple syrup, rosemary (for muddling), and grapefruit twists (for muddling) into drink shaker and muddle. 
  • Add ice, vodka, and grapefruit juice and shake vigorously. 
  • Pour and strain into bucket glass over ice (definitely strain, the rosemary breaks up and you won’t want those little chunkies in there).
 

Simple Syrups

The “Parks and Rec” and “A Stone Groove” cocktails are a little more labor intensive to make because of the infused simple syrups. Don’t worry it’s called simple syrup because it’s...simple. 

To make simple syrup, you just need equal parts regular, granulated cane sugar and water. For example, one cup of sugar with one cup of water. That’s it. Now, this doesn’t make 2 cups of syrup - the sugar dissolves, so it turns out to be about a cup and a half total. I didn’t need that much for my recipe, so I used 4 oz mason jars, and filled them about ¾ of the way with sugar and water - equal parts. 

What to do for basic Simple Syrup:

  • Combine the sugar and water in a pot at medium-low heat (don’t boil).
  • Stir until sugar is dissolved and water is clear and thicker (like a syrup...see what I did there?)
  • Put in container and let refrigerate until cool.

This is simple syrup in it’s basic form. You can make this and keep it refrigerated in a mason jar or other airtight container for about two weeks.

What to do for infused Simple Syrup:

  • Same as above, but add the ingredients that you want to infuse to the pot, and stir for 2-3 more minutes. Again, don’t boil. 
  • Put in container and let refrigerate until cool. Leave the ingredients in while it cools and remains in the fridge - it will continue to add flavor. 

For Grapefruit-rosemary simple syrup:

  • You guessed it - toss it in. Be sure to use just grapefruit peel, and not the juice. 

For Ginger-pear Simple Syrup:

  • Yes - sliced pear and peeled fresh ginger.

Hope you all enjoy the banter and cocktails, and remember, drink responsibly. 

Vibe on, 

RG

A's Faves - Valentine's Day Style


Our Designer, Alex & some of her favorite things.


I'm always in for a good theme. 

I'd love to share some of my favorite ways to style our Valentine's Day feelin' pieces. Maybe you'll get inspired for that hot date you have planned or to drink champagne with your besties - both equally fantastic. 

 

LAYER IT UP

The Margaret jumper if perfect for layers above or below. Add a bold collar underneath. With a simple blouse - a statement necklace works beautifully as well. Blazers are not just for business, ladies. Throw one over for a super sharp look and don't forget the perfect red lip.

 

 

GO GLAM

Add a little drama to The Joanne in Wine-O.  Styled with a dark lip, big jeweled earrings, a drop necklace by Sierra Winter Jewelry of course, simple heels and a totally fabulous coat from Salt + Bloom. Vintage fur would also do the trick. The key to this look? Don't be afraid to really go for it. 

 

 

Add An Edge

The Joanne in Desert Blush is dainty and delicate so I love adding the badass element of a moto jacket. A heeled boot, stud earrings and a simple top knot allow you to act as a bohemian babe and rocker chick in the same night.

 

Keep it casual

Velvet certainly carries a level of glamour, but it doesn't have to be reserved for your next red carpet event. Dress The Rosie down with a worn in jean jacket, a bit of turquoise and tousled locks. Rolling up your jacket sleeves adds an easy breezy vibe. Don't let your velvet collect dust, it wants to live! 

confidence is everything

Yes, you can pull it off. The only important person telling you the opposite is you. Tell Negative Nancy to hush, put on that sequin jacket you love and rock it. Need a little push? Call me! 

Love, Alex 

The Sounds of 2016

To those that know me they know that my relationship with music goes simply beyond listening. It is a hobby that has taken over my life in the best ways possible. Beyond the listening I enjoy discussing music and diving into the stories behind the artists, albums, and songs. There isn’t a situation that exists in the world that can’t be sound tracked with the proper song. Whether in solidarity or amidst a crowd of thousands, a few simple chords or thoughtful lyrics can define a mood and help us through.  

I am not entirely sure when this hobby started or how exactly it blossomed, all I know is that it has become a force in my every day. Ever since I have been allowed to go in I have been to dozens of concerts all throughout the world. Live music takes the songs and experiences to an entirely different level of enjoyment. Going to shows and discussing music with people you know and even those you don’t connects us on a level that knows no controversy or opposition. It is a beautiful bastion of art that needs to continue for all time.

In 2015 I decided to try and encapsulate my thoughts and feelings on my favorite albums of the current year by doing a little bit of writing on each. I had never really attempted something like this and certainly didn’t have much experience writing outside of engineering reports and “creative” writing in school that was nothing but as you sweated out the opinion of a TA being forced to put a letter on a paper. Since then I have fully enjoyed writing about each and every album and am ecstatic to have a vault of memories and experiences to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Last year I scratched another itch and took up the challenge of learning to code a website from scratch on my own and thus was born tkmaxwell.com. I combined these two interests to design a creative space for me to share my thoughts with the world (OK not the world, probably ten of you guys). And if you are checking the site out for the first time you will have 75 albums worth of material to dive into so get to work!

