As a kid in the late 60s and early 70s, my brother and I would pore over the Sears Christmas Wish Book – a catalog so big, that it almost rivaled the White Pages in size. Not that we wanted everything in the catalog, but on more than one occasion, we’d leave a page strategically open hoping our parents would get the hint that I wanted a Barbie camper, or my brother wanted a BB gun.
Yes, they got the hint. I also remember my mother picking up Jell-O cookbooks at the register at the grocery store. Back then, there were at least 500 things to do with Jell-O and I think my mom tried them all out. If she didn’t get the recipes from her own cookbook, recipes got passed along from friends and my aunts. You know, the original social networking
In the 80s and early 90s, I was a huge catalog shopper. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t have a catalog come through the mail, but there were two catalogs that really stood out to me: Victoria’s Secret and Banana Republic.
Before there was a Victoria’s Secret store in every mall, it was a primarily a mail order outlet out of San Francisco founded by Roy Raymond. He created a gentle almost Victorian image of the lingerie shopping experience, primarily for men who didn’t feel comfortable wading through racks in department stores, From a woman’s point of view (at least mine), he recreated the concept that lingerie wasn’t trashy, but something that women should feel feminine and beautiful wearing. Catalogs were printed on vellum colored stock with soft looking illustrations and lots of dusty pink ink. I was hooked. Easily.
When the Limited Stores bought out Raymond (for a relatively paltry $4 million), it changed Victoria’s Secret’s image with slick, four-color glossy catalogs with perfectly shape (and airbrushed models) with long, flowing windswept hair. Ironically, the catalogs became just as popular with men as they did for women – even if they didn’t have a woman to buy for.
Before Banana Republic reinvented itself to go after a young, professional and upward bound market, it specialized in casual safari type clothing – khaki cargo pants and vests, rugged footwear, thermal shirts and the like. It was hardly cutting-edge fashion and the looks didn’t really change much from season to season, but it was the image that made it sell – an image of exotic adventures in faraway places that was written about in every description of every product it sold. The catalogs were so iconic that it inspired the J. Peterman character on Seinfeld – the obnoxiously whimsical CEO who talked like the copy in his catalogs. There were times I thought how cool it would be to have Elaine’s job as a copywriter.
Now, I do.