The irony of these branding experiments, of course, is that they only seem to make brands more resentful of the media that host them. Inevitably, the lifestyle brands begin to ask why they need to attach themselves to someone else’s media project in the first place. Why, even after proving they can integrate into the most stylish and trendiest of magazines, should they be kept at arm’s length or, worse, branded with the word “Advertisement,” like the health warnings on packs of cigarettes? So, with lifestyle magazines looking more and more like catalogs for designers, designer catalogs have begun to look more and more like magazines: Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Harry Rosen and Diesel have all shifted to a storybook format, where characters frolic along sketchily drawn plotlines.
The merger between media and catalog reached a new high with the launch of the teen TV drama Dawson’s Creek in January of 1998. Not only did the characters all wear J. Crew clothes, not only did the windswept, nautical set make them look as if they had stepped off the pages of a J. Crew catalog, and not only did the characters spout dialogue like “He looks like he stepped out of a J. Crew catalog,” but the cast was also featured on the cover of the January J. Crew catalog. Inside the new “freestyle magalog,” the young actors are pictured in rowboats and on docks—looking as if they just stepped off the set of a Dawson’s Creek episode.