I miss Preserve
remembering the comically terrible lifestyle site beloved only by me
You know who I love? Blake Lively. On the surface, she seems like a typical Hollywood beauty, but that’s only if you’re not paying attention. Blake has a nonstop chaotic energy that I am obsessed with.
She’ll pick a project as strange as A Simple Favor and be nothing short of amazing in it. She’ll wear a wild assortment of suits on the press tour to drum up more publicity for the movie because she cheerfully hustles for whatever she has to promote, be it a film or her husband’s gin brand.
She (in)famously does not work with a stylist and styles herself, something fashion people don’t like but which I do. I like the risk there. She wore all yellow to her husband’s premiere of Detective Pikachu, as if cosplaying Pikachu himself, and she did the exact same thing with Deadpool colors to the premiere of Deadpool 2.
She is a blue-eyed blonde Amazon of a woman with perfect hair and boobs and a husband as beautiful and Caucasian as she is. She is as prone to being problematic as one would expect of someone born with so many advantages. She has the best nose job in Hollywood. She dated Leonardo DiCaprio for five months, broke up with him, and went out the next day for a tarot card reading. The woman is a star.
But my absolute favorite havoc Blake Lively ever wreaked was her short-lived lifestyle website, Preserve, which offered editorials and e-commerce that focused on the “artisanal.” It was far from the only celebrity vanity site, but it was maybe the only one to be an abject disaster. I sorely miss its terrible press and wish another celebrity would make a mistake on this specific level again.
Always one to go big, Blake announced the coming of Preserve in 2014 with a cover on motherfucking Vogue and a bananas accompanying profile. It included a quote on the subject from “another willowy workaholic who knows a thing or two about brand extension,” Ivanka Trump. What a get! It also featured this haunting anecdote about Blake editing stories for the site:
“With the bow-tie story,” she says, “I think by shifting into the first person, he would be able to make it a lot more personal . . . that authentic, sort of flawed voice that we’ve been trying to accomplish. I was a little liberal with my revisions. But the humor was already there, so I just went with it.” She flips through the pile of manuscripts in her lap, turning to a different piece. “I think the writer should just scrap it and start over. Because this guy’s work is beautiful . . . but what’s the story? Why bags? Why leather? Why the European military influence?” She pauses for a moment. “And one small thing, which shows up in every piece: the word things. My dad was an English professor. There’s always a more eloquent, descriptive word.”
The prose on Preserve was to be eloquent! The voice was to be authentic! It was to answer hard-hitting questions like “Why bags? Why leather?”
It was the site America needed. So what went wrong? Literally everything, starting with the fact that its name was Preserve. People assumed it was a brand of fruit preserves, something Blake did not anticipate because she presumably did not bother looking up all definitions of the name of her passion project. “I never thought people would think Preserve had something to do with jam!” she admitted when she announced the shuttering of Preserve, in yet another Vogue interview just one year after the first. “Like, ‘Oh, you sell jams!’ ‘No! It’s like preserving things and us and life and artisans!’” Another data point here is the fact that she did not even get preserve.com, but rather opted for preserve.us, as if an appeal to God for protection when God was not looking out for us at all.
The next big problem with the site was its design, which was described as “nightmare-inspo” that “looks like a horror movie” and “greatly resembles a whiskey homepage.” White text in a jumble of fonts made it difficult to read without getting a headache.
And what if you could decipher the words? Then you’d have the punishment of reading them. Blake Lively sadly proved that having an English professor dad does not make one a writer. Here are some examples of the word pictures painted by preserve.us:
- “At once structured and chaotic, the great American BBQ is, indubitably, a rollicking repast. To create such a wicked wassail demands, first and foremost, a cast of characters as colorful and damned as Dante ever envisioned.”
- “We saw him one day. A 6’5”, saffron haired, tatted biker sporting as many rings as Liberace, but worn with the masculinity of McQueen (Steve, that is). We were immediately Beliebers of Caleb Owens; a man on a one-way ticket from Nashville to L.A., taking a break from his day job to play guitar for hip hop artist Yelawolf. He spoke with jack and coke baritone smoothness, yet had the kindness, warmth, interest, and curiosity of Jack Skellington.”
- “When I build a sundae, I make it my own personal Candyland — a society of sweetness where denizens dance happily among sugary structures. Escaping into a rainbow of lusciousness, I care not a lick for the real world and its tiresome toothaches.”
But the prose itself was not the most offensive thing about the writing. That distinction would go to the subject matter, the most notorious of which was Preserve’s “Allure of Antebellum” editorial. The title itself romanticized the slaveowning South, a position that is generally regarded as Yikes. Obviously EVERYTHING ABOUT CELEBRATING SLAVEOWNING CULTURE IS BAD, but perhaps most egregious is the fact that it was literally unnecessary, as the fashions they were highlighting had nothing to do with the time or place. As Refinery29 pointed out:
…this shoot makes no sense from a fashion standpoint, since we’re pretty sure hippie hats and leopard miniskirts were no Southern woman’s idea of debutante-ball attire. While attempting to translate the 1800s styles to today, Preserve tells us: “Hoop skirts are replaced by flared and pleated A-lines; oversized straw toppers are transformed into wide-brimmed floppy hats and wool fedoras.”
So, basically, you replaced all the historical clothes with completely different, modern clothes? If that's how historical fashion works, I hope you’re loving my Elizabethan costume today! I just replaced the brocade gown with Gap jeans and the ruff with a T-shirt.
Yeah, it was a mess. And not a particularly surprising one, considering Blake married Ryan Reynolds on a damn plantation, an egregiously bad idea.
But what if you ignored all of that? The ugly site design, the editorial content and the way that content was written and the fact that you couldn’t just type “preserve.com” to get to any of it? Well, at least you could buy stuff. Preserve was founded on the idea that millennials wanted to know the story of their purchases. They wanted to know what artisan handcrafted their products and what had happened in their lives to motivate them to handcraft these products. (“Why bags? Why leather?”) As such, each product on the site was accompanied with a “backstory” instead of a product description. (Except for in the case of one notable editing error, in which the backstory of Preserve’s ketchup was simply the phrase “Backstory: ketchup.”) As you can imagine, this authentic, imagination-inspiring Americana did not come cheap. Preserve sold a wooden crate for $95, a bowtie for $70, and an apron for $110.
Preserve arrived at the apex of hipster bullshit culture, and that bubble was ready to burst. Preserve was that Instagram filter everyone used in 2012 and decorating with mason jars, but with a hefty price tag. Preserve asked: what if we gave you the feeling of a playlist made of Mumford & Sons and Lumineers songs but in a sweater that cost $600? And a weary public switched off their Edison bulb lights and said no, Blake Lively, we would rather not.
Celebrities, God bless them, continue to make out-of-touch decisions. Gwyneth goops on, undeterred by science or the law. One of the Kardashians started a lifestyle blog with the horrifying name Poosh, a word that reminds me of the AirBnB logo in that it intrinsically strikes me as vulgar in an undefinable way. But these endeavors don’t have the hideous site design of Preserve dot us, nor the bizarre mission statement to bring spoons with an artistic backstory to the masses. I don’t want to say that I root for anyone to fail, but I sure do love when a rich and famous person decides to swing so widely that the resulting miss is completely insane. I wish that more celebrities would wild out in the entrepreneurial space. That’s an attitude I would like to preserve.