Brands in the News: Harley

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who threatened to burn Korans, rocking a Harley Davidson T-shirt at LaGuardia this weekend.

It’s an iconic American brand, y’all.

News imagery, analyzed

This photograph was on the front page of my Wall Street Journal this morning. I couldn’t find it online, so I cut it out and scanned it. I found other pictures of this event — the perp walk, basically, of some alleged mafia boss in Italy, supposedly responsible for 80 murders or something like that — but none were as striking as this one.

First of all, please note the T-shirt that the alleged mob chief is wearing. Steve McQueen? A barechested Steve McQueen T-shirt? Where do you even get a T-shirt like that? Is it supposed to be part of disguise? It looks like a 1970s era iron-on, which might mean they’re selling them by the ton at Urban Outfitters, for all I know. But, again: Steve McQueen?

Second, however, please take note of the law enforcement officer — Polizia — on the right. Pretty fabulous, am I right? I mean, that’s not what cops look like in my city, at least. And more to the point, if you look closely at those sunglasses — they’re Dolce & Gabbanas!

C’mon. The Italian polizia hauling off the murderous mob dude in her D&G shades? How hot is that?

In The New York Times Magazine: Latisse

A prescription product doesn’t claim to cure an illness. But is it a symptom of a different malady?

During clinical testing of a glaucoma medication called Lumigan, Allergan’s researchers noted a side effect: eyelash growth. Recognizing the market potential for such a thing, the company conducted a new safety-and-efficacy study, this time making the former side effect the main focus, explained Robert Grant, the president of Allergan Medical, the company’s aesthetic-products division. In December, the Food and Drug Administration gave Allergan clearance for this new use. By May, Latisse ads were on the air, and in its first three months on the market, the product totaled about $12 million in sales. This suggests that there is a bigger market for “eyelash hypotrichosis” relief than you might have guessed before Latisse’s promotional campaign began….

Read the column in the August 2, 2009, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.

In The New York Times Magazine: The Uniform Project

Wearing one dress for 365 days sounds austere — but not in this case.

12consumed-190Rules stifle creativity and enforce conformity. Rules can do something else too: inspire creativity that thwarts conformity. Anyone who has observed a pack of kids in school uniforms will note the individualistic tweaks: rolled cuffs here, an accessory there; whatever loopholes in the sartorial rule book can be found are promptly exploited. Sheena Matheiken certainly noticed such things when she was just such a child, attending schools in Kerala, India, where uniforms were the rule.

In May, Matheiken, who these days is the creative director for a Web-design company in New York, started the Uniform Project, which involves wearing the same dress every day for a year, and seeing just how aesthetically creative she could be despite that limitation….

Read the column in the July 12, 2009, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.

[PS: PSFK has an interesting follow-up here: “While not explicitly mentioned in the interview, Matheiken’s project is an interesting social commentary on the blight of “fast fashion” (garments with less than a one year shelf life), which is wreaking havoc on our environment, textile manufacturers, and perhaps even the fashion industry itself.”]

The functional case for super-baggy pant: “ease of wear”

The big news on the front page of the local paper here yesterday was that Savannah is the latest city/town to ponder a ban on “below-the-rear” baggy pants. This absurdity aside, what’s interesting about the story is the section in which young baggy-pants-wearers defend their style.

Or rather, they say style isn’t really the issue at all. Because it turns out that their argument turns on function — low-riding baggy pants are all about “ease of wear.”

“I feel like a Pee-wee Herman when I have my pants up,” [Michael] Hodges said. “I need to feel comfortable.”

When the situation calls for it, [Calvin] Middleton said, he and his friends know when to change their look.

“When we go to church or have a job interview or go to school, we want to look presentable,” he said. “But we don’t want to walk around looking like a teacher all day.”

Middleton also disputed that the low-drawer look originated from prisoners, whose pants droop because they are not issued belts.

He said it began because so many young men were given their older brothers’ hand-me-down pants, which were usually too big. The fit was so comfortable, young men preferred wearing oversized pants, he said.

Adam Pinell, 17, has worn the below-the-waist look before, too. “It’s more comfortable,” he said.

