Chicago | A Continuous Lean.

Charting Chicago

Mar 24th, 2013 | Categories: Chicago, History | by Michael Williams


The Library of Congress: Everyday a new discovery and a new treasure. It’s not exactly easy to navigate, but it is amazing what shows up doing random keyword searches in the LOC archive. The “Bird’s Eye View” maps have long been a favorite, but a deeper dive into the maps pages with a Chicago search turned up all of these beautiful old maps.

The most intriguing of which is directly below, showing the sections of the city that fire destroyed because Catherine O’Leary left a lit lantern within leg-shot of her cow in 1871. The conflagration wasn’t actually her fault, but it did start in her barn. At any rate, the map shows the huge swath of the city that burnt in the blaze. The perspectives and design of this old ephemera, along with the LOC as a whole, continues to inspire.



The Time is Right for Independence.

Sep 15th, 2012 | Categories: Chicago, Made in the USA, Retail | by Michael Williams

It seems like every time work takes me to Chicago, I only get one day to explore. And the more I visit, the more apparent it becomes that I need much more time in The Second City. The food/drink scene alone can dominate the better part of a week’s furlough. While time was limited on my most recent trip, I did have a chance to visit a few stores I have been hearing about as part of my ongoing, unofficial quest to document every good store in America. Certainly deserving this call out and your own visit is Independence — which is the retail outpost of Oak Street Bootmakers. The store, by concept, sells only US made goods—one of the only stores I have seen that sticks to such a defined subject.

There’s a lot to buy at the shop, but what really stands out to me is the opportunity to try on and take home a very nice selection of footwear from Oak Street Bootmakers. That said, there is all sorts of other good stuff from Batten Sportswear, LVC, Gitman Vintage, Post Overalls and Imogene + Willie. Also present are a bunch of very nice (and well priced) wool blankets from the fairly recently relaunched Faribault Woolen Mills — which are highly likeable things.

Inside Horween Leather

Oct 21st, 2010 | Categories: Chicago, Factory Tour, Footwear, Made in the USA | by Michael Williams

This past summer I took a trip to visit the Horween tannery in Chicago. The purpose of the trip was to document the process of making shell cordovan for Wolverine. (Full disclosure, Wolverine is a client of my marketing firm Paul + Williams.) The cordovan would eventually be used in the making of the newly released Wolverine 1000 Mile 721LTD boots. To be able to go out there, see the Horween plant and document everything was really an amazing experience. To follow the process of making these special (and damn-good-looking in my totally-unbiased-opinion) boots was definitely the highlight of my summer and something I am really proud to have been a part of. While the cameras were rolling I tagged along shooting hundreds of photos of Horween, which up until now, have been sitting in a folder on my computer. With the boots just landing in stores I feel like it is time to show you all some of my favorites from Horween. (I also have a photo series from the factory where the boots were made. Standy by for that.) I can say for certain that the legend of Horween is 100% real and was something experienced first hand with them this summer in Chicago. You’d be hard pressed to find better people. They remind me of the folks back home in Ohio — salt of the earth.

Hands On | Optimo Hats

Sep 18th, 2010 | Categories: Chicago, Hats, Made in the USA | by Michael Williams

The Optimo Hat Company video that I posted not too long ago had me pining to own one. But realistically, when was I going to be in Chicago again (I was there two times more this year than the past ten) to visit Optimo in person? Then out of the blue the company founder Graham emailed me to tell me Optimo is holding its yearly NYC trunk show this weekend at the Gramercy Park Hotel. This was great news and I quickly set up an appointment to see what was on offer.

To see the hats in person and try them on was such a nice experience. The tactile quality of the felt was wonderful and the Panama Hats are truly special. It made me want to run home get into a suit and head straight to 21. The trunk show is set up as one-on-one appointments for customers to get fitted and browse the different style and material options. If you want to buy a hat, Optimo takes the order, then the hat is made especially for you and sent out a few weeks later. It is a familiar process for anyone that has met with a visiting tailor. But since today was the last day of the trunk show, you will have to visit the Optimo shop in Chicago to get your hands on one. And trust me, these hats are best appreciated on your head.

Made in Chicago | Optimo Hats

Sep 9th, 2010 | Categories: Chicago, Made in the USA, Video | by Michael Williams

Another great made-in-USA video out of Chicago, this time directed by Sam Macon (nice dolly work there Sam) showcasing the Optimo Hat Company. I love to see this type of craftsmanship in action.

Also check out: Made in Chicago | Oxxford Clothes

Made in Chicago | Oxxford Clothes

Aug 29th, 2010 | Categories: Chicago, Clothing, Factory Tour, Video | by Michael Williams

The good people at Oxxford Clothes have put together a short film documenting the process of making what many think to be America’s finest tailored clothing. If there were any question as to Oxxford’s quality and make, the company dispels all doubt with the “Anatomy of the Suit” section of its website. It seems clear that Oxxford has set the standard for making heirloom-quality-goods. I own quite a few suits, but sadly none of them are made by Oxxford. This needs to change.

Thanks to Michael for the tip.

Wants & Desires | Agent Gallery Chicago

Jan 21st, 2010 | Categories: Chicago, Furniture, Shelter | by Michael Williams

I must confess that, for whatever reason, I haven’t been to Chicago in years. I was meaning to go for a music festival or two last summer, but never made it. Everyone I know from the capital of the Middlewest raves about the city — all livable and everything. It is a different beast than New York though, that is for sure. The argument for me to visit got a little more compelling last week when I discovered Agent Gallery. I actually found them through some of their auctions on eBay and eventually wound up digging through the company’s online shop. It has some nice industrial lighting for sale, and some other interesting objects and furniture. I’m not a lighting expert so some of that stuff could be crap, but it looks good to me. The prices also aren’t necessarily cheap, but they aren’t New York prices either.