Not Such Lively Times

Words: Zoe Fitzpatrick

In July 2014, actress Blake Lively began her entrepreneurial adventure – launching a fashion and lifestyle website called “Preserve” that was going to be “part magazine, part e-commerce hub, part philanthropic endeavor” by connecting makers and users of Artisan goods and sharing the stories behind their sourcing and production.
Just over a year after its hyped release date, Lively announced the closing of the site, citing the reason being that Preserve did not meet her vision or expected potential. In hindsight, however, surely that isn’t the only reason behind this surprising move.

Preserve set out with the intention of filling a gap in the market for a cultural connection with the goods and clothes we purchase as consumers. The immediate thought is that this gap is arguably already filled by Gweneth Paltrow’s Goop; a website set up within recent years with almost identical intentions. Both contain multiple features and sections such as life advice, stories to inspire home and renovation, home decoration features and, of course, fashionable clothing. What stands out the most about Preserve, however, is that it doesn’t seem to know how to fill the gap it’s aimed to fill, leading to a confusing experience for the reader.

The failure of this project to take off also symbolizes something about the fashion industry. While there are still a minority of people willing to pay a substantial amount of money to dress like a celebrity, nowadays the fashion industry has changed. People desire a “fashion independence,” inspired by street style worn by bloggers and YouTubers, for example, rather than simply copying a celebrity. This desire for originality has also inspired a tendency to buy cheaper alternatives, often featured in blog posts and making many consumers more satisfied to find a €20 alternative on Opera Lane than to wear Blake Lively’s $800 jeans.

A vital flaw in the Preserve project was ultimately the marketing. Lively has admitted herself that Preserve was launched too soon, without rooted foundations and network support, but on top of that remained the issue that the promotion for website was next to non-existent apart from piggybacking on the actress’s name as a high profile celebrity, something she specifically stated she didn’t want. It seemed from the start that the main reason to buy items from this website was its association with Blake – certainly not a promising beginning. It failed to make a name for itself for this reason and never held the reach it needed to fulfill its potential. Another major error was the design and aesthetic of Preserve – vintage filters, cheesy and somewhat clichéd messages and a retro-inspired font style, used to attempt a nostalgic outlook visually. This aspect stayed on the ground as well and failed to capture the vital sense of creativity, accessibility and community. Hence the whole process feeling very “let the peasants eat cake”.

Preserve’s content for sale is described best as “overpriced artisanal nonsense” – a $64 bandana, a $68 t-shirt saying “the scouts are out” with a picture of a Native American on it (“cultural appropriation” jumps to mind, but that’s a whole other article), a patterned skirt for $168. Non-clothing items include overpriced hipster ketchup ($7), a $20 spoon and, a personal favourite, a “Porter Cycling” bicycle basket (basically a glorified crate) for $95 – which is available on Ebay for 99c. Readers and visitors are not sold on exactly what’s so special about this t-shirt for $68, maxi skirt with a (much) cheaper twin in Penneys, or the bandana which could be sourced for $3 elsewhere – other than the fact that it’s on Blake Lively’s website and we’ve come to trust that Blake Lively knows fashion.

Lively has confirmed in an interview with vogue.com that Preserve will be closing as it’s “not making a difference in people’s lives.” While the whole thing seems like quite a confused effort to do so, it comes off as a sensible move to call it a day at this stage instead of labouring the effort until it falls apart completely. Having come to terms with the site’s extinction in the past few weeks, Lively’s fans are already showing excitement for a new project the star has been dropping hints about in interviews. I, for one, am excited to see what this entrepreneur will do next.