I have a feeling Jonah Berger at Wharton, who studies this sort of thing, and who I interviewed for a 10/28/07  Consumed on counterfunctional watches, would zero in on that comment from the guy who doesn’t want to “walk around looking like a teacher.” That’s a style/identity motive — not a functional one. Counterfunctionality can make for a useful identity marker precisely because (in this case) it’s not likely that teachers are going to poach this young man’s style by wearing ill-fitting pants.

On the other hand … low & baggy pants have been around quite a while now, and perhaps it’s possible that their fit (or lack of fit) feels like the norm to a young guy who’s worn them that way since he was 12.

Dunno how uncomfortable you find the practice of wearing pants, or whether you wear pants at all, really. But: You buying the argument of these low-pants-wearers that it’s all about comfort?

Dove murketing’s next stage: The stage

I’ve sure ready plenty of criticisms of Dove’s “campaign for real beauty” marketing tactics, but the thing just keeps metastasizing. Via Arts Journal, this article describes how marketers got playwright Judith Thompson involved in creating a theatrical production tied to the brand:

Dove Canada’s marketing partner, ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Canada, first proposed creating a theatre piece about beauty and aging as part of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which launched in 2004.

Dove Canada’s marketing manager, Alison Leung, said Ogilvy targeted the theatre as a way to give a voice to women over 45, a group their research suggests has chronically poor body image and feels underrepresented in media and culture.

Early in the search for a playwright, Leung said Dove and Thompson forged an immediate bond during the first phone call.

Thompson concedes that for Dove, “it really is about is brand loyalty.” But: “I don’t care if ultimately they hope to sell soap with it, the soap’s fine.”

Nau now now

Everyone (well, everyone in the narrow slice of the marketplace that may or may not “lead” trends) appears to be going nuts for Nau.

In the last month or so, a couple of readers (not publicists) have emailed me about the apparel brand; it’s steaily been getting business press attention (and attention) as well as eco-blog praise (and praise); Coolhunting touted it earlier and is now involved in some kind of special promotional sale in New York this week (see below); and this past week PSFK published an interview with a Nau founder. (“We began Nau because, as far as we knew, there were no other companies in the apparel market designing product combining beauty, performance, and sustainability,” etc.).

Of course I’ve not been to an actual Nau store (locations in Boulder; Chicago; Tigard, OR; and Bellevue, WA) or laid on eyes on the brand’s garments (as opposed to pictures of the garments). But I’m intrigued by the level of interest. If you have any info or opinions I’d love to hear.

And if you’re in New York, the brand is having a sample sale at the Openhouse Gallery (201 Mulberry Street, NYC), “VIP Night” March 5, everybody else March 6 through 9. If you go, again, I’d love to hear about it.

Express yourself … or whoever

One of my favorite topics is the flipside of the supposed confessional, privacy-indifferent nature of Web expression: The amount of Web expression that is not only un-confessional, it’s somewhere between self-marketing and flat-out lying. So this story in today’s WSJ about people who crib from the profiles of others on social networking or dating sites made my day:

Online daters feel pressure to stand out and believe they must sell themselves like a product, say researchers at Georgetown, Rutgers and Michigan State universities who are conducting a joint study of them. “You are not making money off of somebody else’s work; you’re just trying to market yourself,” says self-confessed copier Jeff Picazio, a 40-year-old computer-systems manager in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Businesses have even cropped up to sell people elemements of a marketable personality. One, the WSJ says, “offers 12 ‘proven’ profiles for $4. Sample: ‘There is a shallowness, a fakeness to much of the “‘singles scene.”‘”

Worth reading.  

Selling Deere

Brandweek says John Deere jeans, among other things, are on the way, to be unveiled at Magic, the apparel trade show, this week:

The clothing line, which will also include jackets and shirts, is the first produced by John Deere, which until now was best known in style circles for its green caps donned by farmers and celebrities alike.

Actually, there was a big John Deere push at Magic in spring 2005. I’m not sure how this arrangement differs, exactly, as I can’t recall who the company was [2/8/08 update: see comments for details] that was doing this back then — it was some sort of a licensing deal, so maybe this is different. (Although Brandweek says Deere “this week announced, that the Buntin Group, Nashville, Tenn., will now handle its licensed product strategy.”) Or maybe back then it was just T-shirts — that’s all I remember — and thus not an “apparel line.” Although you’ll notice that in the pic above, which I happened to snap at the time, they were calling it an “apparel line.” Whatever.

