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Friday, December 19, 2014

Custom Hair Lounge Highlight

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Lincoln Park stands a stoic building that has stood the test of time, with a bit of a modern touch. Surrounded by historical buildings, it is almost as if you are lost in time within the confines of Chicago’s historical district. Once you step inside, you’re swept into a beautiful minimalistic yet rustic setting: White brick walls against beautifully aged and repurposed wood floors.  The salon is filled to the brim with sustainable and recycled materials that are eco friendly and energy efficient. Even the hair coloring, hair and trash get recycled. They use a private company: Green Circle Salons, whose mission is to make the North American salon industry sustainable by 2020. They are doing this in a way that is affordable and achievable and most importantly, impactful. Obviously, Custom Hair Lounge isn’t your typical Chicago Salon & Spa and Nevena Zee and Tania Gilbert aren’t your typical business partners. They are the epitome of girl power and truly have a Cinderella story. They’ve built a salon and team from the ground up that focuses on the customer and takes pride in having a staff of incredibly talented employees.

Nevena is from and studied in Bulgaria prior to making her way to the states. Both of her parents were architects, but when it came to her own career she wanted to go down a creative, interesting and fulfilling path. She started off in modeling, but after some time she yearned for the creative control she witnessed that belonged to the stylists. It was at this time she began beauty school and after 4 years of hard work she landed herself a spot on the National Team in Bulgaria. She went on to become an International All Star for American Crew, which is a coveted title at one of the industries fiercest competitions.

She eventually found her way to the states and continued to flourish in her field. It was here in Chicago that fate led her to her business partner Tania Gilbert. They both worked in a salon together on the North Side of Chicago while Tania was attending fashion school while Nevena was in school for business. Nevena was living in Naperville and was going through a divorce. At a time when life seemed to be most difficult she saw an opportunity and pursued it. She was searching for a new place to call home and she yearned for the urban setting she worked in daily, but she wanted to still be surrounded by history and meaning.

She landed in Lincoln Park. In a small space behind a storefront, she found home. This is where Nevena began her home-based salon. She focused on creating a beautiful space that was inviting, suitable for business and didn’t leave such a huge carbon footprint on mother earth. She was seeing clients in her home, she’d hide her bed and created a lux minimalist feel and her following started to grow. She eventually partnered up with Tania and the duo jumped the gun and took a huge risk to launch a business and never looked back.  Years later, they’re still partners and still friends. Nevena dubs Tania the yin to her yang.

They complement one another in friendship as well as in business. Where one has a weakness, the other has a strength to build off of and they have helped each other to grow. Nevena always knew she didn’t want to do this alone and Tania was the perfect person to balance this dream for Nevena. Their sisterly bond and the trust they have built over the years has helped them overcome many of the challenges they face as business partners. Nevena and Tania are both incredibly hard working. It’s inspiring to see two women working so diligently to make the American dream happen. Tania has found a way to balance being a business owner and mother to her 9 year old son that works for her and still allows her to follow her dreams. Nevena started with just a small apartment to work out of and now they own the building the salon is in outright. 7 years of hard work has truly paid off for these creative entrepreneurs.

This family feel is engrained in their staff. Nevena states that, “the team is so well grounded, there’s not much of that typical drama you often hear of.” When you visit the salon, egos are checked at the door. It is a welcoming and inviting space and the people at once make you feel at home. There is no snooty receptionist looking at you like you don’t belong. Rather, there is Sergio, a sweet faced charmer who is ready to help at a moments noticed. Yet, he is not your typical service coordinator, he is a product expert who is there to not just upsell you, but provide you with products that will help ensure you can recreate your salon style at home. It is a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by so many people who are passionate about what they do.

The team consists of Nevena and Tania who act as Co-Artistic Directors, Ina their aesthetician who is consistently booked, Jennifer their senior stylist who specializes in modern cuts for women, Reanne a stylist who is a genius with keratin treatments, Alena another stylist who loves to stay up to date on runway trends and translate them into beautiful wearable looks. Angel is the 3rd stylist on staff who is incredibly versatile; when Halfstack visited he was working with a variety of clients that ranged from a 2 year old to hot 20 something’s.  Juan is a senior stylist who is known for his natural feminine cuts, there is also John a senior stylist who is a pro at extension, colors and cuts. Then there is Richard, a senior stylist they recruited from New York. His love for advanced coloring and precision hair cutting have built him a loyal clientele, many of whom travel all the way from New York to visit him in Chicago. There is also probably the fact his vivacious personality keeps people coming back for more. Finally, there is the magical Milena – the salon & shampoo assistant. She has hands from God. This spunky young thing gives the most amazing deep scalp massages. It was like receiving a spa service prior to getting a hair cut and style. She also is quite knowledgeable on the products she is using and takes the time to explain what each one is and how it will help ones hair.

What was most encouraging about Custom Hair Lounge is the variety of people walking through the doors; young and old alike sitting down for custom services and being treated with the utmost respect. When asked what she was most proud about her team, Nevena explained that she loved, “the fact that everyone is so creative and comes with a wide variety of skills and is able to pitch in from every angle of the job, but they still put the customer first and don’t get blinded by their personal vision.” Senior stylist, Richard, chimed in an explained that, “typically people come in with an idea of a style and we are here to help them realize whether or not that style can work for them and offer it to them in a way that is customizable to their personal needs.” Rather than focusing on their creative vision and pushing that on clients, they assess the client’s needs and find a way to make it work for them, which often times takes a lot of creativity in of itself. This is quite evident as last year the salon was voted as best hair coloring in Chicago 2013 by City Search and Google+!

