Guest Interview n° 38: Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

Guest Interview n° 38: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

As much as New Yorkers love to bicker, at the end of the day we all more or less prescribe to the same dogma: do your thing, and do it well. This is especially true with Van Leeuwen, a wildly popular artisanal ice cream company run out of Brooklyn. Founded in 2008 by Ben Van Leeuwen, wife Laura O’Neill, and brother Pete Van Leeuwen, the company’s focus has from the start been about making exceptional ice cream using exceptional ingredients. It’s an old idea, and maybe not the most cost-effective for a food truck, but their commitment to craft has paid off well: what started as a couple of custard-yellow trucks peddling all-natural ice cream during the summer months has, in the course of four short years, ballooned into six year-round runners and three permanent store locations throughout New York.

Those trucks are hard to miss during the summer months, when lines can stretch down the block. No one seems to mind waiting for their scoop, in part because the brand has quickly become synonymous with quality, their butter-colored rollers quick to remind customers of the gas-guzzling trucks they used to chase down forgotten childhood streets on humid afternoons. Many consider Van Leeuwen’s to be the best in the city. And you know you’ve made it when Whole Foods has you in stock.

I recently spoke with Laura O’Neill about everything Van Leeuwen: the origins of the company, where they source their ingredients, and their ambitious plans for the oncoming ice cream season.

How did Van Leeuwen’s get started, and what was the initial motivation behind the company?
Ben, Pete and I started Van Leeuwen’s in the spring of 2008. We set out to make the best possible ice cream using traditional methods and the best artisanal ingredients from small producers locally and around the world. We saw a gap in the market for truly great, natural ice cream out of trucks in New York City. We also wanted to build really beautiful trucks that were clean and inviting. All of our ice creams are made using only fresh hormone and antibiotic free milk and cream, cane sugar and egg yolks. Our butterfat content is 22% and our ice creams are about 40% less sugar than most other premium ice creams. This allows the true flavor to come through without being masked with too much sugar.

In an age where people crave endless varieties, Van Leeuwen keeps their selection minimal and focused. What inspires the menu?
We want to do the classics as well as we possibly can. We spend a lot of time finding the best fruits, spices, nuts and chocolates on earth. Most of our flavors are a celebration of one single outstanding ingredient, such as Sicilian Pistachios from Bronte, Michel Cluizel Chocolate from France, and Ceylon Cinnamon from Sri Lanka, to name a few. 

How do you select your ingredients? 
We research a lot. We are looking for ingredients that match the standard of purity of the ice cream bases we are making. We get samples and try them out. Most of our ingredients come with a super interesting story as to what makes them so special.

How do you scout your locations?
Trial and error. Sometimes we think a location is going to be great and it just doesn’t work. Once we find a good spot, we establish it as a permanent spot, so customers can rely on us being there. In terms of stores, we started out in Greenpoint, Brooklyn because it’s our home neighborhood and we love it. Boerum Hill was kind of a fluke, but has worked out amazingly, and East Village was a no-brainer because it’s a super busy neighborhood full of food lovers!

What are some perks and drawbacks to having an ice cream truck?
Its great that we can move around and try out new locations. There is also a wonderful nostalgia attached to the classic American ice cream truck. But it really sucks when they break down!

Van Leeuwen’s has been a success from the get-go, and in addition to six trucks you now have three locations around the city. What is it about your ice cream that people identify with? 
People inherently appreciate real food and high quality ingredients. The fact that we use a lot less sugar and no stabilizers, means it doesn’t become cloyingly sweet by the end of the scoop and it’s a very clean mouth feel. They may not be able to pin point exactly what they love about our ice cream, but they feel good and happy after a scoop.

Lane Koivu – Images courtesy of Van Leeuwen and Martin Aldolfson


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Luigi Ghirri – An adventure in thinking and looking

Luigi Ghirri – An adventure in thinking and looking

Thoughts, deeds, actions, visions, sounds, words, objects, ethic groups and echoes that come from everywhere in an evident and overwhelming fashion, transform and mark modernity. In our existence, this sense of alienation, this having continuously to relocate the common denominator, to unravel the billions of little physical and mental junctions and crossroads, a continuous re-finding ourselves only to get lost once again becomes the dominant feature of our era.

