AS NEW YORK once again shut down this past month, I found myself reflecting on the very early days of the pandemic. During that time, I found that the posts popping up in my Instagram feed that offered merch for and by small businesses were among the more hopeful types. They were featuring the kinds of local spots that were picked off, one after another, in that first lockdown; and the items for sale, often created by artists and designers, offered a way to support these stores directly.
The ensuing two years have not seen a tapering off in this particular space. If anything, these posts have accelerated. Other writers have dissected the phenomenon in much greater detail than I ever could. (In a cover article for New York magazine, Stella Bugbee went so far as to coin a name, “Zizmorcore.” She drew a line connecting the trend to the ads for dermatologist Dr. Zizmor, ubiquitous on the NYC subway for over 20 years.) Still, I have a running list of my favorites. For New Yorkers, they provide an opportunity to support beloved small businesses that are still struggling; for those who are missing New York or loving the city from afar, they offer a chance to travel remotely — consider them souvenirs without the travel.
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Founded in March 2021, Neighborhood Spot has a wide selection of products that support businesses around the city, from restaurants to bars to the Lower East Side favorite Economy Candy. I recommend the whole lot of them, but perhaps not surprisingly for a magazine editor, my top pick here is for the merch that supports the independent newsstand Casa Magazines. I have known the owner, Mohammed Ahmed, since I started my first magazine in 2007. His West Village store is a tiny gem packed to the brim with every publication imaginable. His ability to source them all never ceases to impress me. The shirts designed for his shop feature the fonts of all the NYC papers. If you need another endorsement, my teenager thinks they’re covetable — enough said.
Along with being one of the first restaurants in Williamsburg, Diner is also one of the best. I know I am wading into serious territory with a statement like this, but I’m just going to say it: I think their burger is the best in the city. Whether you agree with me or not, check out their merch: T-shirts, hoodies, and my favorite, Marlow Goods bum bags. I use one year-round, and along with it being so chic that I am constantly asked where it’s from, its proceeds benefit Pure Legacee, a nonprofit that supports young women who have experienced trauma.
My last pick is the Paris Review sweatshirt, which I requested for Christmas. I love the graphic and since all I wear these days (again) is variations on pajamas, it will be heavy in the rotation.
I know I am wading into serious territory with a statement like this, but I’m just going to say it: I think Diner’s burger is the best in the city.
In a rare and exciting foray into the world beyond my house, I recently ate at As You Are, the restaurant at the new Ace Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn. The interiors, designed by Roman and Williams, are expectedly beautiful. The food was both delicious and surprising in its flavor combos. I particularly enjoyed the Moondance Oysters with husk cherry mignonette and the Poussin Peri Peri with yucca tostones, but I could have picked a totally different meal that sounded equally delicious (next time I will).
I spent two years pre-pandemic living in a beautiful little beach town in Mexico where the air was humid and warm year-round, and my skin glowed accordingly. Alas, I have returned to the Northeast, where that is not what winter brings. So I spend the winter slathering myself in Everyday Oil. Their Mainstay blend features four organic oils, scented with palo santo, lavender, geranium, and clary sage. It’s effective and it smells divine.
Lastly, as a reminder of the transportive nature of art, I am keeping a list of museum shows I want to see. Tauba Auerbach at SFMOMA is the first major survey of the New York–based artist’s work, and is on view through May 1. Dior at Brooklyn Museum is running through February 20 and features over 200 items from the archives of the brand, from couture gowns to photography. And finally, six museums in Paris will be running concurrent exhibitions to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Yves Saint Laurent’s first runway show. The event, called Yves Saint Laurent aux Musées, will run from January 29–September 18. For anyone who was looking for an excuse to book a trip to Paris this spring: You’re welcome.
— Skye Parrott
AS SOMEONE WHO is fairly well traveled and naturally drawn to beautiful and unreasonably expensive things, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what the word “luxury” actually meant. After being invited to visit Manhattan’s Amaffi Perfume House for a personalized scent experience and private dinner, I realized that I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise. Amaffi is one of the most (if not the most) expensive fragrance houses in the world, and the Swiss company takes the notion of opulence to dizzying heights. Part of the company’s philosophy states: “We are exclusive. We are not for everyone. The embodiment of class, elegance and culture.” And this makes a lot of sense after seeing their flagship store — a plush enclave in which every surface is a combination of black marble, gold accents, and reflective crystal.