Yet, it is important to Nevena for her team to be able to creatively express themselves outside of the confines of the clients needs. With this in mind, the team completes custom trend challenges throughout the year. They concept out an idea for a photo shoot and style it, do hair and makeup and finalize it into a trend look book that they can share with their clients. This allows them to go outside of their comfort zone and push the limits. Nevena and the team are also constantly collaborating with local Chicago creatives and international talent than run the gamut from designers such as Borris Powell all the way to EDM musicians. She explains that, “supporting each other and our creativity is important to our growth and success.” This is such an important aspect of the Chicago industry in general. Rather than segmenting off, it’s the innovative business owners who connect and are able to grow from it.  It’s this type of mentality that broadens the perspective of business owners and keeps them relevant. Nevena and Tania both understand the need to expand and grow. Tania put it best, “I get bored if I’m not doing something. So, I have the skillset as an MUA and we saw a great opportunity to offer on location services for shoots and really grow our bridal side of the business.” This team isn’t putting all their eggs in one basket and has plenty of side projects in the works that compliment their salon.

When talking trends, Nevena shared some of the hottest in hair and some faux pas to stay away from this year. With Global experience, she has seen it all. She explains, “I’m a huge fan of the pastel colors, they can be classy and cool when they are done right, but when they are overly done or too flashy they look so tacky!” She’s also has a love of “natural looking styles, things that are complementing to the skin and style of the person because it can really make a huge difference.” Nevena also highlights that, “Long bobs are definitely the trend right now along with texture and beautiful velvety colors like burgundy and interesting shades of violet and red.” With the guys, “you are very classic looks, beard and crew cuts that have a definite throwback feel, but it is important for guys to be able to maintain them!” These trends are really showcasing how people in the US are becoming less scared about experimenting with their hair. Coming from Europe, Nevena can see the challenge US clients pose when experimenting with hair, but over the years people have evolved their look; especially here in the Midwest.

When it comes to color the team steers away from the toxic chemicals typically used in salon settings by using top of the line, natural products. As stylists, the team makes it a point to try everything that is in the salon. This way, they better understand the features and benefits of the product and can make much better suggestions to their clients. Neuma is one of her favorites due to the sustainability factor. The brand was founded with beauty, health and sustainability at its heart – Their philosophy is simple. NEUMA believes that professional performance hair care, health and sustainability need not be mutually exclusive. For the guy clients, she always suggests American Crew, but explains that suggestions are always based on the needs of the clients.

They differentiate themselves as a salon by offering each client a special plan that includes services and products that works for them. They’re not just about making the sale, but actually helping the client have the healthiest hair possible. Another way the salon sets itself apart is by focusing on specialty cuts and interior hair cutting. Basically, it helps give your hair extra body and weight without having to chop the hair on the outside. As a stylist, Nevena truly believes in continued education. Being a lifelong learner is so important to people in the beauty industry as it is always in flux. Many young stylists do a lot of learning on the job as an apprentice, but they need to continue to gain knowledge year after year in order to stay relevant.

When asked for what kind of advice she would offer young people who are entering the field she had the following to say: “Be persistent. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Learn from everyone around you. Don’t give up. Try to be dedicated and try to be your best self. You also have to be willing to put pride aside sometimes. This is an industry based on people and you have to learn to understand those people and give a lot of yourself to those people. It’s a lifestyle; it’s not just a job or a way to make quick money. You won’t be successful if that’s the mindset you are in. Finally, be self-responsible. I think that is the most important thing. In a profession where we can go anywhere and be free, it requires a lot of responsibility on our part to take action and take charge of our consequences rather than blaming our faults on others. Self-disciple is crucial to get to where you want to be.”

You can learn more about the salon and book services at: www.customhairlounge.com 

Holiday Gift Guide - For the Fashion Lover

Here is the final gift guide for the week everyone! It's for the fashion lovers in your life. Some easy, functional and stylish items for him and her. Layering pieces, accessories and some items that give back while you shop. It is always a challenge to shop for others, but remember keep it fun and thoughtful and you can never go wrong.

1.O-Venture’s unique Big O Key Rings - Is your mom or girlfriend constantly loosing her keys or clutch? This chic and quirky key ring will make sure that won't happen again! Available in a variety of bright, glossy colors, O-Venture’s versatile O Rings can be customized with “Ossentials”, such as  the sleek and compact leather card case, making for a convenient wristlet. Perfect for carrying your license, credit cards, money, cellphone, and makeup, the Ossential card cases retail for between $65-$75, while the Big O Key rings retail for $55

2.  Speakeasy Briefs: These are a fun, fashionable and tongue in cheek pair of boxers! The Speakeasy Briefs were created for men looking for a pair of both fashionable and practical under garments. The product was created by Co-Founders and dear friends Dan Goldman and Jeff Schneider, two entrepreneurial San Francisco locals. The design of the briefs includes a pocket on the front, which can be used to hold money, passports, keys, cellphones, and even a flask! Being avid travelers and music-festival-goers Dan and Jeff wanted to create a useful and comfortable storage option for men.

3. Must Jewelry ALS Jewelry: Must Jewelry is a modern and trendy, yet classic and timeless jewelry company. From manufacturing their own diamonds to the implementation into actual jewelry, the process starts in the mine and ends on the consumer’s finger. Each piece is hands on polished to perfection.Must Jewelry commits to continue to make a difference through a brand-new Ice Bucket themed line using their finest silver, gold and diamonds. Twenty percent of all sales go directly to the ALS Association, which is more than 65% of profits.

4. Free Endearment Nori Wrap Scarf - These chic and cozy scarves are perfect layering pieces for the cold days of winter. Go for a clean classic look with the Nori acrylic plaid scarves available in pink, camel, or gray for $42. Or add a fun flirty flare with Kyli infiniti available in blue/pink or gray for $35.

