Man Shops Globe is a new series (starting tonight on the Sundance Channel) which follows Keith Johnson, Anthropologie's buyer at large, as he travels far and wide to find the crafty, overpriced bohemian crap the corporately owned store shills.
Reading the reviews, the show sounds painfully smug and self-important. Gina Bellafante writes for The New York Times:
Each half-hour episode of the eight-part series finds him in a new country, shopping antiques stores, open-air markets, galleries and artisans' studios. On the spectrum of unjustified self-importance, he falls somewhere between the standard annoying contestant on Project Runway, and that psycho realtor on Flipping Out. Like so many in design and fashion, he anxiously labors under the belief that what he is doing is akin to negotiating for the United Nations…
…What he pays for the tchotchkes he finds below the equator is never clear, ensuring that you can't do a spit-take when you calculate the markup.
Salon's Heather Havrilesky calls the show "at once so fascinating and so repugnant." She writes of Johnson:
His job traveling the globe to buy enormous overpriced pieces of weird, ancient junk so that Anthropologie can put that junk in its stores and sell it for truly ludicrous, mind-blowing prices is obviously the sort of job that anyone who wishes they had enough time and energy to rummage endlessly through flea markets would love.
In case you're not entirely sure where she stands on this, her piece is titled "Overpriced Antiques For Anxious Yuppies." (In case you don't know, Anthro is owned by Urban Outfitters Inc, along with Free People, Terrain and Leifsdottir. The company has a revenue of $1.50 billion.)
The Washington Post's Hank Stuever has branded the program "An Inventory of Malarkey," and he writes:
We are told over and over how exciting this is, traveling beyond the mere state of retail inventory and into the higher realm of object curation; how Johnson's "heart stops beating" when he senses a find around the corner in a Parisian flea market or an Istanbul bazaar. […] [B]ut Johnson's suitcase (an old-fashioned hard-sided piece of luggage with leather straps) is more interesting than he is.
He also notes that the show is a "protracted ad for Anthropologie."
Traveling the world and picking up fabulous finds does sound like an amazing job — and even a great premise for a show. But seeing how Anthopolgie's sausage gets made — knowing ceramic cups bought for a song in Argentina will soon be priced up and on thousands of mall shelves around the country — kind of sucks the fun out of it. (At one point, in South Africa, Johnson sees ceramic veggies for sale and finds them tiresome, spitting: "You can buy a ceramic piece of corn in China for less than a dollar.") All I can think of is Edina Monsoon selling Eskimo papooses in Ab Fab, justifying it by telling Saffie: "Don't look like that, sweetie. Any chance of a quick buck in the Artic, they tip the babies out and ship them down, I tell you." If there's a way to take stuff from the have-nots and sell it — with a considerable markup — to the haves, without seeming crass, you apparently won't see it on this show. Which doesn't mean I won't tune in to check it out.
Earlier: Anthropologie: Sartorialist-ic "Real" People Impossibly Pretty, Well-Dressed
The Urban Outfitters Ethics Survey: Unintentionally Hilarious
5 Hideous Things Urban Outfitters Wants You To Wear This Summer
May Anthropologie Catalog: Totally Watered Down
Anthropologie "Giving": We Love To Hate & Hate To Love It
Free People: More Overpriced Thrift Store Crap Masquerading As Vintage Chic
Summer At 'Free People': Crafty Crocheted Crap, At Twice The Price Of Thrift Stores!