Recently, Sarah Barnett, EVP and General Manager of Sundance Channel and Man Shops Globe host Keith Johnson spoke to the Television Critics Association about the new reality show. Johnson has been with the Anthropologie stores since the beginning and has brought countless treasures home from around the world for their customers.
“Keith Johnson’s unique eye for the fresh and the new takes us around the globe as we join in his adventure to tap creativity,” said Barnett. The show is “part travelogue, part treasure hunt,
part artistic quest.” She added, “As we follow Johnson’s journey to bring home amazing objects to the novel space of the Anthropologie retail chain, we (the viewers) become fascinated by Johnson’s way of looking [for items], and it opens our own eyes to a novel way of looking at the visual world around us.”
This is a unique show in that it follows an actual buyer for a popular retail store that is famous for interesting and unique items.
Traveling Around the World to Find Interesting Products
“I think my job is fairly unique in that I’m buying for a creative team back in the States who are going to reinterpret lots of things that I buy, and designs, [and I am] also buying antiques just to have in our stores as props and as things for sale. So the particular mix of what I do is, I think, pretty unique. And it affords me an opportunity to go to places around the world for different things that, if I were just an antique dealer, it would be hard to justify. But I can do so many different things because my brief is so large,” explained Johnson, who obviously enjoys his job.
“A lot of who we are as a fashion company is driven by pattern and color. And I’m sort of the eyes and ears on the ground quite a bit. I’m in some really unusual places, and I can bring back some things that maybe we can’t find so easily in the States.”
Keith Johnson described one of his great “finds.” On a trip to France he said there was a hook on the wall in his hotel room which caught his eye. “And I wound up buying that hook because that hook – just everything about it was – said France. … So I went down to the owner of the hotel, and I wound up paying some ridiculous amount of money, but we still sell that hook 15 years later because it was just everything that I wanted it to be, and I didn’t want to change it. But today our customers are so sophisticated, and they’ve been shopping with us [for awhile]. And the world has gotten smaller, and you need to surprise people. So what we do today is, I’ll take that hook or something like it, whatever it might be, send it back to the design team, and then maybe they’ll add jewelry to it or they’ll reconfigure it in a way that’s going to surprise people. People want to come into the store and be surprised and see something they haven’t seen.”
Keith Johnson Grew Up Around Unique Products
So, how does one become the major buyer for a popular chain of retail stores that carry unique items? “Well, my dad was an art dealer,” Keith Johnson explained. “I never imagined that I would do the kind of traveling that he did. But when I was a kid, he was in Europe a big part of the year. And he specialized mostly in 19th century European art, but he also had a fascination for objects and things.
“And I remember one time he sent a container-load of station clocks from Belgium. They had converted all their clocks in the railroads from wind-up to electric, and he was there when they were all cleared. It got me so excited. For me, that was just amazing. So I worked with him for quite a few years. And I’ve always had an active interest in the arts and have studied the arts. But it’s mostly hands-on. And then I had a design business where I imported things [and] designed and brought products in from overseas. So it was an easy mix for me to work for Anthropologie.”
Johnson admitted he was worried about making his job into a TV show and having cameras follow him around the world. “I felt I might look faintly ridiculous with a camera crew running and I’m going through all these flea markets and things.” But in the end it was a positive experience for him and for Sundance Channel.
As for the logistics of bringing back the treasures he finds, he confirmed that he does the legwork but there are others who take care of the handling and shipping the items back to the United States. He admits to being an “active” buyer, so the infrastructure surrounding him is top notch. “I buy an enormous amount of antiques. I think I probably import more antiques than almost anybody else.”
When asked how to get husbands or boyfriends interested in shopping with their wives or girlfriends, Keith Johnson grinned. “If you go into an Anthropologie store, you will find plenty of good books to read, plenty of very comfortable sofas to sit on. And they’re always populated by all the guys.” He smiled and stated, “There’s no way to get through it. Grin and bear it.”
Man Shops Globe airs Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on Sundance Channel.