“Smoky Joe’s was never timid about presenting something new; in fact,
the ‘new’ was its signature.” If ’ competitors’ saw it as too risky,
Smoky Joe’s forged ahead. Only later, once the style caught fire did
the competition jump on the band wagon. Smoky Joe’s motto ” If
you’re like everybody else, you’re no one— so why be in the
Salesmen knew that the way to get a retailer to place an order was to
report,’ Well, Smoky Joe’s is featuring it in their new windows.”
Bingo!! As they designed their clothes, so did they design their
fabulous window displays. Store owners from not only throughout the
city came to see the windows and get ideas, but from throughout the
country. They had to fight customers for a “front row seat.” That’s
no exaggeration. I worked there and I saw their unveiling, as much
like opening night as a new show at the Shubert Theater as any other
phenomenon. The partners along with their
temperamental, Adolph Monjeu look alike window dresser, arrived in a
limo (paid for by Smoky Joe’s from his penthouse at the Belden
Stratford) putting the windows in at night under the cover of darkness
and behind a screen of paper masking. Then at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday the curtain went up on spectacular colors and designs within a theme setting. Italian Knits with butter soft pastel leather fronts and
collars appeared in Venice completed by moving gondolas. Satin and
velvet band outfits were displayed on mannequins that looked eerily
like Satch and Duke and Sammy holding real instruments while music
filled the alcoves from hidden speakers. Customers danced BEFORE they entered the store. Some were to become famous, like little Michael
Jackson. Most were just people who loved the styles and the built in
fun and daring look.
So, it seems absolutely in the spirit of Smoky Joe that his grandson,
Steve, and fiancé, Beth Stern would decide to re-launch a new Chicago
Smoky Joe’s Clothing featuring smoking jackets in plush fabrics,
jeweled color velvets, deep brocades along with celebratory
accessories, hats and sunglasses with their new windows, the world
wide web, with orders from as far away as Vienna and Sweden. Smoky
himself must be looking down from style heaven, rolling his signature
cigar around, grinning and cheering,” That’s the way — now if you
just trim the collar just a tiny bit differently— like this— and
combine this stitch so that it makes a daring appearance —-… well,
perfection would be even better!”
I say three cheers for the new Smoky Joe’s Clothing menswear and a
renewed tradition of style innovation straight from The Windy City.
Stuart Omans, a former salesman at Smoky Joe’s and retired Professor of English
Smoky Joe's Around Town
There doesn’t seem much we can do about the worsening economy but sit back and watch and hope that our leaders in Washington will come up with something; a few branches that we can grab a hold of to pull ourselves out of the economic quicksand that we’ve stumbled into.
Some citizens, however, aren’t waiting around for Congress or anyone else to come up with some ideas as to how to revive America’s moribund economy. Roger Simmermaker is one of four citizens behind the Buy American Project, a non-profit organization that educates both consumers and legislators in their belief that we can revitalize the American economy by renewing our manufacturing base and buying American made products.
Simmermaker is passionate in his belief that, as American citizens, we hold the key to our destiny. He was originally inspired by Ross Perot during his first presidential campaign in 1992. Perot’s message about the wisdom of Americans buying American made products made sense to Simmermaker.
A few years later, in 1994, Simmermaker went shopping and decided to make sure he only bought American made clothing. It wasn’t easy. He looked around for help and found there were no consumer guides available to inform people about how to buy all American made products. So, he researched the issue himself and wrote a book about what he learned; How Americans Can Buy American: The Power of Consumer Patriotism was published in 1996. The third edition came out in 2008.
Simmeraker works as an engineer for a living and dedicates his own time and energy to the Buy American Project. I spoke with him for Smoky Joe’s Clothing to find out why he believes we can re-energize the economy by buying American made products.
It’s a fact of life that the world is interconnected. Just how difficult is it to buy all American made products these days?
You have to know how to do it and that’s why the book is so important. It lists 20,000 different American made products and services in over 200 categories. However, there are certain instances where you’re just not going to be able to buy American made products. If you’re going to buy a cell phone or a cordless phone or alarm clock radio, things like that, you’re going to be out of luck.
But, there are some things we can do. We need to buy American in the categories where there are still American made products. Awareness is really the key and that’s what the book is all about, making people aware so that they can make choices that support the economy.
Is the loss of manufacturing in this country just part of a natural growth process that a nation goes through - a progression from an agricultural to a manufacturing to an information economy?
