Dept. of Hollow Pronouncements

“Everyone has the right to have great stuff.”

– John Remington, VP-Marketing, Target

Now at Colette: Gap ads?

Also last week, I was sent the most recent Colette newsletter. I was surprised at the lead item:

“Individuals” – Portraits from the Gap Collection, until October 28th, 2006. A visual exploration spanning the history of GAP advertising campaigns … Limited-edition + numbered copies of the book «Individuals – Portraits from the Gap Collection» are available on the colette eshop in a special luxe, limited-edition format exclusively presented in a denim bag…

Colette is one of the most aura-fied retailers in the world, one of these places that’s always being compared to an art gallery, selling the latest cutting-edge, trend-forward whatever. Past actual art shows there have included exhibitions of work by people like Ed Templeton or Mike Giant.
So why are they flogging Gap ad pictures? Gussied up as “Portraits from the Gap Collection,” no less. Maybe other people are more impressed than I am that the photographers include Annie Leibowitz and Herb Ritts. Not exactly cutting-edge people at this point. Maybe the whole thing is elaborate joke (calling a catalog of Gap ads “Individuals” is sort of funny, given the Gap’s years of success at selling what amount to uniforms).

Or, perhaps, Colette is pointing the way to the edgiest new trend of all: an embrace of mass brands.

Q&A: Neek

At some point during the reporting of the Brand Underground story, I was introduced to Neek, a high school student who was into The Hundreds, and was also kind of a figure on the NikeTalk message boards. Not long after that, in fact, his notoriety on NikeTalk culminated in someone making a Neek T-shirt. (That’s it at left; the style is an echo of Supreme, of course.) Apart from being another reason that NikeTalk kind of freaks me out, I thought this development was fascinating: Neek had basically become famous by way of his fandom, to the point that he’d made some strange transition from consumer to brand. Of course when I say “famous,” it only applies in the sense of 21st Century microfame of a super-fragmented culture. But still.

Anyway, Neek ended up not being part of the Brand Underground piece, but he’s certainly an interesting manifestation of that culture, and we kept in touch. Lately he’s gotten involved with a project called Fruition — another step on the road to converting his lifestyle into a way to make a living — and I decided it would be worth a Q&A. So here it is.

Let’s start with the very straightforward background stuff about where you live and how you ended up there and so on — including where the name “Neek” comes from, if you please.

Yeah. I live in Vegas and I just graduated high school actually. I am 17 years old, turning 18 next month. I ended up in Vegas because my parents wanted to move away from the hustle and bustle in New York City. They wanted a more slow-paced life. So that is why I am here.

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Branching Out

In Consumed: Umpqua Bank: Selling a financial institution as a lifestyle brand.

Ours is the age of lifestyle. From clothes to coffee to cookware, every product or service seems to represent not just function but a statement about who we are and how we live. So the fact that Umpqua Bank, a chain based Portland, Ore., recently announced that it had “released its first album” makes a certain kind of sense. Umpqua isn’t just a financial institution, of course. It’s a lifestyle….

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site via this no-registration-required link.

Additional links: Umpqua; Rumblefish.

(More) On Target

The other day I noted Target’s couture line, which is not actually available at Target. Since then, there have been a couple of interesting bits of news about America’s trendiest big-box retailer.

Notcot recounts a visit to the Target pop-up store on Melrose and La Cienega. What’s on sale there, through the end of August, is the current round of a Target series called “Go International,” which is basically collaborations with cool (or whatever) fashion designers. This time it’s Paul & Joe, a brand you can learn about at Target’s site, if you want to. Of the store/collection, Notcot says: “It is VERY impressive in presentation and packaging AND the collection was as cheap as they claim, and better quality than i expected.”

Meanwhile, Giant Robot publisher and co-editor Eric Nakamura, on his new-ish blog, offers up some pictures of items in Target’s new “‘alternative’ indie type of line, called Independent Studies.” Evan Hecox notebooks and Deanne Cheuk plates are included. Some of the stuff in this line is apparently limited edition, according to Nakmura, who adds: “While you’re at Target, get an Icee. They’re still pretty good.”

Getting Out of the Office

Several weeks ago, after reading an item in Ad Age a few about American Apparel having its own island store in Second Life, I decided I had to check it out. “Second Life,” Ad Age explained, “is one of several virtual online worlds where trendsetters are flocking to exchange ideas, egos, and virtual property using IM-equipped ‘avatars,’ or highly customized 3D representations of themselves.” At left is my avatar (avatard? do people say that? is it offensive?) self: Murk Story. Since my readership here is dominated by people I’ve met, who thus know what I look like in real life, I won’t dwell on similarities and differences. I’ll admit, however, that I wanted my avatar’s aesthetic to match that of this site.)

I really am out of the office for the rest of this week, but before I disappear for a few days, I thought I’d post this dispatch from my experience getting out of the office, while I was still in the office….
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Convenience Cult?

This week in Consumed: Wawa: A low-glamour business enjoys surprising fandom. Maybe it’s the service.

