Meet the 9-Year-Old Telling You What to Wear

Giana, a 9-year-old artist and fashion fan, has accumulated 22,800 followers on Instagram.
Giana, a 9-year-old artist and fashion fan, has accumulated 22,800 followers on Instagram. Photo: Justin Clemons for The Wall Street Journal

Dallas

One of fashion’s “It” girls is actually a girl. Not a young woman. Not a teen. A girl.

Giana, known to her 22,800 Instagram followers as Dear Giana, is a photogenic 9-year-old artist and fashion enthusiast with an elfin frame and a marketing heft that brands want to harness.

Through her street-style flair and fashion drawings displayed on an Instagram account her mom runs, Giana has corralled fans, including art galleries, Vogue.com, streetwear fashion blog Highsnobiety and Nike . The sneaker and apparel giant collaborated with Dear Giana on three T-shirts to be released Oct. 11, the International Day of the Girl.

“It’s very cool, for sure,” said Giana during a recent interview, where she had on Nike Air Force 1 sneakers and Nike socks.

In images from her ‘Dear Giana’ Instagram, the young fashionista shows off streetwear looks.
In images from her ‘Dear Giana’ Instagram, the young fashionista shows off streetwear looks. Photo: g.von.g

Giana is among the stylish pre-teens made famous by social media and anointed mini-influencers or mini-creatives. Their ascent comes as marketers are striving to reach Generation Z, the roughly 67 million individuals born roughly between 1997 and a few years ago. They have about $44 billion in purchasing power, according to Mintel. Thanks to social media, members of Gen Z can see a staggering array of merchandise, and pinpoint precisely the clothes and shoes they want to wear, even if their parents are still paying for them. Gen Z also is the most racially diverse generation in American history: Almost half are a race other than non-Hispanic white.

“They already hold much influence, particularly due to their unprecedented digital access and resources, which is prompting them to try things while they are young that weren’t possible for past generations of kids,” said Meredith Hirt, senior insights writer at Cassandra, a research firm specializing in young consumers. “Children don’t have to wait until they grow up to be influential, …which is causing brands across all industries to take notice.”

For 33% of 7-to-12-year-olds in the U.S., clothing ranks second behind technology in categories they consider worthy of splurges, according to Cassandra, showing that pre-teens are focused on fashion and nearly as interested in it as millennials are. Clothing ranked second for 36% of 13-to 20-year-olds. “We’ve noticed a rise in car makers targeting parents through their kids,” Ms. Hirt added, “recognizing that kids and tweens are influential and have sway as to what their parents decide to buy.”

Nike’s director of communications for North America, Jenna Golden, wrote in an email, “We feel that Dear Giana is such an inspiration for young girls everywhere.” The company declined to disclose financial terms of its contract with her. Earlier this year, Nike worked with eight young “athlete influencers” and asked each to design children’s versions of one of the company’s shoes.

Trend forecaster WGSN, which has tracked Giana since she entered the scene two years ago, labeled her the “girl of the moment” and the “next leading mini-creative” in a recent report. Giana has a gap-toothed smile, dark bangs and loves sunglasses. She is of Filipino and Mexican ancestry and lives with her parents and two younger siblings in Dallas. Gena, her mother and manager, asked that the family’s last name be withheld for security reasons. “It’s just to keep her safe,” Gena said.

The fashion industry, perennially in search of the new, has a complicated history with youth. In 1980, Calvin Klein drew criticism for ads with a 15-year-old Brooke Shields. About a decade ago, 11-year-old Tavi Gevinson became famous for her fashion blog. In 2011, fashion line Miu Miu tapped actor Hailee Steinfeld, then 14, to star in its ads. Today, 14-year-old actor Millie Bobby Brown is a fashion muse. Spotlighting children raises concerns about exploitation and privacy. This year, Vogue pledged to stop using models under 18; some modeling agencies said they would cease using models younger than 16. Last year, two luxury conglomerates, LVMH , which owns Louis Vuitton, and Kering, which owns Balenciaga and Gucci, banned models under 16.

While fashion’s highest levels took steps to keep children out of the limelight, social media offered them an entirely new platform. The pre-teen market took off in 2010 with the launch of Instagram. Ms. Hirt, of Cassandra, said a few years ago J.Crew commissioned Sydney Keiser, a blogger from Milford, Ohio, to design a special collection for children. At the time, Ms. Keiser was 4. J.Crew came across her paper reconstructions of red-carpet dresses on her mother’s Instagram account.

Parents who post images of their children’s handiwork can find themselves being contacted by brands or talent scouts scouring Instagram for the next potential star. That’s how Giana was discovered. According to her mother, Giana started to show an artistic bent at age 3, when she would tackle coloring-book pages with watercolors or stage “art shows” with little rock formations in the backyard.

Artwork by Giana, who a few years ago began tearing out pages from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them.
Artwork by Giana, who a few years ago began tearing out pages from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them. Photo: Dear Giana

At 5 or 6, Giana was pulling pictures from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them with crayons, pencils and markers. Gena started posting images and videos of her daughter’s efforts on Instagram. In 2016, when Giana was a 7-year-old second-grader, a children’s clothing brand called même. proposed hosting her first art exhibit in Seattle, Gena said. Giana displayed more than 40 works in the show and was on her way. Drawing pictures and styling streetwear looks that catch fire online comes naturally, Giana said. “I just did what I like…I just buy some clothes and wear it how I want to wear it.” Gena said Giana loves what she is doing. Giana said her mother “never forced me to do anything. She just let me do what I wanted to do.”

In the two years since Giana’s first art show, there have been three more, including one with Nike. Streetwear-style blogs like Hypebae and fashion and entertainment news sites like Complex have taken note of the pint-size cool girl who is a fan of Supreme, Louis Vuitton, and Virgil Abloh of Off-White. Brands are asking Giana to wear their clothes and accessories and post about them.

After discovering Giana on Instagram, Highsnobiety published an interview with her in December. “Even more than here’s this little girl that wears pretty cool clothes, it’s the fact that she wants to be an artist and has an outlet to reflect her creativity,” said Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director. “The fact that she’s doing a Nike collaboration is truly mind-blowing.”

Vogue.com asked Giana to illustrate a few looks from New York Fashion Week in February and captured her at work in a video. Vogue saw that “Giana wasn’t playing dress-up, she actually had something to say and share with the world,” fashion news editor Monica Kim said. Giana’s passion for streetwear and her art encourages other children to be creative while inspiring adults too, said Erin Rechner, senior kidswear editor at WGSN. “They’re looking to her for new, fresh inspiration.”