5. Linge Ballet Flat - These chic ballet flats are perfect for the fashionista on the go. They are lightweight, comfy and form beautifully to the foot. Thus making it feel like you are wearing nothing on your feet. They are beautiful, but unlike most shoes aren't painful to wear. These are perfect for all the office ladies who sometimes need a break from those high heels or for the young girls who have had a long night out on the town. You can fold them up and slip these puppies in your handbag and break them out when you footsies need a break. These sleek leather flats come in an array of beautiful colors. By combining the classic line of the traditional ballet slipper with bright, stylish colors; lingeshoes are the perfect staple ballet flat for every woman's wardrobe. 

6. Die-cut Bat Signal Earrings: Perfect for that girl who loves comic con and  is an avid fan of DC, Marvel and all the old school comic brands. She fangirls it up and isn't afraid to show it off with her style. The Batman Black Die-Cut 316L Surgical Steel Stud Earringsis proof that Wayne Industries really is all over the place! Made from high quality bio-compatible surgical steel and highlighting an ornate die cut bat symbol!

The Imitation Game Review: Please Embrace the Cinematic Medium

The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Graham Moore, Andrew Hodges (from his book)
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech

Stories have themes. They can be intended or not, perhaps accidents only noticed long after the creators have sent their work into the ether of public discourse. What determines the stories' cultural worth is the way in which the creators go about exploring and examining them. How do they use their chosen medium as a vehicle to deliver their story? Do they understand the strengths and weaknesses of that medium, and of the story? Does the story fit the medium, or are other considerations – the ability to make the greatest amount of money, most likely – the cause of it being shoehorned into a storytelling delivery service that might not serve it right?

The Imitation Game is a moving story that improperly uses its medium. It's a good movie derailed by a misunderstanding of what makes great movies. It could easily be a great book, likely the one written by Andrew Hodges that inspired this adaptation. It could make for a great television miniseries, allowing the weight of the horrendous decisions made by the principal characters to have space to breathe. But mostly, it would make for a terrific stage play. But as it stands, it stumbles over itself repeatedly to reach moderate heights, when far greater ones are within its reach. And that's a shame, because it has so many wonderful ingredients.

Its largest strength is its lead actor. Benedict Cumberbatch, as mathematician Alan Turing, takes a different tack from his portrayal of the BBC's Sherlock Holmes, and creates a man so rational, pragmatic, and blunt so as to render himself almost wholly incapable of meaningful human interaction. He sees everything as a problem to be solved and he commits himself to work them out with tenacity and a brusque disregard for others, alienating himself from people who are uniquely equipped to help him get to his end goal, cracking Enigma, the Nazi communication code and winning World War II for the Allies.

But The Imitation Game doesn't have enough faith in itself as a visual piece of storytelling or in Cumberbatch to let the audience understand for themselves what was depicted in the previous paragraph. It enlists Keira Knightley, as Joan Clarke, Turing's onetime fiancée and coworker during WWII, to the thankless task of explaining in no uncertain terms that Turing must learn to be kinder to his coworkers so they will help him with his project to build the code-cracking machine, which happens to be the world's first computer. Clarke is a fascinating, important historical figure herself, and when uncoupled from the chore of telling the audience exactly what to think, Knightley shows emotional resolve to break free from what society says she is allowed to be. But again, repeated lines about how those that the society at large expects the least from can do the greatest things take a sledgehammer to the point that is already clear. Ditto ideas about how violence is a fleeting good feeling and the inherent unfairness of anti-homosexuality laws. When these overly inelegant thematic explanations are tied with exposition as to how the Enigma code works and how Turing and company plan to tackle the problem, the movie slows to a slog.

Luckily, director Morten Tyldum seems to recognize the wealth of talent he has on his hands midway through The Imitation Game's runtime. The dual rule of thematic explanation and exposition both fade as the film moves forward, and its newfound relaxation contributes to a far better second half. This allows for more purely visual content to seep through the tedium of offices and corridors where most of the film takes place, with glimpses of WWII battles and the countryside runs Turing goes on to clear his head, showing both the stakes of the work at hand and the ways these stressed characters look to relieve themselves from those stakes. If only Tyldum had felt this confidence in his story and medium from the start, then The Imitation Game might be one for the pantheon, or at least some best of 2014 lists.

Chance to Give Back: Mad Over You

Powerful graphic statements take on the world! Society is up for a transformation. The official launch of Mad Over You Tees is bound to bring change to our community. Dedicated to quality and fashion, Mad Over You is a transformative t-shirt brand that instruments change for young people in need. In perfect timing for Christmas, these tees make great "give back" gifts for anyone looking to help out in their community! This inspiring brand caters to both men and women with its intriguing and meaningful tees.

Mad Over You goes beyond traditional charity-based apparel brands by working directly with non-profit community centers. Their involved relationship provides specifically created designs unique to the charitable organization. Throughout the seasons, Mad Over You also makes their partnerships interactive. Kids from each project will be offered the opportunity to create designs for the upcoming capsule collections!

Located in Chicago, BUILD is one of the first five centers that will receive 100% of the t-shirt profits to support their after school program.

LADIES AND GENTS: Buying a fashionable tee will also support our growing youth. Check out all the creative tees here! Variety is not an issue; there are numerous different kinds of fit to satisfy!

Some Movies to See This Weekend, December 19, 2014

It's the weekend before Christmas, so there are a few big releases before the even bigger releases next Thursday on the main event of families coming after their big holiday dinners to digest for a couple hours, or for non-Christians to take a respite from the bombardment of Christmas. But you don't have to wait for some okay viewing options. So if you're home from school or taking a full week to visit family, you may as well hide from them with some of these options.

Director: Will Gluck
Writers: Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz

Little Orphan Annie gets the modernization treatment, with Beasts of the Southern Wild's Wallis in the lead role. She already has one of the finest child performances ever under her belt, and it's interesting to see her heading into a big, mainstream role. Jamie Foxx plays her surrogate father figure, a New York mayoral candidate who uses her for publicity at first but then they begin to bond. 

