Let it be known: For all of the inevitable snark that follows her every move, Blake Lively—yes, she of the should-be-insured-if-it’s-not-already golden mane, enviable physique, and increasingly serious acting roles—is a much savvier businesswoman than anyone would like to think. And that “like to think” comes into play here, when what we are dealing with is the increasingly boundaryless space between social media, Internet forums, online tabloids, and other forms of quick-fire hot takes. (So, the Wild West, basically, only far more anonymous in nature.)
You see, last summer Lively launched her own website called Preserve, a space intended to connect users with makers (of things, of experiences, of stories), with a splashy debut heralded by no less than a Vogue cover (her third) that immediately opened up the project to the type of intense scrutiny such new ventures are typically spared until they gain their sea legs. Gleeful headlines loomed large over issues with site design, with product descriptions, with prices, all sung to a tune that goes a little something like “how dare a beautiful movie star think she could do this, too?” Lively, who admitted this past June to Time magazine that she wished she had waited at least another six months before the launch, is more than aware of that particular line of thinking.
“We have an incredible team of people who do beautiful work, but we launched the site before it was ready, and it never caught up to its original mission: It’s not making a difference in people’s lives, whether superficially or in a meaningful way,” she says, on the phone from New York. “And that’s the whole reason I started this company, not just to fluff myself, like, ‘I’m a celebrity! People will care what I have to say!’ It was so never meant to be that, and that kind of became the crutch because it was already up and already running, and it’s hard to build a brand when you’re running full steam ahead—how do you catch up?” Which is why, in an attempt to do just that, all of Preserve (from objets to home decor, accessories and clothing) is currently on a very deep and very inviting sale, to prepare for its October 9th closure, so that Lively may rebuild, rebrand, and eventually reveal—on her own timeline—what her project was always meant to be. (See? Savvy.)
“It’s very exciting and it’s also incredibly scary,” says Lively of shuttering Preserve. “I never thought I would have the bravery to actually do that, to take the site dark and to say, ‘You know what? I haven’t created something that is as true and impactful as I know it can and will be. And I’m not going to continue to chase my tail and continue to put a product out there that we, as a team, are not proud of.’” While she anticipates a certain amount of backlash—“Failure! Folly! We knew she couldn’t do this, too!”—Lively feels ready this time around. “I know what it’ll look like, what I’m facing publicly, that people are just going to have a heyday with this. But it’s so much worse to continue to put something out there—to ask my team to put something out there—that isn’t the best we can do. I’m going to take this hit, and the only way I can prove all the negative reactions wrong is to come back with a plan that will rock people. And I have that plan. And I’m so excited about it, and that’s what gave me the courage to do this, to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to give myself one more shot at this, and I really have to do it as well as I can do it this time.’ And that is the only thing that will impact people. And that’s what I’m doing. And I’m totally terrified out of my mind!” She laughs, “I’ve asked my husband to just play ‘Shake It Off’ on a loop—it feels really good to listen to it on a loop!”
When it comes to the new plan, Lively is keeping her cards close to the vest for now, though she cites research into the founding stories of the Honest Company, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among other tech triumphs (some more sympathetic than others), and the new project’s mission statement shares some of Preserve’s original ethos. “Our goal has always been to touch millennials through storytelling, and the idea is to create a shoppable lifestyle. And that’s not to say to turn everything into commerce, but to make things easier: This is a thing that I created with my own two hands and this is how you can do it, or this is something that I found on my adventures and travels and this is how you can have it. It’s about creating a level of ease for the people who identify with us. We’ve focused in so much that it’s actually very simple, it’s very clean, it’s very direct.” Will it still be called Preserve? Well, maybe not. “I love the name Preserve. But then, I never thought people would think Preserve had something to do with jam!” Lively laughs, “Like, ‘Oh, you sell jams!’ ‘No! It’s like preserving things and us and life and artisans!’ ” She sighs. “These are all of the things you don’t think of when you’re too intimate with something.”
And if the past year has had its bumps, well, consider her all-terrain-ready. According to Lively, this is how it’s going to go: “[The news will] blow up and I’ll look like a jerk and everyone will be really horrible. And then the new news will come out and I’ll look like a hero and everyone will be really nice, and then the new site will come out and half will be nice and half will be mean again. I mean, champagne problems—thank God these are the things I get to complain about.”
Fizzy as they may be, champagne problems are not without their sting. And being pilloried in the press for a new venture, as Lively well knows, is never fun. “The only time I’ve ever done something and felt real reward is when I’ve done something that’s incredibly risky, because without great risks it’s impossible to have huge success. I don’t mean financial success, I mean personal success, pride, happiness in what you’ve done. And the only times that I have felt that are the times that I have really put myself out on the line and done something that really scared me—and I know that sounds like something out of a Hallmark card, but this feels like something I really have to do,” says Lively, with what I’m coming to learn is characteristic grit. “I’ve finally summoned the strength to take on whatever anybody says because I know I’m going to come back with something stronger. I’m proud of it and I can take it, because I am a much harder critic on me than any nasty gossip rag. And that’s a good thing and a bad thing, but I just want to make myself and my family proud. And this time around, I really think I’ve done that.” Tough and savvy? Looks like the world may have been underestimating Blake Lively. We’re willing to bet you won’t make that mistake again.