Luigi Ghirri, Lo sguardo inquieto, un’antologia di sentimenti (The restless daze, an anthology of feelings), 1988

What is photography? Luigi Ghirri – one of the most influencing photographers ever, and a milestone of contemporary history of the medium – answered to this question defining it as an adventure in thinking and looking. Ghirri’s adventure lasted 20 years, from 1970 to 1992, when he died prematurely, and left us an amazing collection of images, which reflects his personal and intimate dimension in a sort of anthropological research.

An important exhibition dedicated to this master of photography has just closed at Castello di Rivoli, and we couldn’t have avoid visiting the show – just in time before the finissage – to report our impressions and share them with our readers, giving inputs to all the photography lovers that unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to live this experience. It’s no accident that in a time when sensationalism and ostentation seem to be inapt, places and people devoted to art re-discover the work of Luigi Ghirri, sunk into the oblivion for many years.

Ghirri’s approach to the act of taking pictures is comparable to an exercise of memory and soul. His pictures, depicting landscapes, working activities, diverse apparently meaningless objects or normal people – photographed from the back or afar, during their everyday life –, underline the photographer’s will of experimenting and probing all the possibilities and specificities of the medium. But the camera is much more than this for Luigi Ghirri, who used it to create his unique journal made of places and individuals interpreted without harking back to any previous model. The Artist’s project prints – the first contact prints, produced to visualize his work – shows that he rarely made changes in the framing in the darkroom, while his interventions were mainly related to chromatic control.

Through the research of the perfect colour intensity – unsaturated and delicate colours, a quality that allows to make the shots lighter – Ghirri was able to create his typical chromatic effect, which gives to the observers the feeling of going outside the images, beyond the appearance. Thanks to photography the artist introduced the possibility of representing the landscape as an anthropized environments dominated by an almost metaphysical silence that allow people to see the obvious from another point of view, measuring it slowly to reveal its details.

Monica Lombardi – Images from the archives of Luigi Ghirri

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The Editorial: Ode To Richard

The Editorial: Ode To Richard

And an ethically complex war that will undoubtedly impact our media-fueled futures rages on: just yesterday Richard O’Dwyer, the student accused of copyright infringement, has been ordered extradited from the UK to America. Yikes.

This year has already been a rager in the battle between traditional content producers and the quicksilver warriors of the internet. So far we’ve seen the sideshow spectacle Kim Dotcom’s fantastic downfall and enormous worldwide protests against the proposed Protect IP Act and Stop Online Piracy Act bills introduced by the United States’ legislature. And now, helpless Richard, who ran a two-bit site that linked to copyrighted content, is being hauled away from his home to face a wrath tied up in a sociopolitical and economic discourse much bigger than his actions.

Alas, television and movies (and their protected legal statuses) overwhelmingly originate in the USA, and the massive media conglomerates who produce them have a vested interest in making sure those programs and films can continue to generate steady profit. Fair enough. But the sudden push to toughen up criminal laws is reflective of a legal system that readily bends to the will of those with lots and lots of €£$¥. The conglomerates are scared. The porous, dynamic nature of the Internet has chipped away at their anachronistic models, and so they’ve been lobbying lawmakers around the clock to come to their defense. “Save us from that big bad Richard!” they cry, melodramatically.

But since power and money [almost] always flock together, helpless Richard loses. And while that may be a rather simplistic down-on-the-street 99% style argument, it’s nevertheless a scary proposition: like pirates rushing to shove dirty rags in the holes of their rickety ships while forcing someone to walk the shark tank plank because he helped steal a tarnished cubic zirconia, the conglomerates are ignoring their most pressing issues while they unscrupulously attempt to bend the rules to their favor. But since Hollywood and Silicon Valley stand on starkly different sides of the debate (Google wants open, Disney wants closed), there is a vast amount of clout (and money) on both sides of the issue. It will be fascinating to see how the story unfolds over the coming years. In any case, the implications are huge on both sides.

