tastometer 2011

Alfred C. Barnes, when he was alive, and still able to forcibly beat the crap out of anyone who suggested dismantling his collection

Although taste can neither be judged on a perfect continuum (since so often events and objects evince both good and bad taste) nor be comfortable within delimiting factors of a ten-part end-of-year list, the turning of the calendar does seem an appropriate time to take pause, consider the year that has passed, and acknowledge special achievements in Taste: the good, the bad, and otherwise.  MoT‘s Department of Tastemetrics offers the following study of events of 2011, ranging from the Worst of Bad Taste to Tasty of the Tasty, recognizing that bad taste is sometimes enjoyable and good taste can be downright boring.

Rather than apply a simple numeric system to this slippery study, the Department instead adopts a system of word-pictures.  These Taste Indicator Determinant arBited Illustration Types (TIDBITs) have been assigned somewhat like the party election symbols used in India–not that those were judgmental, as MoT‘s are, but they are illustrative little morsels none the less.  Join us as we start at the scuzzy, slimy bottom:

Bunga-bunga?  Buh-bye!

The resignation of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister of Italy finally took place on 16 November.  There’s nothing redeeming about this story; he was a schmucky guy who took advantage of everything and everyone.  Yuck.  TIDBIT: Flaming Bag of Poo

The celebration of “Architect Barbie” by people who should know better: it was bad enough that this crummy parody of a female professional was unleashed, it’s worse that there has been so much praise and excitement about it from professionals and academics.  Ugh, we’ve been through this enough and have submitted the Barbie Department here at MoT HQ to redundancy downsizing, so just read their now-historic report here.  TIDBIT: Cat Barf

A nut that was cracked wide open in an interview on ABC in February, Charlie Sheen’s simultaneous meltdown and reinvention was sad, overplayed and tedious, but somehow heroic, albeit in a deluded sort of way.  We include it here mostly to emphasize how much we hate Architect Barbie by making her the meat in a crap sandwich with Silvio & Charlie as the bread.  TIDBIT: A Crap Sandwich

one monstrosity OMA hasn’t managed to get built yet

There’s plenty of stupid spectacle architecture out there, both built and proposed (here’s an exemplary late entry), but the La Paille Dans L’Åil Du Voisin is the stupidest (watch the video if you have excess IQ points to spare).  TIDBIT: Whatever Tastes Like The Head of Michelangelo’s David With A Big Beam Rammed Through It

On July 3 the Barnes Foundation closed. What a travesty.  Readers unaware of what a slimy business the art world is (especially in Philadelphia, but not uniquely so), need to read up or see this good documentary.  Glimmer of hope: with this theft, more people will be able to see and enjoy the art at the center of the controversy.  But that’s the same kind of thin excuse that protects a lot art in European museums stolen by marauding armies.  This time the crime was perpetrated by very slick culture vultures, but the result is the same.  TIDBIT: Heirloom Tomato, Rotten and Worm-Eaten


A one-time favorite around HQ, Project Runway concluded season 9 by naming Anya the winner. Inconceivable!  Anya, who can make only one dress, for one climate, but sew no sleeves, and never heard the word “zipper.”  This, especially when the duo of Joshua (left) and Viktor were actual contenders, dripping with loads of talent and versatility and skill.  Although the award raises an interesting point–how essential is design education vs. natural talent?–it revealed the producer’s interest, finally, in favor of sizzle over steak.  TIDBIT: Beadazzled Crap Sandwich

Mixed blessings from England: someone newly hired at Mini somehow missed the memo that “mini” means “small,” and urged the developement of maxi-size minis.  The Mini Cooper “Countryman” (what does that even mean?) is weird, and dumb.  Problem: it was first advertised with this commercial, and the catch phrase cram it in the boot, that we really kind of like.  However, when MoT crams it, we cram it in a properly-scaled mini Mini boot, thank you very much.  A proper Mini is more than adequate for our needs, and we have stretched it to accomode, at one point, two of MoT‘s junior staffers toting backpacks, viola and cello, and a pitbull, for good measure, and did so while maintaining the spirit of Mini as encapsulated in the great commercial that celebrates the “Best Test Drive Ever, Period.”  (However, MoT‘s six-word “Best Test Drive Ever, Period.” would be described thusly: MrDarcy, Quadrilatero’d’Oro, Ringstrasse, Scone, Hogwarts, Siouxsie.)  But that’s just not happening in a Countryman.  TIDBIT: Poofy Scone, Oversized For American Market 

We needed a lie-down, too

MoT staffers have anticipated few movies for their artistic promise alone like they have Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.  What a visual treat it was . . . until we had to run out of the theatre due to severe nausea caused by over-indulgence of the shaky-cam.  Why, Lars, why?  We were ready for the cinematic version of German Romantic paintings, and instead were sickened by camerawork that would be too jerky for a Bourne installation.  TIDBIT: Sad Scone.  A Beautiful, Sad, Nearly-Vomiting Scone. 