For 2016 specifically the world of music was a shape-shifting, dynamic atmosphere marked with tremendous loss, but also tremendous creativity and ambition. Never in my memory have I seen a period of music so closely reflect the world surrounding it. Music was a means to face the issues head on, escape them, or flip them on their side with journeys of celebration and diversity and I think this list of albums perfectly reflects that.

Personally 2016 was a year of great reflection and experience as I saw over 40 concerts and hopped on 22 planes navigating the world. Never could I have imagined the year playing out the way it did and I got to experience and learn things not only with those that I love, but with new friends and perfect strangers. Being that it was a year of stories and conversations I chose a different approach with the reviews this time around. Instead of focusing on details of specific songs I chose to muse on what the albums and artists mean to me or the themes/journeys I thought the artists were aiming for. With that background in mind I hope you enjoy and can’t wait to discuss:

Tkmaxwell.com

Keep on keeping on and may all our favorite bands stay together.

T Max

An Ode to The Ipod Classic

Before I begin I would like to recognize the risk I am taking by eulogizing a rectangular, gray brick on this particular blog. AU is a space for fashion and west coast style and the iPod classic doesn’t exactly fit that mold. I promise I am not a luddite barking get-off-my-lawns to the millennial group in which I am a part of. As I intentionally twist the words of Julia Roberts, I’m just a boy, standing in front of a computer, trying to convince you that owning an iPod classic is still cool.

On September 9th, 2014, my birthday no less, Tim Cook walked out on stage and announced that Apple would be ending the production of the iPod Classic. Immediately gone were the bright commercials with the dancing silhouettes, the click wheel came to a grinding halt, and iTunes stop asking me to update every 15 minutes (oh wait, that actually hasn’t stopped). The announcement might have seemed innocuous to most, because streaming music and the iPhone have essentially replaced the need for a separate device, but there was a select group of us that were devastated.

Opening up a streaming music app is akin to walking into a Hometown Buffet (the gold standard of buffets) and not knowing where to start. You break out into a cold sweat and go back to the salad bar because it is what you know. Except in this case you go back to listening to the new Drake or latest Calvin Harris song that may or may not have been written by Taylor Swift. Or in my case you put Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat. There is too much to choose from!

When I zip through my iPod I have the last 10+ years of my musical explorations all in one spot and all offline. When I am listening in the car I don’t have to worry about Siri drop-blocking me by cutting into the EDM I used to think I liked. Or when I am sitting in the dentist’s office trying to reverse jinx my anxiety by listening to House of Pain, I don’t have to see an email for 30% off at the Best Buy I haven’t stepped into since I picked up two copies of No Strings Attached. My perfectly curated library sits alone without being crowded by Ultimate Indie radio or the “Songs that Get Drunk White Girls Excited” Playlist (it does exist, and it is admittedly awesome).

When I add music to my iPod it takes time. And if it takes time it means I really want it on there. I typically upload full albums because they tell a story and mark a moment in my life that I can go back to and remember where I was. I can spend time with the music and get insight on what the artists are trying to say and the nuances that exists in the sounds. All of this seems to be lost in our hyperactive, singles-driven lifestyle.

I can already hear you yelling back at me that I can store songs on my iPhone and build a library on the music apps, but real estate is precious on everyone’s phone. The storage is limited and I have to make sure I leave room to use the apps the let me get a ride from a stranger while I try to catch Pokemon and women on Tinder all at the same time. I don’t want to have to remove my Taking Back Sunday collection while I make space for Frank Ocean.

So let’s throw up a toast to 2001 when the first harry potter movie came out, Britney Spears played the halftime show, my 13-year-old-self felt weird things during that halftime performance, and Steve Jobs changed music forever. Also, let me know if you have an old one laying in your desk drawer, because when my current battery dies I am going to be one sad ginger. 

Keep on keeping on, 

Tmax

An Unorthodox Recommendation

Zurich, Switzerland 

Zurich, Switzerland 

In the short time A Stone Groove has been around us writers have offered up some unique recommendations ranging from jewelry to delicious foods. Today I am here to make a recommendation that will probably sound very random, but I trust that you will enjoy it as much as I do.

That recommendation is to go out and have a conversation.

Yes, it is as simple as that.

So, what the what am I talking about and where am I coming from?! Well, dear reader let me have a virtual conversation with you. I am aware that this particular conversation is entirely one way, but trust me on this one.

Lavertezzo, Switzerland 

Lavertezzo, Switzerland 

The past five weeks of my life has been the craziest and most rewarding block of time that I can remember. Late October I jumped over to Switzerland to work on a project for three weeks during which a crazy election took place and I got to explore Europe. I returned to the United States of Trump for five days before jumping over to a week’s vacation in Cuba. The morning after my return I shuttled up to Orange County to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends. Zip through a few catch-up days at work and I find myself here finally feeling recovered from the bad paella I ate in Cuba (would eat again in a heartbeat) and staring down the Christmas season and the weight I am about to gain.