2DM itself is an agency whose signed talents produce a great deal of high-quality, original content. We shoot for the glossies, illustrate for the generation-defining independents and style for some serious brands. And despite inevitable minor skirmishes over rights and misappropriation, we generally feel that the world is a better place with our artists out there making it slightly prettier. So on the face of it, we agree with the old-style content creators – photographers, actors, musicians and designers alike cannot get by if people steal their hard work – but we see everyday the tremendous value that the open and dynamic nature of the internet has brought to the world. We might all make a bit less for our content, but in return we get far more and far better content than we once did.

At the heart of the problem lies more than a seriously unlucky student whose life will likely be ruined by the out-of-control complex that wishes to make an highly visible example of him: the open, transparent future we dream of has no place for the massive concrete walls of PIPA, SOPA and the lobbyists whose indirect actions are going to land that poor student in American prison.

Let’s all root for Richard. This is serious.

Tag Christof – Images courtesy of Walker Evans

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Kristina Gill: Brownies

Kristina Gill: Brownies

Just mention the word and 99 per cent of people you talk to will get very excited. Chocolate is the magic word in the food world. That’s why there’s always some decadent chocolate dessert on the cover of the magazines, even on the special diet magazines. People simply just love chocolate. And brownies, that’s almost as close to pure chocolate as you can get. With brownies, afficionados are divided into two camps: cakey and fudgy. These ones I made are definitely fudgy. I, however, fall into the cakey camp even though I’m not really even a chocolate friend! So guess who gets to eat this whole pan for himself? My husband! The perks of living with a food photographer.

Kristina Gill

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Studio Formafantasma at Designs of the Year

Studio Formafantasma at Designs of the Year

Every year around April the global design community freaks out. As Salone del Mobile approaches steadily and inevitably, we can’t avoid asking ourselves a few questions. Are these hundreds of fairs taking place each year, where Salone is the most prestigious one, really necessary? If one of design’s fundamental premisses is sustainability, how can these fairs be justified?

While the Salone fever is getting wilder and wilder in Milan, Design Museum in London is hosting quite a different event. During the first week of February the nominees of the annual “Designs of the Year” award have been shyly presented. Sorted up in seven categories (architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product, transport) this year’s nominees have all an extremely socially aware and technologically experimental character in common, which differs considerably form designs appraised each year during the Salone.

Among the other eighteen nominees in ‘product’ category you can find a name that may ring a bell: Studio Formafantasma.

Formafantasma is an Italian design duo, Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, that was formed and is currently based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Formafantasma has been nominated for the award for their project “Botanica” developed in 2011. “Botanica” is only the latest creation in a series of projects, developed after their graduation from Eindhoven in 2009, that address the following issues: “the role of design in folk craft, the relationship between tradition and local culture, a critical approach to sustainability and the significance of objects as cultural vectors”.

Hence, “Botanica” explores the possibility of producing natural polymers extracted from plants, as if the oil era has never existed; “Autarchy” proposes a series of objects made from a bio-material composed of flour, agricultural waste and natural limestone, further developing their previous project “Baked”; “Moulding Tradition” explores the importance of craft in witnessing the past.

MoMA‘s senior curator Paola Antonelli has already declared Studio Formafantasma one of the most important designers of the 21st century. Hopefully someone will take note for this year’s Salone. We’re keeping our fingers crossed!

Rujana Rebernjak – Images courtesy of Formafantasma

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Guest Interview n° 37: Alexandra Verschueren

Guest Interview n° 37: Alexandra Verschueren

Born in Antwerp, Belgium, designer Alexandra Verschueren rose to prominence when being awarded Le Grand Prix at Festival d’Hyères in 2010 for her innovative Medium-collection featuring garments of felted and starched wool treated to look like paper. Today, Alexandra’s work is less conceptual but more thought-provoking than ever.