Director Will Gluck has done funny, all (most?) ages work before with Easy A. That's the only one of his filmography I've seen, although Friends with Benefits comes recommended by my girlfriend. I trust her on these things. Plus The Lego Movie's co-directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, did a bit for Annie that parodies the Twilight series, and has received all kinds of praise for being hilarious. This is seemingly the pre-holiday family picture to see.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott

The final part of The Hobbit trilogy has actually been out since early in the week, but give me a break. I do these for Fridays. McKellen's Gandalf and Freeman's Bilbo return along with their multi-species traveling companions from the first two films, having desolated Smaug, I assume – I still need to catch up with part two. There is a battle among armies you need a fully equipped hand to count in this one.

This is most notable for (probably) being Peter Jackson's final go 'round in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, following his Lord of the Rings films a decade ago. He's inserted himself into the conversation for most important epic directors because of his work on the first trilogy, and while The Hobbit films haven't been nearly as critically successful, the first one at least remains a spectacle of the highest order and a technological achievement for its use of a 48 frames per second rate, doubling the normal 24 fps of normal films. It'll take some getting used to – everything looks a little sped up when movement is involved – but that seems to be the way things are going with movies, and this trilogy is notable for that at the very least.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: David Guion, Michael Handelman, Mark Friedman
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Rebel Wilson

I work in a movie theater for my “day” job (hence why I write about movies so often here), and I must admit I am prejudiced against this movie. If you think you see the same commercials all the time watching TV, try spending most of your time in a place where there's a mandate to push the same four or five ads on a constant rotation. For the last few weeks, a trailer for this latest Night at the Museum has played hundreds of times. I've heard the same clunky joke about how Rebel Wilson's security guard character “could be a model if she didn't love pizza so much” enough times to turn my brain to mush. I have eagerly awaited this release for the simple reason that it will remove the trailer from the rotation and I can breathe easily until the next set arrives to bore itself into my mind.

But it is among us, and I can hopefully look at it soberly. Following this week's pattern, I have only seen the second Night at the Museum movie, which made me laugh enough. Amy Adams was a good Amelia Earhart, but unfortunately she's not around for this installment. Everyone else is, including the recently departed Robin Williams in one of his final screen roles, reprising his turn as President Teddy Roosevelt. That sad fact alone makes this movie worth seeing for posterity's sake, although I cannot vouch for its quality one way or another. I felt a lot of shrugs toward part two, although it was humorous at times, plus I'm a sucker for monkeys. The monkey's here again, too. I guess I will be, as well.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide: Tech Savvy

Here is another fun gift guide for those in your life who love keeping up with the latest in technology and new gadgets. We've included in this roundup some interesting new products on the market, a few classics and a local brand. This roundup is perfect for the ladies or gentlemen in your life.

1. Sol Relay Earbuds - A modern, bright and funky take on the earbuds. The flexbud earbuds are sweat resistant, stay put while you move and are the perfect accessory with their rainbow bright colors. RELAYS deliver full sound from a compact design, with balance and details that bring out the best in all types of music.

2. Burg Watch Phone - designed by Hermen van deg Burg who started his own design company in the Netherlands that became the leading trend forecast agency for home and lifestyle. This smart watch is a convenient and easy to use. BURG phone watch with SIM-card makes it possible for you to call and message anytime, without using your phone.

3. Cinda B Phone Cases - Award-winning designer Cinda B ‘s Exclusive Collection is as diverse as her on-the-go lifestyle. Cinda sees the world through the eyes of a true artist, drawing inspiration for her casual chic designs and patterns from everything from classical architecture to modern fashion.

4. PoweredbyGen is run by Salom American,an Oak Park based company. They created the Original Gen Andru Android Robot Micro USB Cell Phone Travel Charger w/ Light Up Eyes (1A), Green Android. Gen is based on an idea, the idea that charging your phone can be more than mundane. These quirky holders have moveable arms and flexible antennae and light up eyes.

5. Newertech wireless aluminum keypad - precision machined aluminum, quick bluetooth set up, ergonomic tilt and compatible with MAC, PC and iDevices, Built to the highest standards, this is designed to complement the look and feel of Apple keyboards, the NewerTech Wireless Aluminum Keypad is the ultimate easy-to-pair Bluetooth workhorse that's built to last. Perfect for that number cruncher!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide: For the well groomed & pampered

We all have that person in our life who is a slave to beauty. Always trying the latest BB or CC Cream, hair always on lock and makeup and/or skin is beyond perfect. So, it should be pretty obvious about what kind of gifts you can pick up for this well groomed and pampered person - beauty products obvi! 

So, this here is a roundup of some of our favorite beauty/grooming products and brands that are great as stocking stuffers or on their own and don't break the bank!

1. RUSK Designer Collection Thermal Holiday Set ($22.50 at Cosmoprof): This is the perfect set for the person who is always at the salon, uses heat to style their hair constantly or is a flat iron fanatic. RUSK Designer Collection™ Thermal Flat Iron Spray and RUSK® Designer Collection™ Thermal Shine Spray are made with argan oil, rich in essential fatty acids that add shine and body to the hair. Enhanced with silicones to protect and condition the hair where most needed.

2. RUSK Deepshine Color Care Hydrate Holiday Set ($15.00 at Cosmoprof): This set is great for someone with colored hair that is prone to dryness. Rusk deep shine is made specifically to hydrate your color-treated hair! RUSK Deepshine Color Care Hydrate is an intense moisture system formulated to prolong color retention. The sulfate-free shampoo gently cleanses and helps soften dry, brittle hair, while the conditioner detangles and leaves hair soft, shiny and manageable. 

