Affordable Luxury Holiday Gifts For The Constant Traveler

Affordable Luxury 001

Published on December 12th, 2012 | by Charu Suri

0 Affordable Luxury Holiday Gifts For The Constant Traveler

As the saying goes, clothes make the man but gifts make the season. America takes gift giving to new heights each year, that I often sit back and watch as though some Olympic-like event were taking place. From video games to shoes, the wish list for Santa/Hanukkah/Festivus gets larger each year, but thankfully the gifts themselves get less expensive.

The holiday gifts have entered a phase I’d like to label the iPod phenomenon: more bang, less buck. Remember when the iPods themselves were so big they exceeded the size of your palm, whereas nowadays they are smaller than your wrist? Gifts too –especially high tech ones–are shrinking but increasing in value. And many Americans are cutting back on lavish spending with the soft economy, so it makes sense to be especially picky when it comes to giving that nomad what he or she wants.

Affordable Luxury Holiday Gifts for the Constant Traveler

Here are some ideal gifts for the traveler who loves his or her affordable luxury items–because class never goes out of style. Best of all, they’re curated by celebrity stylist Robert Verdi, who really knows luxury inside out, so you can be assured you’re in great hands.

Lululemon “Daily Om” Carryon Duffle: This black and white carry on bag offers just the right amount of roominess, and offers an intuitive internal series of pockets for gadgets and stuff, and there’s also a place to carry your yoga mat for your zen fix. It is just right for a set of clothes and toothbrush, just in case (God forbid) your checked luggage is delayed, but that stuff only happens in the movies, right? $128.

Marc Jacobs iPad Case: iPads never were quite so stylish as with a Marc Jacobs shield. A gray and neon green palette is both urban chic and strangely hipster at the same time, and we’re willing to bet that there’s no one on the planet who wouldn’t be proud to carry their iPad in this. An affordable luxury? We think so.

Lacoste Crocosubmarine Bright Beach Towel: There’s something innately charming and cheerful about crocodiles on bright terry cloth. This is certainly a good item to gift to the beach bum who is off on another glorious journey, be it Nice or Waikiki. Plus, did we mention that it’s just $42 and large enough for a picnic on the sand?

Nikon 1 J1 10MP Digital Camera with Interchangeable Lens: B&H may have cornered the market for all things camera, but Target is offering a stylish and affordable option this holiday season, with their new 1 J1 camera which has an auto focus lens, and full HD capability for photos and videos. The 10 megapixel camera has auto focus, fill in flash, red eye reduction and more and also gives you the options to change lenses to zoom. $399.99.

 photo DSC_0089_zps6f3cd430.jpg

Ralph Lauren Newbury Leather Passport Case: I absolutely love this passport case, which is sleek and chic in edamame green Newbury leather. It’s plush and truly functional for all travelers, with gold embossed letters on the cover and a brown woven cotton twill lining inside and areas to put your boarding pass as well as your IDs. A cool feature? It has international airport codes on the front. How special is that? $48.

 

 

 

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Hotels Celebrate “Skyfall” With Special James Bond Martinis

Posted by on Nov 7, 2012 in Affordable Luxury, Featured, London | 7 comments

Hotels Celebrate “Skyfall” With Special James Bond Martinis

I remember my first Bond film, Goldfinger. Watching it once was not enough and over the years I grew to love the smug smirk of Sean Connery and watch various Bond actors try to take his place. I also loved the classic idioms that became the water cooler talk standard: Shaken, not Stirred being the most famous.

What’s so appealing about Bond is his stoic grace, not to mention his flawless style. From Aston Martins to Martinis, he is savvy enough to always pick the better than best, but far from a cheesy way. While the story origins hail from the UK, America has not been immune to the James Bond charm, and several television networks have Bond marathons during the holidays.

James Bond Martini

Credit: Zone 41 on Flickr

I’m eager to catch Skyfall in the U.S. theaters this weekend. If you want to truly up the dapper quotient and celebrate in style, here are some hotels offering Bond Specials.

