Attractions. New York is full of them. Those who visit the metropolis for the first time can’t escape it. Yet after all the obvious highlights, there is so much more to discover. Angelique set off with successful Dutch and Flemish designers Alissia Melka-Teichroew and Joris Debo, who show off an ‘inside’ tour of New York.
Text & photos: Angelique van Os
“Yeah, great, put that there. We need more manpower for this.” Large objects are displaced by three men. Employees of the famous design store Moss in Soho are busy discussing and redesigning their gallery. Among the many showcases with accessories, vases, jewellery and a panda bear chair, there are also intriguing 3D designs by MGX. “This was one of our first 3D chairs. A design by the great designer Patrick Jouin”, says artistic director Joris Debo. The Fleming who worked for Materialise for a while, a Belgian company that, under the MGX brand, sells and distributes high quality design lamps, furniture, jewellery and artistic objects in 3D in Europe and in the US. They print all their products in three dimensions that are built up layer by layer with large laser printers. Materialise’s technology is ultramodern, even futuristic. They are also a major player in the medical market, with implants for example. There are many collaborations with famous designers such as Philip Treacy, Frank Stella and fashion designer Iris van Herpen. Their objects can often be found in large museums and shops such as MoMa and here in Moss.
The original inhabitant of Leuven has lived permanently in the Big Apple for over six years. In addition to his regular job, he has been running their own brand, Revisited Matters, together with his Spanish wife, Adriana Sanz, since 2010. This is where their two worlds – Adriana is a fashion designer – come together in the form of clothing, accessories and objects. The idea is to turn vintage products into new designs.
Although it is easy to network in New York, Joris had to start all over again for his own company. His target group is broader and falls under a different price range than MGX. “The competition is fierce, but at the same time the market is huge. New York is fantastic in terms of job opportunities, but the living conditions are less pleasant. There is a different attitude than in Barcelona or Antwerp. Here everything revolves around money, career and networking. You will quickly benefit from it. Word-of-mouth advertising works best, especially because people show products everywhere, from their garage to galleries and flea markets. We’re finding our way around now, especially because we’re going our own way. My wife was a little tired of presenting a new clothing collection every three months. Now we have more peace and quiet. Through the website we show the production process to which we get a lot of nice reactions. For us, each piece is unique, there are only a few made of it.”
There is no tourist anywhere and the shops all have their own identity.
Because of his work, Joris knows his way around hip and happening New York like the back of his hand. It is striking that the Americans are lagging behind Europeans in terms of design. According to Joris, this is mainly because Europeans grow up with design, while the majority of Americans pay little attention to a beautiful design. As long as it’s practical. Yet there are plenty of interesting shops to discover. We start with the lesser-known neighborhood Nolita, which borders the expensive shops and galleries of Soho. Walking around in just ten minutes it’s clear what the difference is: Nolita has smaller boutiques, offers underground brands and in terms of clothing often has a more daring collection with a link to vintage. The modest design shop Matter focuses on furniture, lamps, jewellery and vases by mostly American and the better European designers. “The interesting thing about Matter is that they are very selective in their collection: they go for quality, not for the big brands. They go for the craft. In addition, they give young (local) talent the opportunity to grow in the store,” says Joris.
A few streets away is The Opening Ceremony, an expensive concept store where vintage and couture can be found. It’s a place where artists come to shop regularly. Here you can find unique clothing lines that are made once or in a limited edition and where metre-high mannequins steal the show.
Before the next pit stop we walk criss-cross through Nolita. On the way we see the cube shaped and staggered New Museum, where there is room for modern art and ideas. The museum has been in existence since 1977, but the imposing building has only been in existence since 2010 and was designed by the Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa Sanaa. Diagonally opposite the museum we turn left. In a hidden alley between the escape stairs, Freemans, a quirky res-taurant with an intimate living room atmosphere – and many deer antlers – sits on the wall. On the menu are old colonial American dishes. Unfortunately there’s no time for a drink, because we have to go to Beacon’s Closet. This successful business, both above and in the basement, is full of vintage: from leather jackets, boots, shoes, hats, gloves to dresses. There is plenty to find. Business is going well, because there are several branches in New York and there is regular press attention from various fashion magazines.
