A Tale of Two Blondes
TIME Magazine has two new interviews up, one with Gwyneth Paltrow and one with Blake Lively, for its new issue about the growing phenomena of actresses with lifestyle businesses.
Obviously, this is something that we’ve talked a lot about here with Goop, Preserve, The Honest Co., Draper James and Drew Barrymore’s Flower. Gwyneth and Blake are probably the two women most often compared to one another for many reasons, some superficial (blonde, pretty, well connected) and some relevant to the businesses they run (websites with e-commerce integrated into the editorial).
The journalist doesn’t seem very knowledgeable in the lifestyle realm (questions are mostly focused on “how do you do it?”), and I have to give Blake credit for answering the “or” question – are you an actress or a businesswoman? – with some aplomb. It’s the “basic bitch” of questions – is Jay Z a rapper or a businessman? Is Angelina Jolie an actress or director? In this era of celebrity, it’s way too simplistic to label someone just an actress. Everyone has an endorsement at the very least.
Blake’s most revealing tidbit, that Preserve wasn’t ready to launch, is not a surprise. When it went live, I predicted a quick rebrand. It hasn’t happened, but Blake mentions the immense time and money that even tweaking requires. She also said all of the initial press, including the Vogue cover that held her team to a launch date, has been both a blessing and a curse; they are too in-demand to create enough artisanal products and experiences and the level of usability is not where she wants it to be.
In Gwyneth’s interview (with the same journalist), she takes a stronger stance on what she sees as inherent sexism in the conversation. She calls the comparisons to other websites like Preserve, Draper James and The Honest Co. “slightly misogynistic.” She says no one compares George Clooney’s tequila and Diddy’s vodka. This isn’t entirely accurate. Just the other day Lainey compared Johnny Depp’s upcoming Dior ads to Brad Pitt’s Chanel No. 5 ads. If Justin Timberlake were to launch a music site, I’d compared it to Tidal. The comparison has to be lateral – Diddy and George Clooney are not comparable. Alba, Lively, Paltrow, Barrymore, Witherspoon – they are lateral in their visibility, age (ish) and brand. If a Real Housewife launches a wine, I don’t compare it to Drew Barrymore’s wine. There is so much overlap between Preserve and Goop in product focus (expensive, exclusives, collaborations) and business model (contextual commerce) that it’s hard to ignore it.
And then there’s the big bad press: Blake and Gwyneth lament the amount of attention they get. Lively chalks it up to bullying and “there’s people being mean for the sake of being mean, or when you’re trying to be light and people take you literally.” I would guess she’s alluding to the whole The Allure of Antebellum fiasco. Gwyneth says that the site isn’t there for the celebrity aspect, and the intention is not a direct line to her fans (unless she’s announcing her divorce or promoting a movie).
There’s also a slight mix of humility and entitlement to some of this. Blake oddly mentions that no one would ever introduce her to Meryl Streep so she could learn more about acting (um, Meryl Streep isn’t an acting coach) but people in business just can’t wait to meet her. Gwyneth uses her usual mix of disdainful mindfulness to dismiss the press as a beast that can’t be controlled, so she chooses not to absorb the noise.
But you know what that noise equals? Site traffic. And site traffic equals more consumers for your artisanal pickles and $500 canvas sneakers. It’s a hustle, and they are hustling. That’s OK! Don’t pretend you aren’t in the hustle, and don’t pretend that a CFO or CTO wants to meet you with you out of the kindness of his or her heart. The reticence to acknowledge the correlation between fame and access to deep pockets is disingenuous. People are taking the Gwyneth and Blake meetings because people want to meet, be around, and work with famous people. As long as people have been famous, that has been true. Celebrity is a currency and Gwyneth and Blake are turning their brand into tangible commodities dressed up as storytelling and sharing. Spoiler alert: the story ends with a $3,000 coat made from the wool of a baby alpaca raised on a commune in Idaho.
And because it’s Friday, let’s enjoy the gossipy aspect the interviews, courtesy of Gwyneth. She notes that she’s friends with Jessica Alba, and she’s friends with Reese Witherspoon (separately). But she doesn’t know Blake Lively.