Upon entering the Amaffi location on East 57th Street (the other current locations are in London and Moscow), I was given a glass of champagne and assigned my own personal scent specialist, who provided me with a guided tour of the store, walking me through a variety of fragrances and carefully explaining what makes each of them so special. Derived from only natural ingredients, devoid of synthetic molecules, and eschewing water, the perfumes consist of purely derived fragrance, which is part of what makes them so rare and so expensive. Add to that the fact that many of the fragrances are housed in handcrafted glass vessels adorned with Swarovski crystals, which are themselves enshrined in elaborately lined boxes. As heady and dramatic as their price tags, these fragrances start in the low thousands. One bottle of Amaffi’s top-tier fragrances, like Power or Glory, will run you nearly $8,000. (And no, there are no smaller trial sizes on offer — it’s all or nothing with Amaffi.) If you are curious (as I was) about just what a bottle of perfume costing nearly $8,000 smells like … well, it smells incredible and appropriately rich. As I was given an explanation of each fragrance and the extremely rare ingredients involved in its creation, I began to understand the allure. (I’d also had three or four glasses of champagne by that point.)
After our deep dive into Amaffi’s repertoire, a group of us journalists were shuttled over to a private dinner at Daniel, one of Manhattan’s most famously beautiful restaurants. Before being treated to a multicourse meal (while serenaded by a string quartet), we were schooled on Amaffi’s history — from the coterie of perfumers who create their fragrances to the story of the company’s creative visionary, Madame Amaffi, who guides the conception of all the fragrances (some of which take years to develop). Her mysterious identity (she is never photographed, though I am assured that she is, indeed, a real person) lends the whole affair an air of romantic intrigue. The over-the-top spirit is further enhanced by the fact that Madame Amaffi purports to be a distant relative of another famous woman named Amaffi, rumored to have created bespoke fragrances for Napoleon himself, until he tried to have her killed. Whatever you think of the backstory or the price point, the fragrances themselves are undeniably divine and truly unique, which makes a visit to the Amaffi boutique a must for any serious scent aficionado.
Less decadent, but no less beautiful, I recently made my yearly pilgrimage to the MoMA Design Store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, something I do every year in a run-up to the holidays to pick up a few gifts. As is also my tradition, I left with a couple of things for myself.
While it’s fair to say that the last thing on planet Earth I actually need is more clothing, there is something irresistibly righteous about having a Yoko Ono “Peace Is Power” sweatshirt. I’m not sure whether it was because we just survived another politically tumultuous year or because of experiencing the Beatles documentary (in which Yoko is a star player!), but Ono’s message of peace — not to mention her unwavering commitment to being authentically herself — makes wearing this feel good. Yoko forever.
My lifelong commitment to almost-constant mood lighting, as well as reading at night in near darkness, has finally caught up with me at the age of 46. Because I am allergic to overhead lighting and can’t commit to a single type of fixture, the Panthella Mini Portable Table Lamp is a godsend. Produced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Verner Panton’s original 1971 Panthella Floor Lamp design, this portable lamp is rechargeable (via a USB-C cord) and includes both a dimmer (so you can still optimize the mood) and a timer (so it will turn itself off after you’ve fallen asleep with a book across your face). It’s a perfect bedside lamp that will do double duty when you need a reading light (while in the bath) or need something to illuminate your crossword puzzle (while on the couch).
— T. Cole Rachel
I looked at a lot of lovely napkins before landing on MADRE Linen’s page and audibly gasping.
NICE NAPKINS ARE one of those things I’ve always thought of as off-limits. I don’t know why. I guess they fall into that category of grown-up house accoutrements that I’ve not felt ready for or felt that I somehow don’t deserve. But as the pandemic yawned on, and my culinary endeavors grew ever more ambitious, it seemed a bit odd to rip off half a sheet of paper towel for each of my family members when lighting candles and serving dinner dishes like shio koji–marinated chicken with okonomiyaki. So I took to the internet and looked at a lot of lovely napkins before landing on MADRE Linen’s page and audibly gasping. These were the ones.
