There was a time, before social media, when selling unusual, interesting, or extraordinarily affordable products was teleshopping. It was recently the page @whoopsee.it to recall that television world which, in Italy, was populated by by now legendary characters such as Roberto “Baffo” Da Crema, Jill Cooper, Giorgio Mastrota, Sergio Baracco and the legendary Chef Tony who in his television studio sliced any thinkable object with his Miracle Blades. Teleshopping in Italy persuaded the generation of grandparents to go shopping, who bought paintings, pots and mattresses with joyous abandon; but they were a kind of caravan of wonders for their grandchildren who tracked down the infinite episodes in the secondary channels of the programming, discovering from time to time tools such as the Rosticcere, the miraculous Tesmed, multifunction blenders, the Day & Night slimming pills, devices such as Fast Clean which cleaned the pipes with compressed air, jewels and Persian carpets and so on and so forth. It was more than the products that conquered telesellers: people of the people, screaming salesmen, colorful actors who climbed onto the tables, promised the moon, uttered sentences so crazy that they became memes. On closer inspection, in fact, teleshopping around the world is similar: the low quality of the video, the superimposed writings full of numbers and slogans in large letters, the table on which the merchandise is arranged du jour and of course the salesman’s persuasive and theatrical presence. A kitsch and completely over the top world that not only received endless parodies a decade ago (from Veronika by Lucia Ocone to Fichi d’India and Guzzanti) but which, twenty years later, Millennial designers co-optedbasting a parody of the very set and elitist fashion marketing.
The most recent fashion brand to embrace complete teleshopping care has been Stella McCartney, whose founder and creative director teased her hair to the max, donned goggles and tiger fur, and hyped up her shoes and purses. Also recently she has fallen to Jacquemus push her Chiquitos by transforming supermodel Mica Argañaraz into a saleswoman wearing a tie and dressed in hot pink. The real master of this art is though Telfar Clemens, who has transcended the very idea of parody with his Telfar TV, transforming social media marketing into a kind of big show in continuous flow mixing TikTok videos, choreography, guest starring members of the queer community and authentic appearances by Telfar on Fox TV creating an intensified, hyper-expressive and communal reality that has also become one of Telfar’s signature styles over the years. Also Gucci exploited the format of the television commercial in Christmas 2021, for Gucci Beauty, but creating a kind of Christmas special adjacent to but not superimposable with the actual teleshopping. Before all of them, however, he had arrived Jonathan Anderson who promoted the collection of handbags for the SS19 season with JWA-TV, a fake program in which three ladies covered in loads of make-up promoted the products with that same theatrical verve.
Even if it would be impossible to define this parodistic/advertising format as a real narrative current or a trend, it is worth noting how the plot of teleshopping periodically returns in the marketing campaigns of the brands, always remaining identical to itself. Oddly enough, teleshopping, kept safe in the sanctuary of regional TV channels, hasn’t evolved over the years: even today Mondial Casa sells sets of pots and the image girls of Eminflex caress the slats of the double beds in white negligé. Today as then the products sold are the most diverse, from duvet covers to works of art, from emerald necklaces to blenders, passing through beauty products, air conditioners, Japanese antiques, gym equipment, lawnmowers, mobility scooters for the elderly and so on and so forth. In recent times the format has been updated with mixed success, passing from television screen merchants to the online mega markets of Amazon and AliExpress, to influencers and YouTubers but above all to TikTok creators, which thanks to the new (and controversial) function of live shopping can make people buy products during their live broadcasts – a format that apparently hasn’t taken root well in the West but is very strong in China. However, it is clear that the myth of teleshopping, which is also not devoid of shadows, the greatest of which is that of Wanna Marchiit’s less about the quality of the products sold and more about the surreal, bizarre narrative style adopted, whether it’s the “Italian-style” teleshopping, with the barker haranguing the crowds by shouting and monologuing like an acrobat, or the “all’ Americana” instead smiling presenters like robots, black and white demonstration videos that contrast with the bright colors of the studio and a tendency to test products sold in the strangest ways, such as Chef Tonywho obviously wasn’t a real chef, and who with his Miracle Blades started by slicing tomatoes and bread and ended up cutting wire mesh, work boots and the cutting board itself.
Yet it is still true that in the minds of the majority of the population (we speak on behalf of the Italian one) the word “teleshopping” is synonymous with “scam” – a more or less famous case was the collapse of the Genoese D’Anna dynasty in 2016 who, after arrests, kidnappings, canceled trials and an enormous number of preliminary hearings, returned to selling on television as if nothing had happened. In short, there is an abyss between the real clientele of fashion and that of teleshopping, but then why does fashion continue to celebrate their inexorable bad taste? On the one hand we could hypothesize a a sort of fetishization of the middle-lower social class, transforming marketing aimed at middle-lower social classes into a light-hearted parody of luxury for the sake of variety and irony; on the other hand we could read in the rediscovery of the teleshopping format, in the slightly corrupted pleasure that derives from their patent, almost ostentatious vulgarity, a vein of nostalgia for a more spontaneous way of communicating, one-on-one and less filtered than what we live today. With their sweaty, screaming reality, teleshopping reminds us of a time when marketing was perhaps less subtle but also infinitely more volcanic, human and fun than any pre-packaged dessert the big brands present to us today.