(All Photos by UnBeige except below portrait by Sara Jaye Weiss)
When we asked Keith Johnson to describe in a word the new TV series that follows him around the world as he seeks new items for specialty retailer Anthropologie, he didn’t have to think for very long. “Experiential,” he replied, surrounded by the eclectic mix of furniture, decorative objects, clothing, books, and accessories that makes Anthropologie’s Rockefeller Center outpost resemble the cavernous—and skillfully merchandised—attic of your impossibly well traveled Great-Aunt Talitha.
“My passion is finding things,” said Johnson, “shopping and unearthing those hidden items.” As buyer-at-large for Anthropologie (owned by Urban Outfitters), Johnson travels six months of the year to help keep the brand’s 123 retail shops stocked with an evolving assortment of stuff geared to delight the fashionable, educated, and creative woman, aged 30 to 45. His experiences—from scouring Parisian flea markets and London antique fairs to visiting roadside workshops in South Africa and the studio of Tunisia’s leading designer of prayer mats—are the subject of Man Shops Globe, which premieres tonight on the Sundance Channel. The eight-part series, produced by World of Wonder, tracks Johnson’s acquisitive adventures on multiple continents: think The Amazing Race meets Antiques Roadshow.
The fun begins in France, where in tonight’s episode Johnson is on the hunt for “really splashy” store furniture. Will he be priced out of the Paris flea market? Can he triumph in the face of fierce dealer competition in Provence? Tune in to find out. As for what makes something a must-have for Johnson, novelty is key, even when antiques are concerned. “We are all about surprising ourselves, because that’s the best way to surprise the customer,” Johnson told us. “As people helping to create the product, we’ve got to be playful.”
While the look of Anthropologie is constantly changing—one season enamored with the Italian Riviera and postcard prints, the next fascinated by chunky knits and kilims—the store’s design aesthetic is consistently “hands-on,” explained Johnson. “It comes from a thousand points of view and we don’t say ‘no’ to anything. It’s much more about passion than about specific design aesthetics.”