It’s near twilight in a little country village in Provence. The streetlamps are glowing yellow as the last rays of the sun begin to fade. Through the old stone archway you can see the lush mountainside that cradles the lovely old whitewashed homes descending the hill like stair steps. You start your journey home, pausing perhaps to pick a few wildflowers that you’ll later put in an old golden-glazed earthenware jug that you keep on the mantle.
Sounds exquisite, doesn’t it? And that’s the effect of just the cover of French Country Living’s Gold Award-winning Early Autumn 1998 Catalogue. “This image is so evocative,” one panelist says. “Anyone would open this book up.”
Once inside, the love affair with all things Gaulic continues. The opening spread highlights a collection of blue-and-yellow decorative Quimper (pronounced “cam-pair”) earthenware from Brittany and a bright yellow rush-seat banquette, among other items. The spread also welcomes shoppers with a warm letter from the catalog’s founders, Bringier and Sally McConnell. “This catalog is very appealing to customers, and at the same time it gives prospects a chance to get to know what French Country Living is all about,” one panelist says.
Judges are particularly impressed with the consistency of the merchandising throughout the book. “All the product is tastefully chosen and well directed to the specific market,” one panelist notes. “They’ve done an admirable job mixing unusual and recognizable French pieces with items that work from other locales,” another judge says, adding that the founders wisely address this mix in their opening letter – so “it adds to their selling proposition.”
A large part of the book’s appeal is its effort to educate readers about the unique French-themed furniture and housewares products offered. Editorial sidebars scattered throughout the catalog explain, for example, the significance of Quimper Faience tableware and the origins of the unique (and expensive) Laguiole folding knife. “I really like the way they establish authority with these stories,” a judge says. Product copy gets high marks as well, in that it consistently maintains the catalog’s French country theme. A magazine rack is described as “French Country chic for the periodical peruser”; a hall tree is “the kind we always hoped to find at the brocanteurs in the Marais in Paris.” “Who cares what it means?” one judge exclaims. “It’s wonderful!”