Monday, January 2, 2012

A Few of Our Favorite Things: l'etoile's Best of 2011

2011...where to begin? It was a year packed with creativity, collaboration, and sheer brilliance. From social media to art to fashion to music and everything else in between, the Twin Cities once again blew us away. After much deliberation, we present to you our favorite local moments, milestones and talented people of the year past. Here's to 2012 and more memorable moments!



We'll admit it, we're actually a little jeally of MPLS.TV! They have so much creative energy, we often get sleepy just watching them. What started out as a web TV show a couple years ago has turned into a full force media entity, creating not just arts n' culture-focused video content, but editorial content as well. But it doesn't stop there: the MPLS.TV crew throws wicked parties, sponsors the coolest of cool events, and have dipped their toes into national waters with online powerhouses like, where in collaboration with talented film director/editor Dan Huiting, they've moved their band-focused series, City of Music. Our advice? Follow them. MPLS.TV rocks social media, continually keeping their audience interested and engaged. Check them on Twitter and Facebook or visit the site itself at www.MPLS.TV. -Kate Iverson

BEST BLOG: Art of Wore

When METRO Magazine fashion editor Mary O'Regan made the recent announcement she'd be leaving the Midwest for the west coast come January, we were not only losing a staunch supporter and tough critic in the world of local fashion, we also are losing her eclectic personal blog, Art of Wore, which spotlights her personal inspiration, an occasional outfit post, behind-the-scenes and final images of the fashion shoots and stories she's worked on, and day-in-the-life imagery - most of which is gorgeously rendered in Mary's own photography. Fortunately, you can continue to follow her at, which she promises to update with her future projects. -Jahna Peloquin

BEST TWEETER: @sideofhail

Photographer, visual artist and copywriter Sohail Akhavein is behind one of the most LOL-worthy Twitter accounts in town. Whether he's ruminating about his Persian-haired chest, recounting his awkward-yet-hilarious interactions with his co-workers ("that just wasn't the first time my boss has walked in on me watching youtube pole dancing videos"), offering up bon monts like "our christmas tree looks homeless," revealing that "everything i know about detecting fake british accents i learned from mrs. doubtfire," or making proclamations like "there is no one i wish to slap with a piece of lunch meat with more than the dunn bros barista bitch who calls me her 'special buddy,'" Sohail won a special place in our a-Twittering hearts in 2011. Follow Sohail at @sideofhail. -J.P.

BEST BACHELOR: Gregory J. Scott

Not sure who Gregory Scott is? Stop before you try to look him up on Facebook, you won't find him there. Weird, right? We know. But that's part of Gregory's mystique. A journalist who has done lengthy stints at most major publications in town, including METRO,, Downtown Journal, and most recently, Minnesota Monthly, the handsome Mr. Scott makes the ladies swoon with his smart style and sparkling wit. Definitely one of our favorite people to have a conversation with in the Twin Cities, Gregory's best qualities--intelligence and charm--win us over every time. Not to mention, he's pretty darn easy on the eyes. Look for Mr. Scott making the art scene rounds during the weekends, follow him on Twitter, and read his clever work in Minnesota Monthly magazine. -K.I.

BEST BACHELORETTE: Hannah von der Hoff

Our bachelorette of the year is part Joan Holloway, part Rita Hayworth, and part Gwen Stefani back when she was still cool. The lead singer of Sexcat and the face of l'étoile's annual Jubilee party, von der Hoff is a gal-about-town with a heart of gold. Named one of the best new bands in the Twin Cities by City Pages, Sexcat has earned a large fanbase in a short amount of time, thanks to a unique sound, great stage presence, and their red-headed Amazon woman on vocals. von der Hoff is equally as comfortable in front of the camera as she is behind the microphone, modeling for print as well as live events. But don't be too intimidated, as her looks belie a sweet and good-humored personality. There is nothing too-cool-for-school about Hannah von der Hoff. But don't kid yourself, she's totally too cool for school. (Photo by Stephen Stephens) -Beth Hammarlund

