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Italian artisan at work?
Be forewarned, though. The illusion of craft and tradition the catalog creates only persists if you don't read too many pages at once. If you break this rule, you will discover that the catalog--which upon first glance seems a pleasant exercise in subtlety, with its muted colors and simple typography--is in fact relentlessly overbearing in its effort to promote certain moods and themes. Unsuspecting readers may begin to feel a bit like a fabric tack beneath the crushing hammer of one of those "Italian artisans" to whom the catalog keeps referring.

Indeed, with the practiced efficiency of master furniture-makers, the catalog's wordsmiths expertly construct the following themes in the first six pages: handmade craftsmanship, regionalism and tradition, and to a lesser extent, uniqueness and durability. And then for the next fifty-two pages, these tenacious copy artisans hone, sand, and lacquer their themes into a masterwork of 20th century advertising. Long before one reaches the final page, it becomes clear that the catalog is not, after all, an antidote to retail homogeny, but in fact, an outstanding example of one of the discipline's blacker arts: the commodification of authenticity.

Which probably should have been apparent from the start, given the clues on the catalog's cover, but sometimes the desire for an illusion is so strong, and the illusionist so determined to make you see things his way, that you ignore that inadvertent glimpse of the wires suspending the floating assistant.

The telltale clues on the cover are these: first, a caption in small white type beneath a tower of crushed-velvet pillows that reads We have a store near you; and second, the designation of this catalog as the the Early Fall 1995 edition.