This Freckled, Hairy Underbelly

comments: 30

Audrey1 Wow -- that was quite a response. I spent most of the day yesterday reading comments, trying to listen well to what everyone was bringing to the conversation, and I have to admit, I was a little overwhelmed. Those are some hefty comments down below. I was trying to think through everything and figure out what I had been saying in the morning, when I wrote the post, and how I felt by evening, when I turned off the computer.

I'd thought that my firmly planted-in-cheek tongue would be obvious, but I fear it wasn't, so much -- for the record, I'm not bummed at being marketed to nor even bummed that corporate sales teams have a profiles of their target customers -- nah. Of course we are marketed to, and of course they have a profile -- I market to and think about my own customer's profile all the time. That's what being in retail requires. I don't think it's creepy -- I actually think it's interesting, or I wouldn't be in the business of doing it myself.

But what was interesting to me about the description in the article (and it is worth restating that it was written by a journalist, and not the Anthropologists themselves -- but when I read it I thought, "My God! She's/they've got my number!" although obviously many other people thought it was bollocks, etc.) was that I felt sort of caught out and exposed -- my own (I thought) equisitely personal psychology detailed and laid bare by my shopping habits. It was almost like experiencing the weird feeling of recognition-mixed-with-disbelief that one has at hearing one's own voice -- That's what I sound like? That's what I'm up to?

You may not agree that the profile fits most Anthropologie shoppers, let alone you -- many, many of your parents are still married, as you've mentioned, and your grandma didn't have filigree glassware (though, as Steph points out, it's a metaphor, baby -- my p's were married, too) -- but I know that there is ample evidence in this blog to suggest that the profile fits me. If you're a regular reader, I'm sure you'll agree (ignoring my narcissism in assuming that you'd even care to notice). But it was interesting to me, at least. My blatant attempts to recreate a specific atmosphere based entirely on a history that was only barely ever mine litter this place -- I could point to ten separate posts that I've written that expose me as a Longer of just this sort in a million ways. And there is something vaguely depressing about it. I know that I often feel sad that our homebase was blown to bits; I often stud my life with the trappings of what what I wanted life to be in a way that is purposeful and a little desperate -- and some days even I find this practice thoroughly burdensome, extremely annoying, even futile. But I don't think there's something wrong with me because of it.

What surprised me is that although to me those particular pains felt exquisitely and profoundly personal, it didn't occur to me that they perhaps only mark me as just another member of my generation, and as such they're the stuff around which brilliant marketing strategies by large corporations and small indie businesses (my own) are planned. And I'd just never thought about it in exactly that way before. I had thought I was just buying and making stuff I liked, and I suddenly saw it as part of my own larger attempt to find Comfort. You may insist this is not what you're doing and honestly -- I absolutely believe you! I wouldn't presume to know you. All I'm saying is, "Kinda interesting, huh?" and "Damn irony! Turns out the salve for my own personal heartaches can be bought at a store that has a scanner!" And I thought I was so special and unique!

The post elicited a lot of strong feelings about Anthropologie in all sorts of ways, and it made me think about lots of things I hadn't considered. The larger, more generally obvious point is that Anthropologie is marketing to and in some ways representing our collective sense of nostalgia, our dissatisfaction with the ever-increasing hold that technology has on our lives, our yearnings for slower, simpler, more old-fashioned things. And I think many of us are conflicted when these things, things that feel rather "alternative" and special, go mainstream and "corporate" and take on the trappings of Mother Big-Business, suckling us while selling to us at the same time. We're conflicted because we want it even though we feel a little bit manipulated by it.