BEST GAY: Raul Osorio

Even though he retreated from Minnesota for the tropical climate of Honduras for over half of 2011, fashion designer Raul Osorio stayed in our hearts - thanks in part to his continually entertaining, bilingual Twitter and Facebook updates. The Triple Double and Transmission regular is always ready to dance, always dressed to the hilt in his trademark Wild West-meets-goth style, always working on a new collection, and always full of sass, personality, and charmingly off-color remarks. He had our full attention with his fall 2010 showing with Danielle Everine, "Pale Rider"; then during Voltage last spring, he left us with his most sophisticated, wearable and cohesive collection to date. With the designer finally back in the Twin Cities, we're simply besides ourselves at what he'll come up with next. (Photo by Dillon Bakke) -J.P.

CUTEST COUPLE: Ashlee Walker & Corey Tenold

Oh, the injustice of it all. About-town model Ashlee Walker and her photographer boyfriend Corey Tenold are the perfect blend of good looks, refined talent, and honest-to-God sweetness. One of the most well-known and sought after models in town, it was recently announced that the Vision-represented Ashlee has been signed to a NYC agency. Tenold (a part-time model himself) has made a name for himself both as a photographer and as the brain behind the men's style blog and as a pretty sharp lensman. As the case for most artist/muse relationships, Tenold's best work comes from having his ladylove in front of the camera, and some of Walker's most enchanting and vulnerable moments are best captured when Tenold is behind the lens. (Photo by Corey Tenold) -B.H.

BEST POWER COUPLE: Stephanie & Cory Lake

Whether they're mingling at a low-key gallery opening or hosting a fundraiser for The Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities, Stephanie and Cory Lake are at their most fabulous and engaging selves. Stephanie has become one of the Twin Cities most sought-after jewelry designers, constantly winning accolades in local publications and beyond. Cory is no slouch himself, owning and operating American Guitar and Band in Maple Grove and founding the American Guitar and Band Academy to support and provide musical instruments, state-of-the-art recording equipment, and funding for music staff at Boys & Girls Clubs. The interiors of the couple's gorgeous home have been featured in various art and design publications; furnished with lush and eclectic decor, their home is a tribute to both fashion and rock and roll, while remaining endearingly pug-friendly. -B.H.

BEST ART EVENT: Czeslaw's Loop

After 2010's Art-a-Whirl Boat Project, "The Slow Mirror and the Metronome," it seemed unlikely that much could top the floating art installation. But in 2011, Permanent Design Group (of which l'étoile editor-in-chief Kate Iverson is a partner and creative director) took the concept to the nth degree, offering up a four-part "opera" spread over three days along the banks of the Mississippi River. Supposedly the final unperformed opus of a 1960s-era composer named Czeslaw Janecki, it was in reality an original multimedia composition by local musicians Chris Strouth and Marijuana Deathsquads' Ryan Olson and Stefan Alexander (a.k.a. P.O.S.). Performed on a barge as thunderbolts and lightning threatened to strike at any moment, everyone held their breath that all that expensive lighting and sound equipment would survive and no one would be electrocuted. But the gods smiled on us that weekend. Combining the elements of nature with music, art and concept, it quite simply couldn't have happened anywhere but in the Twin Cities, and that experience was and will be, for anyone who attended, singular, communal, and unforgettable. (Photo by Erik Hess) -J.P.

BEST NEW GALLERY: Future Presence Gallery

Around this time last year, l'étoile co-sponsored a pop-up art show held in the old Arise space on Lyndale Avenue. Despite the dismal conditions of the matchbox-size shop, Future Presence founders Nathaniel Smith and Bryant Locher managed to create a well-curated artsy wonderland, much to our delight. Fast forward to Art-A-Whirl this past spring: the duo struck again with another imaginative group show in a new location on 2nd Street Northeast - and it's where they've been ever since. From ephemeral street art shows featuring national and local artists to off-beat, unapologetic installation exhibits, Smith and Locher have taken a space that may very well qualify as condemned, and whipped it into a D.I.Y. project space with lots of potential and vision. They've recently added underground music venue to their repertoire (Speedboat Gallery-style) so keep your eyes peeled on their Facebook and website to get the skinny.