There’s good taste, and bad taste, and then there’s excellent bad taste.  Hello, Honey Badger, the short film first posted to YouTube in January.  Nasty indeed, but humor that fresh and funny is something to celebrate.  TIDBIT: Steak ‘n Shake Chili Deluxe With Cheese Fries

the Lake Shore Drive “graveyard” in February

That leads to the mid-point of the Tastometer and the potentially taste-neutral matter of time and weather.  The latter was dealt a wallop near MoT HQ in February, when SnOwMaGeddon swept into the Chicago area.  It’s only weather if you notice it, and it’s only tasty if something cool happens because of it: behold Jim Cantore’s response to thundersnow!  (How this has not been autotuned is beyond our understanding.)  Also, all those abandoned cars on Lake Shore Drive became the subject matter of great Snowpocalypse photography.  TIDBIT: Flaming Baked Alaska

Likewise, dates tend to be  untasty.  But no day for years and years will live up to the graphic simplicity and regularity of 11 11 11; likewise, no date will ever emphasize one of cinema’s most tasty scenes, ever.  TIDBIT: Shark Sandwich.*

Launched in April, the architecture blog Philaphilia wins high marks in a similar vein as the Honey Badger, but for buildings (and so it’s better than studies of “nature”).  Philaphilia is remarkably active and consistent, has a very specific point of view, is historically spot-on and full of sage wisdom (a favorite bon mot: “don’t build buildings out of sidewalks.”)  That’s all we can quote here and keep our PG rating.  If you like your architectural criticism sprinkled with F-bombs, hearken ye to Philaphilia.  TIDBIT: Salty Caramel

The Tastometer begins to pick up now, with the very tasty news that the British Library now offers an e-classics app for the iPad, huzzah!  For a monthly fee (say, the cost of an Aztec cocoa, or two whoopie pies, or half a bottle of Essie nailpolish–all tasty things) one may access tens of thousands of books, scanned from the original, on an iPad.  With this service, Hermione’s beaded bag has nothing on your own Birken, virtually full of 30,000 nineteenth-century tomes.  Actual books are still better than their electronic versions, but since MoT‘s collecting habits in nineteenth-centry books are, alas, somewhat limited, we are grateful to the Brits.  Once again.    TIDBIT: Scone with Clotted Cream

MoT hearts books

With its new director, the Art institute of Chicago seems to be going gangbusters with exhibitions, but many of them have fallen flat.  Not so for our favorite of the year, a very small collection of printed materials arranged in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries in celebration of the citywide “Festival of the Architecture Book,” marking the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first illustrated architecture book.  “Design Inspiration: Nineteenth- Century American Builders’ Manuals and Pattern Books” was a wonderful show.  More, please!  TIDBIT: Chocolate Chip Cookie

A certain big box retailer scored big with another blockbuster designer collaboration with the storied house of Missoni for Target.  Fashionista Bargainistas saw zigzags . . . then saw red (more about that here), as stores were cleaned out and the Target.com website went kaput.  Several months later, very slow boats from China are still struggling to fill open orders.  TIDBIT: Bruschetta di Milano


The big and little screen made us happy, from the visually and intellectually stunning Cave of Forgotten Dreams to the local favorite Munger Road, also big Scandinavian “tummar-upp”  (well, that’s what Røger Ebertssen would say) for Trollhunter, which managed to blend aspects of The Blair Witch Project, Jaws, and Scandinavian myths together in an effective way that makes us eager for a sequel and a prequel to learn more about the stoic hero for whom the movie was named.  We applaud two humane shows in the midst of dreck on television: Parks and Recreation features characters who are actually genuinely likeable people, and The Walking Dead mixes up the good and the bad, and makes a person wonder every week which one they are.  TIDBIT: Zombie Waffles, with Lingonberries

Colin Firth, action hero

Was 2011 The Year of Firth? An Oscar, London Film Critics Circle, the European Film Award, and that was after raking in a few dozen similar trophies in the last months of 2010, all for The King’s Speech, which was released on dvd in April, and you bought it immediately, didn’t you?  And in June he was presented at the Queen’s Honours with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).  (Bryan Ferry was also honored in that program, prompting our consideration that the whole event should have a special award for Tastiness.)  The year closes with the opening of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which also holds the promise of the action figures we most look forward to seeing under our Christmas tree.  TIDBIT: Scone With Clotted Cream *And* Jam.

