Thursday, November 5, 2009
Heaths, Moors, and Pinafores
The November Anthropologie catalog arrived today, and the dreamy photos on its matte finish pages were more stirring than usual. In what I would guess are the West Midlands of England (they never let on) a realistically beautiful girl wanders over moors, trips over becks, and communes with low stone walls and knotty pines. Having just read Jane Eyre, I pictured her running on those same heaths and stumbling down those same winding roads. And of course, as Anthropologie would have it, I pictured myself there too.
While the clothes are always gorgeous, I have to admit it's the whole Anthropologie package that works on me. Though sometimes less than others. There was an issue in which a tragically hip man and woman lived in a burnt out house on an island, basking on their threadbare fainting couches and kicking their $400 boots off under a half-destroyed kitchen table in a kitchen that did not look heated. Those kinds of scenarios just make me laugh. Those people, as much as they might think it hip to live in a decrepit 19th century farmhouse, would probably never really do that.
I, however, would most definitely run across a moor! Maybe even in heels, as some of the pictures suggest. But more likely in sturdy shoes and lots of scarves. I would also lean gazing out the window of a Moroccan hotel and then go get lost in bazaars full of lamps. I would also sit on the porch of a trailer covered in license plates and let the old man who lives there tell me a story. All these things have been shown to me by Anthropologie, but I think they were already waiting in the back of my mind to be awakened by suggestive photographs.
Are these scenarios cliche? Only among art-school-girls. But those are cliche too I guess. I think most people would find these pictures strange. Why go to a cold wet moor when you could go to Hawaii? That's what the Victoria's Secret girls do. You won't catch them wandering the Midlands in tights and peacoats, just longing for a bumpy carriage ride. They might head to Morocco now and again, but certainly not to buy a live bird at the market. Only Anthropologie girls do those kinds of silly things.
But there must be a lot of girls to whom those off-beat activities appeal. Anthro counts on it. Perhaps half their customers (the ones who can afford the clothes) just like the look of the photos, the idea of visiting strange places, the aesthetic efforts that went into matching frocks with places. Or they're like the ex-Manhattan newlyweds living in the tear-down farmhouse, just imagining themselves slumming it. Or, they like to Orientalize* the photo locales and project their fantasies onto them. I can't know how these girl/place/beauty representations look in the eyes of the privileged, but I think some of the women and girls who look at these photos see them as real places they could go and things they could do.
*With some of these locations there is a Pandora's box of postcolonial as well as feminist issues that I could go into. But that's for another time.
Looking at the last few issues and drawing on my memory, it seems the first half of the catalogs are for the first type of Anthro girls I described. The fashion is the focus, and the locales, while sometimes whimsical, are sleek or opulent. Sometimes this division doesn't hold true, especially when they find a locale they love, but it's usually split in two. For the first halves, November's has a girl lounging by enormous baroque mantelpieces and mirrors. October's features a woman in a modern feng-shui sort of home. Years ago we find a first-half lady sipping lattes at a coffee shop and puttering about her loft. The first half ladies are all well off, all in high fashion or sleek understated looks, and they appear to be kept. They're mostly blonde.
In the refreshing second halves of these same respective issues we find: our brown-haired Jane Eyre on the heaths, a stern-looking tousle-haired woman exploring an ancient barn, and a red-headed funny-faced waif who appears to work (not shop) at the art gallery that serves as her backdrop. The back-of-the-catalog girls are the adventurous, self-sufficient, less-than-perfect ones. They aren't sitting around the house, they aren't out shopping for shoes in some European city, and they don't look like they're thinking about what their men are doing. They're the ones who I identify with, whether I like to admit it or not.
I know there are problems with all of this. Even if these women represent some positive things for me, they are still trying to sell me clothes. I almost never buy the clothes, so I guess I win on that point. I think I have three things, collected over the past ten years, and I got them all from the clearance closet. However, they are also trying to sell me beauty, even if it is not of the 100% symmetrical and flawless variety pictured in the first halves of the catalogs. They use the artist's, the writer's, the dancer's love for these beautiful places, plant a gorgeous but approachable looking girl there, someone you might like to talk to (especially since your lot tends to be lonely) and then they wait for the scenario to do its work on you. You might not buy the whole new line this season, but at least they can count on you to wander into the clearance closet once in a while, in search of that dress that makes you feel as if you're perpetually appearing in a stone doorway.
Whether they're just plain evil, or whether they're nice to send me some pretty pictures every month I'm not sure. But I am sure that I cannot now go to England without making a special point of finding a place like this one, and frolicking in it for a time.