When Wallpaper* magazine first came out four years ago, its tag line was the stuff that surrounds you. It was a sleek consumer guide for the generation of disaffected, trust-funded, world-traveling retro-hipsters Douglas Coupland invented a few years before. Editor Tyler Brûlé draped wondrously lithe models over someone’s groovy, socialist-leaning great-aunt’s cast-off Eames furniture, creating a compelling mishmash of decadence, irony, and utopia that’s become a monthly lifestyle encyclopedia. It’s also become a knee-jerk period style. Nobody thought the magazine itself would end up surrounding us, but that’s just what has happened – much to the regret of Manhattan’s design professionals.
“I’m so sick of looking at that stuff, but clients demand it,” says one architect of Wallpaper*-approved mid-century modern furniture. “They want anything from Knoll – like, anything. Everyone and their brother has to have one of those Arne Jacobsen egg chairs. They want the Noguchi coffee table. They want that Bertoia wire chair.” Architect James Sanders says he has a moma book that was signed by the furniture designer Charles Eames, “and people treat it like it’s this totemic object. Fifteen years ago, they wouldn’t even know who he was. His stuff was supposed to be cheap.”
“It’s almost like The Stepford Wives,” grouses one interior designer who asks not to be named in case Wallpaper* wants to shoot something she’s done. “It’s become a universal-brainwashing kind of thing.” That’s just fine with Time Inc., which bought Wallpaper* in 1997. It may not be O, but “it’s reasonably profitable earlier than expected,” says one executive.
Clarissa Richardson of the architecture firm UT credits the magazine with “to a certain degree the popularization of design.” “They completely blurred the line between the idea of fashion and architecture,” says architect Joel Sanders, who once created a bathroom for the magazine and heads the Parsons architecture program. “Now people say things look ‘very Wallpaper*.’ “
“Their style hasn’t changed since they started it,” says Richardson. That could be the problem for the architects, but it’s good news for the stores the magazine plugs. “A lot of people go looking for things that are in Wallpaper*,” says Annalisa Biasiotto of Cappellini Modern Age, a store on Wooster Street that has quietly been selling this kind of stuff since 1980 but in the past couple of years has had to hire more help to accommodate the Wallpaper* rush. What used to be connoisseurship has become instant with-it-ness for Manhattan’s loft-dwelling classes. Even the stores see the irony: “One of our designers was walking around the store and he watched this guy come in with the Gucci glasses and sneakers and whatever pants were fashionable at the moment, and he said, ‘That’s so Wallpaper*,’ ” says Biasiotto. “Then he turned around to the store and said, ’That’s so Wallpaper*!’ ”