Pray consider it, dear reader: did you ever go through an Anthropologie stage? Do you even know what that entails? From someone who’s been there, it is this: walking through the exquisitely laid-out store, you imagine that this is your shabby-chic New York loft, your smelling-of-lavender nightgown and silk robe, your perfect striped shirt, and your perfect, elaborately-embroidered-in-an-exotic-melange-of-colors dress, tailored for your body type. Because the thing about Anthropologie — and any other store worth its brand (The Apple Store, Whole Foods) — is that it’s a promise: by shopping here, you will be fitter, happier, more productive. You’ll be a generally better version of you, because you, failure, should aspire to this level of brilliance.
So in a world where celebrities are the absolute embodiment of “perfection,” as nebulous as that term is, why shouldn’t they make money on that and broaden their reach with a lifestyle brand? With the launch of Blake Lively’s Preserve this week, it’s probably time to declare the celebrity lifestyle brand a trend, a way for people who had a TV show once, or a role in a movie at some point, to shore up their brand when the roles in movies and TV are few and far between.
Perhaps it’s something to do when you’re a mother in your real life, staring down the barrel of the gun at offers to play mothers to actresses like Selena Gomez when your male peers are moving onwards and upwards to Oscar-bait movies and headlining superhero films. At the exact time that Gwyneth Paltrow started her lifestyle email newsletter, GOOP, her career had gone from Oscar-ish films and leading roles to “selective” choices like small roles in Infamous and Running With Scissors, before her “comeback” as Pepper Potts in the Iron Man series. GOOP, as annoying and out of touch with the proletariat as it can be, has been a way for Gwyneth Paltrow to remain a name on the radar, even as she does less and less acting work.
But not everyone is a Paltrow (although Reese Witherspoon’s imminent brand, Draper James, will likely be cut from the same cloth). There’s a horde of 20-something celebs whose careers verge on “mocktress” territory, who nonetheless have their own brands — like Jessica Alba and The Honest Company, or whatever Kate Bosworth and Lauren Conrad are selling you these days.
Blake Lively is, basically, a mocktress (name anything she’s been in besides Gossip Girl?) with A-list fashion bona fides: she’s been the face of expensive brands, married the hot-at-some-point Ryan Reynolds, and been on the cover of Vogue a mind-boggling three times, including this month’s issue, a pendulum swing back from the vital choices of Lena Dunham and Lupita Nyong’o. The profile that accompanies the cover is boilerplate, boring and laughable — it could easily be about Paltrow — and it contains this one howler: “She pauses for a moment. ‘And one small thing, which shows up in every piece: the word things. My dad was an English professor. There’s always a more eloquent, descriptive word.'”
If only she listened to her own advice. Even though Lively claims to have overlooked every sentence and period on the brand website, the writing is consistently horrific and overwrought. It seems to be aiming at an audience of people who don’t read that much, so for every correction regarding things, we get:
There are certain things that only New Orleanians understand: the way the steam rises off the streets after a midsummer downpour, the way a fried soft shell crab po-boy crunches between your teeth, the way Mardi Gras Indians’ colorful feathers wave as they dance, the way a mournful trombone melody echoes through the streets during a funeral dirge.
From an article on How to Do a BBQ: “To create such a wicked wassail demands, first and foremost, a cast of characters as colorful and damned as Dante ever envisioned.”
A hunky man wears fashion: “A 6’5”, saffron haired, tatted biker sporting as many rings as Liberace, but worn with the masculinity of McQueen (Steve, that is).”
The Preserve brand, so far, is as if Lively has decided to slap her name on some authentico Americana branding that was hip in 2010. The website is a mess, the goods are forgettable, the Instagram-style photos are the best part about it, and Preserve does a deadly job of not showing you an aspirational way forward. It is basically set up to goof on and to snark on.
Perhaps the difference between GOOP and Bloop, as it were, is a matter of the difference between a grown woman (as out of touch as she is) showing you what her life is like and a magpie trying to define herself, looking at cool stuff and trying to sell it to you. Lively’s never been experienced at selling you anything, as an actress or as a terminally beige persona, and Preserve is just another all-over-the-place lifestyle website, cribbing from places like Etsy with absolutely no curatorial eye. Which is weird, because there’s a lot of people lacking for work with great curatorial eyes; so why couldn’t the Lively team find them?
As the fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo suggest in their recent book, Everyone Wants to Be Me or Do Me, when it comes to the aspirational process of celebrity, you need to offer something that people want, even if it’s just the perennial idea of “they could be my BFF and I could have a beer with them.” Despite her modeling, Lively has remained downmarket, never quite a luxury brand — no Natalie Portman — and she’s always been way too Serena van der Woodsen to ever be the type of approachable girls’ girl actress that inspires “Let’s be friends!” sentiments.
Her Gossip Girl costar Leighton Meister, on the other hand — with her marriage to Adam Brody, and her feminist blogging about her portrayal of Curly’s wife in Of Mice and Men on Broadway — is way more approachable. Preserve is young, but it feels tone-deaf so far, and some of that is stemming from Lively’s absolute lack of a persona, her A-list aspirations versus her attempt at everygirl appeal. Can one CW actress who never quite made the A-list tell us what $65 T-shirt we need? Sure. Is it a sign, one of many that we’re seeing far more frequently as of late, of a celebrity trying very hard to stay relevant in weird times? Definitely.