Speaking of men we love, David McCullough published The Greater Journey, a book that celebrates some of America’s greatest architects, artists, writers, and others who aspired to greatness and pursued it in Paris.  Like all of Mr. McCllough’s books, it is an inspirational and wonderful tale.  We have long admired this fabulous historian who writes history that people actually want to read.  The fact that MoT‘s Chief of Literature Consumption met him at a book signing, where he was marvelously sweet, kind, supportive, personable, gave him the edge over Mr. Darcy.  (No, she still hasn’t washed the hand that he so warmly shook.)  TIDBIT: Boeuf Bourguignon


A dominant force in the Tastiverse this year was the final installment of the Harry Potter movies, the Deathly Hallows, Part II. Fine film it was, but that’s not why it ranks so high on this list: it’s just that the final installment finally gave a platform to Snape’s long suffering.  At last, Alan Rickman was able to let loose and reveal Snape’s heartbreakingly courageous lonesome lovelorn sacrificial self as a main pivot point for the whole story.  (Too bad the filmmakers crapped up the ending so bad, or this entry would have crept closer to the top of the list.)  TIDBIT: Flourless Chocolate Torte & Port

One of the tastiest events to blow into New York–a city that knows from taste–blew away all previous exhibition records at the Met: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, dominated the summer.  MoT‘s Department of Exhibition Critique worries that museums are not doing their job if a fashion designer can out-draw painters and sculptors who have made a more proven and lasting contrition to civilization, but even so, admit that it was an extraordinary and amazing show. It is a rare treat when an exhibition encapsulates the spirit of its subject without overwhelming it.  TIDBIT: Any Two Or Three of These Cakes

kiss me, Kate

Nearing the top of the list, it’s hard to deny that Britain had the corner on taste in 2011, for no event was more anticipated and drawn out and over-reported and yet still left us somehow unsatiated than the great fabulous Royal Wedding of April 29, for these four reasons: (1) Kate Middleton, (now Her Royal Highness Princess William Arthur Philip Louis, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn and Baroness Carrickfergus), not only looked great but has acted with admirable demureness through this whole crazy affair; (2) the beautiful sublimity of the gorgeous day was thrown comfortably and realistically off by the crazy hats, especially  Princess Beatrice’s Fascinator (don’t you feel better about what your embarrassing cousin wore to your wedding now?), and the peevishness of Princess Grumpsalot (left);  (3) it inspired one of our favorite websites of the year, Kate Middleton For The Win, and (4) it was a great excuse to get up early, make scones and finally figure out where in town we can source clotted cream.  TIDBIT: Just The Clotted Cream

Finally, what’s tastier than The Taste?  Well it’s the tasty readers of the Taste of course, a readership that has gone berserker in the last weeks of 2011 thanks, as far as MoT‘s  Electronic Media Research Team can tell, from a post from two years ago being circulated like gang busters.  MoT has now been read on at least four continents and translated into Chinese.  For that, 作者 sends a hearty 谢谢 to our new friends at renren.com, and also our friends at Google Translate, who allowed our Department of Poor Language Skills to put the Chinese back into English, to hilarious results.  Plenty of traffic was also prompted by the tweeting of tasty folks at Dwell.com and postings at Archinect.com, but we especially thank Artmagonline.wordpress.com, since they introduced our post on a page with Helena Bonham Carter, so now MoT and HBC are BFFs.  Glad to have you all along for the ride, please introduce yourselves to the faithful who have been around since our launch on Borromini’s birthday in 2009.  TIDBIT: You!  (Or Almond Bark)

Savage Beauty: McQueen, 2005

*that one is for you, MoT CFO


il problema con Missoni per Target

Missoni for Target, 2011

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.

Margherita il grande

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!

you want the prints. ALL of the prints . . .

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.

but I don’t want another copyrighted character t-shirt . . .

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 YuGiOh! 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.