To keep Giana from taking all the attention too seriously, her parents “limit how much stuff that we tell her,” Gena said. “We’re keeping her grounded.” Her father, Anthony, is a creative director. Gena, who studied set design and retail window display, says their daughter still has household chores, such as making her bed and cleaning her room.

Gena, above, with her daughter, says the family is keeping Giana grounded amidst her growing fame.
Gena, above, with her daughter, says the family is keeping Giana grounded amidst her growing fame. Photo: Justin Clemons for The Wall Street Journal

This year, the family hired an agent, Jeffrey Klein, director of the influencers division at Photogenics, a Los Angeles talent agency. In an email Mr. Klein wrote that he is wrapping up deals for Giana with “major brands for design collaborations to drop in 2019 and as far out as Spring 2020.”

Write to Ray A. Smith at Ray.Smith@wsj.com

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends

“WHAT IS REAL is what lasts,” said Oprah Winfrey in her toast to Ralph Lauren at his recent anniversary event in Central Park. After 50 years as a pivotal fashion figure with an unwavering American aesthetic, Mr. Lauren has outlasted his contemporaries like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, both of whom no longer design for their namesake companies. At the close of a season marked by change, Mr. Lauren’s consistency stands out in a mutable fashion landscape. While some brands are still defined by their core DNA, others have been reinvented by a revolving-door procession of creative directors.

At the label Mr. Klein launched in 1968, originally known for its beige-y minimalism, Belgian designer Raf Simons proposed inventive, postmodern clothing for spring with references from prom to “Jaws.” It was heart-poundingly fun, and relevant, but bore little resemblance to Mr. Klein’s blueprint. At Celine, which former creative head Phoebe Philo turned into a brand beloved by women for its professional yet comforting shapes, Hedi Slimane divisively pulled the accent off the first “e” and sent sharp, very-Slimane tailoring and abbreviated dresses down the runway. The renegade designer Demna Gvasalia continued his sleight of hand at Balenciaga, combining elements from the brand’s past (like architectural waistlines) with technical fabrics. More faithfully, Pierpaolo Piccioli drew gasps for his gowns at Valentino, many in the brand’s signature scarlet color. And as one of the few designers who rivals Ralph Lauren’s longevity, Miuccia Prada unveiled delightfully (and characteristically) eccentric efforts at both Prada and Miu Miu. A variation on Ms. Winfrey’s sentiment seems likely to be chewed over in seasons to come: Do women want consistency or evolution?

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Seeing Spots

That Betty Boop-ish vintage standby, polka dots, was given new life. From left: a sweet minidress at Carolina Herrera (care of a new designer, Wes Gordon); a sheer frock (slip required) at Prada; volume play at Celine; va-va-voom mega-dots at Dolce & Gabbana; a baby-doll at Burberry (newly designed by Riccardo Tisci).

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
To Dye For

This season proved that tie-dye, against all odds, can be refined. From left: An acid-washed interpretation on the cool girls at Proenza Schouler; a ladylike, deconstructed, shibori-style skirt at Prada; hints of a Bali summer gone absolutely right by Paco Rabanne; a silken slip dress at Christian Dior; a showstopping, full-tie-dye jumpsuit (on Kaia Gerber, Cindy Crawford’s daughter) at Stella McCartney.

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Shore Things

Retro beach vibes harked back to more glamorous summer travel. From left: patterned splendor at Etro; that Goa lifestyle at Chloé, a fringed ensemble at Valentino for SPF-50 types; the ultimate embroidered caftan at Tory Burch; a yé-yé-girl shift at Chanel, where the models walked barefoot on a ‘beach.’

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Noir Hour

Inky, gathered, voluminous dresses were a novel idea for evening. From left: Thick navy knots show Rei Kawakubo’s mastery at Comme des Garçons; an off-the-shoulder gown at Valentino; The Row’s sheer layers of chicness; Simone Rocha’s silk taffeta garment, topped off with a lacy veil.

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Practical Magic

Refined utility looks will make phone storage a cinch in spring. From left: Sheer pocket play at Fendi; Givenchy’s luxe cargo pants are wish list-worthy; Hermès nailed the pocket-y jumpsuit; at Loewe the pockets were almost as big as the garment; Louis Vuitton’s futuristic woman uses old-school utility tricks.

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Entrenched

From left: Croc coat at Burberry; a pearly gradient at Gabriela Hearst; ruffled sleeves at Max Mara; stripped-down stripes at Tod’s.

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Appeared in the October 6, 2018, print edition as ‘SPRING THEORIES ROLL Things We (Mostly) Loved.’

Entrepreneur Tyler Haney on her Best Beauty Hacks

SPORTY SPICE Tyler Haney photographed at the Outdoor Voices HQ in Austin, Texas.
SPORTY SPICE Tyler Haney photographed at the Outdoor Voices HQ in Austin, Texas.

OUTDOOR VOICES’S founder Tyler Haney calls Barton Springs, a natural pool in Austin, a “fountain of youth.” When she first visited the Texas capital, she went for a dip and had a presentiment that the hippie-haven city would be the ideal home for her budding fitness-apparel company. Two years later, Ms. Haney, 30, has moved all operations to Austin. “Time moves slower here,” she said. “It drives creativity.” Given the city’s outdoorsy nature, it’s also an ideal place for this sporty entrepreneur to test new gear. (Ms. Haney runs 3 miles every day at a “recreational pace.”)

Her brand of fitness is inclusive. “Not everyone is trying to be Serena Williams,” said Ms. Haney. “We are breaking down the barrier to entry to an active lifestyle.” So rather than overly intense black and neon active wear, the company offers casual pieces in color-blocked combinations like dark blue and green. Just like the clothes, the brand’s motto “doing things” (which can be spotted on its trendy totes and hats from Venice Beach to Vero Beach) spurs its acolytes to get out and enjoy even low-key activities like walking the dog. That accessible approach to fitness carries over to Ms. Haney’s beauty routine.

Clockwise from left: Glossier Boy Brow; Thayers Witch Hazel; Miso soup; Dr. Hauschka Bronzing Tint; Davines shampoo; Davids Toothpaste; ’El Cosmico’ by D.S. & Durga; Four Sigmatic 10 Mushroom Blend
Clockwise from left: Glossier Boy Brow; Thayers Witch Hazel; Miso soup; Dr. Hauschka Bronzing Tint; Davines shampoo; Davids Toothpaste; ’El Cosmico’ by D.S. & Durga; Four Sigmatic 10 Mushroom Blend

The first thing I do when I wake up is: take 30 grateful breaths; it sets the tone for the day.

Post-workout I take: a 3-minute cold shower. It’s a challenge, but you’ll feel more alert.