BEST ART EXHIBIT (NATIONAL): 123Klan at CO Exhibitions

Montreal-based collective 123Klan brought their unique blend of graffiti and graphic design to Minneapolis this November. The exhibition at CO Exhibitions featured their most recent work as well as a custom large-scale mural in the gallery space. A little gangsta and all self-aware, 123Klan's work is clever and humorous, without sacrificing its street cred. The show could have only been better if the audience had been present to watch the large-scale mural be painted, but you know, fumes and stuff. -B.H.

BEST ART EXHIBIT (LOCAL): "CURIO: A Michael Thomsen Retrospective" at Rogue Buddha Gallery

Who is the artist behind those intricately detailed and strangely engaging carnivalesque shrines? Michael Thomsen is a bit of a Twin Cities legend, and local art lovers had the chance to get to know him a little better at "CURIO: A Michael Thomsen Retrospective" at Rogue Buddha this spring. The exhibition spanned 20 years of the artist's work, while also featuring several new pieces and a short film. We found ourselves easily lost in Thomsen's work, searching for hidden details and calling over to one another whenever new tiny elements were discovered. The exhibit answered plenty of questions about who Thomsen is as an artist, but also triggered dozens of new questions and curiosities. Check out Thomsen's work on his website here. -B.H.

BEST ARTIST: Michael Gaughan

A head-banging Andrew W.K., "never nudes" descending a stair car, naked ladies in a pentagram formation: the visual art of Michael Gaughan has always been eye-catching, provocative, sometimes humorous, and technically refined. But perhaps the most genius part of his highly visceral, sexual work is that it is all depicted using Bob Ross' medium of choice, watercolor - a medium typically disavowed for its association with the blandly inoffensive. It just makes the artist's subject choices all that much more subversive. And his visual art is just the tip of the stair car, if you will - his recent freestyle rap performance as his alter ego Ice Rod via a live screened interaction with Chat Roulette was the most hysterically funny and jaw-droppingly genius thing we've witnessed all year. -J.P.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Queer Boys Night presents "Peligro"

Many of those in the local arts community are used to hearing the name Jaime Carrera in reference to one of his performance pieces, which typically have the artist playing some kind of character role. But for his first bout with curating, the arresting performer all but took a backseat to the red-hot action that hit the Patrick's Cabaret stage. From Tyler Jensen's glitter-splashed gay porn parody/homage "Money Shot" to Benjamin Fredrickson's gritty, grainy, subversively thrilling three-part film series to Dustin Maxwell's haunting "Little Labzydivey" dance in which he transforms from man to horse, it spanned the spectrum of modern queer performance art. But the most resounding moment may have been the video introduction depicting Carrera's red-lit face, lying sideways as a particularly devilish backing track by local sound experimentalist Albert Elmore boomed. "Welcome to Peligro," he said. It was as foreboding an introduction as one could come up with for a show centered around a theme of "danger." Below, click to view Jensen's "Money Shot." -J.P.

BEST FASHION DESIGNERS (tie): Kevin Kramp & Annie Larson

Kevin Kramp holds the distinction of being one the finest artists currently working in the Twin Cities. Last spring, the knitwear designer showed his Fall/Winter 2012 collection at the MNfashion-produced "The Shows" alongside designer Emma Berg. But his reach has extended far beyond the upper Midwest, and even the U.S. Two-thousand eleven was also the year the designer received prominent features in Italian Vogue and Belgium Elle, a runway presentation at Milan Fashion Week, a prestigious award from international emerging fashion designer organization ITS (International Talent Support). And as his fanbase continues to grow, Kramp continues to challenge himself and push forward. Let's hang onto him for as long as we can.

(Pictured above: Knitwear by Annie Larson [L] & Kevin Kramp [R]. Photos by Nicholas Marshall for the l'étoile editorial "The Knitting Factory," which can be viewed in full HERE.)

It has also been a big year for Annie Larson. The knitwear designer started off 2011 with one of her pieces featured in Time Out New York, kicking off a year of nonstop national press for the designer. In August, it was announced that she was working on an exclusive collection of hats and scarves for Madewell. By October, her designs were being knocked off by mass retailer Urban Outfitters (the sincerest and most insulting form of flattery). Unfortunately for us, this is the year that Larson's successes in the Twin Cities and beyond took her to New York City. We'll miss you Annie, but we look forward to your charming and colorful knits taking over the cold months in NYC. -B.H.