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba

I have tried to reflect and wrap my head around everything that I have experienced and the common thread that keeps coming up is the incredible conversations I have been able to be a part of. Learning about the different regions of Switzerland and how that affects the countries cultures over Cordon Bleu. Walking into the office the morning after the election and getting a worldwide view of the decision our country decided to make. Returning home with friends and attending an ACLU event to try and get more involved. Jogging alongside a Cuban resident as he expressed his love for his country. Night-capping on a Havana rooftop with a cigar and reflecting on what it means to be happy. Sitting at the dinner table for Thanksgiving and reliving classic family stories. Sitting in the Uritis fungalow as we suddenly realized why Rhianna is sending out three Stance socks (I will let you come to a conclusion on that one). The conversations have been all over the place, but consistently rewarding. It is amazing how much can be taken away from even the seemingly mundane conversations.

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba

I won’t go deeply into it because this isn’t the space, but you can enter any superlative and adjective you want about the current state of our country and you would be completely valid in your exclamation. What that means is the need for conversation is at an all-time high. Grab a drink and discuss the new Gilmore Girls. Surround yourself with the people you care about and help push forward the causes you believe in. Jump out of that comfort zone and have a civil conversation with someone you disagree with to truly try understand where they are coming from. Talk to that coworker who you haven’t actually introduced yourself to and learn something about their life.

I know that this recommendation may seem odd, but I truly believe that rewarding conversations are waiting at just about every corner. Memories, personal growth, laughter, lifelong lessons, and empathy can all be achieved through a few exchanged words and I can’t think of a better way to spend a few minutes. 

Keep the good discussions coming and keep on keeping on.

T Max 

California Tap Room Gets it Right

As many of you guys probably know San Diego has more selection of Craft Beer than can possibly be imagined. Every day a new brewery pops up and places get more creative on how they pair food and beer together. The combinations are kind of insane. I have had my fish sandwich cooked in IPA while topping that meal off with a chocolate stout infused ice cream. It doesn’t even stop at restaurants or food trucks either. You can do beer miles, yoga brewery tours, or hipster rope tying while you shrug off a Ballast Point IPA because it isn’t a PBR Tallboy.

The food and beer situations I find myself in week after week are what makes San Diego so great. I think it would be a good idea to use the AU space to highlight some cool places that manage to stick out from the crowd. The first highlight of the bunch would be California Tap Room.

The California Tap Room is located on a small side street in the heart of North Park. I think the beauty of this spot is that it isn’t trying to do anything crazy with the experience or the recipes. All they want is for you to engage in good conversation over some local beers and kick ass pretzels. Yeah that’s right, Pretzels! With beer cheese! They have 5-6 different choices of gourmet pretzels and they are ginormous and delicious. The perfect item to snack on with good company and they pair it with a rotating fleet of local breweries.

The location is small at the back end of a little parking lot decorated with incredible art and a nice patio. It sits right off of University so the craziness that happens there doesn’t spill into the atmosphere. What I enjoyed the most was the passion of the owner. He chatted it up with us and discussed his plans for expansion next store and even let us check out the construction in work. The man truly loves the place and it easily adds to the enjoyment of the bar. They also have a strong showing at all the various events going on throughout the area. So if you are looking for a place to relax with a good environment and delicious snacks check out the California Tap Room. Combing the website, it is apparently an Eagles bar as well, so if you are interested in being disappointed 16 times a year you can at least do it over good beer and pretzels…

California Tap Room: http://www.californiataproom.com/

Keep on keeping on, 

Tmax

Local Natives' Sunlit Youth Bursts Forward with Confidence

Local Natives (the musical act formerly, and forever in our hearts, named Cavil at Rest) has a storied and close personal connection to the whole AU crew. Growing up and attending high school in the same area with the band members means there were many interweaving friends and experiences. For over a decade our special group of friends have been able to see them perform in places ranging from the now extinct Sing Sing at the Irvine Spectrum to Outside Lands 2014 in Golden Gate Park. Let’s not also forget the time we stuffed into a downtown LA hotel for a shenanigans filled night that featured one of their great performances in the Gorilla Manor days as well as Cosmonaut Paul Giuliano callouts, Mickey Rooney discussions, and a patented 3am business discussion with Peter as I lay in bed half awake.

Local Natives Sunlit Youth Album Art 

Local Natives Sunlit Youth Album Art 

With the release of their new album Sunlit Youth on September 9th and having just caught them on their current tour in San Diego it seemed a perfect opportunity to share my thoughts and encourage everyone to check them out.

To those unfamiliar with the band their defining characteristic is their fierce collaboration. The shared experiences and selfless behavior in the songwriting process shines through in all aspects of the band. After figuring it all out in the early days and going through re-branding the group released Gorilla Manor to highlight their teamwork. Named after the house they all lived together in in Orange County, the soaring harmonies, personal lyrics, and cinematic melodies put the group on the indie radar with high comparison to Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes. With Hummingbird the group slowed it down a bit on a more meditative effort. The album dealt largely with the death of Kelcey Ayer’s mother and though it lacked the rush and freshness of Gorilla Manor it hardly mattered as it gave rise to a more mature and impactful record.

Zip ahead three years to today and we find the group in a much happier place and the result is the shiny and polished Sunlit Youth. Much in line with the music trend of the last handful of years Local Natives have added electronica elements to help move their sound forward.

The Taylor Rice lead album opener ‘Vllainy’ directly addresses the new approach when he sings “I want to start again” over the groups trademarked harmonies. Only this time we get electronic overlays and simple synth chords. The anthemic quality of the band is maintained through songs like ‘Fountain of Youth’ and ‘Mother Emanuel’ with lyrics that perfectly reflect the album’s title.

