Blake Lively, the actress best-known for her work on the soap opera "Gossip Girl," has been in the process of shedding her old identity for years now. After her movie career sputtered out (her casting in "Side Effects" caused the financing to fall apart until she left the project, and her movie "Savages" hurt everyone involved), she started talking publicly about how interested she was in building for herself a satisfying domestic life and in sharing her wisdom with others. Lively's free to do whatever she wants, but the coincidence of her acting career winding down just as she discovered how much fun it is to be a lifestyle brand was something the world had seen before. (Hi, Gwyneth!)
Still, Lively seemed to walk the walk -- her wedding, at a plantation in South Carolina, was widely covered in the press, and her new lifestyle site, Preserve, got her back on the cover of Vogue. Lively told the fashion magazine that when it comes to Preserve, "every single step of the way, every decision, comes from my heart." It seems her heart is telling her to sell, among other items, $7 ketchup and $10.50 hot fudge.
Yes, Lively's Preserve is an e-commerce site devoted to selling ludicrously marked-up foodstuffs and other items whose high price comes from their having been chosen by Lively. If there's anything special about Coop's hot fudge sauce aside from its availability on Preserve, for instance, the site keeps that secret; instead, the description provided indicates that "We’re absolutely obsessed with Coop’s, and the adorable drippy lid only fuels our unconditional love for such divinely decadent deliciousness." It's the best because Lively says it is, and also because the lid is cute.
Does Lively have enough sway to convince people to part with their cash? Paltrow, when she started Goop, was far less naked about her ambitions; she was trying to sell stuff, but also to bring her readers to a higher state of consciousness. Lively just wants you to buy stuff so that she can get a cut.
Sure, the items for sale all cohere to a particular aesthetic -- Bloody Mary mix, dill pickles and artisanal ketchup are all widely available across Brooklyn's more stereotypical outposts, and letterpress cards and mason jars, too, fit that hip faux-earthy profile. But Lively's mistake with Preserve, so far, is that she's convinced herself that dropping money on food or on artfully asymmetrical bowls is inherently an enlightened choice, rather than one made by someone who's bored and has extra money. For Paltrow, material goods are the most fun and frivolous aspect of a spiritually fulfilled life; for Lively, they are life itself.
That may seem extreme, but Lively gives us no sense of her interests, with Preserve, other than things that can be bought or sold, all of which are part of a bourgie lifestyle. "Let us be clear. We are a for-profit business," reads the page on Preserve about the site's charitable-giving goals (goals whose execution remains a mystery). Well, of course it is. But then why must Lively hector her reader, in her introductory "Editor's Letter," about "people creating magic with their bare hands. Creating things which land at that amazing intersection between art and function"? The stuff she's selling is not inherently more worthy because it's handmade or because it fits a handmade aesthetic; it's certainly not magic.
This is the most frustrating part of Preserve, so far; it's not nearly upfront enough about what it is. A really well-executed shopping site can be great fun, but that site would have to provide some real description of why its wares are worth buying other than that a former actress thinks they are magical. And if the site is to be philosophical, it should embrace a philosophy beyond the notion that being a consumer is in and of itself a worthy mission. Blake Lively doesn't make things or really know what to say about them; it turns out her great skill is shopping. She's not that different from the average actress, after all.