A guide to Pilsen, Chicago

Every city has corners near the margins where overlooked groups find their home. One of those corners in Chicago is the neighborhood of Pilsen, named by it's first Czech inhabitants, shaped more recently by the rich influence of hispanic immigrants, now shared with younger faces of rising counterculture. It's a place where the streets are a mix of vintage apparel and records shops, Spanish language bookstores and carnicerias.

A group of kids leave the National Museum of Mexican art with eyes still wide with wonder, soon joining a few others at a corner popsicle store. A man in a grey hoodie sets a new playlist in an underground streetwear store, looking out the window onto the coming sunset. Soon after a man follows a neon sign down from one of those brass-lined cocktail bars with all the trimmings, descending into the dark hallway entrance of a dance floor. 🔮🙏  

A guide to scent & memory // Brennan Michael

In the beginning, Composure just a slowly drifting swirl of thoughts in my head, pieces of an impossibly long story that I started trying to put into words and into scarves. One of the chapters of that story was about a particular kind of art, the kind of art that works in the medium of business; I was struck by the idea that business is a medium for some kinds of artists, just like paint is a medium for some and words are for others. It helped that people like Andy Warhol were known for saying things like "making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

The second volume of the Composure newsletter featured these kinds of artists, and Brennan was one of the first people I found to help bring the series to life. Brennan is a candlemaker based in Toronto, bringing artistry to the work of making candles into beautiful things that shape our environments. In his newsletter feature he shared smart notes on the importance of creating welcoming spaces and on the balance that comes with navigating humbling uncertainty. When we found time to meet in NYC we knew we had a rare opportunity to share more. 

On a later winter morning that was brisk but streaked with sun, Brennan introducing me to a world of oils steamed and distilled from naturally occurring flora, fauna, and otherwise. For Brennan, these things can create entire palettes of scents, built on a balance of varied axises that remind me of a kinetic mobile hanging delicately in the air.  In this world of balance, scales of richness and depth pull against others representing a range of textures, counterbalanced by degrees of sweet and dry.       

We spend the most time talking excitedly about a shared obsession: the idea that we all collect our own unique experiences of the world, and that maybe our one job on this earth is just to share those experiences through beautiful things that others want to be a part of. For Brennan, those experiences become memories, and scents makes for a beautiful medium through which to share these meaningful moments. He went on to tell me about a particular kind of musk that's a part of all his fragrances, one he remembers from a Canadian childhood near the woods. Sitting in a Swedish coffee shop, the cardamom buns inspire reminiscence of a recent trip to Stockholm; we talk about where we're going next and maybe what we'll find out about ourselves once we're there. 

Passing // Scenes from New York City

New York is a city where everything happens to always be in exactly the right place
At exactly the right time
It’s an incredible phenomenon that is easy to overlook
Of course sometimes you might notice a bike messenger drifting effortlessly past
But probably not the candle stowed away in her bag
The one that is mixed with just the right blend of bergamot
And cardamon
And whatever it might mean to have ozonic notes in its floral sensibilities
It won’t be immediately obvious that not too long ago she was in an overfilled fragrance store That you do not know about
Or that soon enough she will be in some drooping entryway that you will likewise never pass through
So it will be impossible for you to see the relieved satisfaction of that entryway’s rather eclectic custodian
Or to know exactly why he has developed such a particularly refined distaste
For the scent of whatever it is that can be remedied only with bergamot and cardamom and ozonic notes in floral sensibilities
But it is this custodian
(And really all the messengers)
That I think of when the sun tucks itself away into this afternoon corner of the city
Casting a patient muted glimmer across each road
Letting us all know that we are in exactly the right place
At exactly the right time. 

A Guide to Closing the Gap

On evenings like this one you get to appreciate the wait; for a short handful of songs this young musician found a small but captivated audience on the distant side of an otherwise impossible gap. 

A guide to Teotihuacán, Mexico

It's worth taking the time to travel just outside of Mexico City to find the ancient Mesoamerican city Teotihuacán, reachable by tour bus in under an hour's time.

Many of us are at least vaguely familiar with the grand pyramids built here, and some know that the way these structures were built represents a fairly advanced scientific understanding of the earth and its relationships to the nearby cosmos; Teotihuacán's key structures and roadways align with positions and cardinal directions derived meticulously from the movement of heavenly bodies. Even the pyramids themselves mimic the surrounding geography, as if the people building them were literally trying to recreate the work of nature. 

It's probably for this reason that a lot of people have the lingering notion that Teotihuacán was a city built by the Mayans; many people in our part of the world casually regard the Mayans as the perhaps the most advanced civilization of the pre-scientific world. But Teotihuacán wasn't built by the Mayans. Only hundreds of years after the city collapsed did the Mayans come across its ruins, humbled by what they saw as a civilization that seemed so advanced that they must have been near-gods. 🔮🙏 

A Guide to Creative Tensions

Sometimes when talking to people about how I'm building Composure I get a chance to explain it in terms of "tensions" that I think are important. I think of Composure as a kind of mirror of my own life, and like many others I find myself trying to balance "work" energy that I put into mundane, routine things (like one-off freelance marketing gigs) and "creative" energy that I put into exploring worlds that are new to me (fashion design, photography, and all the other pieces of a growing Composure world). 

These two things are always at odds with one another in a way that I usually just describe as one of a few kinds of "tensions" that move Composure forward. When catching up with my friend Océane we were talking about how these tensions pull at each other over the span of weeks and months; we shared our own experiences of feeling low creative energy during times when other pressures are high, and trying to balance that with a drive to make the most of creative energy in times when it's there.

I think my experience is that there's always this somewhat frustrating drive to spend the kind of energy that is least available; Oceane and I talked about how months sometimes go by when we feel like we're not doing enough to build on our creative pursuits even if there's the time to do so, a feeling I think a lot of people relate to. But through the conversation we realized that some of our most cherished creative breakthroughs came at the end of those months, as if the time away allowed for fresh eyes—even if that time felt frustrating in the moment. 

We put together this photoshoot as a way to capture those conflicting tensions; moments of openness, and expression alongside others of patience and introspection. Consider it a guide to developing an appreciation for the tensions that come with pursuing creative work, helping us to find and stay the creative path.  

 
 
 

Model / styling: Océane Hooks-Camilleri