My morning beauty-potion ingredients include: bentonite clay. And I started taking Four Sigmatic’s 10-mushroom blend four months ago for clarity.

My mom says: to consciously smile. It helps lift everything up.

My low-maintenance beauty hack is: Dr. Hauschka’s bronzing tint. I mix it with Embryolisse moisturizer. It adds color in a natural way and just brings me to life in one step.

I’m secretly high-maintenance about: exfoliation. I exfoliate in the shower and then use Nuxe hair, face and body oil which I get in Paris.

My ultimate essential product is: Vintner’s Daughter [face oil]. It smells fantastic and it absorbs into the skin nicely.

I combat oily skin with: witch hazel. Just the regular stuff from the drugstore.

My theory on brows is: the more natural the better. Mine are a bit ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ I use Glossier Boy Brow in clear to keep them in place.

My favorite supposedly beautifying food is: miso soup. I went to Esalen, a spiritual retreat in Big Sur, Calif., and they served it for breakfast which seemed weird at first, but now I love it.

I always carry: D.S. & Durga ‘El Cosmico’ perfume. And CBD oil.

On the plane, I must: brush my teeth with Davids natural toothpaste and put on eye patches by Equal Beauty as soon as I’m allowed to recline the seat.

I wash my hair: every other day with Davines shampoo. But the most important thing you can do for your hair is take Biotin [capsules], something I learned from riding horses growing up. I take BioSil. At Outdoor Voices, when we are casting models we talk about “Biotin girls” meaning girls with vibrant and abundant hair.

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How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture

THE CHALLENGE OF OPTING OUT Sixty percent of Americans admit to feeling stressed when their phones are off or unavailable, according to a 2017 study by Asurion, a tech insurance company.
THE CHALLENGE OF OPTING OUT Sixty percent of Americans admit to feeling stressed when their phones are off or unavailable, according to a 2017 study by Asurion, a tech insurance company. Illustration: Steve Scott

I HAVE A MASOCHISTIC need to please bosses, so I’m never more than a few feet from my iPhone (notifications humming at all hours) and I never leave home without a MacBook in tow. Just in case. My manager, who once mentioned pointedly that he has a “perverse respect for workaholics,” recently emailed me a question at 11:11 p.m. When I responded seven minutes later, he shot back: “You = Always On.”

Whether it was a joke or a compliment, I’ll take it. Different generations might debate which technological advance launched the “always on” work culture that keeps us chained to our devices, and who’s most guilty of perpetuating it. As a millennial, I’d argue that it sprang up in the mid-1980s, when doctors first clipped on pagers and Michael Douglas introduced the world to car phones in “Wall Street,” that cautionary tale about work/life balance (which famously declared that “lunch is for wimps”).

Today always-on is the default work setting for most of us. Ubiquitous smartphones, slim computers and innovative apps make every response a snap—quicker, easier, seemingly less painful. It just takes a second, right? But those rapidly accumulating seconds are just technology’s version of death by 1,000 cuts, expanding the workday’s boundaries until it seamlessly blurs with the rest of civilian life.

According to a 2016 study by the Academy of Management, employees tally an average of 8 hours a week answering work-related emails after leaving the office. Echoing that, a 2015 Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association found that 30% of men and 23% of women regularly bring work home. Similar percentages admitted to working on vacation and to bringing “work materials” along on social outings (we hope they don’t mean accordion folders). All of this, many experts in psychology agree, causes stress, ruins sleep habits and cripples our ability to stay active and engaged during actual office hours.

In 2017, France instituted a new labor law that supports a new frontier in human rights, the “Right to Disconnect.” Backed by unions advocating that employees disengage from electronic work communications once free of the office, the law stems from a 2004 French Supreme Court ruling affirming that an employee who is unreachable by cell outside of work can’t be dinged for misconduct.

SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED Actively disengaging from work can help you rest up so you’re more productive during office hours.
SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED Actively disengaging from work can help you rest up so you’re more productive during office hours. Illustration: Steve Scott

Similar rights have been extended in Italy and the Philippines, are being explored in Germany and Luxembourg and were proposed in New York City. And in July, the South Korean legislation began limiting weekly work hours to just 52, down from a max of 68. Surprise: America has no legal maximum.

“Always-on culture is weird. It’s not how humans thrive. It’s not how productive people break through to the next level,” said Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism,” which details his philosophy of confidently saying no to things that don’t benefit you—a “disciplined pursuit of doing less,” but doing it better. “Modern culture now acts upon us so constantly that we start reacting to it rather than acting for ourselves.”

Mr. McKeown argues that being selective about how we spend our time turns it into a valuable commodity to be traded, ultimately earning you respect and making you more productive when you’re “on.” For instance, saying no to aimless meetings frees up your office time to finish tasks, eliminating extra work at home. But many of us still are burdened by FOMO—the fear of missing out, or in this case the fear of missing opportunity, of being seen as less hardworking and less reliable than co-workers and thus expendable. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, 43% of those surveyed “sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are” and give in to always-on.

Always-on is weird. It’s not how humans thrive. It’s not how productive people break through. We have to dismantle it before it dismantles us.

So rather than using technology to augment our work, speeding us out the door in 6 hours instead of 10, or cutting down to an ideal four-day workweek, we’ve misused technology to bolster antiquated workaholic habits. Then again, what’s two minutes to draft a quick email so the folks upstairs know they can always count on you?

“We have to dismantle always-on before it dismantles us,” Mr. McKeown warned. How to actually achieve that dismantling is complicated. Much like that electronic cummerbund that promises to zap your stomach into a six-pack but only burns you in the end—financially and in my case literally—there’s no quick fix. While Big Tech brands have put in two decades of yeoman’s work to constantly and persistently connect people across all platforms, at all hours, they’re just now creating systems to help place healthy restrictions on communications.

Google Calendar’s new “Working Hours” function lets you automatically reject colleagues who send invites for meetings or calls outside set time windows, and conspires with your inbox to streamline the crafting of painless “out of office” replies.

Apple’s new iOS 12 features enhanced Do Not Disturb settings, letting you quiet notifications for a set time or even at a set location so incoming communications are withheld until you physically leave your home or favorite dinner spot, depending on your self-imposed parameters. It also lets you toggle on auto-reply texts, which you can customize to keep people at bay. For me, “Sorry, I’m busy but I’ll you shoot you a note when I’m back” gets the message across.

If you have an iPhone, you also have a VIP inbox you’re probably not using, which lets you tweak notifications so your screen only flashes when you receive emails from those you deem worthy—a husband or manager but not Rick in accounting. Just tap the circled “i” next to “VIP” in your mail app to add preferred addresses, and then you can set custom alerts and notifications. That said, it’s often best to turn off most notifications as soon as you download a new app, letting you control when you check your phone and respond to messages rather than reacting immediately to a chiming or rumbling phone.

