I Looked Deep Into My Soul and Found the Real Me: Just Another Anthropologie Customer

comments: 75

Companyinfo_homeYesterday, my friend Ellen sent me a link to an article about Anthropologie in the New York Times last week called "Peter Pan Collars in a Vintage Never-Never Land." I read it and then looked down to make sure I had clothes on -- I fully expected to be stark naked. I felt that the target customer described me to an embarrassed, gulping, wistful tee -- I had no idea that my personal longings were simply a very well-understood profile circumscribed in corporate offices by the Anthropologie marketing department. I feel played like a fake vintage viola.

Alex Kuczynski, the writer, describes the new 12,000-foot Anthropologie store on Rockefeller Plaza, and discusses the general aesthetic of the brand in a way that makes me cringe with recognition and admission. She says:

On a philosophical level, there is something about Anthropologie that is well intentioned but makes me profoundly depressed. The old bicycles, the old-fashioned Marvis toothpaste, the etched-glass candleholders, the calico pajama sets, the teacups and saucers -- all are the trappings of a grandparent's or a parent's home.

But the 30-something generation that shops at Anthropologie, among the first to be widely defined as children of divorce, no longer has access to those homes, which have long since been dispersed. There is no longevity in their parents' houses. The romantically weathered chests of drawers and stacks of pristinely aged National Geographic magazines were all put into storage, sold or dispersed among the various interested parties.

This is where Anthropologie steps in: It helps the shopper create the illusion of household continuity by allowing her to reimagine a place where Grandma might leave out her pre-fluoride tooth powder, to simulate a life in which Mom and Dad still live together in a house with European teacups and flocked bedspreads. In a world of Anthropologie furnishings and clothing, the consumers can reclaim lost childhoods, lost marriages, lost virginities. The store's philosophy takes the colloquial and sad world of regrets and realities and wraps it up in a swath of vintage calico, tied with a satin bow.

Lord! What I'd thought was simply my own personal motivation for my aesthetic preferences -- admittedly a little precious, self-consciously twee, flush with a manufactured nostalgia for a past that was only vaguely ever mine, haunted by homesickness and longing for the butler's pantries of my old neighborhood -- is actually just a corporate brand, a brilliant marketing campaign! That is depressing. And it's manufactured overseas and can be bought for the (too high) price on a computer-generated Urban Outfitters-ish pricetag. Crap. How irritating! But man they've done it all so well that I sort of, in spite of myself, want it anyway!

Nevertheless, I insist that, whatever else I am (and come on, you love/hate Anthropologie, you [maybe] are, too), I'm not longing to reclaim my virginity. It was overrated anyway. Peter Pan collar or not, I'm glad that's long gone. And my vintagey bicycle works great and I think mountainbikes are just plain ugly and I ALWAYS WILL. So there. Hrumph. (Cringe. Hide. Laugh. Back to sew some calico flower pins.)


Wow! That is depressing. We moved a lot when I was child and so a lot of stuff was thrown away over the years. I never thought that my yearning for the old/vintage faded things of yore could have anything to do with that! What an eye opener!

Chris Howard says: June 08, 2006 at 09:05 AM

Eh, people are always trying to define you. I like the old school vintage style stuff, but I am not from a broken home and believe me, I am NOT trying to decorate my house to remind me of my parents (my parents live in a sprawling 70's surburban ranch where ugly furniture from the 60's and 70's came to die). As for recreating Grandma's house, well my grandparents both were poor and their houses leaned more towards shabby (but clean and well kept) than chic. I most assuredly am NOT trying to gain back my virginity (I had too much fun losing it). And yet, I still like shopping at Anthropologie. Hmmm, define me, will you?

I think we all yearn for that, in a way (but not the corporate brand.. good grief, or our virginity..glad not to have that back...giggle). I think it is because we remember our childhood, everything being slower, the days seem longer.. the summers lasted for at least 6 months (at least mentally). Kind of like Country Time Lemonade commercials.
I think we can still try to recreate the values from our childhood (I know I try for my daughter.. kids lose their innocence too early if you ask me, this is why she DOES NOT have any video games and only gets to be on the computer when she sits in mommies' lap).
Thank you for the great blog and afternoon of fond memories : ) ... (and right now I am leaving for lunch to buy my 1st sewing machine instead of using my mother's 40 year old Viking)
Have a great afternoon!