My mind crawled around the comments and these ideas all afternoon, especially as I headed over the bridge to go to Anthropologie, thinking that I would take a field trip to see the evidence first-hand. I walked around with heightened senses. There's no doubt the place is provocative in a million ways. I've always had a love/hate relationship with the Portland store since it opened a couple of years ago -- I am both an occasional customer and a constant competitor; I'm a dreamer and a purveyor of the same sorts of dreams. At Ella Posie I carry some of the same product lines and offer things of a similar aesthetic, though Anthropologie is always crawling with customers and my store is often empty. Insert petulant foot stomping here. My store has things that are actually made by hand; Anthropologie has things that only seem to be made by hand, or are made by underpaid/overseas hands, and yet their prices are higher than ours. And there is something sort of overwhelmingly orchestrated about it, even down to its authenticly rustic imperfections -- a potted plant on a shelf was real, and shedding dead leaves and dirt in a charmingly disheveled way that I was sure was intentional. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel I should bow down to the geniuses behind it all, faults notwithstanding. I'd never say there wasn't heart in it. If I lived in Philadelphia (where its corporate offices reside) you'd better believe that on my worst days with Posie, I'd be applying for a job there in a hot second. I could be getting a regular paycheck for fantasizing customer profiles!

Of course, at the end of the day, I don't really give a rat's butt what Anthropologie does or doesn't do, or what it implies intentionally or unintentionally. I'm just Alicia, doing my thang, carrying my baggage (in a flowered duffel), wearing my Peter Pan collar with or without irony, and putting it all together as best I can. What do I know, anyway. Gotta go eat some lunch now.


I agree with you! I have a store, Starlet, in Denver and would work for Anthropologie in a minute if I lived in Philly. I'd even apply on my good days at Starlet. I often go there for merchandising inspiration!

I agree with you. It can kind of be sad to think the big corporate monster out there has us pegged, but when you throw the fast paced world into the mix... it only makes sense that a corp would identify and market the needs of a generation or two. And on some level, that is just fine. Shoot, I have a crocheted cardigan from there.. one in which I could create myself, but I just do not have the time for it : )
So, I agree, I wouldn't mind going to work for them.. but I still long for the good old days : )

I was blown away that my little email to you would elicit such a response!

I totally get what you're trying to say.

I've to say that finding you and other talented designers is one of the best things about the Internet.

I love buying items directly from the people who made them. Supporting small businesses is so important.

Have a nice lunch!

well put alicia! i dont know if you ever read ray bradbury, but your discription of yearning for the past in our ever technological present made me thing of the martian chronicles. basically these men journey through space to find small town usa from the 40's recreated on mars. wonderfully fascinating and creepy at the same time.

OH... I meant to tell you Audrey looks just adorable : )

My feelings exactly and
I love me some puppy belly :)

Great conversation.

Well said.

Heck ! I got it !

I thought it was fascinating too !

And, saw my own self in thier diagnosis !

I am not sure what I wrote myself yesterday that might have sounded different than I had meant it ... but! I got cha ! it is weird to think that my age range is totally pegged and marketed to.

It is smart ! it is of course what I would do too...think of my target buyers.

I think people get a little too serious on the blogs ! laughing.

but too,it is hard to know where / how someone is saying something in writing sometimes. oh...the many emails at work and such that have been twisted or misinterpreted...

Anyway, you are conveying yourself and your analysis and wisdoms perfectly today (as always). I for one am finding more of your thoughts on this subject fascinating and wonderful food for thought.

Thank you for flowered duffel bags and pictures that make me happy and this today and yesterday. Just sharing yourself is what I look forward to every day.

Love, S.

p.s. Audrey is an angel.

I think part of the strong feelings stem from the fact that people who read blogs like yours are people who like to think of themselves as individuals and special and in a way, indefinable. Part of the reason we create and re-create things is to make our environments personal to us and like NO other. We do not want to be profiled, correctly or incorrectly. Yet we are all drawn to read your blog because we have things in common with you and with each other. We want to belong, but we want to belong in a semi-exclusive way. We like a secret handshake, a clubhouse. But we need to be profiled to an extent, because otherwise we couldn't find things to buy in retail that we like. Our kind of things wouldn't be sold. It is a catch-22. A paradox. Even an oxymoron. It is frustrating.

As my eldest brother likes to remind me, "You are unique, just like everyone else."

well put, alicia.