Harking back to the good old days of AOL when “You’ve Got Mail!” was a thrilling welcome, not an existential crisis, some platforms are adopting AOL Instant Messenger’s red light/green light system that lets people know you’re online. Slack, a powerful and popular workplace communication tool, lets you customize a status so people know when you’re unavailable and what you might be doing. Slack also automatically sets you to “snooze” at 10 p.m., blocking notifications until 8 a.m. (the times can be customized to suit your needs and schedule).

By far the boldest method I’ve heard for shutting out work, however, is refusing to install work email on your phone. If you dare.

While wondering how I might employ these tactics to steal some of my life back, a serendipitously stupid thing happened: An overnight iOS update disabled my iPhone entirely. What started as panic morphed quickly into a feeling of freedom. I couldn’t check emails in the lunch line or be distracted by texts, DMs or gchats. I was utterly unreachable at times and it didn’t seem to matter. And I was more rested and more productive.

I got a new phone later that week, but in that short window I realized the ultimate key to work-life balance was—actually wait. Can you hold on a second? I gotta take this.

I’M ALWAYS ON IT! / A History of Tech’s Invasion of Private Life
How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

1984

Motorola DynaTAC

Costing a cool $3,995 upon its release, the first commercial cellphone—dubbed the “Brick”—weighed 2.5 pounds, lasted 30 minutes on a 10-hour charge and couldn’t order Seamless. But it made us accessible on the road, transforming work interactions.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Motorola

1986

Motorola BRAVO Pager

Beepers had existed more than 60 years by the mid-80s, but most were short range for emergency services. Motorola’s Bravo popularized long-distance paging among eager professionals and by 1994 more than 61 million devices chimed insistently world-wide.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

1991

Apple PowerBook 100

The first modern laptop had an innovative trackball mouse and slid the keyboard up to the screen, giving traveling businesspeople a place to rest their wrists while punching out spreadsheets. The PowerBook series earned over $8 billion in revenue through 1992.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Getty Images

1997

AOL Instant Messenger

AIM helped millennials learn to type and effectively created the way we all “chat” today, popularizing emojis and modern shorthand (lol!). Users created profiles, curated buddy lists and set away messages. It was social media and text in one.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

2002

BlackBerry Phones

After innovating pagers, RIM released its first smartphone, nicknamed “Crackberry” due to its addictive nature. Sure, you could make calls or text on its qwerty keyboard but most important was the arrival of push email. Family dinners were never the same.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

2009

Smartphone Notifications

Email, text, chat, news, voice mail, Twitter , Facebook and Instagram, Fantasy-Football trash talk, all blinking your phone awake. It’s hard to remember what boardroom meetings were like before Apple first pushed out iPhone notifications.

OVERLY BUSY SIGNAL Anne Hathaway in ’The Devil Wears Prada.’
OVERLY BUSY SIGNAL Anne Hathaway in ’The Devil Wears Prada.’ Photo: Alamy
THE DEVIL IS IN THE EMAILS / Films That Reflect Always-On Culture

MOVIE CHARACTERS aren’t immune to the grind. In satires, dramas and comedies, always-on culture has enabled their work-related downward spirals.

The Player (1992) Studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) sometimes greenlights, but more often rejects, movie pitches he’s subjected to at glamorously dull Hollywood parties. But real-life drama swamps him when a disgruntled screenwriter sends him threats, including one via mobile fax machine, which drive Mill to murder. When studio security asks if something is wrong, Mill replies no. “Business as usual.”

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) Plucky journalism grad Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) languishes as an assistant to cold fashion editrix Miranda Priestly, who commands Sachs’s every waking moment via her cell. When her co-assistant (Emily Blunt) is hit by a car while prattling on her phone, Sachs is poised to climb the ladder—a job she’s told that “a million girls would kill for”—until she regains her senses and throws herT-Mobile Sidekick in a Paris fountain, exchanging her chic career for a shot at happiness.

Up in the Air (2009) HR consultant Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends so many days traveling for work he doesn’t have time to adorn his drab apartment, much less commit to someone. Things look dire, until he meets another hopeless workaholic in an airport and the two turn their always-on condition into a positive, flirting long distance over the (once-revolutionary) BlackBerry Messenger.

Set It Up (2018) Overworked, ambitious assistants Harper and Charlie (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) reach a breaking point as long hours and weekend work threaten their personal lives. The two conspire to hook up their bosses, drafting romantic chats in hopes that an upper-management liaison might distract the bosses from torturing the dutiful assistants.

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London Restaurant Cora Pearl Is a Welcoming Hideaway

“WE HAD A little sniff that the space could turn into something really lovely,” says Oliver Milburn of the Covent Garden address that was once a chain restaurant and is now Cora Pearl, one of the hottest new tables in London. Milburn and his pals of 20 years, Tim Steel and Tom Mullion, would seem to know what makes a good room: Their previous restaurant, Kitty Fisher’s, opened in 2014 and, with its cozy interior and wood-fired cooking, quickly started drawing in a steady stream of celebrities, politicians and other notables.

One…

Multimillion-Dollar Homes on Campus Where Rent is Free

The President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama, one of the few campus buildings to survive the Civil War.
The President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama, one of the few campus buildings to survive the Civil War. Photo: Art Meripol for The Wall Street Journal

In August, Katherine A. Rowe and her husband Bruce Jacobson moved into a 5,763-square-foot Colonial Georgian built in 1732 that has witnessed the famous, and infamous, for centuries. It housed British General Charles Cornwallis near the end of the Revolutionary War, and has hosted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight Eisenhower.

It is also a great deal. As president of the 325-year-old College of William & Mary, Ms. Rowe gets to live free in what the school attests is the country’s oldest official college presidential residence. “Being in this house brings us back to that early moment of thinking about the beginning of higher education in this country,” she says.

One of the most lucrative perks of becoming a college or university leader is the housing. The average tenure of a college chief was 6.5 years in 2016, according to a study by the American Council on Education. During their time in charge, many presidents get to live in some of the grandest and most historic properties in the U.S.


