Gump’s By Mail, Interiors, Autumn Preview 1999

From the front cover to the back, Gump’s By Mail’s home furnishings catalog “maintains its long-standing image,” to quote a judge, of appealing to upscale professionals who prefer elegance to trendiness. The front cover of this Silver Award winner, for instance, greets the buyer with a bold image of a black sideboard and a Q’ing Dynasty ancestral scroll, which evokes a sense of tasteful affluence.

Judges, however, weren’t pleased that the majority of items shown on the front cover are sold not on the inside front cover but rather on the back cover. “Unfortunately, it takes a lot of back-and-forth activity to connect the copy on the back with the cover illustration,” remarked one judge. That lack of user-friendliness created an off-putting first impression and disturbed the panel enough to prevent Gump’s from winning a Gold Award.

Inside, however, the book redeems itself with exceptional and exquisite product offerings that impressed the judges. The catalog’s consistency – one judge described it as “an upscale merchandise selection heavily weighted to oriental designs” – won praise as well. “It’s clear that Gump’s really knows its buyers,” said a panelist.

Although the catalog is dense with product – from meditation sofas and bamboo birdcages to red lacquer boxes and shar-pei bookends – the clean design and large photographs nonetheless capture the “elegance appropriate for the merchandise being presented,” said a panelist. What’s more, the catalog’s oversize square format makes it “a pleasure to handle,” added another judge.

As befits a catalog selling high-priced and high-quality merchandise, the detailed copy romances readers with a bit of the history behind the wares. For example, the copy for the Vintage Wedding Kimono first makes a point of educating the reader on the significance of the item: “Samurai women originated the uchikake, a long cloak-like kimono with a padded hem and train…widely adopted by Japanese brides.” Then the copy begins to sell in earnest, by noting the scarcity of the product: “We are fortunate enough to have secured a limited number of these vintage wedding kimonos, 15 to 20 years old.”

The judges agreed: Looking through the Gump’s catalog is like retreating into a world without the urgency of cell phones and beepers, where esthetics trumps expediency and elegance is paramount.

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