Amidst the rebuilding of their sound we come across songs like ‘Coins’ and ‘Dark Days’ that harken back to the youthful experimentation and myriad of styles that made Manor so memorable. While these two different approaches might lead some to believe the band is stuck between their roots and evolving into a new defining sound, I see it as a perfect mix of everything the band does well. For someone that has been along for the journey as long as I have this is all that you can ask for.

As a live act the anthems and group harmonies fuel a performance tailor made for festivals at dusks and singalongs in venues across the nation. It is still a strange experience to see massive rooms full of strangers singing word-for-word to their songs when our impressions of them will always be that band from high school. The show I saw in September has the band as crisp as ever with a setlist filled with new and old. The new songs sound fantastic and added equipment brings a new quality to old songs as well. There is never a more fun moment at a concert to participate in the craziness and party that is ‘Sun Hands.’ The band has perfected the song and makes for the highlight of their set.

Needless to say everyone should go check them out and here is a look at their latest single:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqO6zpUPZOs

Keep on keeping on, 

Tmax

Sierra Otto - The Gem Behind the Gems

I’ve known Alex Uritis, the head lady of AU & Co. for quite some time, back when she was a Beshk, even. We go way back, to say the least. We grew up together, experienced many life-lessons together, and we g-chat together nearly everyday. We are close. So close, that when she was at the glorious University of Kansas, I felt what was probably my first pang of real jealousy. Alex had met someone. Not a dude - she had her love already. She met another friend. A great, life-long friend. She met Sierra Otto, and I was jealous that I had not met her first.

Sierra on the land where she grew up in Manhattan, KS. 

Sierra on the land where she grew up in Manhattan, KS. 

I heard stories, of how awesome this Sierra Otto was, and how Alex just knew we would hit it off. We were both (first and foremost) cat ladies by heart and nature. We both liked soccer, and enjoyed a nice glass of wine - her parents own a vineyard, and that just immediately screams classy AF. I first met Sierra when she was visiting family in California from Kansas, where she was born and raised, and of course she was going to visit her friend Alex. I was lucky enough to have a half empty keg at my house from God knows where, and that was enough to entice the two of them over so I could finally meet the enigmatic Sierra.

She was (is) so beautiful, and no joke, you could feel the cool on her. I respected her immediately when I frantically told the small group that had accumulated at my house that we couldn’t let the cats outside. She was the first to say “got it,” and didn’t roll her eyes like nearly everyone else did - she knew the ways of the cat, and I knew that we were kindred spirits.

I had the opportunity to visit Alex at KU when she and Sierra were living together in a house that Sierra’s parents owned. It was winter, and my California bones weren’t ready for the midwest cold. I was weak, but Sierra’s house was warm and welcoming, and it rapidly satisfied my winter chill. With unique artwork and custom, mismatched furniture, the house worked - in the best way possible. It was easy to see that this house contained a bohemian, artistic vibe, but encompassed the structure needed to start a jewelry business, which is exactly what Sierra did once she finished school, worked for Silpada, and got married to her high school sweetheart - she started Sierra Winter Jewelry.

Sierra quite possibly fell in love with jewelry making at a young age before she even knew it: “as a child, I had three main interests. Rock collecting, drawing, and cats.” She described this memory subtlely on her blog, but it’s apparent that identifying precious stones and gems, along with drawing and designing, was Sierra’s forte.  

Sierra & Alex in their college house dressed as the cats they are holding - Batman & Swiper. #ballers #rockchalk

Sierra & Alex in their college house dressed as the cats they are holding - Batman & Swiper. #ballers #rockchalk

I have never interviewed anyone (well, not since Grandparent’s Day in like, third grade, but I don’t think that counts - sorry Marj) so I was a little nervous to chat with Sierra, even though she has always been so gracious toward me. I think I was slightly intimidated by her raw awesomeness, but the intimidation quickly subsided as we talked, and the inspirations behind Sierra Winter Jewelry quickly came to light.

Sierra is above all, a family gal. It’s as clear as day that the motivation behind her jewelry stems from experiences and moments that she has with loved ones (much like AU & Co., which leaves no wonder why these two women are such close friends), as well as her childhood growing up on the Kansas prairie.

Her favorite piece in The Prairie Fire Collection - her debut collection - are the Buffalo Mound Earrings, which are my favorite as well (click the link - they’re dope). They were the first pieces she designed in the collection, and I needed to learn more. I asked where the name came from, and the story delivered. “There is this hill in Kansas that we would drive by all the time on the way to soccer games or wherever, and it was known as Buffalo Mound,” she said, with a hint of giggle in her voice. “Every single time we passed the hill, there and back, my Dad would point it out and say ‘there’s Buffalo Mound,’ and we would always agree and laugh - yeah, Dad, there it is. Every single time,” Sierra said, adding that, “everyone acknowledged that this hill was called Buffalo Mound, but I have yet to hear someone outside of our family call it that.” I like to think that we can all relate, and appreciate, this family moment, and the silly “Dad comments” that are a unique, yet repetitive goldmine. After hearing this story, the Buffalo Mound Earrings became my favorites even more.

