A Lesson in Modern Culture? The Jack Wills Christmas Gift Guide 2014

My sister and I have always preferred physical catalogues compared to online shops. I like the smell and feel of the pages, my 19 year old sister enjoys drawing mustaches and glasses on the models. Like many people, we get flooded with various clothes magazines every year, but this year one caught my eye in particular. I am, of course, referring to the Jack Wills Gift Guide 2014 (Unknown author: 2014).

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(Heads up, this is going to be a very visual post and I’m armed with only my Lumia phone)

Page Three

Open the cover and the first thing you see is this:

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For those of you with normal eyesight, it says ‘This Book Belongs To’ with a gap underneath for a name. Because a dated gift guide for this season’s choice outfits will always be relevant and have a place on my bookshelf next to my dystopian classics including Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Handmaid’s Tale. I think the feminist author Atwood would particularly approve of the up-skirt underwear imagery. Actually scratch that, I don’t want to devalue this first 1,000,000,000 edition by writing my name on this. I’m no fool.

The Models

These two loveable delights are the main focus for the Jack Wills gift guide:

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Wait, I think I recognise these two from somewhere. They have that 90s awkward are-they-friends-or-brother-and-sister-or-girlfriend-boyfriend look. Oh wait, I know these two. OH MY GOD IT’S SAME DIFFERENCE FROM X FACTOR

For those of you too young or hipster to remember these guys (aka the readership of the Jack Wills Gift Catelogue 2014), Same Difference were a pop duo from 2007 who released this classic:

(FYI playing this track may help you get through this post.)

So, Same Difference are modelling nowadays. Huh.

These guys rock all the looks in this gift guide. I won’t drown you in images but here is my personal highlight:

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Where have I seen this look before…?

However, my lowlight of the Same Difference models is:

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I know the picture is blurry, but as you can see there are four items on this page. One is being modeled (i.e. the coat) and two have additional information (product name and price). The awesome gingerbread reindeer, the only product on this page (and arguably in this entire gift guide) I want to buy is neither priced nor modeled. Where can I buy/eat this?!

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Very disappointed by this.

I even hit Google in case I was mistaken and Jack Wills did stock gingerbread, that there had been a mistake when the guide had gone to print but alas all I found was this blog post:

http://http://blog.jackwills.com/biscuiteers-interview-recipe/

I don’t want to read about how they made them, or how I can make gingerbread, I want that gingerbread reindeer and I want it now! I then clicked on the link to their website, to find out where I could buy them…

http://http://www.biscuiteers.com/

Of course the company that makes them is based in ruddy London, why am I not surprised. Not just London, Notting Hill London. Even if you didn’t know this information, one look at the price they charge for their gingerbread men should be enough to guess it. This Alice-after-a-froffy-coffee (sorry, Santa) gingerbread man is £6. £6!

christmas gift card biscuit santa clause biscuiteers, cutout

On finding out this information I decided that maybe a chocolate bar would fill the reindeer shaped hole my stomach craved. It did.

Anyway, all this tangent talk of gingerbread his links me nicely to my next subject of review…

Page Design/Layout

As you have seen, no expense was spared on the models. Expense was however spared was given the job title of product page layouty stuff. The gingerbread reindeer was just one (although I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Jack Wills for teasing me so). This confuses me:

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As my old art teacher, Mr. Grover, would have said, “Needs to make more of space. C grade”. Some of these products are priced at £25. I think the logic that was used here is that if your eyesight is too poor to see these products you’re not worthy of buying these products. I know there’s only so much space on a double page, but still, there’s space there to play with. This catalogue has several double page spreads like this. The spacing and size of he products just reminds me of that one time I accidentally went into a fancy shop in St. Mawes, Cornwall. I’m relieved I took this picture quickly, I couldn’t look at this page for that long before feeling judged that I wasn’t buying something.

Something else I didn’t like was Jack Wills, the brand, verus Jack Wills, the reality. This was a real bug bear with me and I’m sure I am neither the first or last person to mention this. The JW slogan is ‘Fabulously British’ and is frequently displayed like so:

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…Yet very (and I stress very) few of their products are actually British, in the sense they’re made in Britain. In the whole of this gift guide I found two products made in Britain. A scarf and two perfumes:

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It’s good to know that Britain can produce water, rose petals and fern leaves. Stuff to really make the world sit up and realise we can produce a diverse range of products. Like I said, I’m sure this point has been raised a million and one times either in passing as people look at the ‘made in Korea’ swing tags, or in ranty letters. I won’t linger further on this point.

Fun Stuff!