I say bollocks to that. My parents are happily married, and both my grandmothers are still alive, and I still like the style.

That theory, to me, reeks of fabricating a cause for an effect that probably can't be explained. Maybe the desire for tactile, vintage qualities is a reaction against sleek modern technology, eh? I've long believed that hand-made and boutique style is the opposite of mass-produced cheapy merchandise, and that one will rise when we get sick of the other.

I think 5% of people independently decided they like vintage style, for whatever reason, and with the help of some clever marketing, the other 95% of people were convinced they like it too. And who really cares which percentage you're in so long as you're happy?

I am not a child of divorce and I did end up with lots of stuff from dead relatives but I still love what they do at Anthropologie. I call it creative merchandising in a too modern world. The fact that every store looks the same all over the country doesn't make me want to visit less. I think they are bringing the thrifting and junking trend to people who want to have old stuff but are too busy making lots of money and have no time to do what you, your readers, and I do Alicia. Nor, do they have the eye and creative skills to do it. Enter Anthropologie. They are just good marketers.

I love their dreamy catalog and all the handmade touches on their clothing and home dec. I like the fact that they have "how-to" crafting supplies (like rubber stamps) mixed in with cookbooks, pretty glasses, dishtowels and more.

I think they are trend-watchers to the max. And so, seeing embroidery as an upcoming trend and being an author of a new embroidery book (Colorful Stitchery) and designer of stitchery kits, I sent samples to them. The cover of Colorful Stitchery looks like it would fit right into one of their stores. I figured it was worth a shot. Amazingly, I got an email back from one of the assistant merchandisers, saying that my book was lovely but they were no longer interested in KNITTING because it had gone mainstream and become commonplace. Is that the funniest thing ever? Maybe they had too many of those knitting kits they did last year (knitted bag with acrylic yarn, needles, little booklet) on the close-out table. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And I'll still visit their stores whenever I am in a major city.


Amy Ragland says: June 08, 2006 at 09:25 AM

I LOVE Anthropologie and do not come from a divorced home. There merchandise just clicks with me. I'm not 30 yet either.

Victoria says: June 08, 2006 at 09:26 AM

All I can say is I love, love, love Anthropologie. I often go to that store just to escape into another world out of my own existence. I am a budding artist myself so I mostly go there for inspiration and new ideas, I long to wholesale my stuff there someday real soon. I use to go there mostly to buy now I go to dream... If I could fit into their cloths or even afford them I probably would buy them but I mostly buy their beautiful door knobs...My entire bedroom and probably my kitchen has items bought from this store I should buy stock in this company for all the money I have spent there through the years...But what can I say I adore this store and am glad someone had the wisdom to invent it. I'm sure this sounds sick!!!

FYI Alex: "tchotchke's" kick ass!!!

Man I feel like I've been shot after reading that article. *sigh* I love Anthropologie, the vintage easy going atmosphere, it's so inspiring (yes overpriced) but I get so many wonderful idea's there. My house is decorated in a similar and I love it!

Alisa Logue says: June 08, 2006 at 09:51 AM

Wow, the psychology behind commerce, it's astounding isn't it? I thought I just liked Anthropology for what IT is. Turns out I am drawn to it subconsciously for what I am (or what I am not, as the case may be.) I have one Anthropology sweater (all I can afford) and I covet it. But when the catalog comes, I am lost in the dream world of those crisp pages. I don't think I even notice the clothing on the waif like models, I am instead entranced by the spindle legged tables, peeling paint walls, fringed pillows, dainty tea cups, or poplar lined country lanes all in the background, a mere backdrop for the real prize, a guazey chemise and hand embroidered bohemian wrap skirt flaunted by the aforesaid waif like model. I thought I was excercising my acute sensibilities by being drawn by the window dressing, now it's clear, it's their marketing strategy. I'm proud to say, I took it hook, line, and sinker. It's pure genius. -Alisa