The Historic Homes of College Presidents

A look at the stately residences of some college or university chiefs, from the 18th Century Colonial Georgian at the College of William & Mary to Garner President’s House at Cornell College

College of William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe and her husband, Bruce Jacobson, stand in the gardens in front of the President’s House, a three-story Colonial Georgian mansion built in 1732.
Tyler Darden for The Wall Street Journal

For many campus leaders, the value of their free accommodations is not taxed as income. According to Donald Budnick, a New York-based accountant, housing isn’t considered part of taxable compensation so long as the president is required to occupy the home as a condition of employment and the home is located on campus. This is the case for about 70% of public college and university presidential contracts, according to research from James Finkelstein, professor emeritus, and Judith Wilde, professor, both in public policy at George Mason University. (No data was available for private college presidents.)

Built in 1732, the President’s House is the country’s oldest official college presidential residence, according to the College of William & Mary.
Built in 1732, the President’s House is the country’s oldest official college presidential residence, according to the College of William & Mary. Photo: Tyler Darden for The Wall Street Journal

For these presidents and chancellors, the campus homes are also more than residences. They serve as the cog in a university’s social life, hosting events for students, faculty, alumni and prospects throughout the year.

The President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, is a bustling social center for the campus. President Stuart R. Bell and his wife Susan say they host dozens of events annually at the antebellum, 11,781-square-foot Greek Revival mansion, which features dramatic, twin curving staircases from the ground to the formal second-floor balcony entrance.

Stuart R. Bell and his wife Susan live in the President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama.
Stuart R. Bell and his wife Susan live in the President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama. Photo: Art Meripol for The Wall Street Journal

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Between alumni and student tours, formal dinners, student barbecues, tailgate parties for up to 800 and Easter egg hunts for local children (featuring 9,000 eggs this year), the place clearly belongs to the campus community. “It did take a little bit of an adjustment to hear people coming and going through our house all the time,” says Mrs. Bell. “Within a couple of months, it was astounding when there were not people going through.”

Some presidential homes, due to location, size or tradition, are less a social center and more like an inn. The President’s House at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., occupied by President Sister Jane Gerety for the past 10 years, is a 6,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom renovated carriage house and stable that was part of a grand estate built for successful banker William Watts Sherman in 1876, according to historical records. It is one of the seven contiguous historic estates owned by Salve Regina in the Ochre Points/Bellevue Avenue neighborhood in Newport, known for Gilded Age mansions like the Marble House, built in 1892 for William Vanderbilt, and the Breakers, built in 1895 for his brother Cornelius.

The President’s House is divided into two apartments, one for the president, one for visitors. Sister Gerety says her bedroom was where Mr. Sherman’s staff used to wash the estate’s horse-drawn coaches. “I’m living in a place where servants lived,” she says. “I like the symbolism of that.”

Aside from their history and pedigree, another recurring theme among these campus treasures is the maintenance, repairs and renovations they require, which because of their age and intensity of usage can be a constant, expensive process.

President Jonathan Brand, wife Rachelle LaBarge and Didi at Garner President’s House at Cornell College.
President Jonathan Brand, wife Rachelle LaBarge and Didi at Garner President’s House at Cornell College. Photo: Rau+Barber for The Wall Street Journal

Garner President’s House at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Gifted to the college in 1908 by William Fletcher King, one of Cornell’s earliest presidents, it is hailed by architects as an exceptional example of Gothic/Victorian architecture, the college says.

It was also falling apart. When President Jonathan Brand and his wife Rachelle LaBarge arrived in 2011, they had to move to temporary housing as the school was just launching an 18-month, $1.9 million renovation.

Garner President’s House, along with the entire campus, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Garner President’s House, along with the entire campus, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Rau+Barber for The Wall Street Journal

Prior to their arrival, Mr. Brand said the board debated whether to undertake renovations at all, given the poor condition of the 168-year-old home. His predecessor, Les Garner and his wife Katrina, lived in the house for 16 years, and Mr. Brand says the house was named after them to honor how they made the home a focal point of the community, and also due to their fortitude in living with its challenges, including constantly freezing pipes and a leaky roof. “They had a very tight relationship with the facilities staff,” says Mr. Brand. “I mean I can visualize them blowing with hair dryers on pipes literally an hour before an event.”

Despite the renovation, Mr. Brand says that rumors persist that the spirit of Mr. King, the early president who donated the home to Cornell on the condition he be allowed to continue living there, still occupies the place. “People say he stayed for 13 years after he retired,” says Mr. Brand. “But I think it might be more like 100 years.”

Ghosts are another of the perks that come with a presidential residence. William & Mary’s President’s House, which is on several campus ghost walks, reportedly has apparitions, says Ms. Rowe. They like to knock on the front door, and open the kitchen cabinets at night, she says. There are tales of a ghost of a French soldier who died in the house in the 1700s. “I speak French, and I figure when he’s ready to have a conversation, he’ll let me know,” she says.


Presidential Mansions Across the Country

These historic homes that serve as residences for college and university presidents can be worth many millions of dollars

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Built: 1841
Square footage: 11,781 square feet including outbuildings, garage and storage and porches
On 3 acres, the President’s Mansion is an antebellum, Greek Revival mansion with twin curving staircases.
Estimate: $3 million range, according to Donna Petty, Hamner Real Estate, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Art Meripol for The Wall Street Journal

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The University of Alabama home may have one as well, says Mr. Bell. “We’d been here a week and a half and heard noises,” he says. “We looked all through the house and couldn’t find anything, and Susan and I turned to each other and said, ‘this is a big house, let’s go to sleep.’”

Despite the challenges of living in so public a space—with visitors both corporeal and incorporeal—the presidents and their spouses say they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The Bells are enamored with their home’s majestic front porch, where Mr. Bell says he spends many Sunday mornings with hot tea and the newspaper. Ms. Rowe and Mr. Jacobson say they cherish their cozy upstairs den. Sister Gerety likes to meditate in her home’s sunroom, which looks out over a rose garden. Mr. Brand and Ms. LaBarge love their bright kitchen.

Mr. Brand says that he’s taking a cue from former President King who, as was his wish, lived in the house until he died in 1921. “I’ve already penned a letter to my successor,” Mr. Brand says. “‘Get ready. We’re not leaving.’”

Appeared in the October 5, 2018, print edition as ‘Big Mansions On Campus.’

Modern Romance: State-of-the-Art Spindle Beds

SPARE SPIRES Designer Kerry Joyce’s bed adds soul to a Manhattan apartment featured in his coming book, ‘The Intangible,’ (Pointed Leaf Press).
SPARE SPIRES Designer Kerry Joyce’s bed adds soul to a Manhattan apartment featured in his coming book, ‘The Intangible,’ (Pointed Leaf Press). Photo: Joshua McHugh

IN A MODERN Manhattan apartment, Los Angeles designer Kerry Joyce was faced with a blank-slate bedroom sadly lacking in architectural charisma. He had introduced vintage pieces in other rooms, so Mr. Joyce decided to design a bed that recalls the past without bowing to it. His cast-bronze, finely articulated four-poster bed rekindles the charm of wooden spindles and, said Mr. Joyce, “anchors the room with a little bit of heart.”