The I Love Wawa group on MySpace.com has more than 5,000 members, making it the largest of several Wawa-related groups on the online-community site. Over on Livejournal.com, there’s a group called We Love Wawa, with about 950 members. This would be pretty ho-hum if Wawa were an indie band or video game. Instead, it’s a chain of convenience stores, with 550 locations in five states on the East Coast. Many of the postings to these groups involve praise for Wawa’s house-brand goods — coffee, hoagies, etc. But the most intriguing factor in Wawa loyalty may be something else: the service.

Continue reading at the New York Times Magazine site via this no-registration required link.

Additional links: I Love Wawa Myspace group; We Love Wawa’s LiveJournal; Wawa pool on Flickr.

Touring Wal-Mart

In the latter half of the 1990s, we lived in the West Village in Manhattan. Somewhere during that time I had this idea of starting a Gentrification Walking Tour. It would be just like any of the other many, many walking tours of “historic New York,” but instead of visiting and pointing out the building where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin (that’s a joke), this tour would visit the various Starbucks and McDonalds and other chain locations of the Village. A very loud tour leader, who I envisioned an overweight man with a beard, a straw hat, shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and a fanny pack, would barge into these retail spaces and start bellowing to the members of the walking tour about what this or that space used to be, until it was taken over in whatever year by whatever chain occupied the space now.

Consistent with most of my schemes, this one never got farther than me talking about in bars. Toward the end of the 1990s, we moved, and that was that. But I was reminded of all of this over the weekend because I finally got around to listening to the Podcasts at SweatShopper.org, in which artist Kris Hall gives a guided tour of a Wal-Mart in Maine. (I first heard about this on Marketplace, back in April.) Instead of taking off from the shouted-walking-tour idea, her project is more like an iteration of one of those headset narrations you can get at big museums. In this case, rather than hearing biographical anecdotes about Thomas Hart Benton or whatever, you get Hall telling you when to look up and count the security cameras, or making points about the secret labor history of a pair of jeans.

I’m sure some people will find her arguments a bit shrill at times, but I was impressed. Even for a listener who is not literally walking through the Wal-Mart she describes, it has the effect of making you want to look more closely and think harder about retail environments and the abundance within.

There are two recordings here, but they’re close to identical. And for those of you in Skowhegan, Maine, Hall is apparently at the local Wal-Mart, or on a public sidewalk near the store, from 2 to 4 p.m. today, “making the tour available via portable CD player to those folks who do not have ipods. If you are in the area, please come down and be part of the conversation!”

Add Hock

Cash America: How the familiar lessons of retail growth are building yet another chain — of pawn shops.

The core tenets of building a retail chain are well known. The stores need to be consistent and welcoming — a brand you can trust. This idea has guided chains for decades. It guides recent iterations selling organic vegetables, expensive lattes and well-designed kitchenware to what has been called the “mass affluent” consumer. And it guides chains of pawnshops. It turns out that there are several such chains, the biggest of which is Cash America: from one location in 1983 it has grown to 468 today, and it reported 2005 revenue of about $600 million….

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site via this no-registration-required link.

Also worth reading the Magazine this week (a special issue on debt): One of my favorites, Jackson Lears, on “The American Way of Debt,” and Niall Ferguson on “Reasons To Worry” about declining household savings, rising home-mortgage debt, and the trade deficit.

Dirt Cheap Abundance


Photographs via Flickr by kate*

It’s just about impossible to pick one favorite image from this Flickr set from a store called Hudson’s Dirt Cheap. It’s by Kate “Obsessive Consumption” Bingaman.

It’s particularly interesting as a kind of counterpoint to the photographs that Andreas Gursky took at 99 Cents Only stores: Those have a feeling of spectacular, almost sickening abundance. I’ve seen some of them in person, and the monumental scale adds to the effect. There’s a bit of a different feel to this, but I think you’ll see the connection, and why these work as a counterpoint. I was interested to discover, in the course of trying to remember Gursky’s name, that 99 Cents Only, which is a chain, actually uses one of his images on its home page.

Archival Consumed: Museum Quality

[Muji]

Someday, Andy Warhol once mused in one of his many deadpan ruminations on the future, ”all department stores will become museums, and all museums will become department stores.” If this has not happened literally, it has practically. In the former art-world stronghold SoHo, gallery-like retail outlets abound; the Prada store is at least as effective at inspiring reverence for its contents as the building’s former occupant, the Guggenheim. Meanwhile, as James B. Twitchell showed in his 2004 book ”Branded Nation” (the source of that Warhol quote), the chiefs of what he calls Museumworld regularly exhibit consumer products and have become increasingly sophisticated about marketing themselves.

So set aside the hoopla around the newly reopened and expanded MoMA, and look instead at the recent debut of a shop-within-a-shop at the SoHo branch of the MoMA Design Store: the first North American Muji outlet. Read more

Archival Consumed: Conscience Undercover

[American Apparel]

The easiest way to add meaning (and marketability) to a commodity item of clothing — T-shirt, sweatshirt, underpants — is to add a logo. It could be a brand name or even a symbol or set of colors: the Nike swoosh, the logo of the Strokes, the colors of Tommy Hilfiger or just the words Abercrombie & Fitch. Absent such a signifier, the clothing is merely clothing. Or at least that’s the general thinking.

But it doesn’t really explain American Apparel, which offers its customers nothing but unlogoed casual wear and now has 2,000 employees cranking out a million garments a week, with sales of $80 million last year. Read more