WHY DO WE LOVE/HATE ON GWYNETH PALTROW’S GOOP?
It has been 13 years since Gwyneth Paltrow launched her quasi eponymous lifestyle brand from her kitchen counter in London, as the origin story goes. It’s hard to remember life before jade eggs, vaginal steaming and candles that smell like one’s personal business. I can confidently say that a good many of my female friends follow the site and/or receive the newsletters and/or are frequent flyers on the online shop, and, yet, few will wholeheartedly admit it or embrace it. It remains for many a dirty little (but much relied upon) secret. Why is that?
There is no doubt that Goop has filled a void, one that we may not have known existed before Paltrow articulated it. Their mission as they see it is to “operate from a place of curiosity and nonjudgment…start hard conversations, crack open taboos, and look for connection and resonance everywhere we can find it. We don’t mind being the tip of the spear—in short, we go first so you don’t have to.”
Goop is compelling. If it ceased to exist, I would miss it. In comparing Goop to other celebrity lifestyle brands, Goop is much more full-bodied, thoughtful and robust. As the saying goes, she “hits different,” and Goop and Paltrow do have an indisputable X factor.
And yet Paltrow elicits the scorn of many. The British publication The Guardian loathes her, claiming one day that Goop’s “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle exploded in a reporter’s flat and another day that Paltrow is spreading dangerous misinformation in suggesting that intuitive fasting can help with the effects of Long Covid. Another reporter called her the “high priestess of the pudenda.” Seriously? Of course, we know that high-profile American women who marry sons of Britain don’t exactly get thrown a ticker tape parade by the British press. But why all the hate? It’s not at all limited to the Brits—plenty of people Stateside do a massive eye roll when Paltrow or Goop are mentioned.
Do we love-hate it because buying into Goop makes us feel basic, ringarde, unable to rely on own our tastes such that we need someone like Paltrow to show us the way? If we like it, does that make us starfuckers? Does it render us gullible or naïve? Or is it that Paltrow is so bloody arrogant that we don’t want to blatantly give her more props? For me, a story that has stuck is the one that ran in the Wall Street Journal in 2018—it’s best in Paltrow’s voice, “Forgive me if this comes out wrong, but I went to do a yoga class in L.A. recently and the 22-year-old girl behind the counter was like, ‘Have you ever done yoga before?’ And literally I turned to my friend, and I was like, ‘You have this job because I’ve done yoga before.’” A tiny bit baller but mostly ew.
My Goop Journey
For fun, I thought it would be interesting to share my Goop “journey” because just the notion of having had a Goop journey is amusing unto itself. About four years ago, a friend of mine received an invitation to lunch from a Goop employee who was launching a VIP service on behalf of the company. My friend did not know what she did to earn the outreach, other than buy a dress from one of the earliest G Label drops. For us suburban moms, the idea was an intriguing break from the soul-crushingly mundane, so I was happy to accept my friend’s generous invitation to join her for the meet up.
The Goop employee—let’s call her VIP Lady from here on out—was the most chic millennial of all times. Within minutes of settling in, she began her charm offensive. She seemed to really want to understand us. What was the rhythm of our lives? What needs of ours were not being met? How could Goop help? We, in turn, got a glimpse into young, professional life in L.A., a demo in which we had few friends. She was pithy, witty and clever. A good time was had by all.
Later that day, I received the following email:
“It was such a pleasure and so much fun meeting today. You are just bad ass mama’s [sic] that I’m thrilled are on my radar. For starters: what sizes do you wear in denim, tops, Italian and US? Let’s take the Coco out of Chanel and have more fun in Pasadena.”
This was accompanied by live links to a host of products on offer at Goop that we sort of talked about at lunch: a donabe (a Japanese cooking vessel, in case you didn’t know), moisturizer, coconut oil, bath salts, sunscreen, leather leggings and a $1500 cashmere sweater.
I never really VIP’d it up with VIP Lady, didn’t send her my sizes—in Italian or US. My friend, though, was all in because no sooner did an item appear on the site that it appeared on her—the Goop signature puff sleeved blouses, the “knits,” the platform sneakers with the ribbon ties, the bags, the baubles. Every. Thing. It was fun to observe, my friend looked amazing, and VIP Lady’s cultivation efforts were paying off (at least with one of us). I was happy to safely ride along in this sisterhood of our traveling (high-waisted, flared) pants.
The high points of my Goop journey were three successive In Goop Health summits from 2017-2019, essentially summer Saturdays filled with panels, keynotes, interactive sessions and healthy food and drink. They were a grown-up, urban, aspirational woman’s Woodstock. Imagine responsibility-free (for the day), open minded women with shared interests in self-improvement swirling and swooning all over one another. It was really pretty glorious. VIP Lady ushered us to the front of all the lines, including but not limited to a sound bath whereby I reclined in a Lazy Boy while a nose-ringed young woman rang what seemed like a little triangle common in elementary school orchestras in my ear. We foam rolled and got facials. There was delicious quinoa and poke at snack time and kombucha, matcha and cold brew by the gallons—we could have bathed in it. We got free shit—tons of it (although not really free because there was that expensive admission ticket), but, still, when you’re the one who does all the gift buying for your loved ones, it’s fun to get a literal suitcase full of swag.