Back then they were peddling Deere T-shirts and so on in the “Street Wear” section of Magic. This seemed ludicrous to me, but I guess it was a hipster-irony kind of play. I have no idea if that went anywhere. I do remember the company pushing Deere back then had an immense booth, and also had stuff with the FFA logo on it, which I thought was pretty funny.

Coincidentally, I was reminded of all this just a couple of months ago. We were at a truck stop, in Alabama I think, and I was astonished at all the Deere-branded merch for sale — I wish I’d had my camera on me. I remember thinking that while I never saw any evidence of Deere merch taking off with hipsters, whoever owns this place sure must believe that it’ll sell to the actual truck stop demo.

Brandweek says “John Deere merchandise sales, which include hats, watches, golf umbrellas and clocks, hit about $300 million last year.” That’s the kind of stuff they had at the truck stop.

But wow, $300 million — that’s a much bigger number than I would have guessed.

I won’t be at Magic this time around, but I’m curious if the new strategy has them pushing Deere as something other than “Street Wear.” Seems like that might be a good idea?

Time to weed out your unattractive Facebook “friends”

Amusing, and interesting, piece in the Times Styles section today, by Stephanie Rosenbloom, about how people “manage” their online identities includes this:

[T]he attractiveness of the friends on your Facebook profile affects the way people perceive you. [A study] found that Facebook users who had public postings on their wall (an online bulletin board) from attractive friends were considered to be significantly better looking than people who had postings from unattractive friends.

I use an icon as my Facebook profile picture, so I’m not sure where that leaves me in terms of my impact on the perceived attractiveness of my “friends.” But I’m guessing that if I used a real photo, all the Times readers in my contacts would be un-friending me right now.

Anyway, the article, which is worth a read, also deals with the less-than-truths of “online presentation strategies” — a topic I address in a forthcoming Fast Company column, actually.

Most wanted logos?

Sometimes when I’m writing a story about a particular brand, I’ll create a Google alert for it, and in a few instances that’s meant that I’ve been alerted to various local crime stories in which suspects’ descriptions included the fact they were supposedly wearing, say, a specific brand of boot, or sweatshirt.

With that in mind, I found this BBC report pretty interesting:

The Metropolitan Police is looking into technology which can automatically identify branded logos on clothing.

Police believe that tracking suspects by their distinctive clothes will help cut down on the manual scanning of hundreds of hours of video footage.

The technology is already used to automatically identify company logos in TV broadcasts of sporting events.

A police official further explains:

Many of these young criminals in particular wear distinctive track-suits and coats with logos and sporting emblems and we’re going to use that facility to search, link and identify criminals.

Plus, think of the data could be collected. What are the top brands of the criminal class? We have the technology to find out!

(Thanks, Braulio!)

The business of ailing brands

Business Week had a story recently about Kenneth Cole’s brother, Neil, who is now running a company called Iconix. The business model of Iconix is that it buys fashion brands — but just the brand, not the company. Through a licensing arrangement, it sells others the right to actually design and manufacture the apparel, in exchange for a “guaranteed royalty of 4% to 10%.” (I’m assuming that’s a percent of gross, not net, but if the article says for certain, I missed it.)

I was interested to see that its most recent deal is with Wal-Mart, which will be “the exclusive U.S. licensee of the surfwear pioneer Op brand.” I used to wear Op when I was in junior high or so, and about two years ago I think I noticed that a boutique I like in Manhattan, Gerry’s (which tends to stock brands like Ted Baker and Modern Amusement), was carrying Op stuff, which I hadn’t seen in many years. I remember chatting with clerk about it, and he claimed it was selling well. Since then I’ve seen some Op ads in some hipster lifestyle magazines, and even briefly considered doing a Consumed on it, but never did.

Other Iconix brands include Joe Boxer and Mossimo (which I gather are exclusively sold in Sears/K Mart and Target, respectively), and, I was surprised to learn, Roca Wear.

The article spends more time on Cole’s up and down career than on details of this business, but supposedly it’s doing well. (Although some of the downs in his career kind of give me pause.)

