Really, before any celebrity follows the example of Gwyneth Paltrow and now the Gossip Girl actress Blake Lively in setting up a lifestyle blog, we, the poor public without access to personal shoppers and people to choose our mood colors for the day, beg you: Don’t. If money’s tight, head out to the curb and sell beads. Become a screeching red carpet anchor for E! Anything but presuming to lecture us about why, as Lively puts it on her new site, Preserve, “in a world so hectic, preserving intimacy is the key to being present. The smoky scent of sandalwood burning on a wick, the ‘ahh’ of a warm bath.” Hmm, and my current favorite: the guttural scream of a reader exhausted by lectures from actresses seeking to make a quick buck or rebrand themselves as a lifestyle expert, whatever they are.
The trend for actresses to become these platitude-spouting gurus is continuing, then, and Lively’s site is just as simpering and irritating as anything Paltrow mashed up from her leftover kale. What are they going on about? How do they qualify in advising us about anything?
The look of Lively’s site is unpleasantly “something gothic and weird has happened in the country.” Think Shania Twain video meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the color is sepia, the unstated location is notionally a treasure trove of a shed; everything is shot in that grating, washed-out filter so ubiquitous these days I yearn for David LaChapelle to storm in with a palette of hyped-up Day-Glo colors, beach balls flying, and Mariah Carey in an orange sheath dress looking as modern and shiny as a day in Disneyland.
For Lively’s letter from the editor, where she word-played on “preserve us” and also “preserve the US,” the actress is pictured, hair ethereally tumbling into the half-light. She’s Carrie Bradshaw hovering over her laptop, banal non-wisdom ready to drop.
But look, sorry to lower the tone, but you can buy stuff. That’s the point here. Click. In the shopping section, you can purchase a lot of what you never knew you never needed: long pendant necklaces, very posh whole grain mustard, vegan chocolate sauce, summer smoke salt (“Isn’t it lovely how a single spice can capture the very essence of a season?”), lemon flake salt, black truffle salt, and various other condiments for $10. We are encouraged to “meet the artisan,” which may have you philistine-ishly reaching for the Doritos.
There are absurdly overpriced spoons ($25) and berry bowls ($28), both artfully scuffed, and hipsters who look far too intense to care about fashion wearing T-shirts priced at $68, and small, bulb-lit thought bubbles for $250.
What on earth is all this stuff for? Who wants to fetishize their homes with this rock-meets-rural-styled nonsense? Normally you go to a shop, or online, and just buy stuff you want without manifestos. But Paltrow and Lively insist on deep meaning besides the grubby business of trade. Yet, if we must have these words, instead of just ’fessing up and saying Lively is selling vintage-styled homewares and food to an affluent middle class in thrall to faux-earthiness, we have screeds of hippyish spiel. Thus: “America is full of tales waiting to be told. There are beautiful stories hiding in small towns and big cities, on suburban streets and rural roads. Great wisdom lives in the well-worked hands of aging craftspeople and in the eager words of young artisans.”
History has been “whispered into materials,” apparently, and no, Preserve isn’t trading on people’s consumerist inclinations but seeking to maintain “timeless standards of quality and care.” Preserve is “holding fast to memories and moments, and relics from bygone eras…Our goal is to support the America we’ve always known, and the one we haven’t met yet.” But Preserve isn’t running a craft museum, or showing a history of craft techniques. It is a shop, with a rich tranche of purple prose attached, its aim to part you from your dollars.
I sensed the much-mocked spirit of Paltrow threaded through Preserve’s hippy-dippy mission statement. “Sometimes we walk proudly. Other times we stumble gracelessly. Yet we take each step with a generous measure of never-ending curiosity and wonder.” What does that mean? That if Lively is photographed drunk in the gutter or eating a non-organic burger wearing H&M hot pants rather than a hemp skirt crafted by a greasy-haired artisan, we are to forgive her?
In her editor’s letter, Lively writes, in a rather brilliant, pre-emptive qualifier: “I’m no editor, no artisan, no expert. And certainly no arbiter of what you should buy, wear, or eat.”
Hmm, so why has she set herself up as one? Why help found Perserve? Surely she shouldn't have anything to do with it if she thinks any of that. And she herself has written the Editor's Letter. To own and disown together does not bode well.
She is hungry, she tells us, battling through these glaring contradictions, for both enchiladas and experience. (Message: She eats food but also not-food, like thoughts, like knowledge and stuff. But she eats food, like real people. Not like those other etiolated actresses. OK? Blake Lively Eats, Everyone.)
The value of the goods on display is up to the reader, she writes (so we can pay just $2 for the ketchup then, $4 for a spoon?) The tone of her letter and the rest of the site brings to mind a group of cool kids hanging out in a forest clearing, like, talking about, like, stuff. Things they like that we should like. They might seem expensive and redundant, but because money is perhaps no object to Lively, to her their value is abstract and vital, something to be warmly folded into an elegy for an artisinal past.
Paltrow comes off quite well in comparison: At least she sells straight from the hip, without the need to dress up as a museum guide, insist on a token glance at a dusty display case, before firmly shoving the customer toward the gift shop.
Lively’s “Hey, everyone, the world and history are, like, totally profound” elegy is, like the Walgreen’s ad on TV, like the sofa ads in newspapers, like any ad anywhere, encouraging us to buy something. Lively may sign her editor’s letter off with “excitement and sincerity,” and I do not doubt the site was constructed during “countless late nights building a home out of pixels, light and imagination.” But don’t be fooled by the hokey babble. I can hear a very modern cash register ringing.
To its credit, Preserve states: “We are a for-profit business…We are aware that a lot of what we are selling is outlandish in a world where people are starving and have nowhere to sleep.” To that end, Preserve has set a first goal of giving “5,000 children a meal, 2,000 children a blanket, and 2,700 children a warm hoodie, all within the U.S.”
That is admirable, and Preserve is clever, or at least canny. It seeks to neuter the criticism of any lurking Paltrow naysayers wishing to transfer their negativity to Lively. “We acknowledge that we are human and are flawed. But please accept our intention is to do something pure.” Please critique the site, we are instructed, “teach us and be patient with us in the process, as ultimately we are all in this, this spinning sphere, together.”
But that’s the thing: It is not “pure” to sell goods to others, it is capitalism for profit. And truly, Blake Lively and your fellow band of woodland sprites with spreadsheets, that is fine. But you’re a shop, and you’re a shop built on a celebrity’s name. Lively has gone from actress to brand. That is not pure, that is calculated. And the fact we do all indeed live on Earth—if that’s what the whole “spinning sphere together” thing is referencing—is so fatuous and juvenile it barely merits anything but a weary frown.
You may all have deeply held spiritual beliefs at Preserve and want world peace; but Lively is a well-known, well-paid actress putting her name and face to a website selling overpriced food and spoons to those rich enough to afford it. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s marketing to a particular demographic. Do it with some self-awareness, and you may even encourage the most cynical to look upon your ludicrously overpriced spoons more kindly.