Sierra Winter Jewelry 

Sierra Winter Jewelry 

I asked Sierra who was someone she admired, and she said her Mom. Plain and simple, didn’t expand at all. She didn’t need to though. The way she answered, so immediately and confidently said it all. Sierra is pregnant with her first child. That is a bond between Mother and Daughter that I can’t yet fathom, but it seems that there is a silent agreement, and an understanding that happens when the torch is passed. I can tell that Sierra has (and wants to continue to make) her Mom proud, and the Prairie Fire Collection reflects that beautifully.

When you look at Sierra Winter Jewelry, it’s apparent that there is a Southwestern flair in the design (beautiful turquoise, people, b-e-a-utiful turquoise). Being from the Southwest, I had to know where the Kansas babe got the desert feel. “My great Aunt left me some of her vintage southwest jewelry,” explains Sierra. “I have always loved it. She would hit up casinos in Nevada and then go to the jewelry shops with her winnings and purchase jewelry - #goals,” she says, and it’s hard not to agree - Sierra’s great Aunt had it going on, and it’s well represented in the collection.

Sierra Winter Jewelry

Sierra Winter Jewelry

Sierra’s designs are modern-classic, but she isn’t opposed to the garish flair that was once the real deal. Her favorite accessory growing up was one of her Grandmother’s rings. “Omg, it was this pink and purple blinged out costume jewelry ring,” laughs Sierra, “it looked like a discoball on your finger and I thought it was the most priceless piece of jewelry I had ever seen. When she passed away I got a lot of her jewels, and this gem was one of them. It's absolutely perfectly hideous, and has a nice bed in my jewelry chest.” Statement pieces change with the ages, but precious (albeit ‘perfectly hideous’) jewels are timeless, and sentiment has everything to do with it.

Sierra starts a design with a quirk - she always starts designing by drawing a line down the center of a white piece of paper, almost methodic in a way. This process, however, comes with a steady side of daydreaming, like what a dinner with her, Iris Apfel, and her Grandfather, Norman, would be like: “I want to hear stories from her lifetime, and he is 92, and I think they would be quick friends. I imagine she would drink a martini and eat very little, whereas I would probably drink a lot and eat a lot,” describes Sierra.

 

With the daze of daydream at dinner with Grandpa Norman and Iris Apfel steady at hand, and the memories of her Dad actively pointing out Buffalo Mound hill on the roads of Kansas (with Garth Brooks playing in the background, obviously), it’s no wonder that Sierra Winter is truly the gem behind the gems of Sierra Winter Jewelry. She brings her family’s history, her passion, and her creativity alive in her collection, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the soon-to-be mother brings to her collection.

Vibe on,

RG

LA’s EAT Show - A Celebration of Culinary Excellence

One of the reasons that Orange County is the gem that it is, and why I find myself living here (even though I once scoffed at the thought in my angst-ridden young twenties), is it’s location. I know, I know, seems obvious - famous Southern California, no need for explanation when multiple beaches are a stone’s throw away. I’m referring to location in the sense that we are in close proximity to two very distinct, major cities: Los Angeles and San Diego. Living here, we have the opportunity to drive a little over an hour either North or South to explore cities that are unique travel destinations for people around the world, all in just one day. The events, sights, history, and culture of both cities are in Orange County’s backyard, making it a little sliver of quiet paradise.

 I was recently reminded of the geographical benefits of living in Orange County when I had the opportunity to attend the first annual EAT Show in Los Angeles, an event with over fifty restaurants and food industry establishments. After a quick drive up, my cousin and culinary partner in crime, Allison, and I entered the Reef, a space designed for hosting creative events, like fashion shows and media productions. It’s a cool place, with lots of slick polished concrete, and the EAT show was being held on the second floor. We were escorted to the elevator by men dressed in nice suits. Shit, we are underdressed, we thought aloud in the privacy of our elevator, which is something we both have a fear of. We were wrong of course, as plenty of people were wearing similar attire, which makes sense - it’s called the EAT show. We were all there to chow down, and in order to do this properly, you’ve got to be comfortable, like Joey wearing Phoebe’s maternity pants in one of the Friends Thanksgiving episodes comfortable.

After checking-in and receiving our VIP swag bags (couldn’t resist the temptation of a mysterious swap bag when purchasing tickets), we headed straight to the open bar. Yes, that’s right, OPEN BAR. The hired bar for the event was Mr. Bartender, an LA based crew of talented mixologists that creates custom cocktails for events. Dressed in casual suits sans jacket, bowties, suspenders, and sleeves rolled up, the team emanated a relaxed, party-is-well-on-it’s-way atmosphere. In short, very cool vibes surrounding the bar, which we frequented. They created five cocktails for the show, and since it’s a foodie event, the cocktails had to bring it - and they did. Of the five (yes, we tried them all - sharing of course) the “Pop Up Punch” stood out as an original, one of a kind, libation. With a title playing on the event itself, and the addition of gin, raspberry, and citrus juices shaken, poured over ice, and topped with a float of champagne then garnished with a sprig of fresh thyme, we were in a daze of tasty wonder, ready for more.