3.The Swoon Universal Lip Gloss Scoop & Applicator ($12.00; www.getswoon.com): This little diddy is a perfect stocking stuffer for that one person who loves to get every last bit of use out of their lip gloss! The common “beauty bother” of lost gloss will be a thing of the past thanks to this lip gloss pick-up artist. Part scoop, part applicator, this innovative tool features a non-porous, easy-to-clean and flexible application head that doesn’t absorb gloss, so it can be used across different colors and brands. An extra-long applicator neck is designed to reach every spot so that you get every last bit of gloss. Plus an easy-to-hold handle and cover that snaps closed for safe keeping in your makeup bag means no more spills!

4. Bodycology Cozy Blanket Gift Set (19.98 exclusively at Walmart): This set is a great gift for that college aged student who loves to smell good and feel good. It comes with a set of bath products combined with a cozy blanket that is perfect for dorm life! Snuggle up and keep warm with this plush blanket and a collection of your favorite bodycology products! Available in: Pretty in Paris and Cherish the Moment

5. Piper’s Perfumery Holiday Collection 4-Pack ($9.88 at Walmart & Walmart.com): Who doesn't love body spray? It is a refreshing and bright alternative to the sometimes heavier perfumes. This set is perfect for that young twenty something to keep in her gym bag or in her bathroom kit for school. This beautiful box set contains four fun and festive 3.4oz fragrance mists in Sea Salt & Rosewater, Sheer Blue, Eye Candy and Naughty & Nice.

6. Express Facial Kit by Grand Central Beauty: Have a diva on a budget? This is a great kit that will give you that longed for spa day at home. It was created by an award-winning chemist who has developed top-selling beauty products for leading global brands, GrandCentralBeauty S.M.A.R.T. SKIN PERFECTING® skincare provides instant skin smoothing, deep moisturizing, anti-aging benefits, redness reduction and improves skin tone through a proprietary formula and application process.

7. Pür Minerals Let It Glow! Makeup Stick Trio: Another great stocking stuffer for the cosmetics maven in your life. This is a great starter kit for someone looking to up the ante on their makeup routine. It comes with easy to use makeup sticks that are specifically made for brightening and contouring. This Give your skin a rosy glow with this limited-edition set that offers three twist-up makeup sticks that highlight your features for natural radiance. Define, contour and brighten while conditioning for smoother, softer skin. ($24)

8. Bodycology Holiday Shower Duo ($2.99 exclusively at Target): Don't let the compact size of this kit fool you. Body wash and lotion in one kit is a great add it to any beauty basket. The Holiday Shower Duo in Moroccan Sunset is the perfect stocking stuffer for any girl that likes to relax and indulge. This set includes a 2oz Foaming Body Wash and a 1oz Moisturizing Body Cream. Available in: Moroccan Sunset, Truly Yours and Cherish the Moment

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

William Pilgrim Remakes Song with Legend (and Next the World)

William Pilgrim and the All Grows Up have remade the 1967 song “Gimme a Little Sign” with Brenton Woods, the original singer-songwriter. The duo, Ishmael “Ish” Herring and Philip Romero, gave it a new twist to make it relatable while linking it with a cause.

Romero grew up with the song and remembered how it always got you moving, but they decided to link the remake to climate change. “The song is about girls and love,” says Romero. “We turned it on its head for a modern take. The sign could be many elements.” They didn’t rehearse the song before going into the studio; they didn’t know how it was going to end up.

Yet Herring and Brenton Woods, who is in his 70’s, went into the studio and fell into the vocal parts. Romero says they wanted to keep true to the original but interpret the song. The result creates a very organic feeling. The song is familiar, but with the new modern twist led by Herring’s voice that makes you pay attention. It brings to mind not just generations coming together, but people coming together to create something more than themselves.

The music video was filmed at the September 22nd Climate March in New York. As climate change is something that affects us all, they hope it starts a conversation. They “married” the song with the music video to create an artistic movement showing the demonstration of numbers. The band name derives from the title character of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and they are as interesting as their music. Herring grew up in foster care. When he moved to LA, he was homeless for five years. The two met when Herring put an ad on Craigslist for a music producer. Their personalities and approaches to music balance each other out, but they both aim to create music activism, culminating in their album, “Epic Endings.” “It’s okay to be optimistic, to believe, and to care,” says Romero. “These are hard issues. It’s easier to put your head in the sand, but it’s okay to care and make a difference.” “Music is something we all can relate to whether you’re suffering or not,” Herring adds. “I keep in mind the artist’s responsibility to acknowledge injustice. As a musician, you become a trendsetter to make it cool.”

They meet weekly, if not biweekly, with the LA Youth Network where they teach music and songwriting workshops. The program, they say, empowers "abused, neglected and homeless young people and teaches them how to become self-sufficient by providing emergency shelter, food, and educational programs." “One thing they share is not having a stable family environment,” says Romero. “We use music to find empowerment and find a voice to relate to the world.” William Pilgrim’s album "Epic Endings" is out now.

Halfstack Magazine Winter 2014 Giving Issue - Letter from the Editor

Happy holidays readers! December arrived so quickly this year. I just wanted to take a moment and reflect on this past year and thank each of you readers, writers, photographers and contributors for your continued support. This publication wouldn’t be what it is without the backbone of amazing people behind it. You can find the latest issue embedded below or if you prefer you can read it by clicking HERE.

Now, this issue is dedicated to the idea of giving. Giving not just of gifts, but also of time, help, volunteering and of oneself to your craft and community. This issue I wanted to share the love with those who are doing some good for the world around them. The holidays arrive so quickly and often we fall into the same routine of mindless consumerism. I’m not going to knock retail, because without it we wouldn’t be here, but I want to showcase thoughtful consumerism. I also wanted to share stories of those working through and overcoming the struggle of poverty. You see this thread of an idea woven throughout the blanket of articles in this issue. We are featuring some pretty cool brands doing pretty cool things. Not just making cool things, but also making a difference. The fashion feature this issue is highlighting three up and coming designers in Chicago: Chicago Playground, Maybe Sunday and Amy Marie Couture. Each of these young brands has a buzz about them and I am so excited to feature them in our issue this winter.

