Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lands’ End: The White Album

[Now with extra whitening.]

The Lands’ End catalogue may never have been a great document of the variousness of Americans, but its recent incarnations appear to have taken a sharp turn for the white. Above, the cover of the Fall Resource Guide 2015, a hefty catalogue with a fold-out cover, an insert printed on thicker paper, two blow-in cards, and 171 pages. And a whole bunch of white people.

I went through this catalogue page by page — three times, for accuracy — checking off every human form. I counted 155. Many, of course, are the same people, appearing again and again. One woman, standing atop a rock, arms outstretched, faces away from the camera, gloved and hatted beyond identification. Of the other 154 men, women, children in this catalogue, thirteen are plainly or possibly not white. That leaves 141 white men, women, and children, making for a catalogue that’s 91.5% white.

It’s a measure of the way our sense of American culture has changed that this catalogue (which fifty years ago might have seemed, at least to a white reader, “normal”) should now look so strangely, aggressively retrograde. Lands’ End, please rethink it.

One thing about these white people: they sure read some interesting books.

[Click for a larger view. Otnajhna Nranfez and Nojatnah Arenzef: friends of the late Vidad Ostref Clewala. Another photograph shows some oversized books with the work of the painter Hen Mati.]


September 24: Here’s an article that helps to account for the change in direction at Lands’ End: How Lands’ End Is Angling for Millennials, and Injecting Luxury into the Midwest (Refinery29). Angling for so-called millennials with a nearly all-white catalogue seems like an especially strange choice.


June 20, 2020: Five years later, the plainest thing to say about this catalogue is that it reflects and bespeaks white privilege. It’s like a gated community for clothes.

A related post
Colgate Optic White

[If you look for this catalogue online, you won’t find it, at least not yet. The cover is there, on Lands’ End’s catalogue page, but the link goes to the Fall Preview catalogue, not the Fall Resource Guide.]

comments: 12

Pete said...

They jumbled Jonathan Franzen's name, too. But that spine design is unmistakable.

Pete said...

Oh, duh. You already noted that. And I'm just now catching your DFW reference. I'm sluggish today.

Michael Leddy said...

That’s happened to me too, sometimes with my own posts: Oh, there it is.

Marzek said...

Well, given the context, the Franzen book makes sense. Perhaps a volume of Billy Collins? No doubt they're listening to NPR.
Sorry -- easy targets. But this did make me think of Nicholson Baker's essay, "Books As Furniture," in which he hunts down books found in various mail order catalogs. And those are a disappearing thing.
There's a bit in Richard Ford's The Sportswriter where, to show Frank Bascombe's flattening of affect, general distance, and "dreaminess," he notes the plethora of mail order catalogs he's subscribed to, the piles of simulated happy lives. (As I recall; it's been some years. But The Sportswriter struck me as a remarkable account of clinical depression -- that Styron book was getting all the kudos at the time, but I thought Ford really got it, related to quite well).
Hmm. I think there's an LL Bean catalog, somewhere on this desk.

Michael Leddy said...

Marzek, I love that essay. I always look at the spines, also at the positions on chessboards and whatever handwriting is visible (as in Levenger catalogues). And I can’t stand Billy Collins. He is to, say, Kenneth Koch as David Sanborn is to, say, Sonny Rollins.

I don’t know Andrew Ford’s book. I have read Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon , which gives, I think, a powerful first-hand account of depression.

Michael Leddy said...

Oops: Richard Ford, of course.

Fresca said...

Oh, this is really interesting---I've been looking at race in the US as I work on Lincoln, and I'd just read a US Census report from June 25, 2015, that shows that:

"Millennials, or America’s youth born between 1982 and 2000, now number 83.1 million and represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population.
... They are more diverse than the generations that preceded them, with 44.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group (that is, a group other than non-Hispanic, single-race white)."

But that's not the demographic reading Lands End cares about, eh?
I imagine it's this one, from Pew:

"The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with 8 times the wealth in 2010....
Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with 9 times the wealth in 2010."

The ads that really kill me are from this wristwatch campaign:
“You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”
It's sooooo effective: I feel bad about myself whenever I see one (back pack of the Economist).

Google image search:

Fresca said...

P.S. "Resource Guide"?

Michael Leddy said...

Yeah, I’ve seen those watch ads. I can understand that kind of thinking when it comes to musical instruments though.

Lands’ End has always seemed to me kinda plain, dowdy, clunky. (Those are all virtues.) I don’t know what’s come over them. Even their school-uniform catalogue skews white. Even The Talbots website seems to offer more human variety.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, there is racism in everything these days. But when I was a kid, our local store sold Ebony and Jet. Ebony is still around and online as ""one of the oldest African American magazines and most successful. It provides business, health, fashion, sports, entertainment and general news about African Americans." Jet, which I haven't seen in a very long time, sold "Negro News." The approved words change, but demographics have long been a feature of marketing, and a targeted audience is a targeted audience. When such a normal business tactic becomes racist according to some, while a similar business tactic by another get a pass, it seems that racism is operative, biased and very much alive in the dialogue. I personally don't give a damn about Lands End, not even enough to notice it offends some as "too white." Is Ebony then "too black?" What about Univision? To Latino? If "human variety" is a measure, then most of the literature mentioned on this site if also too white and not enough human variety is included, such as other languages as well as cultures. I don't expect this response to be posted, but it seems this particular Lands End "White Album" post is racism-driven and fed. Sad.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., you’re missing several points. I didn’t mention racism, nor did I claim to be offended. Nor did I say that the catalogue was “too white.” What I called attention to was the way in which the new catalogue is markedly different in its presentation of a nearly all-white (and markedly upscale) world. That does seem to me “strangely, aggressively retrograde,” especially if the company is trying to win over so-called millennials, as this article suggests.

That there’s a world of difference between a magazine or broadcaster serving (at least primarily) a particular group and a clothing company serving a broad national market is another point that you seem to miss.

If you think the works of literature mentioned herein are “too white,” you can easily find other possibilities elsewhere. Thanks for reading so extensively as to make such a clearsighted appraisal of my blog and my interests.

Slywy said...

I used to think of Land's End as pseudo-outdoorsy (my heavy duty winter jackets are from Land's End) but not they want to be millennial — but which millennial? Urban? Suburban? Outdoorsy? Chic? And if their audience is millennial (or meant to be), their catalog (or resource) demographic is way off.