Our thirsts quenched, we formed our plan of attack, which was easy to do, as the coordinators of the EAT Show truly had the attendees in mind when planning the event. Only 1,000 people were admitted to each session (lunch and dinner - we chose lunch) making the vast space of the second floor give you enough room to breathe while enjoying the food. This was also awesome because we never waited for more than three minutes at any location, allowing for maximum food intake. Food vendors lined the outskirts of the room, and long, family style tables and the bar were located in the middle. Your “ticket” was a miniature monopoly board game, where vendors were arranged much like Park Place or the Boardwalk - each section contained four different vendors. We decided to just head around counter-clockwise (with trips to the bar in between).

With over fifty eateries involved in the event, it would be naive for me to expect you to patiently read my thoughts regarding each one. So, I’ve listed my top three that absolutely crushed the small-bites event. Coincidentally, these three killer places were located in the same “monopoly block,” and were the first stop on our list.

First up is Swami’s: A Sandwich Experience, which clearly put dedicated care into not just the delicious tostadita they prepared, but into the entire display of their table and booth space as well. The display was unique; with a clean-cut, black cloth backdrop and handmade wooden and aluminum Swami’s lettering, we felt like we were in a genuine space, and not just one of the plebes at a 1,000 person event. Fresh cut flowers adorned the daffodil-yellow square tiles they used to form a hardtop for their table, making it one-of-a-kind at the show - sincerely, their booth owned it. From what I have learned about Swami’s, the food truck has become a staple in Los Angeles’s mobile eatery scene, challenging other trucks’ culinary prowess, like Kogi Beef and The Grilled Cheese Truck. After tasting the braised lamb and pork tostadita, you can clearly see why Swami’s has become an LA essential. Chef Ramanathan “Ram” Swaminathan makes everything from scratch, and on the truck, everything is made to order - no substitutions. I greatly appreciate the “no substitutions” movement; trust the chef - they put a lot of thought into every ingredient and flavor profile that goes into a dish. So, once I heard that Swami’s did this, I knew it was the real deal. Now, back to what matters: the tostadita. The chile-braised lamb and pork tostadita ended up being the perfect bite at the show. Starting out, you get the traditional chile and cumin seasoning that you’d expect (and hope for) in the latin-inspired dish. However, the addition of the mint to compliment the depth of the lamb and the saltiness of the fresh, homemade queso fresco was, unearthly. It almost took us a moment to figure out what it was we were eating, which seems like an odd statement, I know, but that is what I loved about it - the taste demanded that our tastebuds think, but then quickly reminded them of familiar home-cooked Sunday meals after being away for a while. That, and the artful smear of chipotle crema and hibiscus pickled shallots that topped the tostadita were enough for us to call it a day. We had already won.

Next up is Restauration, located in Long Beach on 4th Street’s “Retro Row,” whose EAT Show table design definitely complimented the joint’s title, a combination of “restaurant” and “restoration.”  With a teak wood and burlap feel at their station, it’s no doubt that Restauration takes pride in it’s locally sourced and responsibly grown ingredients (something AU & Co. appreciates and promotes with their use of homegrown and deadstock fabrics). The dish: crispy pan fried pork belly, pinenut cassoulet, and white bean puree, topped with a pinch of microgreens. The pork belly, oh my God, the pork belly - it was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of crisp to provide that bacon consistency that everyone loves,  but also melt in your mouth tender, like it had been slow roasted for hours. Mixed with the pinenut and subtle white bean flavors, this dish had the elements of salty and creamy that need to happen on the daily in my life (heart attacks aside, I’d still probably be really happy if that happened). Keep an eye out for a future AU&co blog post about Restauration, because if this dish relays what the rest of the menu contains, I’m down. I don’t have a photo for this dish, unfortunately, but this is for the best due to the fact that every time I saw it I might have a sensory overload.

Lastly, we have Westlake Village’s Aroha, owned by New Zealand’s own Chef Gwithyen Thomas, which specializes in his native country's cuisine. Now, arriving to Thomas’s table, Allison and I thought that perhaps we weren’t at the right spot. We checked our monopoly maps - we were indeed in the right place, but it seemed...wrong. This table was not up to the standard that Swami’s or Restauration had set. There was no decoration, no thoughtfully placed flair to enhance the eater’s experience, which is something I absolutely appreciate. There were long, rectangular, styrofoam coolers. That’s it. We were about to move on, when a head popped up from behind the coolers. It was Thomas, and he was sitting in a chair, shucking clams with a long, serrated knife. Not just any clams, though, he calmly explained in his accent. These were Cloudy Bay Clams from New Zealand, that had been harvested from the ocean only two days before, and shipped express for the event - just as he does for Aroha, daily. The clams were served cold in the shell, partially cooked, with absolutely no seasoning, no lemon - nothing. I can’t have clams any other way, ever again. They were so fresh - so, so very fresh. I didn’t think that clams could ever taste that way. I will be venturing to Aroha for clams soon, and you better believe I will be trying many more of Thomas’s dishes - stay tuned.

Although I may never know what crack-infused ingredient Swami’s puts in their braised lamb, or how Mr. Bartender creates silky and smooth cocktails, I do know this: EAT Show nailed it their first go-around, and I will definitely be attending next year, cocktail and swag bag in hand.