After a decade or so of minimalist beds that forgo any draping but delineate volume with the barest of posts and rails, decorators are returning to the romance of the canopy bed without resorting to the festooning you’d encounter at a doily-dotted bed-and-breakfast. The reimagined four-posters replace overwrought Victorian spindles with unconventional, totem-like columns.

As the unnerving theory goes, canopied beds appeared in 13th-century Europe to keep rats from dropping upon the slumbering well-to-do, said Wolf Burchard, furniture research curator for London’s National Trust. Americans in the sweltering South dispensed with the insulating canopies and draperies in the early 20th century, said Alexis Barr, instructor of design history at the New York School of Interior Design, to minimize germiness. The canning of canopies also reflects the general “stripping down of the American interior.”

Yet today’s designers wistfully admire the four-posters’ suggestion of cocooning. Under a client’s soaring exposed-beam ceilings, Jessica Helgerson, who works in Portland, Ore., recently installed a bed by Los Angeles’s Noir furniture, with stanchions like upended polygraph-test lines. “It creates the feeling of a room within a room without closing things in,” said Ms. Helgerson, who avoids canopied beds as too fussy and “decorator-y.” Los Angeles-based Jeff Andrews, who stationed a similar bed in reality-TV star Kylie Jenner’s former bedroom, finds approachable whimsy in these newfangled posts. Without a shrouding canopy, he said, they work with most décor styles and don’t look “over-the-top or too commanding.”

New woodcarving technology, namely computer numerical control (CNC) routers, make possible fanciful beds like London designer Geoff Hawkes’s for Restoration Hardware, a svelte take on Baroque hardwood spindles. “It’s trying to catch people’s imagination,” Mr. Hawkes said. “People walk in and go, ‘That’s interesting.’”

From left: QS Ferret Bed by Noir, $3,540 for queen, Mecox Gardens, 212-249-5301; 18th C. Spindle Turned Bed, from $3,395, RH.com
From left: QS Ferret Bed by Noir, $3,540 for queen, Mecox Gardens, 212-249-5301; 18th C. Spindle Turned Bed, from $3,395, RH.com

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The Quirky Collections of Design Pros—in Their Childhood vs. Now

WINNER TUBES Part of architect David Rockwell’s kaleidoscope collection.
WINNER TUBES Part of architect David Rockwell’s kaleidoscope collection. Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

NOT SURPRISINGLY architects and designers tend to amass visual artifacts early. New York artist and landscape designer Paula Hayes made snowballs and tiny snowmen that she stored year round in a corner of her family’s freezer “like a little town.” Nunturat Robbamrung, now associate design director at Wilson Associates’ New York studio, accumulated fruit seeds—fascinated by their shape—and organized them by size. Here, eight design pros on their youthful hoarding habits, and the collections they focus on today.

The Quirky Collections of Design Pros—in Their Childhood vs. Now
Illustration: THE ELLAPHANT IN THE ROOM

THEN “I collected little fur mice with very specific outfits,” said Lora Appleton, founder of kinder Modern, a children’s furniture gallery in New York. “There was a king and queen, bride and groom, one in a yellow gingham dress…. I still have them. I loved the diminutive quality, how all the detail in their attire and their faces was so real.”

NOW “Vintage children’s furniture is amazing,” said Ms. Appleton. “I love the discovery, bringing it home, cherishing and then displaying.”

THEN “At our beach house on Long Island, we put on bathing suits in the morning, wore them all day and emptied them of sand at night,” said New York designer Susan Petrie. “At 5, I began saving the suits I wore year to year, and they became a collection.”

The Quirky Collections of Design Pros—in Their Childhood vs. Now
Illustration: THE ELLAPHANT IN THE ROOM

NOW “I found a 1920s wool infant’s bathing suit that fascinated me. Who would put an infant in a wet wool suit?” said Ms. Petrie. “I mounted it in a shadow box and hung it. I still collect antique suits—the fabric, pattern, color, weight interest me—and use them in projects.”

THEN “At around 9, I started collecting silver spoons from places I’d go on vacation. I loved the designs on the handles and bowl, with little icons and charms unique to each place,” said Allison Spampanato, SVP of Product Design at Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen.

The Quirky Collections of Design Pros—in Their Childhood vs. Now
Illustration: THE ELLAPHANT IN THE ROOM

NOW “A groom would give his bride-to-be a bracelet at engagement, and a matching one on their wedding day,” said Ms. Spampanato of the Victorian wedding bracelets she seeks out and wears every day. “I think of the woman who wore them and what her life was like.”

THEN “I collected stamps, the most curious of which were from countries like Nigeria that idolized American cultural icons—Graham Bell, JFK—by putting them on their stamps,” said designer Michael Suomi, a principal with New York firm Stonehill Taylor. “I imagined I would be worshiped as a god if I ever visited those lands.”

NOW “Antique door pulls that I install, Russell Wright midcentury American pottery that I eat off. Early 20th-century art I reframe.”

THEN “My family would gift silver to me: my baby cup, filigree baskets, trays,” said MA AlIen, a designer in Raleigh, N.C. “I would display them all on my bookshelves, as I’ve always been drawn to having odds and ends mixed together with books.”

NOW “Italian brass bug ashtrays. I love brass objects and since they were once a functional object, it makes them interesting.”

The Quirky Collections of Design Pros—in Their Childhood vs. Now
Illustration: THE ELLAPHANT IN THE ROOM

THEN ”I loved to arrange my Muffy Bears and Madame Alexander dolls in creative ways,” said New York designer CeCe Barfield Thompson. “One of my best arrangements was a talk-show seating tableau I created on top of my armoire. I was about 8 and obsessed with talk shows even though they weren’t allowed. I watched Ricky Lake every day after school on a tiny TV in my armoire before my mom got home.”

NOW “I’ve become enamored of 19th-century Lustre- and Transferware, beautiful vessels with interesting historical connections and narratives.”

The Quirky Collections of Design Pros—in Their Childhood vs. Now
Illustration: THE ELLAPHANT IN THE ROOM

THEN “As a teenager, I became obsessed with these very odd little figurines they sold in Chinatown. The term of art is Chinese Baby-doll Pencil Sharpeners,” said architect M. Brian Tichenor, of Tichenor & Thorp, in Los Angeles. “Some bemused child festively arrayed on a giant peach with a cheap pencil sharpener glued into a cavity below, or a cartoony domestic mammal looking surprised to be so co-joined.”