Anyone who wants their hair back in time can go to Tommy Guns Salon. This hairdresser was one of the first to revive the authentic barbershops, before it swept over to Europe. “This is such a nice barbershop, it is really an experience to get your hair cut here. The barbershop is fully furnished in 20’s / 30’s style, with many authentic elements. The chairs, mirrors, cabinets, even the cash register is antique. In addition, men can be shaved in an old-fashioned way, with a real razor.”
The last clothing shop is Assembly, where again you can find vintage. They also sell beautiful leather bags, sturdy boots, watches and accessories. It is clear what kind of taste Joris has. But fair is fair, there is nowhere a toe-rist to be found and the shops all have their own identity. We end our shopping day with a lunch in Greenpoint, in the lively and casual Café Bar, Five Leaves. The famous actor Heath Ledger, who died in 2008, was co-owner of this beloved hotspot. The atmosphere is a bit like an old saloon in an alternative jacket, with lots of wood, tight seating areas and a large drinks cabinet. It is difficult to choose from the delicious salads, sandwiches, mussels and oysters. Eventually it becomes a ricotta with figs, fresh thyme, honey and fruit bread. Mjam! Joris is almost home, he lives in the beloved Williamsburg, where you’ll find an amazing amount of small businesses, shops and art initiatives. “Williamsburg is a real working-class district. Everyone is out here in good weather. There is a lot of contact, very different than in Manhattan, although in recent years it has become very busy with people in their thirties who buy properties here. It’s easy to find your way around here. The many faces of New York make this city so special. Each district has its own atmosphere.”
Five Leaves is located on the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which is the new starting point the next day. The vibrant Greenpoint is located northeast in the vast Brooklyn and borders the East River. The area is characterized by a combination of low-rise buildings, cultural and artistic initiatives, restaurants, cafes, but also has an industrial side. Originally, many Polish emigrants live in the district and their language and culture can be found everywhere in many companies. Because of the Polish influence, the district even has various butchers, greengrocers, bakeries and delicatessens. This seems to be unique in the city, because New Yorkers don’t know it like they do in Europe. Coffee bar Cookie Road was a good example of Polish activity, where beautifully decorated biscuits were baked and freshly baked. During our trip this bar still existed. Not anymore, unfortunately.
“Williamsburg is a real working-class neighbourhood. There is a lot of contact, very different than in Manhattan.”
“Hmmmm… those Cookie Road sandwiches are really delicious! I think we never have enough time to see everything. I have to make choices, difficult. Let’s walk further in the direction of the tea studio. Then we can go to… Yes, that’s a good order.” Alissia Melka-Teichroew is thinking aloud with her mouth full about her ‘crusade’ through Greenpoint. The designer from Utrecht, who runs her own company by AMT Inc., has been living in the emerging district for a number of years with her husband Jan Habraken, who is also a designer and Dutch. The two knew each other vaguely from the Design Academy Eindhoven, but a few years later they maintained intensive contact after a joint exhibition in 2004 at a fair in Milan. Before Alissia moved to New York in 2005, she worked in Palo lLto, CA at design consultancy IDEO. This company focuses on a very wide range of designs, from medical projects to household articles. This top job was a huge challenge, but the circumstances were not always desirable. With IDEO in her portfolio, she takes the plunge to The Big Apple.
Only two days after her arrival, she is already successful: her Diamond Ring is selling like a piercer during the Designboom Mart at the ICFF (Inter-national Contemporary Furniture Fair). At this fair there is room for designers from all over the world, where 50 duplicates of a product can be offered for less than 100 dollars. “It was bizarre; by the end of the fair, all my rings of various materials and colours were almost sold out. I hadn’t counted on anything and didn’t know what happened to me. I remember very well that I boarded a taxi packed and packed with cash”, the designer says in retrospect. Many doors opened and shops like Matter and MoMa stood in line. The Daily Candy website, which picks up daily trends in cities, praised her and produced over 200,000 hits. Meanwhile there are several products – jewelry, accessories and objects – of Alissia on the market. There are sometimes collaborations with her husband, such as the successful Treehooked, a symbol of a family tree, which could also refer to their marriage.
