After Jane Thompson and I recorded our podcast with Debbie Millman, we exited the booth for a Q&A with Millman's students in SVA's MPS in Branding program. About the third question was the one everyone really wants to ask: where, today, can you shop like Design Research (the store, 1953-78)?
The short answer is, you can't. I've complained about how design appreciation these days seems entirely focused on shopping, and I realize my position may seem inconsistent. It's not that I think we should not buy. But we should buy things armed with knowledge. I've also described a few places where shopping is still sociable, where shopping is anything but linear. The mix of price, information and scale that happened at D/R doesn't happen in the little curated shops along Smith Street in Brooklyn or in the glacial chains of modernism. And besides, haven't all the real merchants moved online?
One student asked about Etsy, and for this I had a ready answer: Yes, I think Etsy preserves a little of the sense of discovery of D/R in its heydey, along with the color that seems drained from much mass-market apparel and housewares. (Just compare the windows at D/R to the windows at Anthropologie in the original Design Research HQ, and I think of Anthro as a colorful store.) I think the site is trying to create sociability in an online and offline environment. That they need their own Ben Thompsons to subdivide the plenty is clear: that's the point of the Treasury (I made one, featuring yellow, here) and the new Taste Test. Let's get the modernists away from the knitting as soon as possible... or that's what my run-through suggested.
I also had a ready answer for another reason: I just shopped D/R at Etsy. Acting as Guest Curator, I searched Etsy's capacious Vintage halls for the wares D/R founder Ben Thompson chose 50 years ago: Marimekko, Finel, Chemex, Iittala, Arabia, Chemex, Dansk. And I found them. So if you can't get the book (back in print in January), or looking at the book makes you wish it were still a catalog, you could do much worse than Etsy's sellers. They seem to know their goods, like the merchants Thompson admired.
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