The actress Blake Lively is following in the Prada-shod footsteps of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and Lauren Conrad: She launched a lifestyle website. It’s called Preserve, and in her editor’s letter, Lively says her new website isn’t a new website, per se. It’s a “new street. A sort of greatest hits of ‘Main Street, USA’. While the whole world races to keep up with technology, we tighten our laces, join the race, but our end goal is to preserve what's already there.” So far, Preserve includes a paean to the art of letter writing, a recipe for “kick ass” baby-back ribs, and a featured artisan who makes leather goods through a distressing process described as “sensual.”
At first blush this is not a predictable move for an actress best known for her role as the uberwealthy Upper East Side vixen Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl. But, if you think of Lively as part of a generation of women who turns the DIY ethos into a quest for perfection, it makes a strange sort of sense that she would take a few years off from acting to devote herself to launching such a project.
In her well-argued and timely 2013 book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, Emily Matchar notes: “In an era where free time is the ultimate luxury, time-consuming types of cooking, child rearing, and crafting speak to affluence and a wealth of choices. In the early twentieth century, a homemade quilt meant you couldn’t afford linens from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. Today it means you have the time and money to indulge an expensive hobby.”
Or, in the parlance of Lively’s website, you have the time to pursue “the handmade life” and the money to purchase a $55 “statement butcher block” made from rapidly renewable bamboo and a $198 wax jacket from a company called—in all seriousness—“Cult of Individuality.” This differs from the pricey goods offered by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website, Goop. Paltrow’s products—like a $230 simple striped T-shirt from the upscale, mainstream designer Nili Lotan—are purely luxurious, though also aspirational.
Lively’s brand of nouveau domesticity isn’t actually about a retreat to the home. It’s about appearing, in a Beyoncé-like fashion, to be a woman who has it all, and has it all on all cylinders. It’s about showing the world that you can still have your acting career (Lively stars in a new movie coming out in 2015), your hot husband (she admits to pinning photos of her smokin’ dude Ryan Reynolds to a secret Pinterest account), your home-cooked ribs, and a website that makes it all look easy and attainable.
Back in 2007, the New York Times Magazine coined a term for the pressure young women feel to be themselves, and be perfect, too: It’s being an “amazing girl.” Which is to say, effortlessly hot, smart, and successful. Lively nods at this fake effortlessness in her editor’s letter by writing, “I’m more intimidated than I should probably admit. I’m no editor, no artisan, no expert. And certainly no arbiter of what you should buy, wear, or eat.” (She was a little more honest about the intense work she’s put in when she talked to New York magazine last year. “By the time it launches, we will have developed it for two years,” Lively said. “So it’s a lot of time, energy, efforts, resources, working with amazing people.”)
Of course, Lively’s also created this site to make money. As A.J. Jacobs pointed out in the Financial Times (reprinted in Slate) a few years back, websites are relatively cheap to put up, and they allow celebrities to promote themselves every day, not just when they have movies or TV shows coming out. Jacobs also quotes a branding expert named Michael Stone, who says that not all celebrities should try to be lifestyle gurus. According to Stone, “Fame is just one aspect of building a brand. You certainly have to be famous, but you also need to find some aspect of your life that resonates with consumers.” Will Lively’s handmade perfection resonate? I don’t know—are you in the market for a statement butcher block?