Here’s the latest from Target’s marvelissimo designer collaborations: long-time Italian palazzo of coolness Missoni has turned those red bullseye stripes all zigzaggy with a molto-grande collection. Buzz surrounding some 400 pieces of clothing and housewares, even a bicycle (how they missed the chance to do a Vespa tie-in is beyond us) was stoked for months leading up to the premiere. Not since the inauguration of Prince Spaghetti Night had Italy been so well positioned to make a giant inroads into American culture. They had no idea the havoc they were to bring down on the great Casa di Target, not to mention the scorn that has started to simmer here at MoT HQ.
Although Target has been able to whip up increasingly frenzied frenzies leading up to the launches for its designer tie-ins, the response for the Missoni collection was unparalleled, unprecedented, unpredicted. Demand for poly-blend sweaters and melamine plates bearing the bold and colorful prints emptied the brick-and-mortar stores within minutes and sank Target.com, which remained off-line most of the day. Combine the insanity of Filene’s Running of the Brides with the nationwide scale of Black Friday, add a dash of Altamont and you come close to understanding the character of this on the now-infamous “Target Tuesday.”
MoT‘s Department of Retail Psychology is still trying to figure out what happened. First of all, why the gigantesco demand? Sure enough, Missoni prints elevate the normal stuff they have at Target into the most covet-worthy status of any garments sold in a big box. We love a good pattern, and we really love the mixy-matchy possibilities of stripey dresses and zigzag shoes, whirlido tights and floral head accessories all at once. But swatch for swatch, the Missoni prints are not inherently cooler than, say, the Tucker and Liberty lines from 2010, both of which did well, but did not prompt governors to call out the National Guard to restore order and calm when legions of sleep-deprived, freaked-out middle-aged women could not even score a coffee mug or pair of socks on that fateful Tuesday morning.
So, what went wrong, and who’s to blame? We won’t hold the success of advertising against Target, since that’s their business, and their success was truly tremendo. The campaign itself was really pretty great. Magazines were stuffed with the print versions of the commercials that aired frequently, sweeping viewers into a 60s-cool fashionista spy fantasy starring poster girl Margherita Missoni. Few other choices could have persuaded those of us who eat sleep and breathe the Gospel of Ruskin to give a second look to geometric patterns. Signora is more than a bella donna who looks good in a sweater dress: adorable to be sure, she’s also heiress to the family fortune, and apparently smart too–at least with the academic credentials to study philosophy at Columbia for a time. All that beauty, privilege and brains in one place? Please, enough, stop!
We can’t blame Margherita, but remain suspicious about subliminal messages that may have been communicated while we were dazzled and possibly hypnotized by the abundance of patterns in those TV spots, forcing us to fork over our credit cards as the passport to this season’s Mambo Italiano. Target’s juggernaut of an advertising campaign was impressive, to say the least; we only wish the planning had not stopped there. Customer service was unable to keep up with demand, and that’s just not good manners. Granted, there was plenty of bad consumer behavior to go around too, especially in the supremely overloaded hands of evil eBay hoarders. Our message to you, Target: go ahead, whip your loyal shoppers into a frenzy, entice them with the allure of a “limited” collection, but then, really, come on. You’re TARGET, you can stock more than three sweaters in a store.
A more essential bone we have to pick stems from a problem we keep seeing with these collaborations. Target offers hundreds of choices for women, and usually a few dozen for their daughters, one or two things for a man they may need to dress–admirable accessories, to be sure. But what about those of us with Mini-Me’s who happen to be male? Granted, the 8-15 age group (are we being generous by cutting it off there?) among boys tends to be a nadir of taste: it is the season of clay dice in art class and Yu-Gi-Oh! on the television. But that doesn’t mean all is lost, nor does it mean Target should ignore the switched-on moms and dads who like to have clothing options above and beyond advertisements for sports and video games on their male children. More importantly, some of the boys want that option, too. Some of our boys are cool science kids, poetry writers, budding politicians and world travelers, and just maybe they don’t want to look like a 48″ walking ad for Nike, Mario or Tony Hawk every day. Some of our boys don’t even know who Tony Hawk is. Would it kill you, Target, to churn out a few button-down shirts or sweaters for the cool boys in the crowd? No, no it wouldn’t.
You know if Margherita were in charge, things would be different, and we would have been up at 6 AM spending the grocery money on zigzaggy cardigans and stripey jammie pants for the young dude staffers here at MoT. Next collaboration, Target: enough with the same old little-girl rain boots, big-lady blouses and token ties for men that you roll out every freaking time. Remember that old phrase you used to use, “Design for All”? Live up to it.