Thursday, July 29, 2010

re-birth of the catalog? uh. gross.

Oh, hi.  We all have hoarding tendencies, right?  shut up.  Remember this post? yep.  well I used to hoard catalogues, too - under the guise of 'i need to know what the style trends are'.  But i've backed off for a while.  i've been keeping the anthros and jcrews and garnet hills, but ditching all the big box stores because they are  always the same - oh and also because i'm trying to create a pathway to get to my kitchen .  BUT, this came in the mail a while ago and i will be hoarding it - nothing weird, not in my bed with me, its not like i'm going to make love to it, but i'll put it in my new 'hopefully-catalogues-will-be-more-like-this' magazine box. 
 (p.s. i haven't worked for West Elm in 5 years, since i was an assistant, i have no loyalties, and i definitely prefer their accessories over their furniture, this is about the styling)

Robyn Glaser is the styling mastermind behind this catalogue (i've heard).  And it was totally obvious to me - she's insanely good.  

Here's the deal with styling catalogues jobs.  There are a lot of great perks to them - they are well-oiled machines, they pay well, its a big chunk of days in a  row, decent budgets and great travel - the locations are always really pretty houses in idyllic locations.  

But here's what sucks about styling catalogues - you can only really use what they sell - meaning every piece of furniture, rug, accessory, tchotchke has to be from that store.  And this is why they look like 'catalogues', boring and predictable (hello bridges, i hope i'm not burning you).  

When I worked for Garnet Hill doing the home catalogue, they were great because they don't actually sell much furniture or accessories so we could shop outside and bring in vintage - and recently with the Pendleton fashion catalogues that i've done, too.  But Crate and Barrel/Pottery Barn/William Sonoma need you to stay within brand (which i totally understand - why use a vintage vase when you could use a product).  And so its hard to shake things up, make it look lived in, give it more personality, take risks and really be 'stylish' when given these restraints.  
(although PB kids i think has a lot of fun with them, fyi)  

The go-to props (non-products) that are always safe are organic things - aka pretty rocks, driftwood, the ubiquitious manzanita, balls of twine, antlers, etc, - these are considered 'safe' because they clearly couldn't come from a competitor - and consumers don't call wanting to buy that branch, thinking it is a product - or maybe they do, who knows.  But after a while, styling with these does become a bit predictable, too - although a pretty branch will always be a pretty branch in my book . So, if you have always wondered why there are so much of these kinds of things in catalogues, that is why - same with food props and newspapers - it tells a story without being too distracting and off-brand.  YES, i'm a huge fan of Catalog Living Blog, and we all wish we had thought of it, she's hilarious.  

(side story, i remember at one point shopping for pretty rocks in New York for a catalogue and paying, i sh*t you not, 5 dollars a piece for river rocks.  I needed 20 of them - different shapes/size/colors and I left the store, carrying a super heavy box of rocks, minus $100 - insane, right? Attention all river rock importers (if only i had a nickel for how many river rock importer readers i have i'd be a nickel-naire)  head to the city, you can swindle those urbanites into buying ROCKS FOR FIVE DOLLARS A PIECE.  funny because its true)


 HELLO.   WEST ELM.  nice to meet you again. 
they be shaking things up, and it looks awesome.   

Here's why - i think, anyway.  It looks like 1/3 of the accessories from the new West Elm catalogue aren't from west elm - they are vintage and probably from Robyn Glaser's incredible Prop house in NY.  And mixing all of these vintage pieces in,  makes me want to be this person and I NEVER say that about catalogues.  

I am often repelled by the catalogues, even though i like a lot of the individual products because the lifestyle they create is so suburban and perfect.   (no offense to people who live in suburbs, or people who are perfect - although if you are sooo perfect you probably wouldn't take offense anyway, because oh, good for you, you're soooooo perfect. suck it)

But this looks effortless and natural, it sells the lifestyle first, product second - which is ultimately i think what makes this work.  This person isn't perfect, they are interesting and messy.  This is what Anthro does most of the time - you can't even see the details of the shirt  through the blurry over-sunned photograph, but you want to be that person twirling on the boat in the lake, so you buy it - or it drives you to the store to buy it. 

So kudos, West Elm - (and Robyn Glaser and i'm assuming photographer Roland Bello).  I feel sorry for your catalogue phone people as i'm sure there doing a lot of 'well, that's not actually a west elm product' speeches, but you made me look twice - and hoard it.   And where oh where is that wallpaper from, does anybody know?  its perfection.

I hope this is the track they are staying on for a while, because me likey.  


  1. Abbey ( says it's Walnut Wallpaper's "Elizabeth."

  2. I love this post~
    I've been tossing my West Elms for the last two years and then I too got the one above. The cover stopped me. I looked. I liked. I have pages earmarked. Nice.
    Kudos to the stylist~!

  3. I agree...loving the new look , skipped their catalogs and stores for the last two, three years...might be time to revisit!

  4. I heard through the grapevine that one of the creatives from anthro recently went to west elm. so this may be part of the shake up. it does look amazing!

  5. the wallpaper is: madisonandgrow
    pattern: elizabeth, color way: peacock on shimmer

    thanks for this post!

    teresa grow (designer for madisonandgrow)

  6. Love the new West Elm catalog - and I have mine in bed w/me! A vast improvement - I plan to order a lot from this one.

  7. I actually noticed that a lot of stuff that I liked in their catalog was NOT for sale!



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