Margherita knows: Niente per i ragazzi?  Come brutto!

give me Liberty

floral fabrics at Liberty & Co., London

Depending on one’s point of view, on March 14, 2010 the British Arts and Crafts Movement either reached an all-time height in its ongoing apotheosis or felt its final death rattles.  On that date Target stores across the US unveiled the company’s most recent effort to team out-of-house, top-notch designers with the mass-production and massive marketing that accounts for the big box’s big success.  Recent design collaborations with the rarefied likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Rodarte have successfully brought haute fashion within reach of the likes of you and me, but those partnerships have not raised the same kind of philosophical and moral issues that the collaboration with Liberty of London does.

idealistic: Morris chair (handmade everything, 1870; V & A collection)

This story takes a little time.  Taste suggests you prepare yourself a cuppa, settle in, and bear with us as we travel back to mid-nineteenth century England, where a sense of unease (if not outright revulsion) about the industrialization that had swept the country and dissatisfaction with the level of design quality in manufactured goods prompted the movement that would later be termed Arts and Crafts.  At its center was a group of Oxford divinity students (make that soon-to-be-former divinity students), who were also concerned by the human cost of making those goods. In addition to the obvious abuse of the scores of people (children among them) who were dehumanized by the manufacture process, the burgeoning Arts and Crafts philosophers noted the toll taken on the consumers of these sub-standard products as well.  Their most profound expositor, William Morris, argued in an essay of 1877 (“The Lesser Arts of Life,” which you can–and should–read by clicking here) for the abolishment of the traditional distinction between high art and low.  Morris believed that the Lesser Arts, whose “first intention was to satisfy [men’s] bodily wants” (furniture, table service, clothing, and so on) should be made as beautiful as they were useful by appropriating the ability to “satisfy men’s spiritual wants,” which had long been the realm of the Greater Arts (monumental sculpture, oil paintings, etc.).  Morris’ famous dictum, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” exemplified the scores of wallpaper, furniture, book, and textile designs that rolled out of Morris and Company workshops, manifest in useful/decorative arts through traditional methods of handcraft, and that were destined to fill English domiciles from Cornwall to Cumbria.  Great idea, and great products, if one could get them—rather, if one could afford them.  All that ennobling hand-craftwork is luscious and marvelous but it does not come cheap.  For all his utopian aims, Morris’ Lesser Arts remained out of the reach of the classes he most hoped to serve and, with no small irony, were affordable instead to those families made rich through the Industrial Revolution.

realistic: Liberty & Co. washstand (some industrial process, 1894: V & A collection)

Enter Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who saw the necessity of compromising the purity of Arts and Crafts ideals on the production side to achieve their wide diffusion on the consumer side.  Liberty was a London draper’s apprentice, warehouse manager, and finally owner of his own shop, Liberty & Co., which opened in 1875.  The store specialized in fabrics and well-designed decorative arts (wallpaper, clocks, jewelry, pewter), much of it with patterns inspired by nature and artistic traditions of the Far East and manufactured with industrial means that made them more affordable.  Through his efforts Liberty achieved his aim “to combine utility and good taste with modest cost,” and did much more to achieve Morris’ aim to brighten English homes with well-designed and crafted goods, although the production did indeed involve machines and even those “dark Satanic mills” that William Blake warned us about a half-century earlier.

the Liberty store in Regent Street: inside

Flash forward to the later twentieth century.  Liberty & Co. maintains its presence in one of London’s great shopping districts, but is no longer such a leader in progressive design and style. The store’s Tudor architecture, which once symbolized Liberty’s association with wholesome, high-quality pre-Industrial Revolution crafts, now embodies a fusty Olde England that no one much misses.  Before the whole enterprise vanished in the dim nostalgic haze emanating from the receding glory days of pewter tankards and floral tea cozies, Liberty & Co. was rejuvenated by the 2005 launch of Liberty of London, an in-house label headed up by creative director Tamalra Salman.  Salman has done much to update standard Liberty wares and goods, in part by inviting unexpected collaborators to design clothes and accessories for the label (a Ronnie Wood makeup bag, anyone?).  An extension of these in-house collaborations, the recent deal struck with the across-the-pond retailer Target was a lower-brow effort at the same kind of partnership that had been a mainstay with Liberty.

pretty dress by Liberty of London for Target, available 3.13 miles from MoT HQ ($30)

In service to you, dear reader, Matters of Taste Correspondent for Consumer Affairs doorbusted her way into Target on that fateful Sunday to get a firsthand look at the line, as well as to stock the MoT archives with key pieces from the collection.  She reports from her exhaustive study that the goods really are delightful: nice materials with bright sunny patterns and solid construction; some of the dresses are even lined. The combination of quality products, superior design and reasonable cost has clearly struck a chord not only with our correspondent but with Yankee consumers from coast to coast; this stuff has flown off the shelves at such a rate one would think that some kind of Denim Curtain had just fallen, allowing comrades to ditch the capri jeans, breathe the air of aesthetic freedom and indulge in head-to-toe paisleys for the first time ever.

pretty dress by Liberty & Co., available 3,963 miles from MoT HQ (& quite a bit more than $30)

