Preserve taps out

September 30, 2015 18:26:27 Posted at September 30, 2015 18:26:27
Maria Posted by Maria

Last week, I wrote about Stephen Colbert’s take on lifestyle, and his mock introduction of his own brand, Covetton House. Afterwards, a very astute reader called Janel had to correct me on the difference between Preserve’s real product and the fake product that Stephen had made up for his sketch.

See, Preserve sells (now deeply on sale, but we’ll get to that in a minute) a wood crate “imbued with its own unique character.” Covetton House was selling tie racks that used to be coat racks. I mixed that up, and pegged the crate as the fake product. Usually when I f-ck up (which is often, I know), the readers of this site are so advanced that they call me on it immediately. You are high level gossip and pop culture watchers. And I only received one email about it (thanks Janel!), from someone who literally had to list out the fake and real products for me. In my defense… wooden crates with character? COME ON. Doesn’t that sound fake?

That was the level of the products on Preserve, which announced today it is shutting down. Blake Lively gave the exclusive scoop to Vogue (as she did when she launched), and promises she will be back with something bigger and better.

There’s a lot to read into with this Vogue interview, both on why it failed and why she thinks it failed. She says she is closing her doors because the site isn’t making a meaningful difference in people’s lives. My take: the audience doesn’t want what the artisans are offering, so sales are weak. The bottom line is always the bottom line.

Preserve had a tough go from the start: the aesthetic of the site was almost universally panned, the writing was problematic, the branding was forgettable. It was selling pickles and ponchos (very expensive ponchos), but no matter how many times Blake was photographed in the clothes, nothing from Preserve seemed to catch on beyond Blake. Do you know anyone who has ordered off Preserve? I don’t, and my friends are huge online shoppers.

And the storytelling aspect – where do we start? How about The Age of Antebellum, a total sh-tstorm. But it wasn’t just that sh-tshow; the stories were muddled and convoluted with little connection to the products. Blake had a very minimal voice on the site – you couldn’t tell what or if she wrote anything beyond the first editor’s letter. Blake is not an editor or writer, so the idea that she could all of a sudden be both was always a problem.

The e-commerce was a bust, too. The Honest Co., Draper James, and Jessica Simpson Lifestyle Collection sell themselves – they create/market/brand their own products. There was no sense that Blake touched anything. The brands Preserve tried to introduce didn’t seem to have compelling stories or must-have products – asking me to spend hundreds of dollars on a poncho from a brand I’ve never heard of because you like it? Hard sell. This is where Goop has hit the sweet spot for luxury and brand piggybacking with its designer collaborations – you buy Goop and get Philip Lim.

Overall, there was no substance to Preserve. I could never figure out exactly what it was trying to be, or why they picked the products they did (like wood crates), or how those products factored into Blake’s life, if at all. If you are going to run a lifestyle site, there needs to be a lot of things in the mix: content, commerce, attainability, and aspirations. Preserve was so static, it didn’t feel like it was getting broader and stronger and more diverse. It stagnated.

And then there was the competition, not just from her celebrity counterparts but also really huge, legit and established companies. Comparing Preserve to Etsy is no stretch – the product ethos was very much the same (small batch, handmade). And anyone who has been on Etsy (myself included) can tell you what a rabbit hole it is – I buy quite a bit of stuff from Etsy for parties and my kids, and it can be quite a process to narrow down the shops you like. Preserve was supposed to do that for us, be the curator (sorry, I hate that word too) for items that can’t be easily found in stores. It never got there, not even close. Instead, we had some photos of Blake looking great in mixed prints. So now what?

Despite being over-the-top in its praise of Blake (courage, hero and strength come up), the Vogue piece was a good move for her. As Duana said to me, she is not on the defensive. She’s not pulling out excuses – Preserve simply didn’t work, as sometimes happens to new businesses.

It is extremely easy (and tempting) to dogpile on an actress who thinks that working in lifestyle is their calling because they shop and kept a travel journal once, but I don’t doubt Blake has spent a lot of time and money on Preserve, and that stings no matter who you are. She could have left Preserve up forever, simply not providing new content or products, and then quietly pulled it down during a busy gossip season. (Long ago, I predicted she would rebrand.) We have seen many celebrity side jobs run off into the night (um, House of Dereon) but to face up to it, in Vogue, that takes some guts. (However, I will forever hold up the wooden crate as an example of celebrity lifestyle hubris.)

Her next project is already in the works and she’s confident it will be better received. She’s doubtful about keeping the name Preserve, because: jam. She is a phoenix rising from the artisanal ashes. But right now she needs to take a minute to recalibrate. It might be good for her to step away from the celebrity lifestyle circle, to stop being compared to Gwyneth and Reese and Jessicas, to have some breathing room to let her ideas gestate.

She has a lot of options: fashion, a designer collaboration, a lifestyle line, jewellery, makeup, hair products. Maybe a restaurant or quaint inn? Or, a high-profile role at Etsy. Blake’s Corner. Her next move has to be carefully calculated. Strategic Blake –much more interesting than alliteration and hipster baby showers.

Click here for Blake’s full statement about the closing of Preserve.

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