Anna Maria says: June 08, 2006 at 10:03 AM

Dear Alicia,
I have been reading your blog for about a month, and I think I've read just about every archived post and viewed everything you have made. I have also visited all the other blogs you mention, but yours is the only one I now read daily.
Today's post has finally inspired me to comment. The article makes a lot of sense in some ways, but as others have commented, I am not a child of divorce, and until my mother passed away last year, her house was full of "cute" sweet things. She was 93 and "Anthropologie" was one of her favorite stores from the day it opened in Seattle. She would go there every now and then and buy little gifts for her much younger friends, to have on hand for birthdays and Christmas.
I have never been surrounded by white and blue-green and red, and I must say that I was a bit baffled when I started exploring your site and other related ones. Baffled, and fascinated and comforted. I am at least 20 years older than you are, and I think I have just realized that I actually love all things cute - everyone's stuffies, and patchwork bags, and the attention to detail and the prettiness of your home and work space.
I have always made a lot of things as well, mostly jewelry and ceramics, but in looking at it now, I realize that the sweet little things are my favorites, although I have tried many times to go in other directions.
So, before this becomes an endless droning on and on, I just want to say thank you for adding beauty to the world and for helping me see more facets of myself.
P.S. Your husband and pets are wonderful too....

i bet the anthropologie marketing team looks to your website for inspiration. seriously, i would not be surprised.

No, it's real, too. Just like every other marketing thing begins in the real. That doesn't diminish the importance of the original feelings/ aesthetics.

I think about this a lot with my own marketing, as you probably do. I want there to be an experience to be had in my shop. And the experience is drawn from the connotations of the objects there. But I don't forget that what I am doing is to some extent artificial, asking the viewer/visitor (or even me) to reconnect with something outside of my store--with something authentic.

Crap! I am irritated too !

Depressed ? yep !

Laughing and loving the whole blog entry this morning though as we all recognized ourselves and got socked in the stomaches....

So! I still love grandma's things strewn about for romantic security issues . Love my old bike, don't need the virginity either, and will try to still enjoy my Anthro catalog when it demands a sit down with a cup of tea and an escape thru every detail in the pages.

You generated some conversation and activity with this one Girl ! BRAVO !

Love, S.

i think anthropologie is just downright pretty. they're onto something nostalgic and it works. it is a foil for everything modern and stark and clean and square. so there's a different explanation for everyone's longing for the anthropologie lifestyle. but everyone enjoys 'aesthetically pleasing'

i'm not from a divorced home but i am in my early 30s. for me anthropologie doesn't have anything that would be reminiscent of my parents house. it goes back further to the grandparents. nothing was frilly and delicate in the 70s and 80s which defined my parents house. it reminds me of my grandparent's house. and you better believe i was at their farmhouse when they were cleaning it out for my grandma to move. and i took all kinds of stuff that no one else wanted. and i love it all :) even moreso because it was my grandma's and not something made to look like it was my grandma's!

It's funny, my husband and I have talked about our love of vintage stuff as trying to recreate a mythical more secure past. But we also talk about how hard the past actually was, so we don't get out of touch nostalgic. (It was hard for women to work, people of color were oppressed, WW II was awful, and so on.)

I still like the asthetic though. Vintage stuff was usually more sturdily made, because there wasn't as much planned obsolescence (I think, anyway.) And skirts and dresses are genuinely flattering on most women.

And, finally, I do think vintage style symbolizes leisure that we don't have anymore, and only probably had for a brief period of time in the 50's and 60's.

I don't know if I'm right about any of this! But those are my theories.

The best thing about anthro is the catalogues. . .they are total lifestyle brand - selling an image. I love getting the catalogues, even though I do feel annoyed when I get 4-5 catalogues in one season with the same pages just in a different order, with a different cover(waste of paper, energy, etc~!!!) The catalogues are total escape, taking the customer to a far off place, inviting you to order a product or step into a store. The customer can just image stepping throught that cobblestone street to the flea market, and all the while looking totally vintage-fab! Too bad I cannot even afford a garment unless it is on the sale/off season rack! But really, is it too bad?

Many times I see something wonderful in the catalogue, so next I go to the store to find it. It looks so beautiful, hand made, vintage-esque, etc. . I see it in person and I am a lot less inspired. The quality of the clothing sold there is awful! That is because the garments are made in India and the same factories as all the other clothes sold in urban outfitters and free people. Cheap labor! The catalogue is all about the photographs. I bet their catalogue sales are great! I have also ordered from the catalogue and been totally disappointed at the representation in print. . not the same at all! They try to recreate the vintage, handmade look and feel, sell it for a price that would imply it WAS handmade with care, but in reality it is made overseas in a factory with those cheap knit leggings sold in urban.