You grew up in the city of The Antwerp Six and many other influential designers, how has that heritage affected you and your work?
I started to be aware of it when I was 12 years old, in the 90’s, and I think it definitely influenced me in a way. It always felt kind of weird to have six such great designers, since Belgium is such a small country.

When you studied craftsmanship at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, did the Belgian design tradition have a great influence over your education?
Walter Van Beirendonck (The Antwerp Six) was actually one of my teachers in the third year. But we were never allowed to look at other designers in that school, you never ever reference another designer. You’re supposed to find your own voice. In my final year I was working with paper and I had this idea to push garments flat, but my pattern-making teacher just said “Margiela has already done that”.

You were awarded Le Grand Prix at the Hyères festival in 2010, that must have been quite an experience.
I’ll never forget that. I graduated in 2009, and I went to New York to work for Derek Lam and Proenza Schouler, but the transition from being in the school’s artistic bubble to being in the commercial reality of fashion in New York was hard, so for me Hyères made the transition smoother. It opened so many doors; suddenly everyone knows your name, even if it’s hard to pronounce (laughs). I even got two letters from the French minister of culture.

And what happened afterwards?
I realized that my moment had come; it was the perfect timing to start the label. I still don’t feel completely ready, that’s why I do such small low-key collections. Many people think my work is simpler now, but there’s a more focused idea behind it. It’s about learning how to make a garment people will feel beautiful in. Very often fashion is all about image, making an impression. My collections are not about making disposable images, but to learn how to build a lasting one.

It sounds like you have a profound respect for the actual craftsmanship.
Yes, I just want to take my time, and show my respect for the métier. We once had a workshop with Dries Van Noten. He told us that his grandfather had this shop where he turned suits inside out for people. When they were worn out, he just turned them, rebuilt them, and they were like new again. That struck me as something that’s now fading away, but for me it’s very important to understand how a garment is constructed.

How has your working technique evolved since you began designing?
The trial process has become important, sometimes I just change a whole garment. Some I’ve redone like 5 or 6 times. I used to be very stuck with ideas of how I wanted it; I thought I was very consequent. Before it was more about the concept, since no one would actually wear the garment anyway. But when I started making wearable clothing I became more free. Now when something’s not working, I try to solve it. It’s more about the process.

How would you describe your current idiom and design?
I’m 24, so there’s still a lot to learn and I’m still figuring things out. The quality is very important for me. The sweatshirt fabric I used for my current collection is made with a machine that goes 10 times slower than a mass-production one, there’s no tension on the thread so the shirt stays softer for a much longer time. I like boyish things. In school when I was drawing collections people used to say, “Oh, you’re making a men’s collection…”

What’s behind your universe, what inspires you to create?
Words sometimes inspire me, maybe because my parents are linguists. The last collection was called “Shift”. For me, it was a very important word at the time, because it was about a transition, and I had a lot of overlapping details in my clothes. So it was about overlapping and shifting from one thing to another and evolving. I can be inspired by a detail I see on a garment, but never by a designer.

What are your goals for the near future?
I hope I can expand the collection, to sell enough to survive. If a job opportunity appeared, I wouldn’t turn it down. I just want to be able to have a nice presentation of my clothes, and I’d be happy to see more people wearing them. I’d love to be based in Paris. I love New York as well, but I’m too European to live in The States, I feel too unpolished.