The Chesterfield Mayfair, London

chesterfield mayfair james bond

The hotel is offering a pretty impressive James Bond Cocktail Menu with drinks that include The Vesper and Miss Moneypenny. The hotel is also offering a Bond-inspired package which includes two nights’ accommodation, an English breakfast on the morning of the stay, two James Bond Martinis and two tickets to see “Skyfall.”

The Dukes Hotel

Apparently, this is where the writer Fleming penned the words “shaken, not stirred.” He also wrote a substantial portion of Casino Royale. Alessandro Palazzi, is head barman at the hotel and maestro of the martini, and often gives masterclasses to intimate (up to six) groups eager to learn the secret of the super drink. Some tips? A frozen glass, Amalfi lemons, olives from Puglia. There are various James Bond style martinis served here, including the Fleming ’89.  Check out its Bond experience options here.

The Draycott Hotel

The Draycott Hotel London

All guests get to experience free “shaken, not stirred” martinis in the hotel lounge, through November 15, 2012 in honor of Skyfall. These refreshments are offered in the evening, along with the hotel’s signature champagne service. A truly romantic hotel, it is located a stone’s throw away from the beloved area I used to live in (Sloane Square), which is all about old world elegance and charm.

American martini-philes, fret not. A new James Bond drinks book by David Leigh is free for Kindle readers (expires today, November 7) and is available here for readers.

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At the Pierre Hotel in New York City, Cocktails Through the Ages

Posted by on Oct 27, 2012 in Affordable Luxury, Culture, Featured | 6 comments

At the Pierre Hotel in New York City, Cocktails Through the Ages

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know my drinks. I understand some of the technical terms: molasses, alcohol content, tiki drinks, proof but the timeline of cocktails becomes a bit blurry.

Being a drinks novice, I recently had a very nice surprise and somewhat of a fun history lesson at the Pierre Hotel (a Taj property), which creates a “cocktail festival” every season, along with an interactive experience for guests to learn how these beverages transpire. The theme this past summer was barrel-aged drinks, and for fall they’ve created a menu with nods to the cocktail traditions of the previous decades, to celebrate the hotel’s 82nd Anniversary.

Star of Taj at the Pierre Hotel New York Cocktail Through the Ages

The Star of Taj at The Pierre

To celebrate this birthday, the hotel took its inspiration from cocktails from the past and reintroduced them with a modern twist. I had the good opportunity to interview Chief mixologist Sachin Hasan, whose starting point were the 1930s.

The creation of this seasonal menu is quite a process.  “We come up with some 40 cocktails and the team approves them,” says Hasan. “We have a select panel of judges from the hotel who do the tasting; finally, we decide which 6-7 drinks go into the menu.”  Hasan walks me through a history of the cocktail using the menu as textbook.

The Era of Sazerac: 1930s

The Pierre’s Answer– The Charles Sazerac

The Sazerac was popular in the 1930s right after the prohibition era, and was fashioned without juices. The typical Sazerac was a Herculean drink, using only bitters and spirits. This drink at the Pierre Hotel is a nod to the classic and made with rye whiskey, absinthe and bitters. Charles Pierre started offering drinks in the 1930s. Hasan and his team modernized the classic by changing the traditional rye whiskey into tequila. “We’ve used tequila which is aged, and it certainly is strong,” says Sahan noting the modern twist.

“Tequila is not easy to play around with because it is pungent,” Hasan adds.

It is served without ice, so it is by far the strongest drink on the menu. One other lovely twist: it also has absinthe, but the glass is washed with a tinge of it because aniseed “is very strong” to be fully added into the drink.

Roses and Lemon: Gimlets in the 1940s

The Pierre’s Answer: J.P. Getty’s Gimlet 

In the 1940s, the Pierre Hotel changed hands and fell into the well-endowed arms of JP Getty. Made with Stolichnaya lemon, Beefeater Gin and St. Germain, this is another strong drink. “These days, people don’t prefer lime cordials,” says Hasan because of calories (the classic Gimlet features roses and lime cordials). The Pierre tweaked this classic using lemon vodka and St. Germain for sweetness, with elder flower flavor.

Gimlets had their heyday in the 1940s.

