Here Comes Santa Claus: The 2011 Edition (Pt 3)

In Part 1 we covered ideas for Food gifts, in Part 2 it was all about the Sparklies, and now for Part 3, it’s time to do a run-down of some hopefully intriguing small brand, artisan crafted, upcycled, repurposed or maybe just plain left-of-center stuff that might be *perfectly* perfect for the person on your list whom you find undeniably (and annually) difficult to please.

Like, maybe, yourself.

Sometimes a ballerina just isn’t part of the ten year plan

So without further delay, I give you . . .


*It aint easy being clean: SunBasilGarden Soaps — A few years ago, my friend Louise mentioned to me what a chore it often was to get her two little girls into the tub for bath time in the evenings. I mean, the kids were being dragged away from toys, coloring books, the TV and the rest of the active family hub, and for what . . . a rub-a-dub scrub in a boring old tub? Big ol’ phooey to that!

So I thought to myself, why not bring a whole layer of anticipatory fun to the process by introducing new experiences through the candy-coated colors, intensely pleasant scents and appealing shapes of moisture rich, handmade soaps?

Well, you’d have thought I’d stumbled across a lifetime supply of unicorn cupcakes and Hello Kitty dreams — when the first package arrived, the two girls squealed with excitement, running around the room in circles and screaming for Louise to draw them a bath right then and there so they could soak in a bliss of scented suds.

Caution: may result in mean clean bathing machines! (pics by SBG – click to enlarge)

Louise said she’d never seen anything like it, and so from then on, it’s been a package of new and exciting soaps on her doorstep every couple of months, guaranteeing a lack of complaining or dragging of feet when it comes to the necessary (and once dreaded) bath time.

Favorites: orange creamsicle, milk and cookies and rainbow brite ruffle, but shop owner and soap maker Lauren Miller has introduced some holiday themed scents for Christmas, as well, from egg nog, frankincense & myrrh and cinnamon stick soaps to sugar plum fairy and snicker doodle bath bombs.

There’s stuff for the grown-up kids in the household, too, like beer, martini and bacon soaps for the gents, and honey bee, pomegranate and white tea and ginger for the ladies.

*Runner-up in the bathing ape sweepstakes: Juniper Ridge Wild-Harvested Organic Soap — not as bright and quirky as SunBasilGarden, but that’s because Juniper Ridge is serious about its mission, which is to make 100% wild-crafted, organic soaps from the fresh, live infusions of real plants and tree cuttings harvested from the Pacific Northwest, Northern and Southern California regions.

Featuring scents like Red Rock Canyon, Sierra Summer Pine and San Jacinto, the aesthetic is all about the great outdoors. Bonus points: a website that’s absolutely transparent about the materials used and efforts at sustainability. Bonus bonus points — Juniper Ridge donates 10% of its profits to Western wilderness conservation efforts.

*Speaking of donations and conservation: Elvis & Kresse — Elvis & Kresse is a small British handbag company with an appealing twist: every bag is made from used British fire hoses, which means #1) they’re waterproof, capable of withstanding temperatures that would turn leather to ash, and are easy to clean, and #2) the company is salvaging tons (over 150 tons as of 2011) of usable, durable material that would otherwise get tossed into landfills every year.

Plus (and here’s the bonus point round again), they donate 50% of their profits to projects and charities that benefit the providers of the materials they use. For example, they donate money to fire fighter’s charities, and since bulk coffee bean sacks are repurposed for products and packaging, they donate funds to projects that further the goals of ethical and sustainable coffee farming.

Elivs and Kresse messenger bag
My own personal Elvis & Kresse messenger bag

Favorites: the everyday practical tote, and the urban (and college campus) friendly messenger bag. They also make placemats for the dining table — I have a set and they’re terrific.

All Elvis & Kresse bags are produced in a factory in Romania, while their belts and a few other smaller items are manufactured in the city of Poole in the UK, where the owners of the company live.

*Honorable reuse, recycle, repurpose mentions:

1.) Loved to Death — a goth-leaning site featuring vintage jewelry (plus new jewelry designed to look vintage), antique home items and taxidermy. Yes, that’s right, I said taxidermy — for more antique jewelry online, see Erie Basin.

2.) Modern 50 — this Maryland-based e-shop features a huge collection of retro-modern, eccentric, sometimes vintage and always covetable furniture, art and objects that make my heart ache, long, yearn and break. Their “oddities”, “wall and mirrors” and “art and sculpture” sections are particularly pertinent gift-item sources for any vintage-o-philes in your life — besides which, the photography is just plain gorgeous.

