First quality

January 8, 2011

You may remember a post I wrote a long time ago about the dangers of translating from one language to the other, and in particular from Greek to English. In my post entitled “Restaurant of first accusation“, I went on to describe how a restaurant owner had produced an incomprehensible sign in English by translating the word “class” into “accusation”. Only a person knowing Greek could eventually understand how the mistake in the translation came about.

When I visited my parents in Greece during Christmas this year, I detected yet another incorrect translation. This time, it was on a box about glazed chestnuts with chocolate that my mum bought for Christmas. When examining the box in more detail, I notice that it had a stamp as a feature with the words “First quality Greece”.

But what exactly does “First quality” mean? Is there a “Second quality” or even a “Third” one? Obviously not. The owner of the firm producing the chestnuts meant to say that the product was first class quality, which in Greek would be “Πρώτη ποιότητα” or “First quality” if you translate it word-by-word. And obviously, no one detected the error that made it to the box.


[all images © LambdaPhage]


London Christmas Lights 2010 (and 2009)

December 19, 2010

It has been almost two years since I started writing this blog and one of my most successful posts (in terms of hits) has been my very first one: the London Christmas lights. This is a tradition I started a 5 years ago: to go out each year and to photograph the Christmas lights of the busiest shopping streets around London.

I used a cheap digital camera to capture the images the first two years but then I bought a digital-DSL camera and a tripod; so hopefully my images have improved. Here are the Christmas lights of the big street arounds London for 2010 (and 2009):

New entry: Marylebone street

I wouldn’t have realised the Christmas lights at Marylebone street, if it hadn’t been for a friend who invited me for his birthday party at a restaurant close to the street. i then noticed the Christmas lights; they were unique, featuring decorations that I had not seen before.

New entry: South Molton Street

South Molton Street is a small diagonal pedestrian road starting from Oxford street, very close to Bond Street tube station. It is filled with shopping boutiques (among them Browns is the most famous one) and interesting coffee shops and caters for a refined, eclectic crowd. This year, the street featured lit arches, whereas in 2007, it featured Christmas decorations with giant lit angels.

New entry: Coventry Street

Coventry Street is the little street between Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square. I was positively surprised to see that it has its own Christmas lights decorations, and that they are more inspiring that the decorations one may find in bigger shopping streets.

Last place: Oxford Street

I have to admit that Oxford street managed to make a difference last year, just because they changed the Christmas decorations, after running with the chandelier theme three years in a row. In 2009, they unveiled their new design based on huge Christmas presents and umbrellas. Interestingly, the same theme seems to have prevailed in 2010. If you ask me, they should not have bothered, as the theme is not very inspiring.

I understand that producing decorations for the biggest shopping street in Europe can present with some challenges, but with all the money they have been receiving from sponsors, I expected them to have come up with more interesting Christmas lights.

Second runner-up: Regent Street

Regent Street is also running with the same Christmas lights theme for a third year in a row. Only this year, they have decided to add some elements. Some light signs, advertising the characters of The Chronicles of Narnia, this year’s sponsor, have been scattered among the Christmas lights making the theme to verge on absurdity.

First runner-up: Bond Street

Bond street is having the same Christmas lights for a consecutive third year. At least the ribbons are three dimensional and tasteful. But above all, Bond Street has not allowed for any sponsors to put distasteful signs at their Christmas lights.

Biggest surprise and disappointment: Covent Garden

Covent garden is a big surprise and a big disappointment. Surprise, as in 2009, it featured lots of shiny decorations and a big chandelier-like light installation in the middle; a theme which was very tasteful. Disappointment, because for 2010, it featured lots of red christmas tree balls and a weird light installation in the middle. If you see this year’s theme in broad daylight, it is acceptable, but if you see it the dark, they is not, as it is dimly lit. (Needless to say that a red Christmas tree ball theme was also featured in Selfridges a year before, and was better executed than Covent Garden).

And the winner is: Carnaby Street

Like every year, Carnaby Street proves to be a small gem. Not only for the shops but for the inspiring Christmas decorations, which are unlike any other. Moving on from the giant inflatable snowmen in 2008, they used a similar principle for their “reindeer-peace-hope” theme in 2009. For 2010, they have had another inspiration and presented a space-like theme, which blends marvelously with all the colours of the buildings around this street.


[images © LambdaPhage]

Origami Santas

November 29, 2010

This weekend, I went out shopping for Christmas presents. I visited one of my favourite stores, Uniqlo, and was glad to find the +J item I wanted to buy with a 30% discount (for my previous posts on J+ please click here and here). But my surprise did not end there; when I went to pay at the till, I saw this brilliant santas made from origami paper.

I realised that there are a lot of YouTube videos on how to make your santa from origami paper, but they are not as nice as the santas on Uniqlo.


