Designer collections at big box stores

I’ve seen this new business fad in home décor and fashion over the last few years; sought-after designers like Missoni and Jonathan Adler releasing budget-friendly collections at cheaper retailers like Target and JCPenney, respectively. I’ve always kind of wondered how this worked; with some like Missoni everything sold out in mere hours, so it was impossible to see how well it stood up. But with Adler, I was able to check out some pieces at my local JCP… and I was APPALLED at the quality.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not appalling on its own, necessarily. It’s about the same caliber as I would expect from other low-priced crap I’d buy at Penney’s. But I specifically examined his Elizabeth shower curtain, Alexa throw pillow, and Bleecker sofa. Let the whining begin! (Proto-whine; HOLY URLS BATMAN. JCP is not skilled at that part. It actually literally says “dotcom” as part of the link structure. Sigh. I’ll code it nicely, don’t worry. And also they code the sites so you can’t right click to download images on product pages, but if you just do so from their search results page, it’s this handy TIFF tool that allows you to set the exact dimensions and it scales up in fairly high resolution. Um, thanks guys! OK, on to the design stuff for real now.)

Exhibit A: Elizabeth reversible Greek key shower curtain, $35

Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler Elizabeth Shower Curtain, sold at JCPenney

This looks lovely, right? Classy and high-end and aaah, reversible. More things should be reversible that can be, because why the heck not. But not this, turns out. The fabric is this incredibly cheap totally sheer polyester, so the side with only a border is a completely impractical choice since the other side totally shows through even with no light source behind it. (Their web tool hid THAT nicely.) The stitching around the hems is terrible, uneven, and on a silky synthetic that frays. And the top openings for shower curtain rings aren’t grommets, they’re just cheaply cut and barely sewn buttonhole-like slits, with filaments of the polyester fabric already fraying badly on the brand-new model I unboxed to inspect. Er, sorry I didn’t fold it up as beautifully, but really, let’s just call it a service to your shoppers to warn them away from such shoddy merchandise.

The thing is, I wouldn’t even care if it were cheap quality if it were also a cheap price point. But I feel like $35 for a shower curtain that feels like it should be available for $10 at Walmart doesn’t do the Jonathan Adler brand justice, you know? A perfectionist like me looks at this, assumes he’s not all that picky about quality standards for ANYTHING he puts his name on, and dismisses the idea of buying even one of his pricey Full Brand shower curtains because I just assume it won’t meet my expectations either. Perhaps that’s snotty and unrealistic, but it’s a real account of what my Subconscious Compulsive Shopper did.

Exhibit B: Alexa Oblong Decorative Pillow, $32 original, $19.99 sale

Alexa Oblong Decorative Pillow, Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler for JCPenney

I must admit that I’m very cheap when it comes to throw pillows. I wouldn’t totally balk at the $32 price tag, but I’d be much more likely to buy it at somewhere between $10 and $20. What can I say? Blame years of Ikea shopping while broke in my 20s. But anyway. This isn’t about my weirdly cheap habits, but rather, about this pillow’s weirdly cheap construction. For you see, this is flimsy thin fabric which shows the lumpy awkward inner stuffing and label (who puts a label on the inside of a black throw pillow?) and the tape that creates the design is also cheap and poorly attached. I mean, I knew it was tape and not custom fine silk embroidery or crewel work; I get that. But the whole thing felt much less refined than the look I feel like it’s trying to create, and again, at the original price point this seemed ridiculous. At least the piping was nice enough.

This other pillow was nicer seeming, although if you inspected it too closely you saw that the machine-stitched detail around the edges of the key design didn’t always match up and revealed that the design beneath was actually just one piece of printed fabric rather than two fabrics sewn together/appliquéd, which is again the look you’re going for with this sleek elegant motif, in my opinion.

All in all, the pillows underwhelmed for the price point. Not as bad as the other items I inspected, but still nothing special up close in person. And maybe you’d argue that it doesn’t matter and it even calls itself “Decorative,” but you know what? In our household, throw pillows get used. We’re constantly piling them up as lumbar or head supports, and I don’t see that changing no matter what sofa we end up with.

Exhibit C: Blecker 80″ Sofa, $2,795 original, $1,675 sale

Bleecker 80" Sofa, Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler for JCPenney
We are indeed shopping for a new sofa (or hopefully a matching pair), but this was not a true contender. It’s way too weird and modern shaped, and even the sale price is way out of the budget for this Ikea girl. Even though I know Ikea sofas can be lame, we have our eye on some of their higher end models and anyway this was not on sale when I put my butt in it. It’s actually quite a bit cuter in person and calmer and less mod looking than I had expected, but it felt misproportioned (low to a fault) and very thin and cheap. The foam used is not high resilience at all; I don’t see it standing up to the test of time. And while I actually like the color better in person than I anticipated, the fabric feels cheaper.

It’s also a much more tonal white-on-nearly-blue than I realized, in that wide kinda mid-century tweed that cats love to claw the shit out of, and the pillows don’t match which I guess is the trend right now but I feel like if you sell pillows with a sofa, match them. These pillows are ever so slightly warmer gray, but like, not different enough to clearly contrast, like I would think they were just faded or purchased to sort of try to match but ultimately fail which is a terrible look. But I digress. The quality? Fine for a cheap sofa, perhaps even fine at the sale price point if you’re in love with the design and fabric and everything, but CERTAINLY not fine for the nearly $3k original price. You’re almost better off buying from Jonathan Adler Proper at that point, since those sofas are constructed with vastly better materials. (I know because I’ve wistfully sat on many of them.)

I don’t know. I realize I’m a huge snot, and a tester and noticer of details and tiny faults by nature, and picky by nature, and one who tends to aspire to products well out of a realistic budget. I realize I’m a conundrum of a shopper, a perfectionist who’s unwilling to pay for perfection (even though I *DO* buy all Apple tech now). But these just all felt like cheap-ass products with a luxury label and a luxury price tag, sold at a retailer whose customers are notoriously not into over-spending. I would love to hear an interview in which Jonathan Adler was asked to comment on the quality of this collection and the overall experience of launching a “budget” collection like this. As an Adler fan who’s unwilling to shell out for his main collection, and was thus SUPER STOKED for an affordable version, I feel like it cheapens and dilutes a swanky designer’s braaaaaand. And while I like to fancy myself savvier than to fall prey to brand worship, let’s be realistic: I totally do associate higher-end quality and prices with some brand I know to represent higher-end merchandise. I suspect that the amount of shopping research I do as we decorate our home would infiltrate even the most cautious, brand-disloyal of folks. (Or not. But it affects me yet I try to remain aware of it and balanced in how I make decisions.)

Quality really is hard to come by at reasonable prices. As much as I knock on Ikea, I’m liking the stuff I see in their higher-priced Stockholm collection more and more, ya know? It’s still cheap, but it’s high end cheap, where as this Adler Happy Chic collection is stuff that’s still expensive even though it’s low-end expensive, IMO. Maybe it’s just easier to brand up than down. But not always; I totally viewed L’Oréal’s attempt at a salon-caliber line of hair products as being the same cheap crap as their drugstore brand. But Ikea’s lower-end stuff has always been exceptional value overall, so maybe that’s what sways me? I’d be curious to hear other picky shoppers’ input on this if I could ever figure out how to properly re-enable blog comments, heh.