Inspiration

The Mystery of the J. Peterman Company

I’ve always had an affinity for mail catalogs. As a child, it was an obsessive cutting up of the toy catalogs from fleet farm and Toys R Us which I would glue into a semi-legible wish list for my godmother and of course, Santa. Then, we’d get the sort of Avon-like books, one’s with monogrammed bathrobes and pillow neck supports and wooden toys to gift the children in your life. When I was in 4-H club my mom received Oriental Trading books, which were chocked full of party favors, small prize giveaways, coordinating plastic dishware sets, plastic disco balls, glow sticks in 20 different colors, you name it. Of course I eventually moved on to drool over the pages of the Anthropologie catalog, Madewell, and Urban Outfitters. I’d tear out pages for inspiration,, cut out outfits and collage. Writing this post makes me want to do that right now actually…

But this post is about the latest catalog I’ve discovered. The J. Peterman Company’s Owner’s Manual.
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Last summer, right before school was to begin I was house sitting for my coach for about a week while he and his family were away traveling. Just me and his two fancy cats that woke me up at 5:00 a.m. on the daily. I’d fetch his mail every day and he received both a package and a catalog from this company.

about. this. catalog.

The marketing tactics are off the charts fascinating.

They seem to be selling to a crowd who consumes things like the Wall Street Journal. Or The New Yorker.

They seem to be selling items by way of ritzy, glamorous fantasies rolled into prose-like product descriptions. The descriptions are more like fiction character creations describing what kind of person would wear this item. Of course every person they describe is maddeningly appealing. Lots of famous historical people get name dropped.

Each product gets it’s own title, some examples including: “Feminine is What Feminine Does”, “Noticed in the South of France”, “Man in the Linen Suit” and “Manipulation: The Other Side”.

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Everyone wants to be noticed, don’t they? Yup. Had to be the bellboy. Of course I’m wearing this at the ritzy resort in Switzerland.

It calls itself an “Owner’s Manual”, already declaring itself a more sophisticate. Suggesting possession, suggesting purchase, suggesting imagine if you owned this. clever clever clever.

It also only includes illustrated versions of the clothing and accesories. I can’t decide if this is supposed to contribute to the ritzy, high brow, artsy feel? Create mystery? Really make you read the description so you can figure out what the heck it is made out of?

Which brings me to ask…. is this whole act serious? Is it supposed to be slightly witty? Is it charming? I feel similar feelings to when I first found the New Yorker at a young teen age. I knew I wanted to like it. I knew it was highly regarded. it held an air of interest to me, but I felt as if I was missing some basic background knowledge on it.

And the bigger question….

Are these descriptions feeding on people’s fantasies or reinforcing their realities?

My friend and I sat on my cross country coaches screened in porch, eating bowls of the weird pasta creation we had made and drinking beer. We flipped through catalogs making comments, poking fun, and with the Peterman company– reading the descriptions aloud. I wanted them to hire me to write their descriptions. He wanted their clothes. It was really quite a fun time.

One example in the most recent catalog:

Hemingway’s Cap
18053353_1646533602027857_421586176_oIt looks a bit like a hipster item that some up and coming beats artist might wear… but it’s also made out of calf skin sourced from the mountains of Italy. For $59 you can rock the Donald Duck look.

What is going on here?

I’m not sure, but I find it amusing.

One more amusing thing.. the day I am writing this is 4/20, the infamous stoner day. It seems that J. Peterman has decided to add that to his marketing scheme as well… hmm…..

j. peterman

Which catalogs do you like looking at?

Best, Natalie

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