I am sure you will end up hearing more about them. The feature was shot on location in one of Chicago’s up and coming art’s district neighborhoods. It’s a hood I knew of long before it became the cool place to be. It was my second home away from Humboldt Park. I went there for the best Mexican food, amazing people watching and a wonderful community. If you don’t know that it’s Pilsen, what rock have you been living under? Pilsen has become the premier art’s district in Chicago and we used it as the inspiration for our street style inspired shoot. We highlighted many of the amazing murals found on 16th street and Halsted. It blows my mind to see the beauty we captured in a place where I created so many childhood memories.

This issue is also featuring brands with a mission to give back to the community. Liv shares fashion lines like Twillory and Etnia Barcelona, two online brands we had a chance to learn more about. Perry is bringing us a roundup of local brands based in Chicago that give back. Teresa has her usual looks for less roundup and is sharing the latest on Chicago brand PRSVR of itshours.com.

Thom shares some great features this issue, in particular, a highlight on Wisconsin based cheese brand Sartori who is doing more than just making cheese. They are a family owned business that believes in doing good and putting their money where their mouth is. Last year they donated upwards of $42,000 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

I had the opportunity to meet with a local transitional housing program through 360 Youth Services, a local non-profit I volunteer at. I was able to meet some of those who have been affected by homelessness. I shed some startling statistics in this article and share the story of a young transgender individual starting life over again. Cora highlights an Instagram star: Mark Bustos who is known for his haircuts for the homeless initiative. We also highlight one of Chicago’s very own altruists: Marco Foster. Marco is known for his battle with brain cancer and for his empowering charitable events.

You will find a slew of great winterizing grooming and beauty tips from Danielle as well as some great music features including our winter album roundups. We have spotlight on DJ Cavem known as the O.G Rapper (organic gardener) who is helping to lead change and educate youth about healthy eating in areas known as food deserts. Stella shares a heart to heart interview with YouTube sensation and Lupus survivor: Bre Islar. Brittany, our health and fitness editor, is featuring Chicago’s own Live to Support organization. Rob shares some insight on Chicago’s climate action initiatives and shares how the community is working to take a stand against climate change.

I close out this issue with a story on Peace for Pits a non-for-profit dedicated to saving Pit bulls from euthanasia in Illinois and finding them a forever home. All to often, we forget about our furry friends and Pit bulls have even more at stake considering the propaganda and false information shared about them.

There is this saying that “you can judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” This holiday season give without expectation and love without condition. Remember those less fortunate and find a way to give from your core to those who can do nothing for you. I may not have a lot of money to give, but I have my body, my health and can make time to volunteer. It has been this past year of volunteering that has opened my eyes and has fulfilled my heart. It helps me to be a better person, to love more and to think more about my decisions. It has moved my soul and helps me to teach my young daughters about the power of love and a helping hand. It’s this idea that inspired this issue and I hope it inspires each of you this holiday season.

6 Winter Wardrobe Tips

Who doesn't love to gawk at all the luxurious designer brands? Many of us just find our favorites for our "Epic Wish list", hoping Santa wins the lottery, and continue to move on with our lives. Why ask Santa Claus when you can just make a trip over to DoubleTake Consignment? This New Jersey based boutique provides the highest quality, current designer clothes and accessories. When you walk through the boutique, you are browsing at your potential designer wardrobe at a fraction of the cost. Consignment shopping is back and at its best!

Founder and top fashion expert, Marci Kessler, works to make those fantasies a reality. Not only does she provide a hot spot for healthy shopping, but this professional came up with a perfect fashion guide!

6 Winter Wardrobe Tips
Robe Coats: This chic throwback to the 80's makes your walks in the cold somewhat enjoyable with the cozy wrap-around. Seems to be a style no one can refuse! It's been seen on everyone from Victoria Beckham to Rihanna.

High-impact Prints- Don't stick around with the basic black this season! Get your style roaring with energy filled patterns and colors. Look around…don't you see some tribal prints?

Chunky Knits: The day has come! This essential is as comfortable and toasty as it is high fashion. There's not much better than a chunky sweater paired with a flowy opaque chiffon maxi skirt!

Slouchy Wide Leg Pants: These pants are all the rave this winter! Make sure to keep balance in mind when choosing a top; Pair the wide legged pants with a slim fit top to reach ultimate perfection. Ensure they are tailored to fit your one of a kind body, as fit is key to this look!
A-line Dresses: Taking it back to the 60's with the A-line silhouette is in full force! Flattering on all body types, this trend is easy to wear for women all shapes and sizes…not to mention it's absolutely adorable!
Long Vests: Taking a cue from the boys, this elongating look is sassy AND classy! Layer a long best over a paper-thin wool sweater and a crisp white collared shirt. Complete the look with black leggings or skinny jeans with high heels to appear chic and put-together.
Photo Credit goes out to iDT

With all the holiday spirit, DoubleTake Consignment has taken the reins of Santa's sleigh! A customer loyalty program is offered this season. Since December 2nd, this deal can work your way to $50 gift cards and provide early bird access to sales. Better get shopping!

Philanthropy! Philanthropy! Philanthropy! DoubleTake donates money and merchandise to numerous charities, as well as fundraise for children struggling with cancer among other organizations. Feel good about your purchases this season!

World Vision Gift Catalog

The streets are swarming with generosity this season! Join the bandwagon to a fuller life. World Vision is a popular way to give back to the community. We aren't talking small scale here...This charitable option is available right in Chicago to help those in need worldwide!
Just last year, Chicago donors' generosity was unbelievable, reaching $792,449! What an outstanding way to show your compassion this holiday season.