In many ways the Liberty of London for Target collaboration exemplifies what the Arts and Crafts were all about: the uniformly good, and occasionally great, designs are realized through the marriage of functional objects with beautiful patterns on durable materials for virtually every “bodily want” from bedding to bikes.  The only thing that’s missing from the collection is a collar for Taste’s resident pooch, which is regrettable, since she will not be perfectly accessorized on walks when we go out in our Liberty of London for Target dress, Liberty of London for Target trench coat, Liberty of London for Target hat, Liberty of London for Target rain boots and Liberty of London for Target umbrella.  Nor will she be a perfect aesthetic fit when she naps on her Liberty of London for Target pillow, near the Liberty of London for Target planter, which we tilled with our Liberty of London for Target gardening tools, and eating biscuits from our Liberty of London for Target dishes.  Beyond this oversight, Taste is thrilled by the collection, which stands up pretty well against the real Liberty goods purchased by MoT‘s Resident Sconologist in London.  Who wouldn’t be thrilled to scoop up a brightly patterned dress with a perfect fit and offered up for $30 rather than the $360 of the original Liberty garment on which it is based (assuming one could find one’s way to London in the first place, which is getting harder and harder with MoT‘s strict CFO limiting our passport usage)?

pewter milk jug; Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co. (1904; V & A  collection)

But we wonder: what accounts for that drop in price?  Quantity? Probably–we’re just guessing that Target is pushing a few more zillion gross products than Liberty’s flagship store.  Use of more common materials?  No doubt–there is a drop in quality from the very-high quality wares from London, and we would be hard pressed to find any melamine for sale on Regent Street.  Cheaper labor?  Bingo. How our Correspondent wishes she had neither bothered to read the “made in” label in the garments (nor the stickers on all the other things), nor all those essays by Morris.  All this stuff was mass-produced in China and then shipped via a variety of petroleum-eating vehicles to the States.  That’s a lot of machines, a lot of industry, but especially a huge separation between the designer and the maker, which was one of the primary objectives of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  This collaboration has basically shifted the burden of mechanical enslavement from British factories to Chinese ones, as is the case for so much contemporary garment fabrication.  Never has such lovely, lovely florals and paisleys and peacock feathers been such a buzz kill, but that’s what you get when you’re on a budget and you go and develop a social conscience along with a liking for pretty things.

melamine salad plate; Liberty of London for Target  (2010; MoT archives)

Had the designers behind Liberty of London for Target done a little soul searching, and thought back through the heritage that is so proudly and beautifully celebrated in the aesthetics of this collaboration, to the heart of the movement that lives on (in some form) in their products, the collaboration could have been something really special. Of course altering the means by which most of the garments and other goods consumed in the West are fabricated would have affected their price, but how much?  Based on a quick survey of the Liberty of London site and the Target catalogue it’s not difficult to find similar goods that are widely divergent in their price points.  Would a slightly more expensive Target collection have allowed the US retailer to take an astonishing social stand in favor of workers’ rights while making these pretty things availing to a hungering mass of consumers who would still clear the shelves in record time?  And ultimately, would improving the lot of factory workers not be in fantastically good taste?

At the same time, consumers are responsible for this soul-searching as well, and we don’t need to couch this argument in “present economic circumstances” to understand the timeless advice of distinguishing between need and want: Morris told us as much back in 1882:

There is a vast deal of labour spent in supplying civilised man with things which he has come to consider needful, and which, as a rule, he will not do without. Much of that labour is grievous and oppressive . . .

These, I think, are the principles on which the citizen’s resistance to Philistine oppression must be founded; to do with as few things as we can, and, as far as we can, to see to it that these things are the work of freemen and not of slaves; these two seem to me to be the main duties to be fulfilled by those who wish to live a life at once free and refined, serviceable to others, and pleasant to themselves.  (Morris, “The Lesser Arts of Life”)

While Morris is eminently and appropriately quotable for this piece, Taste could not help but adopt Patrick Henry’s words for our title (along with only a few hundred other bloggers and fashion writers who did exactly the same brilliantly creative thing).  But we find it also appropriate to conclude with the words of another revolutionary, Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platière:

O Liberty!  O Liberty!  How many crimes are committed in thy name!

Unlike Henry, whose defiant slogan was reportedly met with cheers, Madame Roland faced trumped-up charges that lead her to the guillotine.  So we conclude, while surveying our Liberty of London for Target desk accessories and drinking from our Liberty of London for Target cup, and wishing that Liberty of London for Target had designed a coordinating laptop sleeve–perhaps with an interlace pattern of arabesques and guilt.