MADRE is a Portland-based company started by two women, Shay Carrillo and Jeanie Kirk, who are dedicated to feminist principles and to embodying their aspirations for a feminine economy. Their motto is “We all eat. We all rest.” The pair sought to create linen kitchen textiles and bedding that were entirely made in the U.S., but they soon discovered that there is almost no large-scale domestic linen production, in part because it’s labor-intensive and expensive. In an effort to reinvigorate the industry, they are now working to create opportunities for equitable, sustainable linen production here in the U.S. As the MADRE site states, linen, which comes from the flax plant, is “ancient, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, hypoallergenic, more absorbent than cotton, and naturally stain-resistant.” They go on to add that it’s moth repellent and doesn’t pile, grows successfully with little water, and doesn’t require much, if any, fertilizer or pesticides. So it’s better for the planet too.
In retrospect, it’s funny that I gasped when landing on MADRE’s site, because the images there do not do justice to the look and feel of the napkins in real life. The linen is thick and substantial and the colors are complex and gorgeous — I chose Crimini and Oyster. And I couldn’t resist the black-and-white gingham with red piping, which I would certainly wear as a dress. My order arrived with a lovely handwritten note. And poof! Just like that, I became a cloth-napkin lady. My table looks better, and I think maybe my food tastes better? The napkins already feel like heirlooms. I even iron them — proudly.
This past fall I had the pleasure of getting out of my kitchen and attending a launch where napkins were instead handed to me. It was for Black Sheep Foods, a Bay Area–based alternative protein start-up that has created a plant-based lamb, which is mind-blowingly close to the real thing. The launch took place at San Francisco’s cherished Greek chain Souvla, where I was lucky to taste everything during an intimate back-patio soiree at Souvla’s NoPa location. While toasting the partnership, Souvla founder and CEO Charles Bililies pointed out that his restaurant’s menu has changed little since he opened the eatery’s first location in 2014. But for him, Black Sheep’s sustainable plant-based lamb was too good to pass up. It is now available at Souvla in a green salad or on a gyro sandwich with harissa-spiked yogurt, cucumber, radish, pickled red onion, and feta cheese. Wash it down with Souvla’s own beer, wine, or bubbles. If you are outside the Bay Area and are looking for Black Sheep Foods’ plant-based lamb, you can order Souvla’s sandwich kit from Goldbelly — they deliver nationally.
— Nina Renata Aron
Bred on the humble stews and bibimbap of everyday Korean cuisine, the food at Onjium was a whole other world.
THIS WINTER BROUGHT me to the opening of Onjium, a Michelin-starred Korean restaurant newly brought to New York. Housed within a multilevel space called Genesis House, the first floor is a car showroom for luxe Genesis models — a cross between a floor at the MoMA and Tony Stark’s garage. The second floor is the restaurant. Helmed by chefs Cho Eun-Hee and Park Sungbae, Onjium’s dishes are a take on Korean Imperial cuisine, with recipes dating back to the 1300s.
Slick glass walls juxtapose a ceiling of intricate wooden slats that hang down like floating lattice work. There’s a library area with books curated by Assouline and Arumjigi, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Korean culture. Within the shelves is a no-shoes (slippers provided) teahouse on a lofted floor full of low cushions. Bred on the humble stews and bibimbap of everyday Korean cuisine, the food at Onjium was a whole other world — “imperial” being the truest descriptor. One dish that stuck in my mind was the suranchae — slices of cold sweet-savory abalone, scallops, snow crab, sea cucumber, and octopus, served atop a glossy poached egg and curls of snappy Korean pear with a heavy pour of creamy pine-nut sauce. Topped with petals and pomegranate seeds, the dish was delicately decadent, reimagined from a recipe once served to an ancient noble-class family.
Looking into my own home, I recently acquired the Apotheke Charcoal Concrete 4 Wick Candle, a hand-poured soy wax blend with 250 hours of burn time. Warm, spicy, and full-bodied, it envelops my entire apartment in coziness on the coldest of days. The scent is powerful yet never overpowering, lingering in the softest of ways hours after being blown out. When I have guests over it creates a soothing atmosphere, festive and woodsy enough for the holidays but more ephemeral than a Christmas candle. I like to light it as I tidy up around the apartment, cook dinner, or settle down for a movie in the evenings after work. Even when I’m alone, it makes my home feel full.
— Sophie Mancini
Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
Sophie Mancini Writer
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the deputy editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a senior editor of Departures based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Jess Rotter Illustrator
Jess Rotter is a Los Angeles–based illustrator and artist. Rotter’s work has frequently featured in the Washington Post. Her clients range from Natalie Portman to Questlove.