[image © LambdaPhage]

[Colors Magazine]*

November 26, 2010

I first came across Colors Magazine 17 years ago. At that time, I used to be fond of the United Colors of Benetton brand and would go to the stores at the start of each season to ask for catalogues. In Spring 2003, instead of getting just one catalogue, the store manager handed me two items: one of them was Colors Magazine.

I didn’t notice it much until I casually started checking it out with my friends. It wasn’t long before we realised that it contained disturbing photos of food with insects and pictures of naked men and women. It came as a surprise to the unsuspected teenagers of my age to stumble upon such disgusting and age-restricted material. Needless to say that my friends condemned the magazine and forced me to closed it at once. But my instincts told me not to throw it away…

The same situation continued for many seasons. I slowly started collecting Colors Magazines, but without noticing the content too much. Even though it was not as controversial as the one I first saw, the issues would, nevertheless, end up at the back end of my bookshelf cabinet, far away from prying eyes.

Almost two years passed and one day, after deciding to clean up my bookshelf, I came across my small collection of Colors magazines. Being free from my friend’s preoccupations, only then did I manage to appreciate the magazine’s content.

Colors was the brainchild of Oliviero Toscani, Benetton’s creative director at that time, and Tibor Kalman, who became the first editor-in-chief. The project belonged to Luciano Benetton’s Fabrica, the group’s communications research centre. The magazine idea was simply to talk “about the rest of the world”. Each issue was dedicated to a special theme and featured innovative articles and features around that theme. At the back of each issue, the yellow pages showcased a small directory of objects and other trivia scoured from around the world – from the most common to the most peculiar and bizarre. Colors magazine was published – and still is – quarterly and each issue was printed in English and another language, with choices among French, Spanish and Italian.

But it was for the content that I started loving the magazine. Unlike any magazine that I had read before, Colors was always approaching each thematical issue in an innovative way. It celebrated opinions and facts and insisted on diversity among people and places. Perhaps, no other magazine can claim to be more international than Colors.

From my small Colors collection, the issue that initially prompted the irrational reaction of my friends was issue 4, an issue about race, which made headlines for the doctored images of Queen Elizabeth resembling a black woman, Spike Lee resembling a white man and Pope John Paul II resembling an Asian person. But my most favourite issue was 13, the last issue published under Tibor Kalman’s creative direction. Instead of being full of articles, the issue was dedicated to pictures and contained only minimal text. Tibor Kalman’s editorial spoke about the power or pictures vs the power of words; probably the best editorial I have ever read in a magazine. It even prompted me to look at pictures like I have never done before.

And, thus, Colors magazine became one of my [obsessions]*.


[image © LambdaPhage]

Gummi roches

November 23, 2010

Regular readers of this blog should have noticed my recent post about the Roche card quiz game, presented in a box reminiscent of the design of the Roche drug boxes. It appears that the company has gone one step further in crumbling its brand identity. Roche appears to have produced its own version of gummi candies, shaped after Roche’s famous hegaxon logo. And instead of gummi bears, I have named them gummi roches.

Just another example of having fun with your corporate identity, despite being a huge multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company.


[image © LambdaPhage].

Moss pencil

November 21, 2010

Last week, I left work to meet my old colleagues for a farewell party at a pub close to my old job. On my way there, I got a chance to visit one of my favourite bookstores, Magma, located at Clerkenwell Road. (I hope to be able to say more about this store on another occasion). When I was in my old job, I was visiting Magma almost every Thursday, to look at any new books and magazines and find out any new design items they had brought in store. Magma frequently stocks little curios that you can not easily find anywhere else: piglet or skull shaped earbuds, paper earrings and rings, badges for the rube with the motto “Wake me up at ________ station” and other interesting paraphenalia.

This time, I got one of my favourite magazines and when I went to the counter, I noticed a very strange looking writing instrument. It was just a pencil, but unlike any others I had seen before, this one was covered in a bright green fine fur. The “moss pencil” as it was aptly named by its designer, Sirampuch Eamumpai, was just an ordinary pencil with a twist. What probably caught my attention was that the pencil has received a Red Dot Design Award in 2008. It was only £1.5, so I decided to get one for home.


[image © LambdaPhage].

[Hermèssence – Ambre Narguilé]*

November 14, 2010

Hermès is a company synonymous to unparalleled sophistication and luxury. Many people believe it has the charisma to make objects of desire, not just mere products. Therefore, Hermès perfumes follow the same principle. Hermès is making two different lines of perfumes: those that are available from various cosmetic outlets and cater for common consumers, and a line of more exclusive perfumes for those who seek intricate smells. The latter is the Hermèssence collection, available only in selected Hermès stores. According to the Hermès house, the line has been created by the head perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and is destined for “both men and women which touch the heart and speak directly to the senses”.