What’s interesting about licensing businesses in general is that despite the assorted chatter about brand-skeptical consumers, licensing can be very lucrative precisely because of brands’ power to transform commodities. It’s particularly interesting when it happens with brands that have fallen on hard times, but are still familiar. With the right cost structure and the right marketing, they can build on that familiarity. (This is the subject of an article I’m working on now, actually, so more on that in the future.)

Op will be an interesting one to watch, and I wish I knew more of the back story. Was it totally dead for a while? Who was behind the Op stuff that was popping up in Gerry’s, of all places? From whom did Iconix acquire the marks, and when? Who will be doing the designs? Lots of people will recognize the brand when they see it, but younger people probably won’t. Who will the consumer be? Etc. Like I said, should be an interesting one to watch.

UPDATE: An incoming link leads me back to this bit on an interesting blog called Legal Fixation: “Although there are numerous OP and OCEAN PACIFIC trademark registrations, the assignment history of this OCEAN PACIFIC registration gives some good clues as to the transactions.”

The Ugly Americans — who rock BAPE!

Portfolio has a big piece about Nigo. I skimmed it quickly, and I have to say that the Complex blog found the one interesting quote, from Hiroshi Fujiwara:

Fujiwara, who is still revered in Tokyo as perhaps the one man who can launch a trend, is even more dismissive of Nigo. “I just wonder how he feels when he sees ugly people wearing his clothes. If you go to the countryside in America and people are wearing Bathing Ape, that’s not very cool.” Fujiwara, now a consultant for Nike and Levi’s, shrugs. “I thought he was more like us, but he changed.”

Hm. Well, I hope his clients Nike and Levi’s take heed, and prevent “ugly people” from buying their products.

Why align yourself in public with a dog-fight organizer?

Speaking of uniforms: Three times in the last few weeks I’ve seen guys wearing Michael Vick jerseys. What’s that about? What’s the signal being sent by aligning yourself with Vick after he’s admitted to various unsavory and criminal acts related to dog-fighting? My understanding is that Vick jerseys have been pulled from stores and the NFL Shop etc., so clearly the league recognizes that the time for being pro-Vick has ended. Why haven’t these fans got the message?

I live in Georgia, and it’s pretty hard to overstate what a huge deal Vick was for the Falcons, so one theory is that it’s just residual football fandom. Basically: “Okay, dog-fighting is bad — but what a great athlete!”

Another theory is that, in addition to the above, Vick seems vaguely cooler now (to these people), for outlaw reasons.

Another theory is that these guys are, in addition to being fans of Vick, actually fans of dogfighting. Far-fetched perhaps, but somebody is a dog-fighting fan, or it wouldn’t exist.

Another theory is that it’s calculated provocation. Before Vick’s guilty plea, at least, a few voices suggested that there was some racial bias involved in going after him in particular. (Two of the three guys I’ve seen in Vick jerseys were black; all three were young to young-ish, between late teens and early 30s.) So possibly there’s some residual Vick-got-a-raw-deal sentiment. Or more abstractly, the provocation may have no particular connection to Vick, just provocation for its own sake, like Sid Vicious wearing a Swastika T-shirt: Basically, “I’m wearing this solely to piss you off.”

[Quasi-related: T-shirts saying “Vick Em” were briefly sold by a Texas Tech frat, showing a representation of Vick hanging a Texas Aggie dog mascot. These were promptly banned.]

Finally, there’s the cluelessness/indifference theory: It’s the only clean shirt on laundry day, and the guys wearing it just don’t think about or don’t really care how others around them react to Vick’s name.

Possibly there’s another explanation I’m missing. In all cases, I think it’s a weird decision.

Knockoffs, copying, and creativity: Debated

Recently, The New Yorker argued that apparel knockoffs are not only no big deal, but a benefit to all, because they spur innovation.

There’s little evidence that knockoffs are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy—estimates value the global luxury-fashion sector at a hundred and thirty billion dollars— and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger. More striking, a recent paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman suggests that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success.

Counterfeit Chic counters this argument in this recent Q&A:

The tired, old argument that copying is good for fashion has been around since at least the 1920s – and has been clearly false since at least since the 1960s, when fashion’s youthquake upset the previous hierarchies of creativity. The article is based on an outdated, pre-internet portrait of the industry – in other words, it’s “out.”

More here.