*NOTE 3: I’ll take the industrial cast iron shears and the salvage wall partition, thanks.

3.) Kabinett & Kammer — a self-described “curiosity shop” of antiques, art and found objects, featuring taxidermy (taxidermy appears to be making a roaring comeback), primitive furniture, vintage photography and small objects d’art. I’m a little miffed that I missed picking up this collection of 50 cement bunnies.

*But back to the kids: Cotton Monster — weird, wacky and wonderful, Baltimore artist and puppeteer Jennifer Strunge has made stuffed animals cool again. All her monsters are handmade and crafted from recycled clothing and fabrics (though they’re stuffed with new high-grade polyester fiberfill), with each one a unique creation.

Favorites: the long-limbed giant monsters; the small, squeezable jelly monsters; and Strunge’s recently introduced line of pajama-clad kitties dubbed the Von Katz family.

Photos by Cotton Monster — click to enlarge

*NOTE 4: For a look at how much fun even an adult can have with a Cotton Monster, see the AntiM’s MonsterVision In Stunning Technicolor blog post. And don’t miss the Cotton Monster photo feed on Flickr.

*Honorable get-stuffed mention: Zverrriki — handmade teddy bears and crocheted animals from Ukranian artist Ann Zverrriki. Using felt, yarn, mohair and viscose, Zverrriki’s creations are imbued with a sense of nostalgia and old-world charm, not to mention being just about the cutest darn things I’ve ever seen.

Favorites: Big Rabbit Gentle, Hedgehog Boris Broun and Teddy Bear Jonny, but it was difficult to narrow the “favorites” list down to just three.

Photos by Zverrriki — click to enlarge

*NOTE 5: For something a little closer to home (if you live in the U.S.), try the Fickle Pickles shop at Etsy. I’m not as melty-gaga over the aesthetic as I am for the Zverrriki pieces, but I do have a soft spot for the rag dolls and the felted teddy bear.

*Bags, bags and more bags: Because what kind of a gift guide would this be if I didn’t offer up more than Elvis & Kresse for your bag lusting souls? Below are a few suggestions for everyday knockabout bags that should make someone’s Christmas a very merry one, indeed.

West Coast: Basil Racuk Farmer’s Market Tote — let’s face it, we all have to grocery shop, yet we’re also growing more aware of the constant stream of plastic bags that we’re tossing into the garbage and/or recycling bins day after day, week after week. California artisan Racuk’s handmade market tote is a solution for your needs that will set you apart from the crowd in both substance *and* style.

The Farmer’s Market Tote is big enough to handle a day at the market while not looking like you’re carrying a piece of luggage over your shoulder, the leather is available in three colors, the shoulder strap is adjustable, the interior is lined in easy-to-clean waxed cotton (while also sporting a few patch pockets for keys, phone, etc.) and there’s a handy pouch on the exterior that’s perfect for a big bottle of water (or wine, depending on your poison). But the great thing about dealing with an artisan? You can get the design tweaked and refined to suit different wants and needs.

A small sampling of Racuk goodness — click to enlarge

“It’s me; I’m a person — you’re talking to someone,” said Racuk in an interview with Diablo Magazine. “It comes back to humanity and connecting to something on a deeper level. I really do think that’s the whole point right there.”

So go ahead. Connect. You’ll be giving a gift that will be appreciated for a lifetime, and made by a leather craftsman who loves his work.

*NOTE 6: Racuk graciously consented to a lengthy and engaging interview for my website in 2010. You can read it at the following link — The Artisan Series: Basil Racuk

East Coast: Wendy Nichol — hitting the scene in 2007, Wendy Nichol designs and creates jewelry pieces, clothing and accessories by hand in Midtown and SoHo New York. Her bags, especially, are all hand dyed, braided, cut and stitched. It’s a total artisan affair, and right in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, to boot.

Nichol is best known for her bucket style “bullet” bags, but she also makes backpacks, wrap clutches, satchels, totes and more. You can order the Nichol bags online, but she has a stand alone boutique on Sullivan Street in SoHo (which doubles as her leather workshop) if you require a good cuddle and stroke of the merchandise before purchase.

The Wendy Nichol shop in New York City

New Americana Coast: BillyKirk — owned and operated by two brothers out of New York, the BillyKirk brand is very much at the forefront of the Americana revival, with its Made in the U.S.A. pride married to a rugged, durable aesthetic.

I snagged a leather tote of theirs off a flash sale site about a year and a half ago, and I use it whenever I go shopping for groceries. It’s lined in easy to wash nylon, has both internal and external pockets, it’s strong, sturdy and is aging beautifully (which is more than I can say for myself on most days).