Despite the fact that her office is located in Noho, her heart is with Greenpoint. “I live here because of the peace and quiet compared to Manhattan. This is more of a working-class neighborhood, and a lot of things happen and change here. In addition, the rent is more affordable. However, for the Poles it is becoming more and more difficult, because the neighborhood is becoming more attractive. “In the meantime we walk into the street. While Alissia tells us that the basketball court at Franklin & Milton streets was part of the backdrop of a famous clip by rapper Jay-Z, a runner promptly appeals to us. “I heard you speak Dutch, which is not often the case here. With a sweaty face, musician Joren van der Voort smiles at us. He recently moved to the Big Apple and soon exchanges information with Alissia. It’s all about networking, as Joris Debo pointed out. “You can quickly build up a network in this city. I had been living in America for four years before I settled here. Then you gradually build up contacts here as well. That is inherent, because there is always someone who has a friend living in Manhattan who can do something for you. And you have to have your own place, otherwise you might experience New York more as a big angry city.”
We walk on, past dingy buildings where sometimes special initiatives are hidden. “Look, here is a great addition to the district, Paulie Gee’s pizzeria. The IT consultant was the ultimate pizza lover, he had his own oven in the garden where he experimented with pizzas. After all kinds of tastings with friends and family, he started baking and now runs this restaurant using only local and fresh products from Eagle Street, among others, Rooftop Farms.” A block after that seems to be in a gray building with a tea studio called Bellocq. “They have to be open today,” mumbles Alissia. She pushes doubtfully against the heavy door, and yes, it opens. Serene tea-hours immediately penetrate the nose. Dozens of fresh teas are neatly arranged and the friendly salesman talks quietly about his products that are collected from all over the world, pure and without flavourings. “My partners and I continue to look for interesting mixes between ingredients, until they produce the desired refined taste that we are striving for. In a stylishly decorated room it is also possible to try out teas.
“There’s always someone who has an acquaintance living in Manhattan who can do something for you.
It’s a strange sensation as the East River neighborhood changes from residential to old rusty and graffiti-stained industrial buildings. Many of the buildings are vacant, but are interesting locations for artists’ collectives and new artistic businesses. “The industrial elements give Greenpoint a special character, such as an old water tower or an old factory. I do like those past buildings, where all kinds of new initiatives come into being. And there is still industrial work going on. I prefer that to a modern skyscraper that doesn’t fit in with the streetscape. By the way, do you see that park there in the distance? That’s East River State Park, one of the new green strips on the water. Every time a factory or old building disappears from the water, an attempt is made to prevent a new building from being built and to keep the waterfront free for parks. Then the responsibility lies with the municipality that takes over and maintains it, so that the neighborhood gets more green. From the park there is a beautiful view of the skyline of Manhattan that attracts many families and couples.
North 3rd Street
Along the water, Greenpoint slowly flows into the heart of the now beloved Williamsburg. For this part of Brooklyn many New Yorkers have left Manhattan, as Joris Debo indicated. The downside is that rents have risen enormously and the original inhabitants – as in Harlem – are partly forced to leave. An interesting street is North 3rd Street. Here you can find The Brooklyn Art Library. The bookstore not only houses vintage notebooks, office supplies and artists’ supplies, but also the so-called Sketch Book Project. These are sketchbooks from all over the world, where creative people make their sketches and notes available in this ‘library’ (worldwide it can be shared through the Digital Library). It seems to be a great success, given the cupboard that is bursting with books.
Two doors away is the special shop and factory Mast Brothers Chocolate Tasting Room and Factory. The Mast brothers pretend to make the best chocolate in the world, and anyone who tastes all these different flavours in beautiful wrappers, has to admit that they are special products with a very own and organic taste. The price is there for it: 7 dollars per bar. Auch! But it’s worth it. The criteria for high quality chocolate consists of the perfect balance between the ingredients and the execution. To achieve this, the brothers sail with their old sailing boat to the Dominican Republic, where they collect the cocoa beans that their co-partner, La Red de Guacnejo, organically produces. Back in America, they turn it into irresistible chocolate with their own machines.
