Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good Little Packages

I'm house-bound today after a trip to urgent care this morning and an x-ray. The only good thing about staying home is at least I can get some work done and catch up on projects....

Yesterday I dropped off a bunch of merchandise to Darren at Paris to the Moon in Costa Mesa. He was in Romantic Homes' March issue, and we are in April, so we hatched a plan to do a collaboration. I've posted on his shop before: it's a mix of the cutest little things and a few over-the-top big things, with a heavy dose of fantasy and nature and whimsy. He now has a huge Marie Antoinette in the front of the store, along with Marie Antoinette Action Figures. I'll go back tomorrow to see what he's done with all the baskets in his window; he was pulling out a huge stage set on painted canvas to use as a background for the window; he's an uber-stylist and consistently comes up with the most fantastic, fun, visuals.

He loved the baskets as soon as he saw them, but quickly added that his customers want some gold and glitter on them. We went heavy on the pink totes, with a few St. Tropez and Dijon and Antibes baskets thrown in. I did a few more this morning at home and so this is what I will show him tomorrow:

I especially like the gold and the green; the trims are a little burnished, so not as bright as in this shot:

This is closer to the true look, below; the trims are Dutch and are all vintage metallic threads; I got them to use for the liners for the rolling carts:I tried a tuxedo-stripe look on the orange:

And while I was there dropping off, I picked out a cute little gift for my friend Michelle, who has just had major surgery and needs a little cheer; look what Darren does:
A sweet little domed paper box, with your choice of pretty decoupage hang tags:

The box opens to reveal a glassine bag holding "the gift":
On a bed of pretty green paper shred:
And then you open the envelope to find your gift, a girl Bear as part of a set of circus animals: It will be perfect for Michelle, along with some's totally "her!"
I am going to give Darren some pink and blue net bags too for his display. I'll have shots of his window full of baskets and his shop tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cote de Texas/Skirted Roundtable

I was thrilled once again to see my lovely rolling cart full of flowers on the Cote de Texas Blog. Joni and her team at the Skirted Roundtable did a feature on giveaways and, I think, dished up some great advice for readers and bloggers about how to run a successful giveaway. The post and audio can be found here:

Here is the cart again; the cart belongs to and was arranged by the lovely Jennifer McColm, who is an ardent Green Advocate and runs many Farmers Markets in the LA area; Jennifer invited me to her exclusive Pacific Palisades market to bookend Elle Magazine last spring, along with her own booth; we've been there ever since; here is the link to Jennifer's site:

and here is her cart again:

The roses came from the Palisades market; there is a man in the area with 5 acres of roses, mostly old roses; he sells pre-arranged bunches, and they are all to die for!!!
Here is the bunch I bought last spring:
The same day of the Elle shoot, we had a demo by Pali High students against plastic bags; here is the Plastic Bag Monster; they went through the market to raise awareness against plastic bags; he was pretty shy about having me take his photo!!

So that's some of the background to the photos.
I have been a follower of Joni's blog for about a year, though I never dared to leave a comment, until Mr. Slipper Socks went out on New Year's Eve. If you follow her blog, you'll understand the humor! I had done one blog giveaway before, with modest results, and wasn't really looking for another. But I LOVE Joni's blog, and I spontaneously offered up that maybe she'd like to do a giveaway of a basket, then I said, no, let's go big, let's give away a rolling cart. It was a way for me to thank her for all her posts I have loved, and I for one know, EVERYONE wants a real French rolling cart, though the price is usually prohibitive.
As I mentioned, Joni is my Oprah of the Blogosphere, and the rolling cart was a perfect fit with the style and authenticity of her blog. It wasn't a matter of "doing a giveaway," for me; it is always good to reach out to a new circle, but it had to be a circle of readers that I knew would be receptive to my quality French products. Joni is all about quality & style, and I am so honored to do the giveaway through her blog. Though I sell in 19 states now nationwide, not everyone gets to those retailers. I sell direct through my website, but of course we are always promoting our business and want to drive new eyes to our sites!
I knew she would do the post sometime soon, so I started to watch more frequently, several times a day. I was floored when I saw her post: as a testament to her thorough nature, Joni posted the most amazing collection of photos and lead-ins to set the stage for the giveaway; she posted not one photo of the cart, but several. Not one photo of a basket, but many. She combed my blog over the past year for the best photos; Joni's rank in the upper echelons of the design blogosphere is well deserved: she blew me away with the detail, research and authenticity of her post. Where did she find that shot of the guy with his dog and cart with matching hankie and scarf??!!

The power of the Blogosphere is amazing! I was thrilled with the response to the giveaway, though frankly, I was sure she would hit 1,000+ based on her weekly stats on eyeballs. I gained a lot of new direct retail orders, as well as a good number of retailers; I don't double up on retailers in any one area, and it was great to fill in on some areas I have wanted to be; my favorite retailer from the giveaway is Olivine in Houston; Helen is now carrying some of our line and she will have the rolling carts in stock soon with lovely liners.
Here is a shot from Palisades, my usual wall of baskets; this is what we will look like this summer!

