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The commodification of authenticity is an increasingly important marketing strategy.
The retail homogenists have become such superb practitioners of their art, it is now possible to go to any mall in any city in America, and have no idea where you are. In these hermetic hamster mazes of consumerism, tradition and geography are assimilated into timeless, placeless, profit-proven corporate species: The Gap, Starbucks, CompUSA, The Good Guys; on occasion, a trace of regional identity--the Monterey Pasta Company, example--is retained for marketing purposes.

Such homogenization, of course, significantly benefits shoppers. Successful retail operations evolve into chains because they raise standards of quality, providing better products and service than their disorganized, poorly funded, visionless competitors. And yet, for some malcontents, there persists a tiny yearning in the heart for a return to the mom-and-pop shop past, that time of rugged retail individualism that existed before the chain-builders began to realize their dreams.

Forget convenience, they think. Forget economy and reliability and well-designed counter space. They want authenticity and tradition. They want craftsmanship.

If you sometimes find yourself afflicted with such desires, take heart; there is an antidote...

The Pottery Barn catalog.

The Early Fall 1995 issue is particularly therapeutic. Every page offers ample solace to the nostalgia-ridden consumer seeking tradition and craftsmanship. Because in the Pottery World universe, a piece of furniture is never simply a piece of furniture. Not by a long shot. By means of the copywriter's alchemy, even the humblest chair becomes an evocation of the past, a totem of authenticity. Candleholders are "reminiscent of lighting found in ancient castles." An adjustable lamp is "based on an age-old design." (The bulb and the extension cord, I assume, are recent additions.) Knives and forks recall "an era when everyday art was rendered by the village blacksmith."