Designer Danielle Everine tied for Best Fashion Breakout on our 2010 list, but somehow in 2011, she managed to break out all over again when she snagged a spot on the ninth season of Project Runway. Lamented by many as the worst season of the series, Everine showcased her sartorial skill to the world without taking any of the show runners' poorly disguised bait for conflict. She exited the program with dignity, and then went straight back to work on her own line, promptly producing a new capsule collection, "Call Me Ishmael," which she showed in October at Cliché. Taking her inspiration from whaling and maritime history, Everine reminded us that she can cook up far more engaging narratives than any producer on Project Runway. (Photo courtesy Lifetime) -B.H.

BEST FASHION EVENT: MNfashion Week presents "The Shows," Spring 2011

The best fashion events of the year earned their title by keeping it chic and simple. Set against the gritty, stripped-down backdrop of the Grainbelt Building, "The Shows" featured four of the Twin Cities' top fashion designers presenting their work in classic runway style. Kevin Kramp, Emma Berg, CounterCouture and George Moskal presented their latest collections over the course of two evenings, minus any bells or whistles. The events certainly didn't need any - the artists' designs were allowed to do the talking through understated yet seamless production, complete with with excellent and thoughtful audio-visual components, lighting, timing, models, and styling. (Pictured: Emma Berg's collection. Photo by Stephen Stephens) -B.H.

BEST NEW BOUTIQUE (MEN'S): Askov Finlayson

Classic, so-called "heritage" brands have been on the upsweep in the world of men's fashion over the past couple of years, and nowhere has this been evidenced as clearly as in the Twin Cities (see: BlackBlue, martinpatrick3 and the annual NorthernGRADE Men's Market). So it only stood to reason that the brothers Dayton, they of the Minneapolis retail dynasty known as Dayton's, would rightly expand upon this oh-so-Midwestern move toward quality and timelessness with Askov Finlayson, housed in the same Warehouse District building as the Dayton-owned Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar. From classic Barbour jackets and Norse Projects wool sweaters to unisex-friendly knit hats by former local Annie Larson and blankets from Minnesota-manufactured Fairbault Woolen Mills, the shop offers a thoughtful twist on classic style. -J.P.


We have to admit, we were a bit incredulous to hear about a designer boutique opening in St. Paul suburb Mendota Heights. After all, we rarely find our way out of either Twin City. But the recently-opened Roe Wolfe is worth the drive, thanks to a thoughtfully edited selection of clothing, accessories, cosmetics and fragrances from on-the-cusp brands like Aryn K., Matiko Footwear, and BECCA Cosmetics, not to mention internationally-lauded (and Minnesota resident) knitwear designer Kevin Kramp. It doesn't hurt that store co-owners are longtime stylists Romeny Chan and Ashley Kilcher, so take it from us - they know a thing or two about style. Click here for l'étoile's interview with Roe Wolfe's Romeny Chan. -J.P.


It may seem like the obvious choice, but Poliça possess a magical formula of chemistry, skill, unique instrumentation, killer song writing, meticulous production, and lead vocalist Channy Leangeah's impassioned vox that places them miles ahead of their contemporaries. From their first performance at Nick & Eddie, it was clear that we were witnessing something very special. And, despite not having an official release in 2011, they had quite the banner year, placing second on City Pages' Picked 2 Click; tours that saw them playing sold-out venues on both coasts; high-profile spots at CMJ; heavy rotation on 89.3 the Current; and even selling out First Avenue's Mainroom in anticipation of their upcoming record release. In an era when media makes it damn near impossible to tell the difference between hype and the real deal, when new bands blow up like a flame and burn out just as quickly, Poliça let the intensity of their songs speak for themselves. (Photo by Graham Tolbert) -Robyn Lewis


