All Together Now- Digging New York's DIY Scene
New York may have a reputation as a place where even pre-schoolers are overscheduled and pressed for time. A good part of this is deserved, but New York's also currently fostering a creative renaissance of sorts. Here, you will discover artists who find treasures in trash, chocolate makers who weigh the environmental cost of every bean, and organic, accidental fashion designers. What these entrepreneurs have in common is a holistic approach to success, a hands-on attention to detail and a belief in cooperation over competition. RUSSH celebrates five local businesses who are helping to make New York feel less like a city and more of a community.
Eviana Hartman never planned on being a full-time fashion designer. In the summer of 2008, Hartman, who had been on staff at Vogue, Teen Vogue and Nylon, was working as a full-time freelance writer and sharing studio space with Samantha Pleet when they decided to start Bodkin as a side-project. "We made some bags out of old leather jackets and I came up with the word Bodkin and thought it was funny, a little silly, and that it sounded like Brooklyn," Hartman recalls. At Pleet's insistence, they made a few articles of clothing, which—at Hartman's insistence—were made from organic, sustainable materials, and were soon getting press before they had anything to actually sell. With Pleet handling her own eponymous line, Hartman soon took over Bodkin and before she knew it, the line had won the inaugural Ecco Domani Sustainable Design Award. "Had that not happened, I probably would have gone back to magazine editing and maybe done a bit of clothes-making on the side," Hartman says. "But it brought so much attention that I just had to go for it. It just proved that people are really eager to find sustainable clothes with strong design behind them."
Bodkin now has a full-time employee, Claire Lampert, and Hartman credits the creative community in Brooklyn as a major source of inspiration. "If it weren't for Brooklyn, I wouldn't be able to handle living in New York! Brooklyn has a strong feeling of community and collaboration and experimentation. So many people here start projects and see them through and are happy to support others who do the same," she says. She frequently commiserates over coffee with people like Yara Flinn of Nomia and Shabd Simon-Alexander, shares a studio with photographer Jacqueline DiMilia, and called on vegetable-dye artist Audrey Reynolds to make prints for her past collection. "I'm also inspired by all of the sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs in the Brooklyn food world. There are organic chocolate makers, kombucha brewers, ricotta specialists..." she says. "It all makes me so happy, and motivated to contribute. People here care about their world, but have excellent taste." bodkin.us
Mast Brothers Chocolate
At Mast Brothers Chocolate in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, exposed brick walls and rough-hewn beams evoke the atmosphere of an old apothecary, a place to procure aromatic tinctures and magical powders. Mast Brothers is instead a chocolate emporium, one where the finished chocolate bars are displayed, like pearls, in glass cases. Hand-wrapped in gold foil and beautiful floral-patterned paper, the chocolate does provide a sort of panacea, if one that lasts only as long as it takes to buy, unwrap and eat.
At a given time, Mast Brothers will likely only have four or five kinds of chocolate available—artisanal varieties such as Single Origin Madagascar, Dark Chocolate with Fleur de Sel, and Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs—and this is the kind of highly specialized pursuit that not only finds a home in Brooklyn, but also thrives there. "Brooklyn has a long tradition of craft food," says Rick Mast. "Combine this tradition with a kind of d.i.y. punk mentality and you have roof top farms, illegal bee keeping, basement moonshine, blacksmiths, and a chocolate factory. There is a pride in time and place around here. We celebrate what our community is doing and support them."
Rick was a classically trained musician who also worked at various New York restaurants, and Michael was in finance then they began making chocolate in their apartment, re-purposing juicers and grinders from their kitchens, and roasting the cacao beans in their oven or in a small coffee roaster. They sold the finished product at weekend markets and traded chocolate for beer at local pubs. "We have a strong curiosity for how various foods are made," Rick explains about what drew their interest. "Chocolate is perhaps the most popular food on earth, and yet most people have never seen cacao."
Rick admits that while Mast Brothers is often associated with Brooklyn's local food movement, "local" is a tricky word to apply to chocolate. "We are one of the few that make the chocolate locally, sure, but we obviously can't grow the cacao locally," he says. "The transportation of cacao to Brooklyn is costly, both environmentally and economically." Starting this year, the Mast brothers will begin sailing their cacao beans from Central and South America to New York. "I know it sounds crazy," he says, "But we are already well on our way to making this dream come true." mastbrotherschocolate.com
At the end of the G train, Brooklyn's crosstown subway line, Red Hook feels less like a neighborhood and more like a small town upstate. It looks out onto the East River and often the view of the Statue of Liberty is the only thing that reminds visitors that they are still in New York. This peculiar atmosphere has fostered everything from destination restaurants to flower shops, and is home to Kidd Yellin, a combination work, living and gallery space started by photographer Charlotte Kidd and her boyfriend, artist Dustin Yellin. In addition to both of their studios, their apartment, and rooms inhabited by various relatives and friends, the warehouse also houses a spacious exhibition gallery and a vintage airstream trailer. Its allure is both magic and magnetic, and it is a constant gathering spot. "Every day is different. Some days there is just five of us. Some days 22 people will come through," Yellin says. "It's like tides."
