Pottery Barn Potter: Why we love and lament it

This week, retail furniture giant Pottery Barn revealed its new Harry Potter décor collection for teens (okay, let’s all snigger about that as we get out our grown-up wallets). The collection features authentically fashioned, drool-inducing items such as a Golden Snitch clock (because “time flies”), flying keys to hold your jewelry (if you trust them to stay put), an absolutely gorgeous Mirror of Erised (no word on whether it will show you holding the $400 you’ll need to purchase same) and more. Now you can go into your local Pottery Barn and purchase pillows, sheets, throws and backpacks to show your Hogwarts House pride, or even a lap desk with hidden storage (which I guess makes it worth $100?) in the stripes of your clan. Mixed in with the replica items are Hogwarts-inspired décor such as midnight blue velvet drapes, glittery gold bed skirts, vintage-chic rugs and armchairs “squashy” enough for the Gryffindor common room. Here’s a link to the collection. Clicking on it will result in either a fannish frenzy of superfluous spending or – if your financial situation is more like mine – a persistent and painful longing for stuff you can’t afford. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

I for one plan to stop in to my local Pottery Barn store as soon as possible to see these lovelies in person. Maybe I’ll even buy myself a Deathly Hallows throw pillow (it seems a less painful way to express my devotion than that tattoo I was considering). But there will inevitably be a pall over my delight in these new wonders of Potter brand licensing, because I remember when we couldn’t buy elaborate Harry Potter décor. We simply had the books, a few trinkets, and we had to make the rest ourselves.

In 2007 my friends and I threw a Harry Potter Halloween costume party which became an annual event for a while. We made a conscious choice to go high-concept with our décor, avoiding “branded” items (eg. Harry Potter napkins, cups and plates) in favor of using creative (read “cheap”) means to produce a more authentic Potter vibe. We hit the thrift shops, collecting old bottles in all shapes and sizes for our Potions classroom, purchasing stone gossamer for a dollar a yard to turn the cement walls of my basement into Hogwarts. One woodworking friend even fashioned a bar with a built-in pensieve which he tended during the festivities, keeping the bowl loaded with dry ice. Sheer black fabric with white Christmas lights beneath made tables sparkle. Soft, greenish light coming through the windows of my basement from outside made it seem as if we were under the lake in the Slytherin Common Room. And of course the menu was thoroughly committed to the theme: chocolate frogs, rock cakes (we didn’t go so far as to make them terrible, though), treacle tart, pumpkin juice (my own tea-based concoction), and a host of potions-inspired cocktails for the grown-ups (some of which you can learn to make yourself in this HogPro Potter Postcard).

Very few of our party guests showed up in officially licensed or “bagged” costumes, although at that time they were readily available. Word spread early on that the creative bar had been set high for the event. One young man came as Nagini in a snake-print body-length sheath his mother had sewn for him, complete with a flicking, forked tongue. The Fat Lady made an appearance with laurels in her hair, wearing a large box painted beautifully on the inside as her portrait background (getting through doorways was her main difficulty). We had more than one Moaning Myrtle wearing a toilet seat for a necklace and multiple cross-dressing Hermiones (what is it about Hermione that inspires this?). One guest sewed his own midnight blue velvet academic robes and hat, stuffed a pillow in his belt and came as Horace Slughorn. One woman dressed as the Golden Snitch, spray-painting herself glittery gold from head-to-toe and sticking a wire through her ponytail so it stuck out behind her, giving the impression of constant motion.

Of course, we all have our stories. There is something about Potter that turns consumers of the story into creators themselves. Beyond the enormous and growing canon of transformative works Potter has inspired, one can find amazing stories of Potter fan DIY projects, like the man who made a pensieve from scratch, full of shared memories, for his wife-to-be, or the middle-school teacher who recently transformed his classroom into Hogwarts for his wide-eyed students (the classroom is an admirable mix of brand-licensed Potter merchandise and thrift-store scores).

I suppose that’s what’s curbing my enthusiasm for Pottery Barn’s new line of magical décor; it invites the purchasing power of Potter fans over their creative power. Now if one has $400, one can simply buy the Mirror of Erised, instead of happening upon an old arched mirror reminiscent of it in a thrift shop, snatching it up, and using your imagination to bridge the gap. Now one can just buy the Golden Snitch and let it tell you the time, instead of closing your eyes, imaging yourself as the Golden Snitch and spending the time to make that vision come to life through good ideas and glitter paint.

To give Pottery Barn some credit, they do have a few DIY videos on their site, meant to help Potter fans enhance and personalize their products. The projects range from downloadable potions bottle labels (creativity not required, only printer ink) to a Martha-Stewart-esque dragon egg craft project that seems more time-consuming than authentic (you know, Martha, dragon eggs don’t really have scales…). But you have to hand it to Pottery Barn for attempting to keep the creative juices – which the Harry Potter books have always inspired – flowing, even if only in small ways.

One more (naysaying) note on these new arrivals. As the Potter books urge us to consider the perspective of the marginalized, one wonders where and under what working conditions these items were produced. A 2014 Harvard study documented over 3,200 cases of worker exploitation (think forced labor, child labor and human trafficking) by northern Indian firms who supply hand-made carpets to some of the US’s most popular retailers, including Pottery Barn. PotteryBarn.com’s “corporate responsibility” page says more about what they strive to do for their factory workers than what they actually do, and though they offer a limited line of Fair Trade items at PB, nothing in the Harry Potter line is certified as such. If it were, I might be quicker to take out my (grown-up) wallet. But just as Hermione’s club S.P.E.W. never made it into Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter movies, so Fair Trade Potter products haven’t made their way onto Pottery Barn’s shelves. Not yet, anyway.

Share your favorite pieces (or least favorite!) from the new Pottery Barn line, or any other relevant thoughts, in the comments below. As always I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@ekcstrand). Happy shopping! Or not, as the case may be…

 

 

Comments

  1. I very much enjoyed reading this, Emily, especially as it encapsulates my own thinking about the subject. And I want a S.P.E.W. button, unless they’re made with House-Elf labor.

  2. Kelly Loomis says:

    They are also coming out with a Star Wars line

  3. Emily Strand says:

    I saw that, Kelly. Though I noticed it is far more limited than the HP line. Maybe the SW aesthetic (industrial, futuristic) is further afield from Pottery Barn’s own aesthetic wheelhouse, as it were, than Harry Potter. I also noticed that the SW line seemed more geared toward boys, while HP seemed to target girls. Which I kind of don’t appreciate… :/ Am I imagining this?

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