Then there is the whole issue with urban outfitters knocking off indpendent designers and not giving credit. . .no good. I would say - if you like the vintage style, by the real thing! Support small antique stores and yard sales, independent designers/artists, or make it yourself, know that you are most likely buying a better quality product, and probably more unique! (which I am sure most of all the readers here already practice!)

Fascinating post. Thanks for the food for thought.

fabricated to sell/buy.
it works.
it taps into us deeply.
how do we escape our consumer driven culture?
i wrestle with this every day.

this article hit just a LITTLE too close to home as well, everything in anthropolie is just...so..enticing...even if i can't afford it! but i agree, i totally don't buy everything the author is saying, that i'm yearning for my grandparents house that i never had...or whaaaatever. i just am totally a sucker for that type of asthetic, i just can't help it. though damn it sucks when your marketing profile is put right in front of you!

sadness! It's so true now that it's out on the table, though. damn. how sad are we? stupid hippie generation - you've robbed me of stacks of national geographics and a life full of pieces and pieces pieced together instead of lying in some yard sale. anthropologie should be paying us for the torment, not capitalizing on it! what a beautiful american world we live in. rainy, teapot cozy day of sadness.

Eh, it happens to the best of us (which includes you, me, us...).

When I got my little VW Jetta, I was so excited that I popped in the first CD that I could find. it *just happened* to be Nick Drake's Pink Moon (which they used in a Jetta commercial a few years back). I realized that I was a complete walking demographic.

Well, a least girls who drive Jettas are notoriously cute ;)

Wow. I just spent 2 hours there yesterday fawning over the hardware and kitchen goods. I completely admit that my whole adult life at home is about creating the perfect house I never had when I was little. Is that so bad? If Anthropolgie wants me I'm theirs. There. I said it.

I LOVE anthropologie too (though not so much the prices...), and here is my response to those who would like us all to fit in a cookie cutter:

1. My grandparents are all still living and and none of them have ever used cutesy perfume bottles, silver handmirrors and such, so I'd like someone to explain to me what I am nostalgic for...

2. My parents never divorced.

3. I have never divorced.

4. I am certainly not nostalgic for my virginity (Nope, certainly, certainly not).

5. I agree that vintage bicycles are much, much cuter and wish I could find one.

etc, etc, etc.

My guess is that someone, somewhere realized that many of us were buying old cool antique-y things because we weren't happy with the lack of charm so much of WalMart America has to offer, and so Anthropologie was born. I don't know why people feel the need to assign negative attributes to what might just be different preferences, not a world of sadness or regrets.

"nobody puts baby in a corner"! Although, gosh, I think I fit their description...but you should know I'm not happy about it! I can find my smelly old perfume bottles and ear bobs other places too Anthropologie. hhmmmphhhh

I'll beat a dead horse by saying that I love Anthropologie and my parents are still married - so there, Alex. I think the writer is projecting what Anthropologie means to her on her audience and she's making a lot of "assumptions" about the Anthropologie customer. I'm too fat to wear most of the clothes they sell (but that's probably a good thing for my wallet!), but I love going in and browsing and I occasionally purchase other items. I'm really inspired by what they sell and how they merchandise the stores - the colors, the tactile smorgasboard of fabrics and trims on everything, and especially the vintage detailing. And let's not kid ourselves, even when these items were sold "for the first time" in the 1930's or 40's, you can rest assured that they were "marketed" to our grandmas and great grandmas (maybe not so blatantly but nevertheless). Anyway, what I'm trying to say is not to be so hard on yourself for being a consumer. They've obviously hit a nerve with a large portion of hip American women and that's a good thing. Long Live Capitalism. If it weren't for that I wouldn't have an Anthropologie in my town and they wouldn't have a lovely website and catalogue (if no one knew about them). What I really like is that most of the things they sell are not "branded" with logos, etc. It's all about the design, details and *sigh* the nostalgia. And that's fine with me.

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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 aliciapaulson.com