NOW “My wife and I just keep building more buildings to house our out-of-print garden and architecture books, as well as stringed instruments. It’s now six libraries, each focused around a general area of interest. This is probably a problem, but we are unrepentant.”

THEN “I always had a lot of building toys and blocks,” said New York architect David Rockwell. “I even made Lincoln Log houses for my hamsters. Our family moved around quite a bit, and this allowed me to have control over creating something and to mediate the world.”

NOW “Since my 30s, I’ve amassed a collection of more than 35 kaleidoscopes,” said Mr. Rockwell. “They are objects of art in their own right but are meant to be used and enjoyed. The endless shifting patterns they form are a personal mini spectacle.”

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Your New Favorite Brown Liquor

From left: Osocalis XO Alambic Brandy; Bertoux Brandy; Argonaut Speculator; Germain-Robin XO; Copper & Kings American Craft Distilled Brandy.
From left: Osocalis XO Alambic Brandy; Bertoux Brandy; Argonaut Speculator; Germain-Robin XO; Copper & Kings American Craft Distilled Brandy. Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

AFTER YEARS of watching bourbon sales soar, American brandy distillers are ready to get in on the action. The first step: education.

Brandy encompasses a whole range of spirits: Cognacs and Armagnacs, distilled from (grape) wine; Calvados and other apple brandies, made from cider; and fruit brandies derived from berries and tree fruits. The most sought-after brandies are barrel-aged, yielding a liquor as brown and aromatic as any bourbon.

Traditionally, American brandy has been “a bit of an underdog,” according to Thomas Pastuszak, executive wine director for the NoMad Hotel chain. In August, along with Jeff Bell, bar manager of PDT in New York and Hong Kong, Mr. Pastuszak launched Bertoux, a new California brandy intended for mixing into cocktails.

The word premium has long been attached to French brandies, particularly luxe, highly regulated Cognac. By comparison, American-made brandy has been pigeonholed as an unremarkable “value” spirit—a reputation long deserved, on the whole, especially among the largest producers.

In recent years, however, American distillers have been turning out excellent brandies made from a variety of fruits, often in regions not traditionally known for brandy. In Texas, for example, Chip Tate, best known for building the Balcones brand of whiskies, is designing and assembling his own stills and producing brandy made with grapes from the Texas Hill Country wine region. In North Carolina, High Wire Distilling is experimenting with old-school peach and watermelon brandies, made with fruit grown in state.

Even in bourbon central, Louisville, Ky., Joe Heron, co-founder of Copper & Kings, has been garnering attention with his line of grape- and apple-based brandies. Mr. Heron—who founded the popular Crispin Cider and then sold it to MillerCoors—has injected a youthful rock ’n’ roll personality into a category often considered fusty. He names stills after characters in Bob Dylan songs and blasts Queen, David Bowie and Kanye West in the aging cellar (at least, that’s what was playing when I visited), so the pulse of the bass agitates the liquid in the barrels, a technique called “sonic aging.” In January, beer, wine and spirits giant Constellation Brands took a minority stake in Copper & Kings.

“The resurgence is built on the shoulders of an increasingly adventurous consumer within a brown spirits palate preference,” said Mr. Heron. In other words, he said, brandy is “slipstreaming” bourbon. Mr. Heron also credits crossover between wine and brandy—most often made with wine grapes—with helping to introduce the spirit to wine drinkers. Bartenders, too, have played “an enormous role” in raising consumer awareness, he said, and bringing brandy to a place where it is “not traditional and boring.”

He names stills after characters in Bob Dylan songs and blasts Queen, David Bowie and Kanye West in the aging cellar.

In California, America’s most established brandy-making center, a coalition of producers met in April to brainstorm the promotion of the state’s considerable stocks of “America’s other brown spirit.” Participating distilleries at the inaugural California Brandy Summit in Fresno included E. & J. Gallo, F. Korbel & Bros., and smaller producers such as Germain-Robin (since acquired by Gallo), Charbay Distillery & Winery and Osocalis.

Brandy “needs to get out of the commodity box,” lamented Paul Ahvenainen, Korbel’s director of winemaking and master distiller at the summit. “If brandy isn’t sexy, it’s because we’re not making it sexy.”

Ansley Coale, co-founder and principal of Germain-Robin, a craft producer noted for exquisite small-batch brandies, echoed Mr. Ahvenainen’s sentiments. “People don’t know enough about brandy to understand how good it can be, to really believe in it,” he said.

Among the ideas floated for rehabbing California brandy: Emphasize the “terroir” of brandy, similar to that of California wine. Create a “straight brandy” category similar to straight bourbon, with additional legal requirements regarding production, to help drive the premium association. Push more brandy into the cocktail world, where drink recipes are currently far more likely to call for, say, whiskey or rum.

The cocktail push has gained the most traction. Over the last year, Gallo has been touting its Argonaut line intended for mixing into cocktails. The most recent entrant to the fray, Bertoux—named for the inventor of the motorcycle sidecar, an oblique reference to the brandy-based drink of the same name—is a versatile blend of brandies aged three to seven years, sourced from a contract distillery in Parlier, Calif.

Compared to more rigidly defined styles from France (Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados), premium American brandy has yet to find its limits. Expressions range widely, from Copper & Kings’ muscular brandies to the elegance of Germain-Robin to light, easy drinking Bertoux. Among the diverse list of bottles above, any lover of brown spirits should find a winning way into this category.

American brandy “doesn’t have a unique style, so there’s room to play and develop new ones,” said Mr. Pastuszak. “It’s the Wild Wild West appeal there.”

BRANDY, YOU’RE A FINE DRINK / American Bottles to Suit a Range of Tastes

1. Osocalis XO Alambic Brandy (40% ABV, $120)

An outstanding choice to sip straight, fireside. This velvety mix of fresh-cut apple and orange zest mingled with honey, vanilla and sweet spices has a super long finish.

2. Bertoux Brandy (40% ABV, $45)

This bartender-blended brandy intended for mixing into cocktails is relatively light on the palate, melding oak and apricot, and finishing with a flurry of ginger sparks.

3. Argonaut Speculator (43% ABV, $38)

From California brandy giant E. & J. Gallo, this very mellow brandy offers layers of dried fig, caramel and spice. A versatile choice for either sipping or mixing.

4. Germain-Robin XO (40% ABV, $200)

Think elegance and finesse. This is aged longer than most American brandies—about 17 years—yielding a silky sipper accented with vanilla, coconut and roasted nuts. An ideal dessert drink.