Many thanks to Joni for hosting the giveaway; I hope we will do it again sometime soon; stay tuned to!!!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Farmers' Market Valentine

Friday I was going out to lunch with the girls. After a two-minute run through Trader Joe's, I left with my basket looking like this, and off I went to lunch; rose champagne x2, tulips, Belgian chocies; doesn't the basket dress up the whole package?~~

It was great to have Valentine's Day on Sunday this year; we had good traffic at both markets despite the holiday weekend; I had a handful of last-minute shoppers want my prepared baskets; lots of pretty little pink baskets sold this weekend with these puffy hearts:

and of course there were tons of pretty flowers; not as many roses as I thought, but lots of pink; look at these gerbera daisies from Hector at CdM:

Pink flowers look great, of course, in a pink basket and with your chocolate lab on the other arm:

My neighbor lately at Pacific Palisades has been Ann of Ann's Candyworks; I was thinking today about why I am such a proponent of the markets and the vendors there. I think it's because this is the ultimate small business: the farmer, the florist, the baker, the fish monger, the egg farmer & jam maker, the soap and candle maker. I hear the in's and out's of their days and their lives. It's not always easy, but they are committed to providing a top quality organic product. It's the ultimate small business.
Ann works so hard to not only bake all of this, but to make it look simply pretty; cute little packaging. Lots of Belgian chocolate brownies, toffee, various breads and fudge; she has a great following; Jennifer Garner is one of her regulars. Ann's Candyworks: Venice CA 310 463 2106. Ann is one of the nicest ladies you'll meet; is she southern? I will have to ask. All I can say is YUM!

and of course it's all shown in baskets:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tweets & Clucks

I have been working with my PR agency to launch a new set of social media for French Basketeer. We've just gone live with a new Facebook page and new Twitter. Warning: they are up, they are not pretty or fully used yet. It's not so much the setup that counts to me, it's finding the best way to use these media. I mean, let's face it, you don't care if I just had a coffee and croissant for breakfast, unless I'm in Paris and have something interesting to say about what I'm seeing, right?

I am also working to integrate all of this new and somewhat time-consuming activity into my life; I have 4 email addresses, 2 Facebooks, 1 Twitter, a blog and a website to keep up on, though Blackberry sure helps. I'm also in the process of writing a book & new blog, and a set of lesson plans. Today, though, I got a tweet that First Lady of California Maria Shriver is following me on Twitter. What am I complaining about, being busy? Maria has 462,096 people following her and 197,236 people she's following! Someone said recently that Twitter is like dipping your cup from time to time into a rapidly running stream; you get a sense of the pulse. That's probably closer to the original idea, of Twitter as an infomation-sharing medium. But true to the networking side of Twitter, I followed Maria's Twitter to her Facebook page and wrote on her wall; I had talked to her peeps awhile back about an event for microfinance. She has lots of great info up on The Women's Conference; I've wanted to go for a few years. We'll see if anything comes of my post!
So, stay tuned for more information; if you are on Facebook, I invite you to become a fan of French Basketeer. If you are on Twitter, please do follow us there!

So, with a blog post on Facebook and Twitter and the like, you'd expect photos of Birds and Tweets, right? No, I'm going to take you on a tour of the Clucks today~~ the sign in Louhan; note the tire holder, so improv French:

One of the most famous marches in all of France is in the town of Louhan, in Burgundy. This market is unlike any other in France. It's known as a "Fowl Market" because it is in the area of Bresse, without a doubt the best known chickens in the world. A Bresse chicken is rich and a little gamey, but still tender; the connaisseur's chicken. There are about 250 farmers in the area, who supply over 1 million chickens each year. The classic Bresse chicken has blue feet, a white body, and a red crown; since it is the colors of the French tricolore it is even more prized! You'll see it in the best butcher shops, always with its blue feet and sometimes just a tuft of white plume, to prove it's genuine; this is the only chicken that has it's own AOC or appellation d'origine controllee. The only place I've ever seen Bresse chickens in the US was as the Jefferson market down near Balducci's, on 6th Avenue. I think, incredibly, they are both gone now. Anyway, it's rare to find them in the states.

All the fowl found in the area are raised in a very non-industrial, organic, free-range way. The market is every Monday morning; there is no start time published, you only see a la bonne heure, which means "early." Now I know why they say that, because it must take hours for the vendors to get in and get set up! The center of town is mostly half-timbered buildings and very pretty; the rail station is close to the market, though we drove from Beaune:
There are a few towers with the characteristic Burgundy glazed tiles in the geometric pattern:
The market is divided into several areas, and basically every square inch of the center of town is turned over to the market. There is a section devoted to live fowl & small animals, another area with the normal market fresh foods, and another area for housewares (kitchen utensils, clothes, baskets etc). It's wall to wall shoppers in the food & housewares, and people are not there just to look, everyone is buying a lot of merchandise. There is a lot of commerce going on here...

