Artisanal, Reluctant Branding Pioneer, Dies at Age 474

Artisanal, a word that fought early in his career to ensure recognition of craftsmen for their important contributions to society before later being drafted into the creation of a worldwide gourmet branding glut, died Wednesday.

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Artisanal, a word that fought early in his career to ensure recognition of craftsmen for their important contributions to society before later being drafted into the creation of a worldwide gourmet branding glut, died Wednesday at his brownstone in Brooklyn overlooking a small gourmet mayonnaise store. At best estimates, he was approximately 474 years old. Cause of death is unknown at this time, but it's suspected that he simply stopped being artisanal, or, perhaps, people stopped being able to identify him as such because no one knows what that word means anymore.

He is survived by his wife, Organic, and their two small boys, Natural and Green, as well as his cousin Hipster, though the two had fallen out in the '70s and were no longer on speaking terms.

Artisanal's early beginnings are cloaked in mystery, with even those who knew him best heard to say that they hardly knew him at all. He was, to be sure, an enigmatic character. He claimed to have been born in a small Tuscan village in 1538, but it was widely understood that Artisanal was a compulsive liar, about his age and almost everything else. (He wore a toupée.) Whether his many commingled lies and half truths existed to support his own vanity and quest for perpetual youth or simply to mess with people remains a matter for the historians of the ages to tackle. Some said he was a clinical sociopath, but at the same time, he was infinitely pleasant to be around, particularly one-on-one. He was also a skilled chef, despite the lack of any classical training: His pickled goods and relishes were among his most lauded dishes; his deviled eggs were not to be scoffed at, either.

Artisanal's mother died in his birth; his father, Artisan, was a hardworking craftsman who could avail little to his son in terms of the nurturing the young boy required, as he was utterly devoted to his trade. So Artisanal grew up as a child of the village, taken in in turns by whomever was kind enough to spare a cookie or a cup of fresh ground free-trade coffee, a slug of wine or a piece of cheese. Back in those days, it was said that simply by holding an apple in his hand Artisanal could change it: It would be brighter, more incandescent; it would smell more fragrant, its texture crisper, and have a renewed intensity of flavor. In later years, he'd give back to the village that brought him up, loaning his name to any and all of their endeavors, from food products to decorative items to clothing to alcoholic beverages to furniture to restaurants and entire food events.

He was a mercurial character; vain at best, snobbish and cruel at worst. Yet he was charismatic, drawing nouns to him like moths to a handcrafted soy candle's flame. Everyone wanted a piece of him. And despite his flaws, he was generous, willing to give of himself as well. His generosity led to complications, including numerous lawsuits from words who claimed he'd sired them and therefore owed them a cut of his significant lifetime earnings. Among them, Cheese, Beer, Blown Glass, and Chocolate won paternity suits which made them rich many times over. But none were as rich as their old man, who became as known for his opulence and luxe living as he was famous for his many reinventions of self over the hundreds of years of his existence. Some dubbed him "The Artisanal Madonna."
Criticism followed him, however. Many said that he'd sold out, and it's certain that in his most recent years, Artisanal had become confused. He stopped remembering who he was. He sold his visage to the highest bidders, from Domino's Pizza to Dunkin' Donuts to Tostitos, a chip he admitted in private company never to have even tasted. Media criticism ensued, calling him debased and meaningless, listing his many liaisons with individuals of a lesser class, discussing how he'd "jumped the shark," an expression he despised for its own meaninglessness, and because he disliked sharks in general. He put on a brave face, but family members say that he began to spend a lot of time alone, locked away in dark, windowless rooms with inexplicable Venetian blinds, listening to music on vinyl and sipping small-batch spirits, the fingers of one hand atop the keys of a vintage typewriter, though he never wrote a word.
A particularly gruesome co-opting of his name that close friends feel led to his imminent decline was a May 25 New York Times piece by Julia Chaplin entitled "Yes, Even Fashionistas Have to Eat," in which his name a was used thusly, without his consent:

THE artist John Currin was mid-speech at the Art Production Fund gala last month when platters of roasted Norwich Meadows Farm heirloom carrots and barbecued Piedmontese beef brisket suddenly appeared from behind a white wall, carried by a brigade of artisanally handsome L-train-esque waiters.

It is said that after reading those words, Artisanal threw his arms to the sky and asked the heavens "What does that even mean!?" His New York Times (he read it only in print, of course) fell to the Italianate tile of his perfectly curated kitchen, where family members have allowed it to lie in respect for their now departed pater familas, and he stumbled into his bedroom, where he lay his weary head upon heirloom eiderdown pillows and covered his feet in a cashmere throw made by nuns in the Appalachian hills and wept with gusto for 7.5 hours. Then he slept, and when he woke, says Organic, he was not the same word. His artisanal spirit had been artisanally depleted. He was alive, but just barely.

The decline was swift. Over Memorial Day weekend, while fireworks and hot dogs and hamburgers and homespun lemonades and par-baked breads and fresh-popped free-range kernels dipped in bathtub-brewed caramel sauce, all of which bore his name in hand-lettered packaging, were being proffered amongst his friends, he closed his eyes, and he did not open them again, though his chest continued to rise and fall for some days. On Wednesday morning, his estate reported, he had descended to the great Merriam-Webster in the sky, his place cemented in the dictionaries of our lives.

"His beginnings were so promising," said one friend who spoke to The Atlantic Wire on the condition of anonymity. "His influence widespread, his impact undeniable. Yet by the end, Artisanal had been reduced to a mumbling heap, hopelessly misunderstood, and in no small amount of pain for his epic decline into meaninglessness. His death was a blessing, really." The friend paused, his tears glistening glossily as if molded by hands from the beyond, hands more agile than his own. Holding back a sob, he continued: "He couldn't even look at himself anymore, you know? His eyes...his eyes were the one thing he could never make artisanal."

Image via Shutterstock by Nailia Schwarz.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.