Star of Taj at the Pierre Hotel New York Cocktail Through the Ages

Star of Taj at the Pierre Hotel New York Cocktail Through the Ages

The food and drink at the Pierre: classic, with a modern twist. Shown above is the Indian korma-style curry served with fresh bread and pulao

The Sour Era: 1960’s

The Pierre’s Answer– Rotunda’s Whiskey Sour

Whiskey sours came into the picture in the 1960s, and the Pierre modernizes this a bit by infusing Maker’s Mark with Lemon Verbena Tea, as well as pasteurized egg white and bitters to really give it the edge. “Since all the sour mixes have egg whites, but since people today don’t prefer raw egg whites because they are considered unhealthy, we use a pasteurized egg white,” says Hasan. The pasteurized egg white does not mean less calories per se, but  because it cooks at a higher temperature, some of the rawness is erased.

The Rotunda used to be the Pierre’s tea room, and the walls are hand painted. It is currently used for banquets and receptions.

The Tiki Era: The 1970’s

The Pierre’s Answer– My Fair Lady of Cafe Pierre

In the 1970s, tropical fruits like pineapple juice came into the picture, and hence this drink, which is made which is made with Bacardi Rum, Disaronno Amaretto and Pineapple Juice. Juices were added to cocktails in the 1960s and 1970s.  “Rum was the base for the tiki,” says Hasan. People in this period were putting their creativity into making drinks apart from sours and bitters. The thinking also was that the liqueurs were raw and not very good for you, and people started adding juices to cocktails to make them more palatable.

The Avant-Garde: 21st Century  

The Pierre’s Answer –The Star of Taj

This is the most complex drink on the menu, with Bombay Sapphire, gin and spicy notes including curry leaves and cardamom pods and peppercorn. It also features absinthe, but “it mixes so well with passion fruit and orange seeds and the cassis,” says Hasan. This is, of course, a complete nod to India and its culinary heritage. The sweetness if the cassis is just a beautiful finish and the after taste of the peppercorn is palpable but not overpowering.

Typically the curry leaves are lit with fire before serving but only during special classes.

The Pierre Hotel, 2 East 61st Street  New York, NY 10065, (212) 838-8000

 

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Can a $295 Meal Buy You Happiness? An Afternoon at Per Se

Posted by on Sep 27, 2012 in Affordable Luxury, Featured, New York City | 8 comments

Can a $295 Meal Buy You Happiness? An Afternoon at Per Se

As the age-old saying goes (and this one is from the “Beatles”): Money can’t buy me love…but can it buy you dining happiness?

The air was crisp with the scent of fall around the bend. It was already jacket weather and the change in season was punctual, as though summer had punched out, without the need for overtime. I was having lunch at Per Se, the most expensive French restaurant in New York City.

A modern interpretation of the famous The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California, Per Se graces the Fourth Floor of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, with nods to the French countryside and architecture. The unassuming entrance of the restaurant with its double doors and waist size shrubs belies the treasures inside. Like The French Laundry, there’s no pretension to the décor, no fancy chandeliers or red carpet, no gimmicky posters or statues. Just unassuming and understated elegance; hence real luxury.

Flowers at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

The graceful table centerpiece

Bread Basket at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

The beautifully presented bread basket: from sourdough rolls to mini baguettes

I had sacrificed some bonding time with my infant daughter, Erika Amala, to be at the restaurant, all in the name of research. Per Se, the Latin for “in, of, or by itself” is all about intrinsic value. Everything you touch, see, taste is worth its weight in surprise. The restaurant beckons you to truly “experience” –right from the introductory phrase on its web site (“Respect for food is a respect for life, for who we are and what we do” –by founder and chef Thomas Keller) to the Menu Approach. Each day brings with it a fresh set of food stories. Chefs lovingly create two completely unique nine-course tasting menus daily (each affixed with a $295 price tag): the chef’s menu and a vegetarian-focused one. The idea behind the highly orchestrated and carefully curated dishes is that no detail is more or less important than the other. They all matter, right from the pumpkin-seed oil to the Nasturtium Leaves.