In a town rife with dance parties on any given night of the year, there is one that surpasses them all with sheer outrageousness. For four years, resident DJs Plain Ole Bill, Fundo, Last Word, and Jimmy2Times have built the phenomenon that is Get Cryphy, and its huge success is largely the result of their passion and unparallelled skill. There is absolutely no question that these guys are the elite at what they do, and the heart and soul they put into this night is nothing less than inspiring. Each month, they have the Record Room packed to the nuts with a diverse array of folks getting buck wild to the freshest mash-ups and rap anthems ever to pump a dance floor. Truly a sight to be seen - sweating, grinding, debauchery to a flawlessly mixed soundtrack. It thoroughly lives up to the hype, and then some. If you haven't allowed yourself the supreme pleasure of experiencing one of the best dance nights in the country, just down some liquid courage, hold your ground, and don't try to fight the irresistible urge to Get Cryphy. -R.L.

BEST MUSIC VIDEOS: Bon Iver Deluxe Edition

Like any great record, Bon Iver's masterful sophomore album demands to be heard in order, from the first guitar tone on "Perth" to the slow fade out at the end of "Beth/Rest." It demands to be played over and over, rediscovered and reinterpreted. Local filmmakers Isaac Gale, David Jensen and Dan Huiting understand the relationship between an album and its fans, and have set these songs to film by crafting expansive cinematic pieces that unfold and bloom slowly and delicately, creating a stunning meditation on what it means to experience music. The result is Justin Vernon's comprehensive vision for the album: ten lushly filmed, meticulously edited collages to accompany each song on 2011's most revered album, engaging the listener on a multimedia platform. With these visual accompaniments, the viewer is taken on a journey through psychedelic imagery, exploring themes of place, time, isolation, and nostalgia. This is not just a collection of music videos. It is an experiment that re-imagines the way an album can be experienced. -R.L.

BEST WEEK: Doomtree: The Whole Fucking Week at First Avenue

The idea seemed ridiculous: occupy First Avenue with an entire week's worth of shows. But for Doomtree, known for being the hardest working and most ambitious collective around, it was a celebration. Each lovingly-curated night saw music from all genres convene to score a legendary week of hugs, high-fives, drinking, and dancing. Each night no less joyful or memorable then the last. It was a celebration indeed. And what was taken away from the experience, more than anything else, was feeling part of something special, something exciting. Doomtree is very much a family, and all who go to their shows become a small extension of it. Aside from the music, it is this sense of community that has kept friends and fans alike coming back night after night, year after year. After pulling off such such an epic scene, it is fair to wonder how they'll manage to top it. But we're confident they'll find a way. (Photo by Ben Lafond) -R.L.

BEST SHOW: Pink Mink Sunset Cocktail Cruise & Album Release Party

At the peak of summer, nearly a year after storming the scene with their tight, poppy garage rock, local music vets Pink Mink were ready to debut their first album. And true to the lavish style of their music, they weren't going to celebrate any old way. No, the classic "band and friends" CD release formula just wouldn't do. Pink Mink wanted to take us along on their fantastical voyage - a three hour nautical-themed rock cruise on the mighty Mississippi. Filled with two hundred of the bands closest friends, the Betsey Northrup departed St. Paul at dusk on what would become one of the most memorable concert experiences in recent memory. Birthday Suits and Pink Mink both tore through blistering sets in the summer heat, while Current DJ David Campbell spun sweet yacht rock on the upper deck. Memories were made (and in some cases, lost) and nobody got seasick. It was one for the record books! (Photo by Erik Hess) -R.L.

BEST SONG: Mark Mallman, "Minneapolis"

How could we not give a nod to our perennial hero, Mark Mallman? In 2011 the prolific piano man penned an ode to our fair city entitled, simply, "Minneapolis." The tune captured Mark's love of the Twin Cities, basically stating that no matter where he is or where he goes, Minneapolis will always be home - and we concur. This past November, Mallman uprooted from Minneapolis and took flight for Los Angeles, where he's been busy working on film scores and other composing projects. And though his constant presence in the Twin Cities will be sorely missed by us and many others, we know he'll come back home to us time and time again (this past New Years weekend being a prime example). Keep up with Mark's antics via Twitter and his website, and check out the song and video for "Minneapolis" below. -K.I.

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