Vibe on, 

RG

Our Designer - A Peek Behind the Curtain

Let me introduce you to my sister.

Something easier said than done. I’ve known her (or better put), she’s known me since the day I popped out of my mother’s lady bits, had my sex declared with a bit of a questioning (it’s a… boy?), and shuffled into the arms of  the dark haired olive skinned little girl who would become a guiding light for me in the years to come.

She was the first woman (besides my mother) who I learned to love, and fear in equal measured parts. As we grew older the fear turned to teen angst during our, let’s call them hormonal years, but we recovered during the four years we spent at university together. Forging through the blizzards on campus with our California blood screaming out to us for being idiots for going to school in a place that had the audacity to have actual seasons, buying me beer when I was just a wee lad, and even carving out a bartending gig at our favorite place at school. Alex has always had my back. She is the Batman to my Robin, the Matt Damon to that guy who films a lot with Matt Damon (I want to say Petey something)- if Robin and Petey were speech impaired 3 year olds with a penchant for putting pennies in the Nintendo 64 the metaphor would be air tight.

The point is, my sister is a phenomenal human, and when I had the chance to interview her for her upcoming AU & Co. launch, I jumped at the chance. She was gracious enough to oblige, and here we are. After a flight back down to So Cal from my lofty (and unexplainably expensive) apartment in San Francisco, I, with our little sister in tow (she only came along after I promised to feed her Rubio’s), arrived at Alex’s bungalow home in Costa Mesa.

You’d think being the homosexual in the family I would have snatched  all the creative, and designer-friendly genes from the rest of my siblings. But you’d be wrong. It took me almost two decades just to learn that “No, stripes, and plaid don’t go together. I don’t care what Lindsay Lohan does- she’s wrong, and, frankly, I think it’s weird that’s who you look up to”, read you loud and clear now Mom. Alex ransacked all the good traits, and characteristics in this department before I could get my clammy fingers on them- so I comfortably blame her for my lack of awareness. Her talent for decorating, and adorning is immediately prevalent as you pass the threshold into her, and her husband’s home. A bright blue door with a curtain covered window slides open into a living room with warm wooden beams extending across the ceiling framed by walls covered in family photos, concert posters, and one very real looking ship’s wheel I’m sure they bought, and didn’t steal mounted above my favorite furniture piece- the bar cart, which, I swear to God, smiled when it saw me. I smiled back.

The air in the room was cool, and carrying with it some blues music, and the sound of beer caps popping of bottles. Peter, Alex’s boo, comes out of the kitchen with two Oktoberfest beers in hand. A man after my heart. After the greetings, and salutations we gather around their kitchen table to catch up, and gossip about the boys in San Francisco, and the glorious weather in So Cal. They both are hot, make me sweat, and both are experiencing a dry spell (from my perspective to keep the comparison going).

I’m not sure if I am suppose to announce that the interview officially began or just smoothly transition into the appropriate banter. Instead I just pull out my notepad, and hit the record button on my cell phone, and continue to chat up the woman sitting across from me whom I’ve known my whole life. It’s weird interviewing someone you’ve literally watched grow from a young girl to a young woman to a dynamic, and fully realized human. I wasn’t sure what to ask, but soon enough we found a comfortable pace in the interview, and it felt more like a conversation than I had expected.

We talked business goals, and fashion; we talked David Bowe vs David Beckham (Alex was for Bowie- “You cannot walk away from a heart like his”, and I graciously picked up Beckham- “those abs, though”; we talked Mark Sanchez and dresses (not necessarily as one thought though I enjoy that thought experiment). We talked. And drank. It was a great afternoon in the cozy bungalow.


“How would you describe your style?”, I ask over the top of my beer.

A smile creeps up around the edges of her mouth as her eyes brighten a bit. She chuckles, “Something between a bohemian princess, and a classic j-crew prep look. Somedays I want to be flowy, and others I want to be buttoned up”.

I wasn’t sure how to describe her own style so I am so glad she was able to capture it. It’s as dynamic, and put together as she is. I brought up her dislike for dresses growing up when her style was self-described as a tomboy. Think Hawaiian tees, and overalls (Oh, the 90s). I wondered why she was so resistant to something not covered in denim, and potentially something she stole from my closet, which would have been a sort of justice sense I was routinely playing in the outfits my mom bought for her.

“I used to cry when Mom would make me wear a dress. I would even lie at school when people would ask why I wore it because it was so unlike me, and I’d tell them I had to go to my grandmother’s later so I needed to look nice”, but that changed over time:

“But as I got older it became more fun. I was able to be both people- a badass in a dress”, after all those two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. Re: any season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“As I got older and more confident I realized I could be everything”. Which is no joke. While at school homeslice broke a couple of records while captaining their D2 soccer team, took a set of teeth to her skull during a header (and continue to play with cool scars to show for it now), and completed a degree in Art History.

Of course, she would never flaunt her accomplishments out like this, that’s my job. Alex is that special type of person who gets things done, and quietly moves on to the next item without the need or expectation of glorification. It’s incredibly refreshing to be around.

As I read this shortened list of her deeds I watch as she blushes a bit, and laughs at my ‘exaggerations’. She looks at Peter, and smiles at him as he prepares us something to snack on. Peter, and Alex have been together since High School. I remember the days when he’d come sniffing around the house when they (and I) were just kids.