First Vegetarian Course at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

First course: a carrot puree over a bed of crisp greens and vegetables

First Vegetarian Course at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

Second course: herb-roasted “poularde”: a salad of marinated squash, cipollini onions, hearts of romaine

First Vegetarian Course at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

Main course: pasta cooked to perfection simmering in a rich buttery sauce with walnuts

I was so thrilled that there was such a vegetarian tasting menu. Like a carousel in a State Fair, the medley of dishes come and go daily, with each distinct ingredient appearing for a fleeting moment. I have dined at only few restaurants that change their menus daily (one of my favorite recent experiences is Battersby). Right from the hors d’oeuvres (cheese profiteroles to the mushroom tarragon, among others), Per Se did not disappoint. This is food DNA—each serving is so unique and complex.

The starter, with a salad medley with carrot puree and crisp chips was a beautiful ode to fall. From the soft crunch of the greens to the crackle of the chips, each twist and turn of the foodie journey was inviting and flavorful. Then the plate of simmered and marinated vegetables as a complete surprise because my taste buds were still enjoying the aftermath of carrot puree. This dish, with each vegetable done to perfection, was a fleeting but delicious moment. Within seconds it seemed that the waiters brought in the pasta, served in an herbed butter sauce, topped with walnuts that were both cooked yet crunchy. The food textures were everywhere, with every bite.

The dessert course has to be my favorite, and Per Se did not disappoint.  A coy pair of cinnamon sugared donuts paired with a small mug of cappuccino semifreddo and generous foam arrived on my white table, followed by a selection of candied treats presented in high tea fashion. An elegant and refined ode to the power of sugar.

Dessert at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

Dessert: cinnamon sugared donuts and cappuccino “semifreddo”

Dessert at Per Se the Most Expensive French Restaurant in New York City

Candied post-prandial treats, served in High Tea fashion

The French Laundry’s philosophy is at work here: a great meal should be an emotional experience. And Per Se echos that philosophy, “What we want you to experience is the sense of surprise when you taste something so new, so exciting, so comforting, so delicious, you think “Wow” and then it’s gone.” And then the idea is when the next plate arrives, there’s an entirely new emotional connection.

You know, this sounds so good on paper, but is it actually true? Does a great meal inspire an emotional connection?

There are so many people who remember culture based on their experiences with food: Charlotte Safavi describes her reaction to the Polish cookbook, Rose Petal Jam in this beautiful essay, Jodi Ettenberg, a travel writer and foodie captures her travel experience in a soon to be released cookbook, and Julia Child, that lovable French culinary icon and author of My Life in France has said, “”I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a Valentine as you can give.”

Food is certainly an emotional experience (that’s why they call home cooking “comfort food” –because it comforts you during times of stress), and so intrinsic to the travel experience. The French Laundry agrees: “a great meal is a kind of journey that returns you to sources of pleasure you may not have forgotten and takes you to places you haven’t been before.”

After washing down the lunch with a decidedly delicious Ontario Riesling from Hidden Bench vineyards, I left convinced that a pricey meal can give you two kinds of emotions: one, a financial setback (and therefore maybe wallet shock);  but also a powerful, happy memory.

That’s not to say that a cup of soup from Hale & Hearty wouldn’t give you an emotional connection, but it’s hard to argue with chef Thomas Keller, whose every culinary endeavor aspires to be a masterpiece. In the end, I left exceedingly happy, in part because of  fine company, splendid service and as close to perfect food as I’ll ever get.

 Per Se New York City

Ten Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

Reservations: 212 823 9335

Lunch served Friday through Sunday;  nine course Chef and vegetarian tasting dinner menus daily

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Southern Belle: Western Kentucky University Museum Houses “Ordinary Objects” by Extraordinary Americans

Posted by on Sep 16, 2012 in Affordable Luxury, Culture, Featured, Kentucky, Travel | 0 comments

Southern Belle: Western Kentucky University Museum Houses “Ordinary Objects” by Extraordinary Americans

One of the reasons people immigrate to America is to dream big. Innovators, scientists, discoverers are some of the key reasons why this country has fostered Nobel Prize winners, visionaries and award-winning educators.

I’ll never forget the shock and awe of my very first visit to Greenfield Village, Henry Ford’s masterpiece and dedication to all innovations of ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things. I fell in love with the small but impressively efficient dismantled and rebuilt Wright Brothers’ store from Dayton, Ohio, where the two tireless tinkerers had initially set up their bike repair shop. I gazed for many minutes at the reproduction of the first light bulb invented by Sir Thomas Edison in Menlo Park, NJ.

