Target has revolutionized fashion with its myriad designer collaborations.
It wasn't the first — H&M had people lining up in the mall for the debut of its low- to mid-priced collection with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 — but it was the most insistent, repackaging high-end brands like Missoni, Jason Wu and Lilly Pulitzer into low-cost “essentials,” stickering an air of luxe to their same-old, same-old pieces.
From a distance, the economy knockoffs might pass: a Missoni stripe is a Missoni stripe is a Missoni stripe, Gertrude Stein definitely never said, but is true nonetheless. Get up close, though, and it's clear that what was on sale wasn't quality, but rather, the idea of quality via association.
Take the tags off the Jason Wu dress and it's nothing special.
Now Target is courting a similar result with its new home design partner, Dwell, the rapidly diversifying magazine-retailer that made its name with expertly curated endorsements of contemporary architecture and furniture. The two brands are set to unite on a 120-piece collection ranging from $17 candle holders to a $400 outdoor sofa.
Which is great ... for IKEA shoppers. You might have thought the Swedish retailer had cornered the market on cheap-chic furniture, with its ubiquitous Billy bookcases and Lack tables. Now Target can give them a run for their money. More competitions equals lower prices, more inventive designs. Everyone wins. Right?
Thing is, IKEA has always felt to us like an honest broker: people rarely pretend it's anything more than it is. You buy a Billy bookcase so you have somewhere to put books that is not the floor. You buy a Klippan sofa because every other sofa is too expensive. They are by nature temporary, placeholders for future purchases and better apartments.
That's what rankles us about the Dwell x Target collab. Contemporary “modern” design — in all its sleek monochromatics — can read as cold and soulless unless surrounded by pieces actually created with love and styled with care. Contemporary designers routinely elevate that “sleek” foundation with artistry and innovation, but those essential gracenotes are expensive to produce and, more apt to the effort in question, difficult to scale.
The true face of contemporary design — as the folks at Dwell know well — is rich, varied and wholly human. For one example of thousands, see this roundup of the best pieces at the recent 100% Design show in London, one of the chief global showcases of new work.
By contrast, the Dwell x Target pieces look like the furniture you'd find in the waiting room of a James Bond villain. Or the apartment your parents just bought to rent out on Airbnb. Don't let it fool you. "Democratizing design" is corporate speak for retail off-cuts, and it distracts us from coming to terms with truly buying well.
Moral of the story: buy less; buy better. Fill your home with things made by hand, and things made with soul.
They're harder to find and they'll cost more, sure.
But they also won't end up in a heap behind a dumpster when Dwell x Target inevitably release version two-point-O just as your one-point-Os are starting to creak and tarry.