Bring a little culture to your style with accessories from The World Vision Catalog. These handcrafted gifts are available here.

Colors of Asia Necklace: This handmade necklace is made of mixed glass beads with ancient techniques. Here, a contemporary design is made while also preserving the rich 500 year history of Indian jewelry. The proceeds from each piece supply a year's worth of books, uniforms, and shoes for children affected by natural disasters. The jewelry has supported 13,000 children in Southern India.

Thai Bracelet: This statement bracelet was designed in a project that protects vulnerable girls from exploitation and help those who weren't blessed with help, like Chanty, recover. Chanty was a 12 year old orphan who was tricked, abused, and sold into prostitution. After finally escaping such a life, she found the World Vision Trauma Recovery Center for counseling and loving support as she learned skills to be self-sufficient.

The World Vision Catalog offers a variety of gifts this season. Find the perfect present while funding charities around the world!

Renegade Holiday Craft Fair Chicago

What if you could combine your favorite finds on Etsy, pins from Pinterest and your most admired accounts on Instagram?  Well, this perfection is manifested in the Renegade Craft Fair.  Renegade Craft Fair is a traveling market that highlights favorite and local vendors through 14 annual events in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Portland, and London. 

Renegade came to town for the holiday market on December 6th and 7th, at the Bridgeport Arts Center.  This two day market featured over 200 unique Chicago companies, attracting thousands of shoppers.  

I was sad to have missed the Renegade September fair, here in Chicago, so of course I was excited to attend this time around.  It was my first Renegade and I have to say, it was everything I could have ever hoped for!  While the space at the Bridgeport Arts Center was a bit snug with the heavy attendance of craft-seekers, it was a great atmosphere, including vinyl records by Reckless Records playing throughout the venue.  

The fair also featured creative festivities, including DIY wood ornaments with Rebuilding Exchange and a screen printing demo from Toyota and Martha Stewart Living, the Official Media Sponsor of the 2014 Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Tour.   But, my favorite activity was the free Magnolia Photo Booth, including  festive props and a print copy of your photos to take home with you.

Giving a thoughtful gift that is also made with care is a lovely thing.  Renegade is definitely the perfect market for unique finds that are sure to make everyone on your shopping list joyful.  Here's to another year of Renegade on the road, promoting makers everywhere. I already can't wait for next season!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Fragrance Gift Guide - Him vs. Her

Happy holidays readers! Need some last minute easy gifts you can pick up at your local mall? Well, I've got you covered. Fragrances are such a great gift to give. They are long lasting and can be thoughtful if you keep in mind the gift receivers likes. So, for this gift guide we are sharing some great fragrances for me and women.

Typically, when you think of celebrities and fragrances the combination is not always that great. Over priced and too strong are the descriptions that come to mind. Yet, every once in a while the celebs do a pretty darn good job working with a team to ensure that their product is on par. Gaga, Queen Bey and Miss Katy Perry went above and beyond on their fragrance release. I was pretty surprised when I got my hands on them and had the chance to take a whiff and didn't faint from lack of oxygen. Oh, on the contrary I sprayed the perfume all over - one at a time of course! Let's get into the features.

1. Fame from Haus Laboratories is definitely one of the most intriguingly packaged perfumes I've encountered. It comes in a beautiful egg shaped glass bottle ensconced in what looks like a gold claw. The perfume liquid itself is a dark black. It's a combination of dark, sensual and light notes. This gives it a very beautiful scent that isn't over powering. There are hints of "tears of belladonna, crushed heart of tiger orchidea with a black veil of incense, pulverized apricot and the combinative essences of saffron and honey drops. So, while the scent is seemingly dark there is a sweet twist to it. What I think Gaga did best was in the concept behind the fragrance. It was created to represent the dark or destructive effect fame can have on an individual. Gaga states on the back of the packaging that the perfume is "black, like the soul of fame". It's a unisex fragrance and perfect for anyone who doesn't like to blend in.

2. Beyonce's Rise is the go to fragrance for the power woman. It's a perfume that commands attention.The concept behind the launch is to coincide with Beyonce's girl power mantra. Beyoncé believes a woman’s power comes from within and when a woman connects with her very essence, she revels in her individuality, her strength, and her beauty. To honor this elevated and empowering attitude, Beyoncé was inspired to create her newest scent, Rise. This is the type of perfume that I would wear on special occasions. It's not an everyday scent for me. It has a rather sensual, musky undertone that leaves a lasting impression. It has a rich and intoxicating luminous floral smell combined with darker scents.It features Beyoncé’s favorite flower, the Orchid. The Gold Symphony Orchid and Golden Apricot form a beautiful combination to help ensure that the scent doesn't over power.

3. Katy Perry Royal Revolution This is by far one of my favorite scents. If you like light, floral notes it is the perfect addition to your collection. This fragrance is inspired by the beauty and strength of a precious Blue Diamond and that is quite evident in the packaging as the perfume bottle is shaped like a blue diamond. The floral scent includes top notes with Pink Freesia, Black Thorn, Pomegranate Heart Notes of Orange Flower, Sandalwood, Jasmine Petals. Base Notes of Soft Leather, Skin Musk, Vanilla Orchid. This is the type of fragrance that gets better as the day wears on the more it mixes with the persons natural scent.

4. Lacoste Eau De Lacoste Blanc is a great gift for your polo wearing guy. The iconic brand has infused its lifestyle into a fragrance that is befitting of a gentleman. It is a pure, fresh and clean scent that is masculine. The fragrance opens with a fresh, woody and herbal blend of grapefruit, rosemary, cardamom and cedar leaf. The base of the fragrance merges cedar wood and georgy wood with fresh notes of vetiver. Overall it is a timeless and  beautifully smoky fragrance that only gets better as the day wears on. Perfect for every day use.