It seems as though Nashville singer and songwriter, Dan Murph, was inspired by a similar vision when he chose to put together “everyday objects” used by extraordinary Americans in his “Instruments of American Excellence” which opens at the Western Kentucky University Museum September 21, 2012.

Constitution Signed by Sandra Day O Connor Western Kentucky Museum Exhibit

Photo Credit: Dane Penland, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

We caught up with Dan to ask him how this collection transpired. “I had no collection to Western Kentucky University whatsoever,” he says. The idea was to inspire students to “dream bigger” and that anything’s possible. University President Dr. Gary Ransdell has pursued the project for the past two years with collection chairman Dan Murph and a committee of students. And the collection of over 140 pieces features items I personally would be thrilled to see. For example, the underwater camera housing used by Titanic discoverer Dr. Robert Ballard, the hammer used by former President Jimmy Carter to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, one of Tony Hawk’s earliest skateboards, and lab equipment used by Nobel Prize winning scientists.

You can also find other esoteric American memorabilia including equipment used by Sam Phillips to record Elvis Presley at Sun Studios in Memphis as well as the ballet slippers belonging to Julie Kent and Sara Mearns, Principal of the New York City Ballet . There are also those fun Hollywood memorabilia including Patch Adams’ clown nose and Liza Minelli’s shoes worn in her Tony Award-winning performance of The Act.

Jimmy Carter Hammer Habitat for Humanity Western Kentucky Museum University

Photo Credit: ©Habitat for Humanity

As I spoke to Murph, it occurred to me that these must have cost a fortune to put together, but he assured me that that wasn’t the case. “Believe it or not, all these were donations,” he said. Television Show host Jay Leno also donated the microphone that graced his talk show desk at NBC for years.

While the vision of Henry Ford was to collect Americana on a grand scale, the Kentucky exhibit differs in that these are everyday items. “These items remind us that the actual instruments used by the highest of achievers are not magical or highly unusual,” Murph said, “but rather that the attainment of excellence is often achieved only by the imagination and perseverance that personify the American spirit.”

Jay Leno Microphone Western Kentucky Museum University

Photo Credit: ©The Tonight Show, NBC Universal

Murph’s favorite piece of memorabilia is actually not anything too fancy. It’s a pair of tennis shoes worn by award-winning teacher Rafe Esquith who is considered one of the most innovative teachers of his time. “Esquith’s school students come really early to school and leave late—voluntarily,” says Murph. Innovative teaching practices included a “no desk” approach by Esquith. Instead he choses to mingle with the students and he uses his pair of sneakers, which are now on display at the Kentucky Museum. No desk….imagine!

His sneakers “gave me goosebumps,” says Murph.

Admission to the museum is extremely reasonable: $5 for adults and free for students of the University. And, as far as museums go, this is unusual in the sense you’re not going to see the skeleton of a Brontosaurus or a piece of the moon. Instead, you’re likely to encounter a hammer and realize its infinite possibilities.

Western Kentucky Museum

“Instruments of American Excellence” Exhibit

Opens: September 21, 2012

 

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The Glossy Subculture of New York City’s Fashion Week

Posted by on Sep 11, 2012 in Affordable Luxury, Featured, New York City | 6 comments

The Glossy Subculture of New York City’s Fashion Week

Twice a year, some 1% of the city’s crème de la crème designers, buyers and fashion obsessed will visit the hallowed grounds of New York Fashion Week (also known in the industry as “the tents”). What happens inside these tents is something along the lines of the Las Vegas campaign: it’s very much insider culture.

Not that the fashion-loving public won’t love to actually sit down to see a show (most would, if anything to go celeb spotting). This is a glossy subculture of New York City, and a glamorous one that’s far removed from the concerns of unemployment, political debates, educational reform and taxes. But does it raise New York’s profile when it comes to being a luxury destination? Absolutely.