The clock is ticking. We take a quick look at the Radegast Beer Hall, a long building that has the atmosphere of a marquee. The hall flows into another building, revealing the raw walls. The long stamping tables are filled with large mugs of beer of all brands and there is regular live music. Around the corner, the popular Blue Bottle coffee bar is just as crowded. People even queue up outside. We end our Greenpoint/Williamsburg tour at the trendy cocktail bar Hotel Delmano, where cocktails of all shapes and sizes are on the menu. The grand café is particularly popular with locals in the late hours. Sagging and sipping a vodka fruit cocktail, Alissia thinks about where she feels more at home, Europe or the US. “If I have to choose, it’s still Europe. I feel very Dutch. In terms of the future, I can achieve much more in New York and the choice has been good. But I won’t stay here forever. Jan and I have decided to live here for at least a few more years. That feels good and that means a lot of enjoyment in Greenpoint.”
HOT SPOTS BROOKLYN
COFFEE & THEE
Cookie Road | 94 Franklin Street| cookieroad.com
Bellocq Tea Atelier | (Belloq has since moved:) 104 West Str., Brooklyn| bellocq.com
Blue Bottle| 160 Berry Street| bluebottlecoffee.net
COCKTAILS & DRINKS
Hotel Delmano (cocktail bar) | 82 Berry Street at North 9th Street | hoteldelmano.com
Radegast Beer Hall | 113 North 3rd Street |radegasthall.com
Mast Brothers Chocolate Tasting Room & Factory | 105A North 3rdStreet| mastbrothers.com
Acme Smoke Fish| Eén van de grootste smoked fish factories waar elke vrijdag tussen 8am – 1pm gerookte vis te koop is. | 30-56 Gem Street| acmesmokedfish.com/
Paulie Gee’s | 60 Greeinpoint Avenue |pauliegee.com
Five Leaves| 18th Bedford Avenue| fiveleavesny.com
East River Waterfront Park | nycgovparks.org/parks/eastriverpark
An East River Ferry service has been operating from Brooklyn to Manhattan since the summer of 2011, providing residents with a fast connection to the centre of New York.
Brooklyn Art Library / Sketch Book Project | 103A N 3rd St.; arthousecoop.com |brooklynartlibrary.com
HOT SPOTS SOHO, NOLITA & EAST VILLAGE
Moss | 256 West 36th St, 10th floor| mossonline.com
Assembly| 170 Ludlow Street| assemblynewyork.com
Matter| 405 Broome Street| mattermatters.com
Dear Rivington| 95 Rivington Street| dearrivington.com
Creatures of Comfort | 205 Mulberry Street| creaturesofcomfort.us
Opening Ceremony| 33 Howard Street| openingceremony.us
The Future Perfect | 55 Great Jones Street (Manhattan) |thefutureperfect.com
Beacon’s Closet | 10th 13th Street (East Village), 88n 11th Street (Brooklyn)| beaconscloset.com
Tommy Gun’s Salon | 138 Ludlow Street (East Village) & 85 N. 3rd Street (Brooklyn) | tommyguns.com
Freemans | End of Freeman Alley (East Village)| freemansrestaurant.com
Korean bbq | 32 street | According to Joris it is an experience to eat here with a group of four people or more: “The table is completely filled with all kinds of special barbecue dishes.”
New Museum | 235 Bowery| newmuseum.org
Information about Joris Debo and Materialise can be found at: materialise.com and revisitedmatters.com.
Info about Alissia’s and Jan’s work can be found at: byamt.com / buyamt.com and formnation.com (company, Formnation LLC by Jan Habraken).
Voor meer New York tips check: nycgo.com
Thanks to Joris Debo, Alissia Melka-Teichroew, USP Marketing and NYC & Company.