The latest edition of the J. Peterman Company catalog, Owner’s Manual No. 91, came over the transom the other day. For those of you who may not be familiar with The J. Peterman Company, it’s a retail company that sells clothing and fashion accessories primarily through catalogs and the Internet. It was launched with a travel and safari theme, featuring as its first product an original horseman’s duster.
The classic J. Peterman duster
The company expanded through offering unique lifestyle merchandise, which included reproductions of antique clothing and clothing worn in specific films (think The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Ark). The catalogs use long copy to explain the products, often recounting elaborate stories of how the catalog writer came across the product, with sprinklings of literary embellishments. Also, the products are illustrated with artwork as opposed to photographs.
"John Peterman" and Elaine
Its unique, one might say slightly pretentious air, earned it a place in the Seinfeld TV series pantheon of parodies, when, from 1995 to 1998, the show parodied the owner and the company with a catalog-company businessman named J. Peterman, played by John O’Hurley. The Company went bankrupt in 1999 after it was purchased by the Paul Harris stores. But it was resurrected by the original owner, yes, his name is John Peterman, and is once again sending its hip, literate catalogs out into our increasing illiterate society. It’s just a wonderful example of a company that has used storytelling to set apart its products.
Sure, the descriptions are silly; that’s why it became a running gag on Seinfeld. And that’s a huge part of its singular charm. Like the hand-drawn illustrations instead of actual photos. It rises above our generic, McDonald’s-on-every-strip-mall-intersection mentality. Some examples below:
The New Mrs. Peel (description theirs):
Vienna Leather Jacket
"Emma Peel launches out of a box hedge, cartwheels down the gravel path, and knocks unsuspecting John Steed flat with a karate blow from her shapely foot, then stands astride him, smiling down wryly.
Who says there was no intelligent television programming in the 1960s?
Emma showed that a woman could be powerful, even dangerous, and all the more appealing for it. Her leather jacket summed up the intriguing idea so well, it set us thinking: why not issue something updated for today’s special agent?"
Makes even the most unassuming mouse of a woman want to roar. Well done, Mr. Peterman.
And for the man in the new Mrs. Peel's life (again, description theirs):
"Parliament passes the national 20 mph speed limit, so the Auto Cycle Union (Britain’s premier motorcycle club) goes to the unrestricted Isle of Man and creates the Tourist Trophy races. The Mountain Circuit then was little more than a cart path across farm fields. They ran multiple laps, so the first rider out had to stop and open all the gates; the last one closed them. The lap record in 1922 was 55.62 mph. By 1939, it was 91 mph. Thanks in no small part to nerves of steel and jackets like this:"
1930s British Motorcycle Jacket
Do I have any idea what the above copy refers to?
But this jacket looks smokin' hot.
To find out more about me, click on the Not Your Average Jo tab.