New York Fashion Week

“I do think Fashion Week attracts people to the city,” says Ayren Jackson Cannady, a Washington D.C. based beauty writer. “Fashion/celeb lovers from other parts of the country come to be in the middle of the action–if only for a week. Economically, it’s got to be great for the city. There are tons of parties going on where people spend money (i.e. Fashion’s Night Out). It also helps New York remain at the top of the list when the ‘fashion capital of the world’ discussions start happening.”

Mayor Bloomberg recently unveiled winners of Project Pop-Up NYC, which is an economic initiative created to ensure that the city grows as the global capital of the fashion and retail industry. But unless you’re a model, reporter, buyer or celebrity, chances are that you’re not sitting inside the tents to see a show (unless you have good friends in high places, and that’s always nice to have).

So, what exactly is the allure of Fashion Week to the bystander? Does he or she really have an opinion? Does the average professional even care? “Yes,” says Andrew Romeo, a management consultant. “Even though most New Yorkers absolutely hate anything that clogs traffic. New York City is the capital of fashion, regardless of the fact most of us just want a friggin’ cab.”

New York Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week

But over the years, Fashion Week has changed from something really exclusive (a hush hush private dinner type event) to something that everyone can enjoy, thanks in large part due to the livestream videos that have been recently introduced. So, if you own a computer and are plugged in, you can watch the shows in real time. The benefit of this option is –of course—slaking your own curiosity and enjoying the eye candy, unless you happen to have some significant change sitting in your bank account for impulse purchases.

What’s also interesting is how brands are approaching Fashion Week.

Walgreens has a sponsored kiosk at the corner of MILK Studios (15th Street and 10th Avenue) filled with delicious treats including Reese’s Pieces and newly minted copies of New York Magazine, “Haute” launches for models and bottles of SmartWater.

Kat McPhee at Birchbox

American Idol star Katharine McPhee stops by the Birchbox Lounge to curate her own

Birchbox, a monthly beauty box subscription, has sponsored a Fashion Week lounge for the first time for editors, bloggers and other online influencers to visit the lounge. Visitors could stock up on beauty samples, curate their own Birchboxes, get manicures in the lounge, and also pick up ready made sandwiches from Wichcraft. It’s  product—and branding—heaven. Says co-founder Katia Beauchamp about the idea for the lounge, “We wanted to target it to the Fashion Week influencers—the bloggers. We created it specifically for them.”

The Daily Suite is also an example of how brands are glorified: the Daily, a Fashion Week magazine, hosts a large suite for the glitterati and showcases new brands from Hanes to Disaronno.

The result of all these shows and lounges is the trickle down effect: influencers visit, tweet and write about the brands and shows, and all this reaches the consumers.  New York City has always been creative when it comes to attracting travelers, and the bi-annual Fashion Week is yet another magnet.

Come well-heeled.

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Travel Around the World and Back with Soap Cartel (Giveaway)

Affordable Luxury no image

Published on September 2nd, 2012 | by Charu Suri

9 Travel Around the World and Back with Soap Cartel (Giveaway)

Sometimes, you don’t need to book a plane ticket to do an Around the World journey. A souvenir, an heirloom, a well-worn novel or e-book can transport you to Antigua and back. So too can simple pleasures like soaps. Recently, I’ve been hooked on the beauties from Soap Cartel, an indie shop that hand crafts its affordable luxuries.

Best of all, we’re giving away a basket of Soap Cartel goodies to a lucky winner. Simply leave a comment below.

Soap Cartel Detox Body Soap

Detox Campaign Soap ($10)

Soap Cartel Limonata Soap

Limonata Soap ($10)

One of the founders, Dayana Ariza, gives us the Soap Cartel Saga. Read on:

Butterflydiary: How do you source your ingredients?

Dayana Ariza: We source our ingredients from all over the world. Our clays are directly from Morocco as is our Pure Argan Oil. We have essential oils that originate from France such as the ever so popular Lavender, our Chamomile comes from Spain, our Cinnamon from Sri Lanka, our Lemon from Brazil, and our Geranium Rose from Egypt just to name a few. Visiting all of these countries would be a dream come true. Just recently we made a trip to Spain and that was certainly an enlightening and fulfilling experience. Sri Lanka is next on our list!

BD: Are there travel friendly soaps you would recommend? If so what are they?