Well, I don’t think it’s a natural progression to say we need to shelve this and back off for something different. It just depends on what the rationale is. I think the national tragedy is for too long we thought we could get by on financial services and other types of service jobs and those would be the jobs of the future so we could afford to lose manufacturing jobs.
The truth is we had the financial meltdown on Wall Street which kind of put a dent into the thought that we could rely on the financial services industry to propel our prosperity in this country. Another industry that we thought we could help drive the economy is high technology. We currently have high technology product deficit with China so high-tech hasn’t really held up its end of the bargain either.
I think a lot of people are saying that maybe we should go back and look at manufacturing because every manufacturing job creates four other jobs and you just don’t have that kind of ripple effect in the service industry and a lot of people are coming around to that fact.
Why do you think it’s possible to bring manufacturing back to America?
The exodus to manufacturing jobs started basically in the early 1990’s. In the last decade we’ve lost over 30,000 to 40,000 manufacturing facilities. The good news is that manufacturing jobs are actually starting to come back for a couple of reasons.
In countries like China for instance, the exchange rate (they raised it a little in 2011), their wage rates are increasing, and the cost of shipping from China to America have doubled in the last couple of years. These kinds of things have worked together to make American domestic factories more competitive. So, it’s definitely a trend that’s happening.
Corporations save money by moving facilities to other countries. How do we convince a company like say, Whirlpool, to bring back manufacturing to this country where labor costs are still much higher?
Well, first of all there is probably both a certain amount of patriotism and greed in every corporation. It’s really impossible to tell what percentage of one over the other there is unless you’re on the inside of that corporation and can see how that affects the decisions that they make. But this is where awareness is really the key.
We really need to be careful about calling out companies and calling attention to their moving jobs overseas. I know Whirlpool is one of the more recent ones that moved facilities to Mexico, but they certainly weren’t the only ones. Electrolux also moved a factory to Mexico a few years ago. The fact remains that Whirlpool employs more Americans than any other company in the appliance industry and they have more plants in America and consequently more jobs on American soil.
American companies pay about twice as many taxes to the American treasury compared to foreign companies in similar industries so just using the money we’re already spending we can literally double the amount of tax revenue we send to the U.S. Treasury. That’s another reason why it’s so important to support American companies like Whirlpool even though, yes, they do have factories in other countries.
So, we have to choose our battles wisely and try to convince these companies to bring more of their production back to the United States.
Corporations also have an obligation to their shareholders to maximize profits and they seem to focus on short-term gains rather than the long-term effect their decisions have on the economy.
Again, it goes back to the percentage of how much patriotism and how much greed there is in any given company or corporation. Publicly traded companies are interested in doing what’s best for shareholders at least part of the way and that’s completely understandable to a point.
So, what we have to do is the best we can and approach companies and say, look, we are all in this together, we’re on the same team; we’re Americans and you’re an American company…
What are the kinds of things one should look for to tell if they are buying American made products?
Well that’s a great question because we need to do more than just buy American-made products we need to buy products made by American owned companies. That way we keep not only jobs but profits and tax revenues as well.
The truth is you will never know without doing the research to find out whether you’re really supporting an American company or not. For instance, Swiss Miss is an American company and Carnation is owned by the Swiss. You need to do the research to find out what’s what.
Foreign owned companies will list the address of their U.S. subsidiary on a package and this makes us think we are buying an American product when that may not be the case. For instance, the label on a bottle of Lysol will say its disinfectant is produced in America, but it won’t tell you that it’s a British owned company. The good news is I’ve done all the research. In my book, I’ve gathered thousands of these kinds of examples.
What’s you opinion of the “Buy American” legislation pending in Congress?
Yes, it’s called the Investment America Jobs Act of 2011, House Resolution 3533. Since it’s now 2012 it’s been around for a while, but it started when the Transportation Department had contracts for buses and they got faulty parts from China. It was a kind of light bulb moment when officials wondered why are we importing these parts from China when we can make them right here in the United States?
The idea of the legislation is to have 100% American made materials in our transportation and infrastructure projects that are manufactured in the U.S. There are currently 40 co-sponsors to that legislation in Congress.
So we need to let elected officials know why buying American is important to the nation so they can get behind the Buy American legislation and support American jobs in that manner.
On your website you mention that there is a”Buy American” Congressional Cacus.
A couple of years ago they started the Buy American Caucus and there’s only a handful of legislators on that. I found out that there are a lot of buy American friendly legislators out there that don’t know the Buy American Caucus exists.