My BillyKirk leather tote — click to enlarge

The model I purchased isn’t available for sale on their website (I think it was created specifically for the Gilt Groupe), but they offer numerous totes and bags in full-leather as well as leather + canvas combinations. They also offer belts, leather cuffs, wallets and hats.

*Other leather goods worth exploring:

1.) Handmade belts by Billy Moore of Cause & Effect, a one-man artisan operation out of Tennessee. He water soaks his leather in a stream and hammers it out on the rocks on the shore. The belt buckles are also hand forged.

2.) Handmade leather footwear by Yuki Matsuda of Yuketen. Yuketen shoes and boots aren’t dainty Italian loafers, they’re rugged and durable Made in the U.S.A. footwear for everyday use (there’s that Americana revival again).

3.) Crave-inducing handmade leather-bound journals by Teo Studio out of Portugal, incorporating only vintage and repurposed materials. The leather she uses is often recovered from old, worn handbags, and she stains and tears the handmade paper herself. I have my eye on this big beauty with its torn pages, hand sewn binding and luscious textured leather cover.

Photos by Teo Studio — click to enlarge

You can read more about Teo’s passion for bookbinding at her blog.


In 2010, I offered up some cosmetics suggestions based on feedback from gifts I’d given to friends and family. Here are a few further tips based on even more giving and feedbacking:

1.) Chantecaille Brilliant lip gloss in “allure”: my friend Marin went nuts for this Chantecaille gloss and said she was stopped twice in one day by people asking after her lip color — “That has NEVER happened to me before. Chantecaille Allure is *magic*,” she wrote. But when I went to the website to order more, the color was entirely sold out, so it must be a consensus. Allure is magic.

But Marin raved about the gloss itself, too: “I don’t know if I can say enough nice things about the Chantecaille gloss. It’s nice that it’s unscented, isn’t at all sticky — yet sticks — and looks absolutely as good over bare lips as it does over a lipstick.”

2.) I’ve mentioned the Edward Bess and Armani Eyes to Kill mascaras before, which have both gotten rave reviews from my sister, as well as my friends Marin and Louise. Yet Katie Puckrik recently alerted me to the fact that there’s a new mascara sheriff in town, and its name is Burberry.

Burberry mascara is the new gold standard for me,” she wrote in one of our many bag-and-cosmetics related emails that we fire back and forth. I’ve had terrific feedback from all my sources on Bess and Armani, but haven’t yet tested Burberry on any of them. But I’ve ordered it as a stocking stuffer for every gal I know, and I suggest you do, too.

Because while Katie Puckrik Smells, she also looks great on camera and in person, so if she’s raving about a specific product, then it’s worth paying attention to.

3.) Face Primers — For my fifty-year old sister plagued with oily skin, Philosophy’s Clear Makeup was a godsend as a facial primer, smoothing over her pores, evening out her skin tone and absorbing excess oils, all without irritating her rosacea prone complexion. And that’s no mean feat. But both Marin and Louise prefer the Armani fluid master primer.

“My pores almost disappeared, I’m all matte and soft-focus and I love it,” wrote Marin of the Armani primer, and when I asked Louise which she liked best, the Trish McEvoy Beauty Booster cream (which Katie prefers to the Armani), Louise said that Armani was hands-down the winner with her, too.

Yet Katie was also big on the Burberry “Fresh Glow” fluid base, saying that “it’s kind of a cross between primer, foundation and highlighter, and you schmear a little glob of it on the face and it somehow makes your skin look dewy yet more refined. A “fresh glow”, just like it says on the box.”

Truth in advertising? I can hardly believe it.

And don’t forget the Trish McEvoy flawless lip primer — every single woman I’ve sent it to (my sister, Louise, Marin, Katie) has said that, yes, it’s expensive, but it works beautifully, creating a luxe, smooth and moisturizing layer for lipsticks to go over while helping the color stay put for far longer than usual.

This would work as both a special occasion gift to yourself, as well for any best friends you know and love.

*Wrapping it up: So there you have it — beauty and gift suggestions to help get you all through the gift giving, holiday partying season of 2011. I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s guide as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together, and I’m hoping we can convene same time/same place next year and do this all over again.

Which means I have a whole year’s worth of researching to get busy on! *gulp*

***This is the conclusion of my three part holiday gift guide series. You can find parts one and two at the following links: Here Comes Santa Claus — Food Fight! and Here Comes Santa Claus — Sparklies!