"Dustin and I had a lot of conversations about the disparate community in New York, how everyone can really only afford to live spread out or in tiny apartments," Kidd adds. "We wanted to revive the New York spirit of turning up in one spot and finding those like-minded."
The gallery has hosted solo shows for Gavin Anderson and Gibby Haynes, as well as the recent Kings Country Biennial, a group show that featured more than 40 different artists. "The space was envisioned as a intradiscplinary creative think tank for artists, scientists, and thinkers to work in tandem," Kidd says. "Eventually, we want to start conducting classes and seminars there. And down the line, we hope to link this place to some organic farms upstate, to bridge city and country and see what can be gained from those different styles of living."
The space is deeply communal, but less hippy commune and more high-art collective, an atmosphere that would be hard to find anyplace else. "The amalgamation of people clumping together in Brooklyn is bananas. It makes a fertile soil for all kinds of things to happen, whether it's works of art or exhibitions or strange experimental noise machines with wings," Yellin says. He, in particular, also likes the trash. "The garbage is great. You never know what you will find!" he says. "One day a weird wooden bird cage, delicate and still in one piece. Another day book cases and bones. I once found a bottle of bullets. The shit people throw out is mind blowing. You can decorate your whole house with trash and it looks good. It sounds cliche, but try doing that in a small village where all you find in the garbage is orange peels and stale bread." kiddyellin.com
"We grew up here," says Katherine Krause of herself and Dossier Journal co-founder Skye Parrott. "And it used to be that Manhattan was where it was at, and Manhattan will always be this huge, crazy cultural wonderland, but right now it feels like it's shifted. A lot of the interesting, creative stuff is happening on this side of the river."
Krause, a writer, and Parrott, a photographer, have been best friends since they were teens, and started Dossier as a way to gather in one place all of the interlinked things that interested them. "We wanted to make a magazine that encompassed all of the things we were interested in—fashion, creative writing, photography, art, food—and we wanted to be able to interview people about their careers without being tied to the press circuit of asking 'What are you working on right now?'" Parrott says. "We have published short stories that were one page, and in our next issue we are publishing a novella in its entirety. We've put in recipes, crossword puzzles, paper dolls, horoscopes, haikus, essays, non-fiction, fiction, fashion, art, design portfolios…We wanted to make a magazine that had elements of all the different magazines you like, just rolled into one."
In the process, they've rolled in impressive collaborators: Jonathan Ames wrote a MadLib, Mario Batali a haiku, Richard Kern interviewed his friend Kim Gordan, and Zac Posen styled a fashion editorial in homage to Yves Saint Laurent. "The whole magazine is collaborative," Krause says. "We don't impose themes or subjects on our contributors, so they often bring us their ideas, or we suggest someone we find interesting and they come back with how they'd like to do it."
Krause and Parrott also open the Dossier Shop on the first floor of Parrott's Fort Greene apartment building, and are now in the process of turning it into an online store. They've also launched a video reading series, The Dossier Readings, and are producing short films that highlight clothes from independent fashion designers. "The things that people do for the love of it are inspiring, the art or clothing or music they create. Especially if people are working two jobs and they come home and create a little something beautiful to put out into the world," Parrott says. "Having the magazine and the website, we get a chance to pat them on the back a little." dossierjournal.com
Though it is located in Nolita, the vibe at The Smile is about as Brooklyn as it can get. A restaurant and retail space run by Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte, The Smile is a rare spot in New York, one where lingering and wasting time are actually encouraged. It was also, for a while, the first Manhattan outpost for Brooklyn tattoo artist Scott Campbell. "Unfortunately, we had to shutter the tattoo shop because the health department wasn't terribly keen on the idea," Kliegman says. "Shocking."
Kliegman and Quirarte both have varied backgrounds that included event promotion, but neither previously had any experience running a restaurant, but partnered with chef and caterer Melia Marden and went for it. "Carlos and I were looking to open a place with a mix of uses, and we knew that restaurant and retail store would be a part of it," Kliegman says. "We debated nightlife, but the nixed that idea when we found this space, on Bond Street, because of the great residential character of the block. Obviously, there was some trepidation because none of us had ever operated a restaurant, but I think New Yorkers are very kind when they are provided high-quality, authentic products. There is a lot of soul in The Smile, and I hope it shows."
The Smile is down a few stairs at garden level, and the space is exceedingly cozy, its shelves stocked with a well-curated assortment of accessories, beauty products and odds and ends from the likes of Moscot, C.O. Bigelow and Santa Maria Novella. Admittedly, New York restaurants open and shutter in the blink of an eye, but The Smile seems destined to escape such a fate. "New York needed more places focused on one idea that is quite simple—comfortability," Kliegman says. "Part of being comfortable—and what Carlos and I are constantly considering—is being affordable, being able to hear one's self and one's dining companions speak, and feeling at home." thesmilenyc.com