Petsy von Köhler – Photos Fred Aufray

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Jay Reatard: Better Than Something

Jay Reatard: Better Than Something

Jay Reatard died just as he was beginning to outgrow the Memphis punk scene he’d spent most of his life putting on the map. Only 29 years old, he played in more bands and released more albums and 7” singles in fifteen years than most people do in 80. In interviews he often claimed to be constantly working against time, writing a song a day as if he knew he didn’t have many left. Then again, he also spent a lot of time talking about future plans, like buying a house, learning how to play the cello, and making more pop-oriented records. As much as anything else, the documentary film Better Than Something reveals that Jay Reatard did not plan to die.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not he wanted to. Since he could walk he’d been cutting himself and wrapping microphone cords around his head and screaming and unwillingly ejecting himself out of bands, schools, and relationships―the quintessential punk. The documentary for the most part sticks in Memphis as Jay takes us on a tour of the neighborhood he grew up in. “I wrote my whole first album in that house,” he says, pointing to a dilapidated shanty in a poverty-stricken part of town. Reatard is framed as a local hero who doesn’t seem to know what to do with his ballooning reputation. We get to see how his songwriting evolved from bratty speed-punk anthems like Lick on My Leather and Teenage Hate to more focused power-pop nuggets like It Ain’t Gonna Save Me and See/Saw. If you didn’t know anything about him, you’d think you’re watching a movie about a burgeoning talent, not a memorial service for a fallen icon.

And this is where the film really works: by opting to take a peek into Reatard’s life instead of framing the narrative around his untimely death. Likely it’s because directors Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz initially shot the footage for a documentary about the living Reatard. Regardless, the speculation on what could’ve been is for the most part wisely left on the cutting room floor.

From the beginning Reatard painted himself as an outsider, railing against Memphis’ rich musical history―Elvis and the blues in particular. His first album, released when he was 15, is called Fuck Elvis Here’s The Reatards; his last, Watch Me Fall. He redefined his town’s musical landscape. For many local musicians and fans considered the guy a prophet.

He was also somewhat of an asshole. As Better Than Something shows, he seemed to feed off of any and all negative attention. In one scene we see Jay humiliating his bandmate onstage by grabbing at his dick; in another he’s throwing equipment at the keyboardist. There are countless anecdotes about Jay crashing parties and starting fights with strangers, and we often see him annoyingly drunk, microphone in hand, antagonizing anyone who will care to listen. At times he seemed to be playing a caricature of every punk cutout from the past forty years―ripping off a pigeon’s head and stuffing it into a fan’s cleavage; punching his bandmates; smoking crack and breaking windows. It was all part of the show, which leads to the sneaking suspicion that Jay―in being the outspoken punk rock kid who didn’t take shit from anybody―was putting us on. His character is funny from a distance, but the gimmick loses its spark as it becomes clear that every band he founded was driven to destruction by his own hand. And it’s downright depressing when you realize that, in the end, even he couldn’t get out of his own way.

Lane Koivu

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L’Officiel Hommes S/S 2012

L’Officiel Hommes S/S 2012

The spring issue of L’Officiel Hommes is on the newsstands almost worldwide. The quarterly men’s magazine with a fresh and dynamic approach to fashion has become, during the years, one of the most stylish points of reference among the international lifestyle publications.

Each edition of L’Officiel Hommes uses its own language to interpret and reflect cultural trends of different countries combining classic and unconventional looks. All the issues, with a common graphic taste and a special eye for high quality photography, are dedicated to a male readership interested in fashion, but at the same time they cover a wide range of topics – art, design, sport, music, architecture etc. –, which makes the magazine enjoyable for women as well.

This season L’Officiel Hommes Italia hosts, among many notables, shoots by its brilliant creative director Pablo Arroyo and the drawings by the skilled illustrator Ricardo Fumanal, both proudly 2DM’s talents.

L’Officiel Hommes Paris, on the other hand, along with the interesting piece about the conceptual artist Gordon Matta Clark – renamed Anarchitec, famous for his ‘building cuts’–, features an editorial of impressive 20 pages dedicated to the team of the creative studio of Acne, shot by 2DM’s Bruna Kazinoti.

We look forward to the next issue and we’re warming up for the next satisfying collaboration.

Monica Lombardi

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Rolling Stone Italia n.101

Rolling Stone Italia n.101

There’s no nicer way to start out new month than with a delightful shopping trip to the newsstand to collect all the best magazines, fresh off the presses. Today’s review is about one of our perennial favorites, Rolling Stone Italia, which this month is bursting at the seams with the artwork of 2DM‘s talents.