5. Copper & Kings American Craft Distilled Brandy 45% ABV, $35)

This robust brandy made in Louisville, Ky., hints at honey and baking spice, with lots of toasty oak tannins providing a dry, puckery finish.

Your New Favorite Brown Liquor
Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal
Sidecar

An artifact of an era when brandy was a bartender go-to, this cocktail makes a great showcase for the new wave of American brandies.

Combine 1½ ounces Bertoux Brandy, ¾ ounce lemon juice, ½ ounce Cointreau and ¼ ounce simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Why Your Squash Tastes Better Than It Used To

Why Your Squash Tastes Better Than It Used To
Illustration: BETH HOECKEL

MATT Weingarten is the lucky kind of chef who gets to spend time outside the kitchen, on the farms that supply his produce. One day this summer, Mr. Weingarten, chief culinary officer for the Northeastern fast-casual chain Dig Inn, lingered over a harvest of beautiful baby lettuces, some with ruffled leaves, others speckled with crimson and plum. One was sweet, almost succulent; another had a citrusy edge. On the spot, he dreamed up a wedge salad with at least three different varieties, the heads halved or quartered “so that they looked like little jewels” and topped with a buttermilk-herb dressing. “It’s a dish that really celebrates the lettuce,” he said. “Sounds like spring to me.”

The leaves that captured Mr. Weingarten’s imagination were coaxed from the dirt by Larry Tse, farm manager of the 12-acre operation in New York’s Hudson Valley that Dig Inn maintains to supply its 23 restaurants. In partnership with Seedshed, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening seed biodiversity in the Northeast, the farm is growing lettuce varieties bred for heat resistance and for flavor, too. Their experiments don’t involve any high-tech genetic modification, just old-fashioned crossbreeding. But their goal—truly delicious produce—is nothing short of revolutionary.

In the modern era, fruits and vegetables have been bred almost exclusively for yield (which makes sense for farmers paid by the pound) and to transport and store well (which makes sense for retailers). Taste has been mostly an afterthought.

Seedshed’s Kitchen Cultivars program is part of a wave developing new vegetables to please the palates of chefs and consumers. Earlier this year, chef Dan Barber, of the acclaimed Blue Hill restaurants in Manhattan and Westchester County, N.Y., launched his own seed company, Row 7, with the goal of encouraging chefs to “write recipes from the ground up.”

For years, Mr. Barber sought out heirloom varieties to cultivate on the acres that supply his own restaurants. Though often finicky to grow, they had the distinctive flavors he craved. Then, about a decade ago, he was chatting about the challenges of growing flavorful varieties with Cornell University plant breeder Michael Mazourek. Mr. Mazourek took up the challenge to breed flavor into a new variety. The result was the honeynut: a tubby, mini version of the common butternut squash with a thinner skin, so it doesn’t have to be peeled, and a natural sweetness that intensifies as you cook it.

With Mr. Barber as its evangelist, the honeynut took off. Today, it’s available at many Whole Foods and farmers’ markets around the country. And that was only the beginning. “We need to think of seeds like an Apple iPhone,” said Mr. Barber. “We don’t just introduce new vegetables. We improve on what we’ve done.”

To that end, Row 7, in which Mr. Mazourek is a partner, has introduced a new version of the honeynut, currently dubbed 898. The caramel sweetness is still there, but the plant now produces a better yield and has a slightly thicker skin so it can be stored through the winter.

Breeder-chef collaborations are bearing fruit (literally) on the West Coast too. In 2010, Lane Selman, an agricultural researcher at Oregon State University, invited a few local chefs to taste a gypsy pepper a breeder was working on. The cooks had thoughts on the flavor but also on how the size, shape and color would work on the plate. “It was then that I realized plant breeders needed to hear this, since they are the decision makers, determining which traits to keep and which to discard,” Mr. Selman said.

We need to think of seeds like an Apple iPhone.

The next year, Mr. Selman established the Portland-based Culinary Breeding Network to connect chefs and breeders. Each year, it hosts a Variety Showcase in which chefs pair up with plant breeders to demonstrate the deliciousness of new varieties in tastings open to the public.

Last month, plant breeders and chefs gathered in Manhattan for Variety Showcase NYC. Some 400 hundred people attended, visiting tables featuring varieties such as blue fenugreek, which smells of maple syrup and tastes almost buttery. The menu included an eggplant taco splashed with hot sauce made from the new “Primero Red” chile, and a callaloo-coconut bake featuring the leaf of a new variety of amaranth. Chef Weingarten served variations on his wedge salad—one with a grapefruit “lacquer” and shallots, another with a smoked butter dressing and bread crumbs.

Working in tandem, chefs, breeders and growers hope to show that qualities such as high yield and storeability needn’t come at the cost of flavor. Last fall, the salad chain Sweetgreen began to collect data on the conditions that produce the most flavorful cherry tomatoes. There were 80 variables, from moisture content and soil type to harvest and usage dates. (Contrary to common expectations, tomatoes didn’t taste best right off the vine. If stored correctly, they tasted sweeter five days after harvest.)

This year, Sweetgreen is doing similar tests on the Badger Flame Beet, another new variety bred for flavor. “It’s an investment for us, but we think it’s a competitive advantage” said Nic Jammet, Sweetgreen’s co-founder and co-CEO. “It’s a way to show our customers that when you source a certain way and prioritize where and how something is grown, there’s data to show that it tastes better.”

Honeynut Puree and Crumble
Honeynut Puree and Crumble Photo: David Chow for The Wall Street Journal
Honeynut Purée and Crumble

ACTIVE TIME: 20 minutes TOTAL TIME: 9½ hours (includes overnight baking) SERVES: 2

Blue Hill chef Dan Barber was integral to developing the sweet, thin-skinned honeynut squash. His radically simple recipe is designed to let its pure flavor shine through.

2 honeynut squashes

Sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Split honeynuts horizontally and remove seeds. Lay face up on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with foil and roast in oven until flesh is soft enough to scoop with a spoon, 45 minutes-1 hour. Remove foil and continue cooking to reduce moisture, 15 minutes more.

2. Scoop all flesh from skins and pass through a fine-mesh sieve. Put puréed squash into a nonstick pan over low-medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly using a spatula until all liquid is cooked out, about 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt. If not serving immediately, store in an airtight container in refrigerator and sauté to heat before serving.

3. Make the crumble (optional): Heat oven to 200 degrees. Scrape any remaining flesh from cooked honeynut skins, remove stems and arrange skins on a baking sheet. Bake in oven until fully dry, 8 hours. (Alternatively, use a dehydrator.) Break into small pieces and grind to a rough powder in a spice grinder.

4. Serve warm purée with crumble sprinkled on top or absolutely plain.

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