Years later they would cement their love in a beachside wedding.. Alex and Pete have been Alex and Pete for so long now it made perfect sense for them to forge a business together. Alex, the founder and creative spearhead of AU & Co., and Pete the CEO, and main squeeze. He’s also been promoted to main spider killer- he is very honored.

I take inventory of the next song that just came on their playlist.

“Come by me, come talk to me baby

Tell me how we can combine

Will you be my sunshine forever

Will you be a friend of mine...”

... can be heard in the background.

Both our heads pivot to the speakers, and starting moving to the big band song by Harry Connick Jr. I notice the large golden pineapple painting Alex did years ago on the wall behind her. Our conversations meandered to the summers we spent at our Grandmother’s in New Orleans where we both picked up a love for fried shrimp, jazz music, and, inexplicably, paintings of fruit. The pineapple in southern culture, for those of us who grew up above the Mason-Dixon line, symbolizes friendship and hospitality. A stranger in a new town could trust that a house with a pineapple symbol on the door would be welcome with open arms. They could also expect to be, politely, told to leave when the same sign was taken down. A subtle GTFO. Another important stroke in the painting that is Alex’s style is the southern love for color, and sharp look. If her style straddled geographic locations she would have one foot deep in California, and the other floating in the bayous of Louisiana. If she had a third foot it would probably descend on the rolling hills of Kansas where we went to school- the land of deep fall colors, and sunflowers.

We talk about the south, and the people who made it such a sweet place to visit.  The ends they would go to to make someone welcome in their home:

“That’s what we want to do”, Pete says, joining us at the table while something with a lot of onions cooks at the stove. “We want the people who buy the designs to know they’re buying from a small business, and we want them to know they can reach out too. We’re not some big store where they’re just a number, and we want to hear feedback from them. How they like the clothing? What designs would they like to see next? We want to discover who are clients are just as much as we want them to discover us”.

“Right, I really want these pieces to be something they can always trust to look good on them. If they’re having a shitty day or great day, they know that our designs won’t go to the way side when a trend ends. We got you. I want them to feel that”, Alex says looking to her husband with a smile.

“And you mentioned to me weeks ago when we first were talking about this how you wanted to make the businesses sustainable. Can you share more?”, I asked, mostly because I had forgotten, but also she seemed to put a lot of thought into it, which she did. Cause she’s an adult unlike the man-boy author (as we speak I’m eating chicken tenders from a bag trying to ignore the barbecue sauce that’s smeared on my bedsheet, looking at me, but I digress).

“The fashion world can be incredibly wasteful. So much of the resources that are needed to make clothing are just wasted when a trend goes out of style, and merchandise is taken out of stores, and thrownaway. We wanted to avoid that by, first, making clothes that will live beyond a trend line, and, second, sourcing our materials from deadstock fabric vendor”.

Deadstock fabric is the fabric left over by the mills, and garment factories that otherwise wouldn’t be used by large wholesale manufacturers.

“And you’re sourcing the fabric locally, and using local manufactures”, I add.

“Yup. I love that we can help support local businesses in the area. By relying on them for our fabric, our manufacturing, and in the process developing really great relationships with these people.”

Locally sourced, and American made (which feels like someone’s trademark- please, don’t sue me).

“And you’ve been able to navigate these waters through, well, a lot of hard work, and research, and also friends in similar markets, right?”

She laughs a little, I think it was a lot of hard work. “Totally, I have a lot of girlfriends who are small business owners who’ve shared with me some of their hard won wisdom- while also gaining my own in the process, and I want to highlight these businesses on AU & Co.’s blog”.

I marvel a bit at her. I am proud, that’s for sure. I don’t need to get into the risk of opening a small business, of the grit it takes, and the stressors of all the unknowns. We can all imagine it, and I’m sure no one is interested in reading about it. But having all this in mind, I am impressed at Alex’s grit, her resilience, and her strength. She gets all this, and a good fashion sense- dude, life is so unfair sometimes.

I finish the last of the beer, and continue to talk, but the subject veers away from business, and back to family.

“Which sibling is your favorite?”, I turn to our youngest sister, “Sophie, can you leave the room?”.

“I plead the fifth!”, Alex shouts or maybe it was “the fifth”, which would be ridiculous because William is the fifth sibling and empirically just awful. The worst. (William if you’re reading this, you read that wrong- no need to go back and read it again. Move along).

The light in the room begins to turn that golden end of day color. The cuteness of the bungalow is highlighted by the setting sun, which is my que to be on my merry way before she needed to take down the pineapple painting.

I gather my things, and give Alex & Pete a kiss goodbye. I say something about making this a quick turnaround piece, which of course I didn't, but they're forgiving.

I leave my sister’s place trying to figure out how'll I'll introduce her. How I'll explain her awesomeness to the reader. I'm not sure I ever could, but something about the warm summer night makes me feel like she'll do a fine job of it herself. So, readers, this is my sister. An amazing human whom I'm lucky to know, and here is apart of the world she has carved out where her creativity and loveliness lives. I hope you enjoy meeting her through her work, and always feel welcome introducing yourself to her.

Stay good,

Sebastian