SkyMall, a catalogue offering a range of products that became a cultural touchstone for a generation, was gravely ill on Friday afternoon, according to a bankruptcy filing.
Born in 1990, the quarterly magazine for many became synonymous with travel by aeroplane, in which it could be located in an individual’s seat-back pocket.
In the early days of its existence, SkyMall afforded travellers the opportunity to order products from kitchen appliances to chic shirts and sweaters.
But it will be for its more outré offerings that SkyMall is remembered. The wine glass holder necklace, the suitcase scooter (complete with Bluetooth speaker), the waistband stretcher – practical “life hacks” that made sense for many.
SkyMall always showed a bold reluctance to limit itself to genres, and by the mid-1990s its range of pet products were increasingly coming to the fore.
Serenity Cat Pod offered the ultimate in 1970s modernist chic. Priced at a cheekily ambitious $1,000, the pod enabled a cat to spend its evenings in spacious white surroundings while suspended 4ft above the ground and with no obvious path of entry.
The Push Pushi Dog Raincoat – strikingly ambitious for its time – featured an umbrella hood which promised to keep rain from a dog’s eyes. “Overall we are satisfied” was just one of the tributes being paid to the product on Friday.
Art and decor was a genre SkyMall mined time and again, and squirrel ornaments proved to be an enduringly popular theme. Squirrel Tree Climber Sculpture – a poly-resin rodent clad in climber’s helmet and belt – was remembered fondly by one owner on Friday.
“I purchased this for my husband, he loves it!” the purchaser, pammyman, remembered. “We think it is going to be a fun decoration that will bring a smile to people passing by.”
Squirrel Bike Messenger Statue could have easily appeared vulgar in other hands, but SkyMall’s squirrel was wearing a blue blazer and jovial expression that gave it an effortless class.
The blame for SkyMall’s demise was being laid at the feet of the internet: specifically sites like Amazon and eBay, said to offer similar products without any magazine listings whatsoever.
In recent years, SkyMall attempted to compete on the internet, setting up its own website as a supplement to its more vaunted magazine. The language of that website offered a revealing glimpse into the ailing company’s attempt to appeal to a new, younger audience. Visitors were invited to “search the coolest stuff on the planet” and reminded that in visiting SkyMall.com they were in the presence of “twenty-five years of cool stuff”.
It now seems that last, desperate gambit has failed, even if SkyMall was still asking inventors to sell their new products on its website on Friday. For those who have watched SkyMall’s decline from all-powerful aerial retail publication to internet afterthought, the language of that plea – a sad refusal to bow to brutal fate – was as inevitable as it was heartbreaking.
“Got a cool product?” SkyMall asked.
This article was written by Adam Gabbatt in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 23rd January 2015 21.56 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010