Again, because there’s so many caucuses in Congress it’s hard to treat keep track of them all, but part of what we do is to convince legislators to join the Buy American Caucus. We feel that if we have a united caucus with a number of House members and Senators on board it will be a lot easier to get the Buy American legislation out of Congress and onto the president’s desk.
Is there anything else about the Buy American Project that you want to mention?
I know you started off your conversation with questions specifically about the apparel industry. There’s a lot of links to apparel companies on the Buy American Project website. One of them, the All American Clothing Company has a very interesting story. The owner, Lawson Nickol, worked for a Jeans manufacturer a few years ago that decided to move their production to Mexico. When Nickol found out about it he quit and started his own company and over the last several years it has really prospered.
That’s why I mention him so highly on my website because it’s a great story and great testament about Americans and how if we don’t like the way things are going we can go in a different direction and succeed. Nickol’s company produces their clothing in the United States and uses 100% certified American grown cotton and that’s how it should be.
Cardell Phillips is a blogger and writer who resides in Chicago. You can visit his blog at http://talesofthewindycity.wordpress.com
Before State Street was great, there was Maxwell Street. Located on the Near West side of the city near the trains, factories, warehouses and slaughterhouses, the Maxwell Street area became a gateway community for the early immigrants who settled in Chicago. It was where you could find work, cheap rent, a thriving outdoor market and a myriad of social organizations to show you the ropes. Everything you needed to get started in a new country. The old Maxwell Street area is known as the “Ellis Island” of the Midwest.
The Germans and the Irish were the first people to settle in the area around the mid nineteenth century. Other European immigrants soon followed and in the 1880’s Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe began arriving in Chicago. And that’s when things got interesting. The Jewish immigrants brought with them the entrepreneurial skills and market economy they developed by necessity in the small villages or “Shetls” of their homelands.
Freed from the shackles of the repressive, anti-Semitic governments of Eastern Europe and Russia, The new immigrant’s entrepreneurial genius flourished and they transformed the Maxwell Street area market into an economic engine for the city. In 1912, the city fathers recognized the value of a thriving central market place and designated Maxwell Street an official, New York style, push cart market.
‘In the old days,’ Chicago Sun-times columnist Mike Royko once wrote, ‘they didn’t stand outside and coax you into the store. They hauled you in if you weren’t big enough to resist. The only reasons they stopped was because an ordinance was passed prohibiting the ‘kidnapping of customers.’
At Maxwell Street area, the Jewish immigrants recreated their Shetls where they nurtured the values of sacrifice, hard work and community. Values perfectly suited to America, a country where an ambitious young man could move up in the world.
Burt Weinstein, the owner of a successful clothing business on Maxwell Street, describes how those values played out. “The lessons we learned as kids going down Maxwell Street,” stressed Burt, “were lessons of life about how to treat people, how people treated you, how to get along with people, how to treat them no matter what because you wanted to make a customer out of them with respect.”
The Maxwell street entrepreneurs all had a similar business plan. They would start out with a push cart or sold items from a table on the street and worked from dawn to dusk seven days a week selling their wares. If they were good at it, they raised enough capital to eventually move their business into a storefront on Maxwell Street. If they were especially enterprising, they followed that up with a move to Halsted Street. It’s what the sons of the push cart vendors dreamed about. A store on Halsted Street was reserved for the best of the best .
By the time a business reached Halsted Street, the owner was probably past his prime, but the next generation was standing in the wings waiting for their cue to step on stage.
The story of Smoky Joe’s Clothing illustrates the Maxwell Street business model in action. Joe Bublick started selling pants on a table inside his friend’s (Jacob Weinstein) store. Bublick turned that humble beginning into a successful business, Smoky Joe’s, a clothing store that was a fixture on Halsted Street for many years. When Bublick’s two sons, Max and Morry, took over things only got better.
That’s because Joe Bublick had the good fortune to have two sons who not only loved the business, but also made a great team. Max was a number cruncher and Morry was the artist; a perfect cast of talents to take Smoky Joe’s to the top and that’s exactly what happened.
Under the guidance of Max and Morry, Smoky Joe’s Clothing evolved into the store where you could find the hippest, flashiest, sharpestoutfits in town. According to Max Bublick, his brother Morry designed the Zoot Suit. When you needed something special for the big dance come Saturday night, you hopped the trolley and headed straight for Smoky Joe’s Clothing.