VIP Lady remained a touch point, meeting up with us from time to time. At one point, she was trying to worm her way into the procurement of an anniversary gift for my friend. She asked her what was on her wish list and then spied a gold bracelet by a well-known designer that I was wearing that is a much-treasured birthday gift from my parents. “You don’t want a bracelet like Priya’s,” she said to my friend, in front of me. “It’s bougie.” The fascinating part was that ultimately the same bracelet appeared on Goop, modeled by Paltrow herself. In her monthly newsletter, VIP Lady highlighted said bracelet, asserting that it was fabulous. So is it only fabulous if Gwyneth Paltrow wears it? Herein lies the double-edged sword of Goop—it’s path breaking and provocative but also conspicuously consumptive, retail-y and, well, bougie.
Where Do We Goop From Here?
So finally to the question that has been keeping us all up at night—what does Goop stand for in a post-pandemic world? I recently received a generic survey asking for feedback on the brand. I deleted it because I believe the company feels it should go through the motions of asking what its audience thinks, but they don’t actually want to know. I once did express my disappointed feelings about a particularly poorly-executed and outrageously expensive Goop event to VIP Lady. She brushed me off, claiming she got rave reviews from everyone else and was sorry I had a “lame” time. Honest feedback…clearly not so Goopy. All this being said, I do get the sense that Team Goop is scrambling to figure out the future.
I’m hopeful that one big item of soul searching is the glaring lack of authentic diversity embodied by the brand because there’s really no dodging the fact that Goop is a temple to white women of privilege. Highlighting a handful of employees of color and Black-owned beauty brands is performative and, to use VIP Lady’s terminology, “lame.” They need to figure out where our diverse world fits into their DNA—otherwise, I could see them becoming increasingly niche and irrelevant over time.
Filling the void left by former Chief Content Officer, Elise Loehnen, who used to preside over the brainy, substantive side of the business, has to be another thing on Paltrow’s mind. A gifted writer and interviewer, Loehnen set a bar of excellence for Goop’s podcasts and content offerings. Her Instagram Lives were stand-outs during the pandemic. She was out there with her minimalist make-up, pixie haircut, her young children hanging all over her just oozing authenticity, credibility, intellect and empathy (qualities that I hope will get more air time post-covid vs. celebrity and bluster). Last October, she stepped down, and I am just venturing a guess that it may have been a case of the apprentice overshadowing the master. I am going to go on record as saying that she might be one of Goop’s most enduring legacies, and I cannot wait to see what she does next (see what she’s up to on Insta @eliseloehnen).
During the pandemic, Goop hosted two “virtual” In Goop Health summits. While I, of course, missed the electric energy of spending the day in an essentially Goopified sound stage with hundreds of others, I did enjoy both virtual summits. I tuned into whatever was of interest, did not feel price gouged, and felt that both summits reflected a grounded authenticity I have not seen come of out of Goop in a while.
What else is new on the horizon? Catering! The company is piloting Goop Kitchen, a delivery service of clean food. The mission is to “accelerate the clean food movement by proving that whole, unprocessed meals can be both satisfying and convenient,” but only if you live in Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Westwood or Beverly Hills (for readers outside of L.A., these are the toniest parts of the city, Goop’s literal and figurative sweet spot). The food does look amazing, it’s an interesting brand extension and I’m looking forward to seeing how and if they can scale this.
Gwyneth Paltrow Always Wins
One day when the Martians analyze life on earth, they will likely proclaim Goop a vital indicator of culture, a means of decoding the interests and concerns of a specific segment of society. Paltrow will be deserving of some kind of bronze statue, celebrating the sum total of her accomplishments: she is a clever, prescient woman who found a way to pivot after she became a mother and realized that she no longer wanted to spend her time on movie sets. She has built a $250 million company without any prior business experience. She has created a space for hundreds of wellness entrepreneurs to share their expertise. Nothing about this is anything other than positive.
While working on this piece, though, my mind kept harkening back to watching a particular episode of Goop’s Netflix show, The Goop Lab, which premiered in January 2020. In this particular episode, Paltrow and two colleagues try various diet plans to see who can lower their biological age the most. The episode begins with a blood test to see who is starting out the healthiest. Paltrow wins on this count. After the diets, there is another blood test—Paltrow crushes again. My nine-year-old was watching the show with me. She tilted her head sideways, scrunched up her nose and observed (in incredulity, not admiration), “Mommy, Gwyneth Paltrow always wins.” And perhaps that’s just it—despite all the compelling things Goop and Paltrow have brought us, it’s hard to completely embrace someone who always freaking wins.
Hit me with your thoughts, comments, ruminations…