Trendsetting in 2011: Our Interview with the Urban Outfitters buyer

As the Book, Stationery, and Music buyer for Urban Outfitters, Jeff B. is the tastemaker for all things hipster and cool. Wanting to kick off 2011 in style, I went straight to the source to find out what products, both at home and at work, he has been coveting lately.

JJ: What were the best presents under your Christmas tree this year?
Jeff: Every year I ask for a bunch of Criterion Collection DVD’s. This year I was given “Wings of Desire,” and a few Jean-Luc Godard films. I was also given “Science Is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé.” It is a 3 disc set of science films from the early 1900’s, narrated in French. Yo La Tengo created new music for eight of the films. The Criterion DVD’s are expensive, but they are worth it. Just the graphic design makes them worth the price. I can’t stop looking at the box for Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie.” I haven’t even watched it yet. I just keep looking at the box and the booklet! I was also given some vinyl records. Ambient music. That was especially sweet because someone picked them for me, and I hadn’t heard of any of them. Vinyl records are my obsession right now, both personally and professionally (we sell them in our stores).

JJ: What products knocked your socks off in 2010? Is there anything that you loved but didn’t buy because it wasn’t quite right for the Urban customer?
Jeff: “Portraits of the Mind” by Carl E. Schoonover. That book is really fascinating. It describes different ways of studying the brain, and is illustrated with the most amazing images. It is worth looking at, even if you aren’t into science books. And there are always products that I love that aren’t right for our assortment. I like expensive art books, and there are always great ones being published that I cannot afford. My tastes run the gamut, so not everything I like can translate into a buy for our stores. I have to try and get to museums and galleries more often. Maybe that can be one of my personal focuses for 2011.

JJ: What book has made you laugh the hardest? (It’s ok if it’s not a Chronicle book)
Jeff: I thought that Judah Friedlander’s book “How To Beat Up Anybody” was ridiculous, and hilarious. I don’t know why, but I think that book is absolutely hysterical. Runners up were The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex by Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist, and “Understand Rap” by William Buckholz.

JJ: What artists are you really into right now? (fine artist, illustrator, musician, etc)
Jeff: Oh wow. That question is hard. For me, it changes daily. I will say this – I loved Patti Smith’s memoir of her early years with Robert Mapplethorpe, “Just Kids.” And I love her music, her style, her attitude… everything. And, lately, I have been looking at the paintings of Agnes Martin. She was a minimalist painter. Her writings are good too. I also like Liz Harris, who makes music under the name Grouper. She has a limited edition book/DVD out as well.

Painting by Agnes Martin

Liz Harris

JJ: What trends in books or other products do you foresee sweeping the nation in 2011?
Jeff: You know the phrase “if I told you that then I would have to kill you”? I can tell you this… I hope that people continue to buy real books. I think digital downloads have their place, but I hope people continue to collect the “real” thing. I am excited to see where the e-readers and the iPad bring us, as far as printed media is concerned. But I think, at this point, it is too confusing, and not where it needs to be yet. There is a lot to be worked out, from a technological standpoint.

JJ: What’s your favorite Chronicle book?
Jeff: Chronicle is consistently good. My personal favorites, of all time, are I Will Never Forget You: Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray, and Elliott Smith by Autumn de Wilde.

Thank you, Jeff, for giving us a peek into your top-secret, ultra-trendy world of books and music!

J.J. Seaman
Sales Associate, Special Markets


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