There are several long rows of every kind of fowl imaginable: The roosters:
All types of fowl; I don't even know the names;
Lots of fluffy little things, little babies? Not for eating though:
the classic Bresse Chicken:
Something tufted and special; Martha Stewart would know! It was ALL here!!
including adorable pygmy pigs for pets:

I think this is a French Turkey?:
Ducks & geese...

If it moves, you can find it at this market; a pet ferret on a French Blue leash:
Rabbits; I hope for many cute rabbits....
Even a Jack Russell terrier puppy bred in England; I really wanted to take this little guy home; he was totally calm and handsome; this was part of the reason I got Honey, I love the calm disposition of the European dogs:

If you are interested, the vendor will show you a bird:

Most of these are said to be for breeding; you can buy a prepared chicken for dinner elsewhere. The shoppers come to the market with various gear to take their animals home; in a basket:

or a box with airholes:

Or in a wagon:
I left the market thinking it would be difficult to eat any fowl or any animals soon; I ended up getting some eggs; perfect perfect eggs in shades of beige and brown; note they are displayed in baskets:

And we went home and I made a quiche Lorraine for dinner, Julia's recipe, with those eggs...a little brown in the photo here but devoured quickly...

and washed down with a glass of Domaine Gros rose that R chilled for us in advance:

And all was right with the world.....

Monday, February 8, 2010

African Motifs

One of my consistently best-selling totes is the style I call Marseille. This tote features a traditional African pattern made of woven raffia. A lot of people carry this bag on a daily basis; it holds up well and is a very sturdy tote; I guarantee all my merchandise, btw:

I named this style Marseille because the City and the Pattern are both very complex, textural, and time-worn. The port city of Marseille is the oldest city in France, and since Greek times it has been an important crossroads of trade and import. In part because of its close proximity to the African continent, there is a strong African undercurrent in the city; it reminds me of New York in some ways: so many people of so many nationalities, all living on top of each other while preserving their own language and culture. The ferries come and go every day to the North African Coast; there is a pulse to Marseille like no other city in France; R and I were fascinated by the ochre facades and boats of the Vieux Port; we have it on our list to go back:

In Madagascar, they have names for some of the patterns. What I call Houndstooth, and some shoppers call "plaid," the Malgagasy call Chickens Foot. But this pattern is quite simply known as "traditional African design." It is a pattern that is frequently seen in African weavings.

One of the best-known sources for antique African wovens is the Kuba Kingdom, which was located in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It survived from about 1625 to 1900, when it became part of the Belgian colony. The production of the weavings involved the entire clan, and the elborate costumes which resulted were used at ceremonial events; the weavings were used a lot for voluminous skirts and trains, sometimes up to 25ft long. The Kubas were experts at the various techniques of dyeing, applique, patchwork and embroidery. They loved to embellish everything, usually with shells, beads and seeds; they created fabulous textiles, cups, hats, boxes....the most impressive pieces are their large helmet-style masks:

Now, I personally wouldn't ever have one in my house, but they are fascinating pieces of art! My friend Liza works with Congo; there has been no mail service in years and it is in the top 10 of Least Developed Nations of the U.N.; the per capital income is under $1,000 per year. There have been so many problems: civil wars, economic collapse, hyper-inflation. It's interesting too that French is also an official language.

The Kubas were especially well-known for their textiles woven out of raffia; in many cases they tufted the raffia to add additional texture to the fabric; see two examples here; the raffia for the tufting is cut close but not knotted; the variation in style is prized:

Patchwork pieces are still being made in Congo; similar pieces were inspiring to Matisse and the avant-garde movement; the diamond pattern is shown even on the patchwork:

While I find the patchwork interesting, I love the diamond patterns, a motif that is repeated constantly:

some of these images are courtesy of Africa Direct.

When I went to the NY Gift a year ago, I picked up this piece at the flea. I went to ABC Home later that day and saw similar pieces for multiples of the price I paid, though I didn't see any as nice as this one, which is slightly tufted; at some point I'll frame it or use it for a pillow:

There are some variations in my piece, which make it interesting; in the U.S. we tend to like a uniform pattern; but for these pieces, variation is the desired look and the expression of the artist:
Ballard also has this same motif on their site, in a series of jute rugs; they call it Coventry; I have no idea why they called it that! It's the classic motif whatever you call it...
The woven raffia used to make my baskets is all hand made of organic materials-- variations are to be expected in handmade items like these. Some of the weaves are more loose; if you are a reatailer or order off my website, I ship only the tightest weaves that match the photo on my website. The looser weaves, shown below, are at the markets; still very attractive and much loved:

My next shipment from Madagascar will include yardage of this fabric. Mirrors? Bulletin boards? Picture frames?

I'll have some other new lovelies for you using this classic fabric.