When all else fails, confuse your clients?

What does women’s clothing have to do with architectural practice?

Talbots or J Crew? Which is which?

We do crazy things when we are scared. Crazy things like confuse our clients and customers. Talbots, the venerable purveyor of all things upper crust in women’s clothing has just published a catalogue that is a nearly perfect clone of J Crew. I can only assume that the recession and quarter after quarter of bad news  has made the bean counters at Talbots Japanese parent company Aeon Ltd. insane. “Sales are down. Do something. ANYTHING!”  Apparently this includes abandoning one of the most distinctive and carefully crafted brands in the industry and ripping off one of the current darlings of the industry.

Used to be when you saw a red door on a clothing store; you knew it was Talbots and you knew exactly what was inside. There is no red door anywhere to be found in the June 2010 catalog. Even worse, the words don’t match the images.  All the visual imagery is funky, yet Trudy Sullivan (whoever that is) has written what looks like a preface inside the front cover that begins with the word “classic” and then goes on to compare Talbots clothing to classics like War and Peace by Dostoevsky.  The ‘old book’ metaphor is everywhere. Yet the pages that follow are filled with attractive clothing on models more likely to be reading Summer Sisters by Judy Blume and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Even more interesting,  the model on the cover is reading (or merely holding) a book entitled The Importance of Being Charming. Incredible!

As architects this is an easy time to be scared. Terrified. If you think the answer is to become a clone of another firm that appears to be more successful, you will fail. When it is so hard to stand out, why confuse your clients and pretend to be just like someone else? There is a word for what we are when we appear to be like everyone else: commodity. What got Talbots into desperate straits began when they moved beyond the niche market they owned and tried to be all things to all people (ie: men and children). This is just the most recent silly adventure.

There really is something special and unique about you. If architecture is your calling, there is something special and unique about your practice. Stick with it. Rediscover your passion and go for it. If who you really are is not a match for architectural practice, there is no better time than now to recognize that and move on to what really brings you alive.