In an interview for the Chicago Sun-Times, in 1966, Morry Bublick said, “When the unusually high style dresser comes here with the query in his mind, ‘What is new, Smoky Joe?’ we show him what we hope is the next New Look of clothing.”
Smoky Joe’s became a legend in the clothing industry and a clothier of choice for the black entertainment stars of the 60’s and 70’s including the Jackson Five, Sammy Davis, Jr., Smokey Robinson, the Chi-Lites and many others.
The rise of Smoky Joe’s is the story of Maxwell Street; the great American story. The Bublicks went from Maxwell Street to Halsted Street and eventually to State Street. Today, there is little left of the old Maxwell Street market. It was torn down in the name of progress and urban renewal in 1994 to make way for the University of Illinois Chicago campus. But, the legacy of genius, hard work, community and spirit of those early Jewish immigrants is still alive.
Steve Omans, the grandson of Morry Bublick and Beth Stern, a Chicago area business woman, have brought back Smoky Joe’s Clothing with an innovative line of retro fashions; including smoking jackets, sunglasses and top hats. The new Smoky Joe’s Clothing has set up shop on the Internet, the 21st century’s version of the old Maxwell Street market. Somewhere, Joe Bublick has to be smiling.
Written by: Cardell Phillips
They are cool in a James Bond sort of way.
Made with elegant designs, expensive materials, intricate patterns, rich colors – and with a mystique all its own, smoking jackets are an unmistakable symbol of success, wealth and leisure.
In 1852, the Gentlemen’s Magazine of London described the smoking jacket as A kind of short robe de chamber, of velvet, cashmere, plush, merino, or printed flannel; lined with bright colors, ornamental with brandengourgs, olives, or large buttons. Excuse me, a velvet robe de chamber? One can just imagine a gathering of the titans of the day, sitting in high backed chairs around a fireplace, wearing their smoking jackets, sipping brandy and smoking cigars, debating politics and boasting about their conquests.
Since its heyday during England’s Victorian Age, the smoking jacket has had its ups and downs. They were popular among the great entertainment stars of the 50’s and 60’s. Cary Grant wore them, so did Frank Sinatra and his pal Dean Martin. The look fit in perfectly with Liberace’s act along with his candelabra and grand piano. Fred Astaire was buried in one. And no conversation about the smoking jacket would complete without mentioning the uber suave, pipe smoking, young at heart, founder of playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner.
Alas, the elegant stars of yesteryear have departed leaving Hef to carry the torch. Because of or in spite of that, the smoking jacket has made a comeback. It’s gained a retro status that appeals to today’s generation that works hard and plays hard.
The classic smoking jacket is a coat shaped jacket, single-breasted with a shawl collar and turned up cuffs and toggle or button fastenings, or it may be simply closed with a tie belt. It’s ventless, with piped lapels, cuffs and pockets. Typically made from velvet or silk of rich color such as bottle green, dark blue or claret red, their very boldness conveys a sense of confidence to the wearer.
The origin of the smoking jacket is obscured in, well, smoke. Many historians say its genesis began in the sixteenth century, when trade opened up between England and what was known then as the Far East. That trade, and trade with New World, introduced the English to luxuries such as coffee, tea, spices, tobacco and silk. By the mid-seventeenth century, silk and velvet robes de chamber had become a status symbol.
During the Crimean War (1853-1856) Turkish tobacco became generally available to Europeans for the first time and smoking became a popular pastime in England.
But as any smoker will tell you, the odor of smoke seeps into you’re your hair, furniture, clothes, everything. Enter the smoking jacket, an update of the velvet or silk robe. Its rich materials were comfortable yet elegant and most important they absorbed the odor of the smoke in the jacket instead of the clothing underneath. Now a gentleman could retire to his parlor to smoke and commiserate with his fellows and not have to worry about offending the lady of the house with the tell of his rakish behavior. Needless to say, smoking jackets became a de rigueur addition to any self respecting, English gentleman’s wardrobe.
Today the smoking jacket is seen as the perfect alternative for social occasions when a sport jacket is too casual but a tuxedo’s too formal. They have a real funky look when worn with jeans. Women too, are turning to smoking jackets as a sexy option for a night out.
In the end, the smoking jacket has survived and reemerged as a retro fashion because of the allure that surrounds it. They make you look and feel casually elegant, the essence of cool.
Written by Cardell Phillips
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