I know right, because going through a gift guide and selecting what overpriced goods you want to buy loved ones can be sooooo tiring. Thank goodness Jack Wills’s put a dedicated team in charge of a fun section to relive the boredom and stress of shopping from home.

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“Colouring!! I wanna colour the worldddd!” was my first thought, until I realised I was a grown adult and haven’t had crayons since 1999.

There are some weirdly drawn images in this section, including Fred doing the reverse Alistair Darling with his dark hair and white eyebrows…

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Although watch out, it’s those creepy Uncles that are always invited around for Christmas. You know, the ones who have given themselves the name ‘Uncle’ when you pretty dam sure they aren’t related. Yep, they feature in the Jack Wills Christmas Gift Guide 2014 too!

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The wave and garish jumpers should speak for themselves.

What Have We Learnt From This Piece of Literature?

So, what can we gain from this glossy clothes catalogue? Well on the surface of it we’ve learnt that Jack Wills has models that bear a strong resemblance to former pop one-hit wonders, they don’t sell gingerbread creations, and I really would like to meet their creative department. That’s all obvious and only goes page deep. Being a History graduate I couldn’t help but read further into this guide as a reflection of modern society and culture.

Everything about this guide screams ‘childhood’ and ‘immature’. I’m sorry, it does. From the ‘this book belongs to’, to the comic modeling, through to the double page colouring-in spread. A dedicated 12 page section of the guide may be fun and lighthearted but it shows the readership of this publication.

I know what many of you will think, you’ll be thinking ‘yes, so what? Can young people not buy clothes now?’ and yes, I totally agree, they can indeed (beauty of free will). But what gets me is the level of it. These are not cheap items, Jack Wills sets itself as a semi-designer high street brand. £198 for a red coat and the £44.50 price tag on their Langthorne scarf shows that. Yet this is a publication which is being targeted at young teen/pre-teen people. Don’t believe me? Can I point out this question in their quiz…

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I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but no one over the age of 17 in the UK is a Belieber. I may also be losing it at the grand old age of 22, because I have no idea what a ‘dutty beat’ is.

Also, these stickers came with the gift guide, featuring images from hearts and arrows, to pugs and bacon:

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I’m not disputing that pugs and bacon aren’t awesome, they both are, but it’s an odd addition to a Christmas catalogue given the nature of this publication.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Jack Wills is targeting themselves at a younger age group compared to, say, Laura Ashley. But the prices aren’t cheap. Bear in mind I’m speaking as someone who was raised in the 90s and 00s where clothes shopping was limited to what Mum bought you and the only money you got was £1 a week for cleaning cars, the kitchen, living room etc. If JW are targeting themselves towards younger people I don’t understand where their money is coming from.

Maybe it shows that young people are now in possession of more money and are being exposed to fashion at a earlier age. Maybe this catalogue is just trying to be different. I just don’t get it, and I think the fact that I’m 22 adds to the confusion. Surely at my age I should get the point of this gift guide? As someone who has bought Jack Wills products in the past, surely I should be swept away with the products on display here? Why am I not getting the point? Why am I hungry when I’ve just eaten a big meal? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions?

Of course, the Jack Wills team might say that the fact they’ve had a scarccy blog post written by a nobody about their gift guide does them no harm. Even if I was a somebody in the big hipster world they probably would shrug their shoulders. Bad publicity is better than no publicity and all that. For me such an outcome would be what the young people call a ‘massive fail’, right? I stick by my guns though, this gift guide says a lot about where fashion and the high street has come from and where it’s heading. Dumbing down to get the pounds. Combined with the rise of social media, television and film and the ending of the financial recession, will we start to see more of this creep in elsewhere? Should we not only accept, but embrace it? It wouldn’t be the first, nor will it be the last time big stores chase the consumers with the money and young people have more money than ever before. How they come into such money is another debate altogether, but they must have it. Either young people have money, we’re becoming more simplistic as human beings or I’m reading far too much into this one gift guide. Don’t answer that last point too quickly.

So yeah, that was my first book review/analyis since writing my dissertation about ten months ago. It’ll probably be my last. Glad to see I haven’t lost my commentary skills in the intervening time (hah). Two posts in one week, I’m on fire in the run up to Christmas. Don’t get too excited though, I doubt very much I’ll post anything else this side of the festive season. Work is very busy and my social life is crazy at the moment (eating my weight in chocolate every night while watching Don’t Tell the Bride takes time). But I will be back in the New Year, and you will get more information about my housemates, including my mermaid housemate. Honestly, I promise it will happen!

Anyway, until then, HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A MERRY NEW YEAR ALL AND ONE!!

Did someone say they wanted a terrible Christmas joke, courtesy of Jack Wills? (Of course you did):

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What did you think of that Peter?

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