I came across the the collection at the small Hermès shop in Selfridges. The salesperson was kind enough to explain me the differences compared to the other collections and allowed me to sample some of the fragrances. One of them caught my senses with a very strong distinctive smell combining the amber of honey with oriental swirls: Ambre Narguilé.

That day, I went home clutching the paper tester and for the next few days I found that I could not keep myself from smelling it. It was that day it became one of my obsessions.

But the perfume came at a price. Hermès only makes a 100 ml bottle at £140 (or with a leather pouch at £345). Even though the price was justifiable if you consider the exclusivity of the perfume and the intricate bouquet of smells, I just needed a smaller bottle, since the perfume was too strong for me to wear on a daily basis.

Fortunately, I later discovered that Hermès makes those perfumes in 15 ml bottles and you can purchase a set of 4 bottles for £84, a price which was closer to what I was prepared to pay. The fragrances are also presented in individual pouches, suitable for travel, and are packaged in a Hermès signature orange box, perfect for a Christmas present. But the advantage of the gift box is that you can mix and match several perfumes from the collection, and experience better the Hermèssence collection.


Roche Helveticum forte

October 31, 2010

Those who are familiar with drugs from Roche are probably aware how the drug boxes look like. Roche has a specific design for drug boxes with lots of white space, two proprietary fonts and two hexagons in one of the corners: one being filled with colour, typically blue and the other bearing the Roche logo. In essence, almost all of their drugs are packages in the same looking white drug boxes; the only difference is the name of the drug.

However, if you happen to visit the Roche central offices in Basel, you will encounter yet another Roche “medicine” called Helveticum forte. This one is also packed in they typical Roche white drug box, but the content is far from being an active drug. Instead, you can open the Helveticum forte box to find 36 playing cards and a small booklet that explains how to play a card game. This is because Helveticum forte is not a real drug that Roche decided to give for free to all their visitors, but a card game containing all sorts of different trivia for Roche.

In fact, the instructions of the small booklet tell you of a game that has two phases. In the first phase, two or more players are dealt with some cards with the aim to complete quartets (books of cards of the same rank). They do this by asking their fellow players if they have the cards the need to make the quarter and by losing their turn if they do not manage to find a card. When a quarter has been made, this needs to be laid down. After all the quartets have been laid down, the second phase of the game begins, in which the person who has completed a quartet asks the person on their left one of the questions contained in the quartets. For each correct answer, the respondent is being rewarded with a card and at the end, the person with most cards wins the game.

Helveticum forte is obviously a fun and creative way for Roche to pass on corporate information to a visitor. But what is more interesting is Roche’s willingness to package this board game in a “bogus” drug box, similar to the design of their real drug boxes. It can create a lasting impression.


[all images © copyright LambdaPhage]

Orange and T-Mobile share each other’s signal – inspriring advertising

October 29, 2010

I saw the above advertisement when I was riding the tube on a very busy day. The advertisement did not make much sense to me and did not really notice the company being advertised. I was intrigued by the simplicity of the statement in the block letters, having not noticed the fine print, I was puzzled, as the ad did not seem to pitch for any particular product or service.

And then it made perfect sense. Not because I had noticed that the advertisement was running in the corporate identity of a specific company I knew beforehand, but because I saw the advertisement next to this one that explained everything. Orange and T-Mobile, two UK mobile phone carriers, were joining forces and sharing each other’s signal.

And just as the companies decided to share their signals, they decided to share their advertising space. After my first encounter, I just kept glancing the dual advertisements from Orange and T-Mobile. Appearing in each company’s corporate identity, they seem to complement each other. but also keep their own identity. Just as it is supposed to be with the companies being advertised.


[images © respective owners]

+J is back

October 26, 2010

Loyal readers of the blog may have read one of my previous posts on one of my clothing obsessions. The post was about one of the best collaborations between a fashion designer and a high-street store: the collaboration between Jil Sander and Uniqlo, culminating in the creation of the +J line. Two separate collections were created during the past year: the inaugural Fall/Winter 2009 collection and the most recent Spring/Summer 2010 collection.

I was more than happy to know that another +J line just hit the Uniqlo stores in London. According to the designer, this season is characterised by “a well fitted, sculptured cut, quality materials, careful detailing, and an overall subdued sophistication. Once you establish such a key wardrobe, you will find that the rest is easily combined. A beautiful coat or a white shirt works with almost anything, but actually needs almost nothing else. I called the ideal I have in mind, uniforms for the future”.

This season’s clothes are characterised by thick materials based on wool that lack the sophistication of last year’s high-tech, synthetic materials, but earn extra points for the cuts. This year, double breasted options were added alongside single-breasted cuts and longer coats have been added to shorter ones.

Admittedly, I have set my eyes on some items, but I am waiting for the entire line to be unveiled before I make any puchase.


[image © copyright Uniqlo]