Absolutely! Soap Stix are actually as travel friendly as they come. Soap Cartel Soap Stix are one-time-use soap sticks that are perfect for your next road trip, any occasion and they’re also great for the gym! Each stick is plenty for one shower. They are approx. 3 inches long and each bag contains between 2.5-3 oz. of soap. Our Soap Stix are fun and easy to take with you wherever you go.

Soap Cartel Soap Stix

Soap Stix ($5)
BD:Where do you get the inspiration for your ingredient combinations?

Our inspiration initially came from family and friends and their skin concerns. One has eczema, some have acne, some dry skin, some were looking for the perfect exfoliating bar. Being that essential oils have curative properties and oils play such a major part in the overall lather, moisture retention of your skin and hardiness of a soap bar; we created a perfect base of amazing vegetable oils and butters. Mango Butter, Organic Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Olive Oil, Avocado Oil and Coconut Oil are among the list and truly work skin magic.

BD:How long does it take to craft one soap by hand? What’s the process, exactly?

Crafting one bar of soap by hand is quite the task- an enjoyable one for us but an extremely time-consuming one nonetheless. First you have to weigh out your oils and butters and mix that together with the Sodium Hydroxide which is what converts the oils into actual soap once the saponification process takes place. Before putting that mixture into the mold we add a generous amount of essential oils and then blend by hand. We place the mixture into a soap mold which holds about 15lbs of soap. Once the soap sits in the mold for 24 hours we then unmold and cut the soap into loaves and then into bars weighing about 5 ounces each. We then let them rest for 4-6 weeks on a curing rack to air dry. Once this process is complete we then clean the edges of the soap bar, stamp each individual bar with an iron Soap Cartel stamp and then wrap them and place them into a Soap Cartel stamped gifting burlap bag. Voila!

BD:Which combination are you most proud of?

We would have to say that the combination we’re most proud of is the Detox Campaign Combination. Although all of our soaps have the same oil and butter base the combination of Activated Charcoal along with Australian Tea Tree and Eucalyptus just awakens your senses beyond belief. This bar is so moisturizing and it just truly feels like silk on your skin. A must have in anyone’s shower!

Remember: we’re giving away a basket of soaps to a lucky winner. Simply leave a comment below to be considered. Good luck!

**This contest has ended. Congratulations, KIM!**

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Travel Around the World and Back with Soap Cartel (Giveaway)

Posted by on Sep 2, 2012 in Affordable Luxury, Eco Friendly | 9 comments

Travel Around the World and Back with Soap Cartel (Giveaway)

Sometimes, you don’t need to book a plane ticket to do an Around the World journey. A souvenir, an heirloom, a well-worn novel or e-book can transport you to Antigua and back. So too can simple pleasures like soaps. Recently, I’ve been hooked on the beauties from Soap Cartel, an indie shop that hand crafts its affordable luxuries.

Best of all, we’re giving away a basket of Soap Cartel goodies to a lucky winner. Simply leave a comment below.

Soap Cartel Detox Body Soap

Detox Campaign Soap ($10)

Soap Cartel Limonata Soap

Limonata Soap ($10)

One of the founders, Dayana Ariza, gives us the Soap Cartel Saga. Read on:

Butterflydiary: How do you source your ingredients?

Dayana Ariza: We source our ingredients from all over the world. Our clays are directly from Morocco as is our Pure Argan Oil. We have essential oils that originate from France such as the ever so popular Lavender, our Chamomile comes from Spain, our Cinnamon from Sri Lanka, our Lemon from Brazil, and our Geranium Rose from Egypt just to name a few. Visiting all of these countries would be a dream come true. Just recently we made a trip to Spain and that was certainly an enlightening and fulfilling experience. Sri Lanka is next on our list!

BD: Are there travel friendly soaps you would recommend? If so what are they?

Absolutely! Soap Stix are actually as travel friendly as they come. Soap Cartel Soap Stix are one-time-use soap sticks that are perfect for your next road trip, any occasion and they’re also great for the gym! Each stick is plenty for one shower. They are approx. 3 inches long and each bag contains between 2.5-3 oz. of soap. Our Soap Stix are fun and easy to take with you wherever you go.