The March issue, n.101, sets the spotlight on a range of public figures, including Julian Assange, John Belushi, Roger Daltrey, Michael Margotta, Mark Stewart and Elio Germano, just to name a few. And the gloomy eyes of Lou Reed grace the cover, photographed for the magazine by Mattia Zoppellaro.

The first of the three 2DM talents represented on the pages of this issue is Karin Kellner for the interview of Elio Germano, who is interviewed by Raffaella Giancristofaro about his work, colleagues and thoughts about work and life.

The B&W photoshoot “Una Cittadina Del Mondo” (A Citizen of the World), starring the actress Martina Codecasa was shot by 2DM’s own Vicky Trombetta, whose work here is an atmosphere charged with thoughts, dreams and memories.

On page 111, you’ll find the signature styled collage by Diego Soprana, featuring the article “Contro il revival” by Angelo Flaccavento on how the “remake culture” is killing creativity and originality in the world, and according to the author it’s not just happening in fashion.

As always with a new issue of the ‘Stone, the suggestions, glimpses and profiles left us energized. We’ve got lots to google!

From the Bureau

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A Generation in Motion: The Ungovernables

A Generation in Motion: The Ungovernables

“The Ungovernables” does its best to define the intentions of a generation (X) that, for all intents and purposes, grew up in the shadow of its baby-booming parents. That this new showcase comes while Gen X is in the midst of paying for the baby-boomers’ missteps is no small irony, and the mood here captures the sentiment well: The whole giant heap of mismatched work on display can be seen as an effort to blow-up that looming shadow. The results are fun to watch in a oh-my-god-did-you-see-that-crash! kind of way, but would you expect anything less from a group that brought you Nirvana, the Macarena, and Cher’s first number one hit in 24 years? Me neither.

Being the doomed/undervalued generation they are, the works on display largely box around the concept of decay (most notably Adrián Villar Rojas’ sculpting work, which takes up nearly an entire floor), with a calculated optimism―one that doesn’t seem quite ready to take itself seriously―splashed on top for good measure. The only common thread here is a shared sense of confusion, and “The Ungovernables” has plenty of identity crises to latch onto. Danh Võ’s “We The People” strips the Statue of Liberty of its history and its symbolism, focusing instead on recreating the copper panels that gave it shape. Jonathas de Andrade’s “Ressaca Tropical” (Tropical Hangover) uses a found diary to paint a strangely intimate picture of a conflicted youth, so much so that you fail to notice the voyeuristic overtones that run through the work.

But it’s Brian Bress’ “Status Report”, a short film that finds the artist struggling to do everyday tasks while dressed in absurd outfits that beg for attention, that best sums up the current universal sigh: “Because it’s the depression.” His film is a brilliant piece of black comedy, an obvious highlight (the curators must of known: It nearly takes up the entire basement), but he’s not certainly alone in his disassociation with the world around him. In this day and age you’d have to be deaf and dumb not to relate.

Cinthia Marcelle’s “O Sécula” (The Century) features trash―tires, fluorescent bulbs, barrels―being methodically thrown on the street for five minutes. Anyone who lives in New York knows this is a significant part of one’s daily routine. Hassan Khan’s “Jewel” was one of the few things that had an actual pulse, mixing paranoid Cairene music against a backdrop of flashing black-and-white images. You could hear the frantic drumming from deep in the stairwell; by the time you got to the room you could barely control your own body. I got stuck in there against my own better judgment for 20 minutes, until one of my friends came in and slapped me back to my senses. “The exhibit’s closing in fifteen minutes,” he told me. “We have to leave.” I shook my head in agreement, though more confused than ever―a fitting epitaph for our generations’ ramshackle statement of intent.

A Generation in Motion: “The Ungovernables” at New Museum, through April 22nd

Lane Koivu – Images courtesy of Benoit Pailley

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