Before I comment I would like to say I have never seen any Anthropologie products(but would love to!).I agree with Candlestring when she said that people reacted strongly to yesterdays,very tongue-in-cheek I thought,post.We vintage lovers should take full advantage of this latest fashion as it will not last mainstream.Now's time to buy,and sell,all the lovely things available.Very soon we will be back to only searching thrift shops for the perfect item and the mainstream will be onto something else!
Yes I come from a broken home and if that's why I want to 'feather my nest' then I'm more than happy for a spot of retail therapy!

You rock, Alicia! Your pink and freckled underbelly may represent some of us out there, and not others - but it is your own and you have the right to expose it if you can take the heat (which, it appears, you can). I can relate to what you posted as I have been gathering things for years for that "home" that I will have one day. And I started doing that loooong before I ever heard of Anthropologie.

Thanks for opening up the discussion (whether you meant to or not) and giving me a chance to reflect on my habits and preferences.

I read through the comments on your last post this morning and it's a fascinating conversation. All the responses kept me thinking today.

Marketing happens. Obviously. It feels a little strange to think I'm a demographic, but I don't sweat it, and if retailers want to profile me, they can go right ahead. I don't mind.

But I do have this weird consumer guilt that I can't shake. I'm capable of feeling the same guilt buying a $60 shirt at Anthro as I can buying an $8 one at WalMart. So I have to echo people who have said that they prefer thrift stores, or buying handmade goods directly from the makers. It's like the the shopping equivalent of a whole foods diet. Guilt-free.

You rock. Hard.

just reading along this time. hmmm...all very interesting. i think candlestring nailed the whole thing.

bought and sold sister. we're all bought and sold. and so well. I'm constantly amazed at how well everything has my number these days. used to be nothing did. no one understood me. I couldn't find anything to buy anywhere. now I feel like a walking demographic target. what gives?

People should know how wonderful are hand made things...And I really feel unconfortable every time I buy something made in...Asia, South America...It's amazing how things get so overpriced at these stores. In Brazil you can find really nice hand made for so cheap. It's sad when people don't wanna pay (or cannot pay) for a fair price for things like that. I am kinda desisting of what I am doing. Will craft for my kids only.
Take Care!

Having not walked into a urban outfitters store in years b/c I don't like the fact the donated $13 million dollars to Rick Santorum, I can't help but walk into Anthroplogie and feel completely taken away.
I read all the comments, readt he article, and re-read this blog post thinking hard. You say it so well- and it just reminds me that I need to shop with facts. Totting along with my purse, I need to know where that $20 dollars for a hook go.
You should check out:
It's a wake up call.

HAHAHAHA! Being a girl who spend little money on clothes (mostly of necessity) and who mostly lives in the sticks of TN, I had no idea what Anthropologie sold, or what kind of personal style they promoted- until I went to look at them to see what all the hulabaloo was about.

Lo and behold I would buy anyhting they sold because I adore it all! Apparently, 26 year olds can also fit into that psyche profile- though I am only siting on the coattails of your particular generation (or at least I'm trying to convince myself that 30 is much further away than it seems).

Thanks for this blog! I always appreciate your writing style and have melted more then once because of the wonderful pictures and ideas you post. It's making me aspire to greater things.


Oh heck, I'm off to Anthropolgie. All this talk makes me crave a new skirt, or fabric covered "B", drawer pull hardware, something!

love these posts...and anthropologie...well I think they always have such great window displays...funny to think we are a target audience and quite everyone's thoughts!!

Hmn. Well, all I do know is that they've totally got ME nailed. And I don't know whether I'm honored (hee), or pissed. Oh well...What I DO know is that I'm not too worried about it either way. ;)
Hope you're having a super weekend, Alicia!

Jeez. Maybe I should read my comment before I hit 'send'. That was, um, embarrassingly clunkly. I'm going to drink some more coffee now.

Menstruant says: June 10, 2006 at 08:51 AM

I think the point is that every time we are suckered by large corporations, who pull on our own genuine and valid nostalgia needs, we are supporting them to continue exploiting vastly underpaid textile workers in poor countries. That's why it's better to support small stores like yours, who sell the same kinds of lovely things but without the abuse.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at