5. Gucci Guilty Intense This fragrance is on the sensual side of the spectrum of men's cologne. This is another one of those fragrances you really want to save for special occasions. Whether it be date Night or an awesome interview, this fragrance will leave an impression. Guilty Intense is a warm yet striking oriental floral, which opens to a natural rush of mandarin shimmering alongside an audacious fist of pink pepper. The middle notes are a floral signature of the lilac flower, enriched with violet accents and hints of powdery notes, and balanced by a vibrant burst of peach. When you think of the Gucci brand, you think of striking and provocative fashion. This fragrance exemplifies the brand to a tee.

**Special Mention**
Winter by Dasein - When it comes to independent fragrances, they are far and few between, but one brand is making it a point to enchant with a small batch hand blended product. Winter by Dasein is bottled in the hills of Glassell Park and it is an ode to the old way of doing things. It's reminiscent of the gold days in the forest during the winter months up north. It has notes of blue spruce, black cardamom, forest pine and french lavender. It's light, airy and crisp - just like winter should be. This is another unisex fragrance that is great for ladies or gentlemen.

Happy shopping!
Jen Lezan - Editor in chief

Under $50 Holiday Dresses

The holidays only become the happiest time of the year after stress and endless to-do lists…Can we all agree? Taking a trip to the mall can be too time consuming for all the busy schedules this season. All the crazy store lines makes online shopping look better and better! Everyone is preoccupied with what presents to purchase for loved ones, but have you considered what you'll be rockin' at the next winter event?

STOP! Stop looking for the perfect dress for the holidays. Sophie Simmons' fashion line has just what you need. Her collaboration with The Style Club has brought a top fashion, 5 piece collection for all women. With sizes from 00-18, you can look your best for any Christmas party or New Year's celebration. Better yet, this collection is all under $50!

Don't wait any longer! This Sophie Simmons x The Style Club line is available exclusively on TheStyleClub.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cancer, Leo and Virgo.Your 2015 will be ....

As mentioned last week, 2014 was an emotional year for many people around the world. The aspects of the planets caused a lot of struggles. With the beginning of October 2014, there was a bit of an easing, we felt better and were more able to achieve our goals.
2015 is a promising year for most of the horoscopes. The major planets' aspect will be good. These aspects will bring a lot of good opportunities to most of the astrological signs. Change is the big word in 2015.

Since 2008 the horoscopes had entered into a strange astrological cycle period. Some planets cycle through the universe and the horoscope very quickly. The moon is a good example as it cycles in the horoscope calendar in approximately 29 days. Others planets move very slowly through the horoscope cycle such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto which take many years to complete a cycle. During their movements, they make different angles or aspects with the other planets in the galaxy. Because of the slow moving cycles and these negative aspects/angles, we entered a period of negative energy. This affected many folks. People had to downshift into harder times. This changes brought many challenges and struggles on many levels. In the second half of 2014, much of that changed. Some of the slower moving planets came into alignment making things more comfortable for us. There will be some great results we expect to see in 2015.

As promised, a sneak peak of upcoming first quarter of the next year is in your immediate future. Starting last week, I started to put the predictions on line. I will be doing three signs a week to end out the old year and send out the positive energy to the new year. I will be going through the signs in Astrological order and last week did Aries, Taurus and Gemini. This week, I will explain Cancer, Leo and Virgo. Next week, Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius will be discussed. The last week of the year will end with the signs Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Enjoy!


2015 a much better year than its predecessor. 2014 has been a turning point in your life and invites you to the movement, work and initiative in the last 3 month of it. 2015 will be divided into two phases: the first phase, between August 1st and the last day of December. In the first phase, you will think about the change and moving to a better location, better job or career. In the second phase starting in the first part of August you will find many things have changed for the good. Jupiter will be your supporter on this new session and opens the doors that were closed. You will accept the change and it will creatively push you to the highest ranks. The second phrase will transform your destiny to a great victory. The universe will protect you from enemies if there are any problems.
Emotionally, quiet atmospheres surround you until July particularly if you are single. During this time, you will get the chance to make new friends and meet new people. If you're free and if you want to choose the time of the marriage, please do so after the summer. Many astrologers will refer to the emotional opportunities in your field as well. Look to meet some foreigners travelers to strike up new acquaintances.


After a lot of sadness, anger and lack of energy on 2014, 2015 will be the phenomenal for you dear Leo. It will be an exceptional year and one you will not forget for a long time. You carry this hopes, dream and fortune on each family member both physical and emotionally. The presence of Jupiter in your horoscope will make you lively and up in the month of August. Unusual events enter and title the radical switch that will happen in your life. It's time for the implementation of projects that were stuck. This year is blessed by the universe. Check and upgrade technologies and computers as importance and emphasis on new data translate as profitable for you if available. Be aware between late June and late October of making changes.  Stay calm and wise during this period. You will end the year with a large travel plans. There are brilliantly happy and victories in line. It is worth mentioning that the planet of love (Venus) smiles exceptionally. That period of June to October is the time to concentrate on matters of the heart. That energy will make your emotional destiny become new or refreshed. It also holds surprises.


2015 will be a very good year for you. Jupiter is in Leo until August 2015 and will get rid of your challenges and stress. After mid August 2015 (about the 11th) Jupiter will visit YOU and will stay for a year.  ENJOY. You will feel a lot of changes and the luck will be with you.  In April of 2015 you have to watch your health and food consumption. In the first months of 2015, you may get a promotion or bonus. You may have the opportunity to make some extra money. Pursue this extra cash. It will come in handy later. The autumn brings achievements except the month of September as it will will warn you of some of delays. You are careful, cautious and not venturous. Investments are not guaranteed in the first months of the year. Some of the astrological omens expose you and cause you to defend yourself. Emotionally, your outlook will change with some people. A chance to meet a new lover occupies your mind on September and holds you for the month of October. It will be an important turning point in December. The end of the year will be very promising.