Soap Cartel Soap Stix

Soap Stix ($5)
BD:Where do you get the inspiration for your ingredient combinations?

Our inspiration initially came from family and friends and their skin concerns. One has eczema, some have acne, some dry skin, some were looking for the perfect exfoliating bar. Being that essential oils have curative properties and oils play such a major part in the overall lather, moisture retention of your skin and hardiness of a soap bar; we created a perfect base of amazing vegetable oils and butters. Mango Butter, Organic Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Olive Oil, Avocado Oil and Coconut Oil are among the list and truly work skin magic.

BD:How long does it take to craft one soap by hand? What’s the process, exactly?

Crafting one bar of soap by hand is quite the task- an enjoyable one for us but an extremely time-consuming one nonetheless. First you have to weigh out your oils and butters and mix that together with the Sodium Hydroxide which is what converts the oils into actual soap once the saponification process takes place. Before putting that mixture into the mold we add a generous amount of essential oils and then blend by hand.  We place the mixture into a soap mold which holds about 15lbs of soap. Once the soap sits in the mold for 24 hours we then unmold and cut the soap into loaves and then into bars weighing about 5 ounces each. We then let them rest for 4-6 weeks on a curing rack to air dry. Once this process is complete we then clean the edges of the soap bar, stamp each individual bar with an iron Soap Cartel stamp and then wrap them and place them into a Soap Cartel stamped gifting burlap bag. Voila!

BD:Which combination are you most proud of?

We would have to say that the combination we’re most proud of is the Detox Campaign Combination.  Although all of our soaps have the same oil and butter base the combination of Activated Charcoal along with Australian Tea Tree and Eucalyptus just awakens your senses beyond belief. This bar is so moisturizing and it just truly feels like silk on your skin. A must have in anyone’s shower!

Remember: we’re giving away a basket of soaps to a lucky winner. Simply leave a comment below to be considered. Good luck!

**This contest has ended. Congratulations, KIM!**

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How Nkuku’s Locally-Sourced Crafts Benefit the Artisans

Affordable Luxury Mali ceramic mugs from Nukuku

Published on January 13th, 2014 | by Charu Suri

3 How Nkuku’s Locally-Sourced Crafts Benefit the Artisans

Nowadays, it is not hard-pressed to find well-crafted items that don’t have a “Made in China” label. Nkuku, an artisanal crafts company with a keen eye for sourcing goods that give back to the maker, is one to watch.

I first brushed shoulders with Nkuku at the Gifts Expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. Their stall’s unique wares, from Mali pottery to hand-painted enamelware with popping colors and motifs of birds was eye-catching. But I wanted to know more: where were the items sourced? Do they give back to the community? If so, how?

Mali ceramic mugs from Nukuku

Hand-crafted pottery from Pondicherry, India

Enamelware from Nkuku's Spring Line

Enamelware from Nkuku’s spring line

Nkuku, as it turns out, specializes in eco-friendly, and fair trade pottery and crafts—music to my ears. There’s nothing I love more than to benefit independent craftsmen across the world, and now I found one site that offers beautiful gifts and wares that accomplish both.

Alexandra Cooke from the company says, “The focus is fair trade, and the company has been inspired by skills of artisans from Africa and India.” Fusing modern design with age-old traditions yields beautiful results, as you can see. I remember eating from stainless-steel tiffin boxes in school, but I would have loved to take the red hand-painted tiffin carrier from Kashmir.

Tiffin Box from Kashmir, India, from Nkuku

Beautiful hand-painted enamel tiffin boxes from Kashmir, India

Daha door knobs from Nkuku

Daha doorknobs

The gorgeous khaki and cream Mali pottery from Pondicherry, India, is another example of how Nkuku provides employment to marginalized men and women, while offering them the chance to produce beautiful goods, since 1985. There is a wide range of crafts to choose from: pick out a set of enamelware cups and pitchers (now, they come in beautiful spring colors of green and taupe); purchase a few hand-crafted mugs for your daily coffee; jazz up your plain doorknob with these colorful Daha options.

It’s pretty wonderful how you can benefit communities from around the world without leaving your house. Sometimes being an armchair traveler and shopper isn’t altogether a bad thing. For more inspired retail therapy, visit the site.

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