Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Better Living Through Catalogs

As of this evening, I am the proud owner of a monogrammed chair. Actually, the chair itself is bereft of monogramming, but like all good things it came with accessories - specifically, two monogrammed slipcovers. First slipcover was purchased many moons ago, and my intent at the time was to immediately turn around and use my "thanks for shopping with us" 15% off coupon to purchase the chair that, you know, would actually render the slipcover functional. Except that I didn't immediately purchase the chair - for some reason (and it was a good reason, but I no longer remember what it was), I delayed. And - get this - the delay actually benefited me. This was a tremendous surprise. In my experience, "Good things come to those who wait" tends to be a bit of a crock when applied to retail commerce, and should be rephrased, "Frustration and disappointment come to those who wait, because the thing that you knew you should have purchased the first time but didn't is now [pick one - or, more often than not, more than one] sold out/discontinued/no longer available in your size/no longer on sale." But this go-round, the retail gods smiled upon me: Ballard Designs sent me another 15% off coupon, to replace the one that had long since expired - AND they put the chair on sale. So, of course, I did what any self-respecting woman would do . . . I bought the chair, and I applied my "savings" to another slipcover.

This is my new Parsons chair, proudly displaying its linen "look." Although it was hard to tell from the catalog and the Web site, I thought that the linen color that I selected might be a fairly close match to the living room walls. Yup, hit that particular nail a bit too hard on the head, because when you stand a few feet away from the chair, it completely blends into the wall, and you find yourself asking, "Hey, did she go all of the way 'round the bend and monogram the actual wall?"

Love getting chairs in the mail. Don't know that I have gotten a chair in the mail before - another one to cross of the bucket list. Added bonus - watching the kids turn the box into a fort. Added ADDED bonus - watching the blond-to-the-roots kid get into the fort, tump it over in slo mo, door-side down, and then struggle mightily to get back out of it. Ahhhhhh, it's the little things.

I have noticed an uptick in catalog traffic over the past few weeks. Ballard is providing heavy coverage, for sure, because they smell blood in the water - what's one monogrammed chair when you can have TWO, one for each end of the dining room table? (I think my mother must be getting a kickback, because that was her immediate response to my news about the chair: "So why not get another one?" Why not, indeed. Parnell McGlinchey, you read it here first - you have your mother-in-law to blame for your SECOND monogrammed chair.) But a couple of the other, non-Ballard catalogs were what really captured my attention. See, I am a marketing exec trapped in a business law attorney body. Really. I'm fascinated with marketing - always noticing product placement, what works and what doesn't - and, looking back, it's been a lifetime obsession. I probably missed my calling (thanks, unimaginative high school counselor who told every smart kid who walked through her door, "You should be a doctor or a lawyer!"), but I can be bitter about that, or I can live vicariously through others - and triumph their efforts in my blog. The latter seems like more socially useful behavior - far more socially useful and sane than, say, monogramming a chair.

So, with no further ado, announcing two candidates for the "Kathryn McGlinchey 'Hey, You Pulled a Target and Totally Reinvented Yourself' Award" . . . .

Candidate #1 - Restoration Hardware. I always found these folks to be kind of - well, beige. And they still are . . . but the beige is the most gorgeous Belgian linen imaginable, and it's stretched over some of the most beautiful furniture that I have seen in a long time. The blurb on the inside cover puts it all out there, in refreshingly candid fashion: the economy is in the toilet, we thought about doing what everyone else is doing and reducing both prices and quality, but instead we said, "What the hey, let's go big or go home." People of Restoration Hardware: it is WORKING. You had me at "Reproduction Antique Hungarian Sleigh Bench" (page 16).

And, may I say, your visual design team is KILLING IT. I literally drooled over the dining room on page 44, and the living rooms on - well, all of the pages.

The kitchen on page 22 reminded me of something that I recently saw in House Beautiful - except, upon revisiting HB, YOURS IS BETTER.

Okay, your prices (and the fact that most of your furniture pieces are ten feet long, and are therefore horribly out of scale for my little Tudor) make it unlikely that I will actually partake in your loveliness, but here's hoping that folks with lots of bucks and big, empty rooms jump on your bandwagon. When I knew that you were approaching a Target-like level of success in the "reinvention" arena: the day after your catalog came, Pottery Barn arrived . . . and, for the first time, everything in there looked cheap.

Once upon a time, my friend Lindsay sent me an electronic "Coloring Book for Lawyers." One of the pages had an illustration of a very WASPy man behind a traditional desk, with the caption, "THIS IS MY DESK. It is mahogany. Important people have mahogany desks. My walls are mahogany, too. I wish I were mahogany." Well, Restoration Hardware, congratulations - for the first time in my life, I wish I were beige.

Candidate #2 - Talbots. I have bought a fair amount of Talbots clothing in my lifetime, but generally my purchases were met with remorse, as in, "What was I thinking when I bought this extremely white-bread item of clothing?" Because Talbots pretty much defined white bread. I can sum up the problem with pre-reinvention Talbots in two words: tapered slacks. Long after the rest of the world emerged from the 1980s and early 1990s and realized that pants that are bigger up top and narrower at the cuff make your thighs look ginormous, Talbots kept cranking out the same cut of pants. (And, by the way, old Talbots, they are PANTS - not "slacks." "Slacks" is one of those words, like "panties," that make my skin crawl and/or a nerve under my eye twitch uncontrollably. Usually both.) Bootcut? Hmmm, nope, never heard of those. But have you tried our "MC Hammer," available in exciting shades like navy and the ever-popular cordovan?
So imagine my surprise when my Talbots catalog arrived, and the model on the front was wearing a really killer navy sequined sweater with a black-and-silver beaded collar necklace (NAVY AND BLACK TOGETHER! SOMEWHERE, A DECEASED TALBOTS DESIGNER IS TURNING OVER IN HER GRAVE . . . AND MUSSING HER CORDOVAN TAPERED SLACKS!) with . . . wait for it . . . skinny jeans. Thumb, thumb . . . OMIGOSH, OMIGOSH, more jeans, beautiful bootcut and staight jeans, sitting slightly below the natural waist, in a variety of attractive washes and rinses. Not a single pair of tapered-legged, high-waisted mom jeans in sight. Oh, and the leather skirt on page 16! The funky cardigans and coordinating blouses . . . which are actually mixed up and not displayed in fuddy-duddy, matchy-matchy fashion! Even the old Talbots standard (haberdashery-striped button down shirt) had a cool, origami-folded neckline trim. Result: I find myself putting Talbots near the top of my "where to shop for fall pants and jeans" list. Which are not words that I necessarily expected to ever type in sequence.

One word of warning: the online catalog has not caught up to the paper catalog, visual design-wise. (You can view the paper one online, by clicking on the "Pearls of Wisdom" tag.) It's almost like they are afraid to completely abandon the dowdy crowd . . . but if that's the case, would you really put the dowdy stuff ONLINE? You know, "online" being the place that younger, less dowdy people are most likely to seek you out?

So, Talbots, I like the direction that you are headed, and I do appreciate the very self-aware tag line, "YES, it's Talbots." But Restoration Hardware, thus far, is winning . . . .

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