So, we weren't entirely sure what to make of her next (borderline goop-tastic) act, delving into the e-commerce space with her new site, Preserve. Our does-she-actually-even-work-on-it fears were at least partially mollified when we learned about her cupcake-making skills. But ultimately, it took a head-first dive into the rabbit hole that is the blog on Preserve, that really won us over.
Well. That plus a chat we had with the actress-turned-entrepreneur recently. We sat down with Lively to ask all of our burning questions (although, we restrained ourselves, when it came to the topic of Rory Gilmore's wedding), and she was every inch the charming, thoughtful, passionate woman we didn't know to expect. Maybe that has something to do with all the years we spent conflating her with Serena van der Woodsen. But, we'll get to that shortly, because she has some thoughts on the matter.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so bad at editing. Have you seen how long our editorials are?”
Good point. How about this instead: What are the first three words that come to mind when you think about the site?
“When I think about Preserve, I think of family. I think of storytelling, and I think of patina.”
That storytelling piece is really interesting to me. I loved how honest your editor's letter felt. What was your writing process like?
“Well it was...writing that editor’s letter was about being honest, and being transparent, and being vulnerable. That’s a scary thing to do, especially when you know that every single world of it will go into the press and will be cross-examined. There will always be holes poked in whatever you have to say — and that’s a scary thing. But, the thing I kept going back to was: Sure, there are a lot of ways I can try to buffer this and try to make this more foolproof, but the only thing I can do without regrets is to be honest, be transparent, and be vulnerable. So, just like me, the editor’s letter is probably flawed. Which was important to me, because that’s what our site is. It’s a space where we will always be honest with our consumers."
Is that hard, opening yourself up for criticism like that?
"I’m already known for being a character that I played for six years on a TV show, and what I’ve realized is that people think that that’s me. People automatically assume that that’s my personality, because I dressed like her, I lived in New York City, I would go to fashion events. I mean, it was sort of parallel lives — I think I dated the same guy [as my character did] for half the time, too.
"And, I was talking to my husband the other night and I said, 'Why is it that Jason Bateman can get away with being dry and acerbic and funny, and people know he’s joking. But, when I try to do that, people think I’m an asshole. Like, why can’t I pull off that delivery?' And, he was like, 'It’s because people know to expect that of him, so that when he says something, they know he’s joking and they joined him on that journey.' He said, 'With you, they don’t know that.'
"And, I’m finding that, even with my writing on the site. This is the way I write, this is the way I read, this is the way I engage. But, people who don’t know me are taking it a little more literally. So, that’s been a little bit of a learning curve, to say, 'Oh wait, people don’t actually know me. They think they know me really well, but they don't. Which is why we’re trying to bring in some writers that poke fun at that idea. I don’t know if you saw the story we put up yesterday, but if you do a little bit of research on the pen name, you’ll discover that we had a pretty fun writer.”
The flower beard story?
"Yeah, the flower beard. Look up the author's name."
That byline did catch my eye. [Ed Note: Hi, David Cross!]
“It’s a nice little Easter egg. And, we’re trying to do a little more of that. What I live for is This American Life. My favorite thing to do is to get in a car and turn on This American Life. When I engage with the written word, I want to feel like I feel when I listen to This American Life. That is the highest aspiration I can possibly have. That, and The New Yorker — you know, completely unattainable, but I hope that one day I’ll figure out how to have one small piece of that in the Preserve world.”
“There’s a timelessness to it. I use the word patina. There’s a very patina quality to it. Very timeless, or rustic, or handmade imperfect. And, that’s something I grew up around. People come to my apartment, or to my parent’s home, and say, 'Oh, that makes perfect sense.'
"I immediately knew what I wanted it to look like. And, there was a lot of pushback on that. There’s a reason why all e-commerce sites are white, or why all editorial sites are white. Because it’s more inviting. But, I think that black is moody, and it’s sexier, and it’s more emotional. So, that was something that was not advised, but it was something that I felt very strongly about, because I wanted my site to be a space where I would want to go, where I would want to spend hours getting lost."
Was the black background the only place where you didn't take your advisors' suggestions?
"No. I mean, even if you look at these beautiful models, we didn't do retouching. We kept them very pure and beautiful — and good God, are they perfect-looking. It’s not like they need retouching. But, people complain, 'Well, the skin! Do you not want to…' and I’m like, 'What’s wrong with their skin? It’s beautiful. It's perfect.' So, it’s important to us to show both beauty and what some may consider imperfections.”
What about the good advice? As someone who’s launching a business for herself, what’s the best lesson that you've learned on the job?
“Well, there’s so much I’ve learned. I’ve been so lucky to have people in my life who are entrepreneurs themselves. They’ve been so generous. Talking to the people I’ve spoken with, I don’t know why they’ll spend an hour and a half on the phone with me when they’re running $200 million companies, but they’re people who started businesses young, and they fought with their blood, sweat, and tears. And, they said, 'You know what, there are few people that were really generous to me, and I need to pay it forward. I will give you all my time, and any advice you need, you call me.' I never experienced anything like that before. You think that startups would be very competitive with each other, but it’s amazing what a welcoming community the community of entrepreneurs is.
"But, the biggest thing is something that I learned from a great director — advice he had been given by another great director. He said, 'The most incredible director said to me, Your movie will speak to you. Listen to it.' And, I really see it. The directors who go in knowing exactly what they want, and they have every shot in their head, and have every moment of every performance in their head, and they know exactly how it has to be, and they’re beating every department down to get it exactly as they envisioned it — their movie never turns out as well. Not like the directors who have it all planned, but then let everybody that’s around them, that have been hired and are talented, contribute. They let the movie speak to them, and change, and evolve, and grow. And, I think that applies to this company as well. I have very specific ideas. But, really listening to it, and listening to our audience, and listening to our consumers, and listening to my teammates has been the most rewarding part, because that's how we grow. We can be open to the fact that we don’t know everything we think we know."
Finally, you (and Preserve!) just joined Instagram recently. How are you liking it?
“I’ve never been on social media before. But, I found it very intimidating because I looked at friends’ Instagrams, and I’ll find people I think are really cool or inspiring, like the guy we had yesterday who we used the for the flower beard story. His Instagram is amazing. It’s like an issue of Kinfolk. I love that, and I think it’s so inspiring. But, I’m so intimidated by it. You put on a picture, then you say something to everyone. So, I’ve been dazed thinking of what I’m going to say, and I think: This is not supposed how it’s supposed to work. I’m supposed to be a little more fluid. Hopefully I become less intimidated soon, but it seems like so much pressure.”