Yesterday I wrote about the power of pop culture branding and received such thoughtful comments that it stimulated another blog.
As an illustration of pop culture branding, I wore my t-shirt with “naked” Marc Jacobs promoting the cologne Bang.
A point raised by my readers was that the power of branding can at times supersede the quality of the product. The product does not necessarily have to be the “best” as branding will make-up for any lack. This is a valid point. For instance take Coke, is it truly good for us? Does it bring us good health and help us stay fit? Sure it tastes good and may give us an instant fizz, but it has no intrinsic food value. Yet it is so heavy on branding that even Karl Lagerfeld decided to partner up with Coke and design a limited edition cover for its bottles coming out this month. (If interested, read my earlier blog, “Coke goes Couture.”)
Branding is not just limited to fashion, it seeps into all walks of life. A good example is books. I have bought many a books based on the radio interviews of authors or after reading a vignette of their biography in a periodical. They portray an erudite and intellectual image. If they have some flamboyance or flair in their personalities, it adds to the “X” or “Y” factor that I talked about in my earlier blog. What effect does it have on me? I am compelled by a force beyond my control to type amazon.com and charge the book on my current ongoing account. (Another example of the world becoming a global Mall with accessibility of all products at our fingertips.)
When the books arrive in the brown cardboard packaging, my joy knows no bounds and I get geared to read my latest acquired piece of literature. However, a few chapters or pages into the book, I realize with disdain that this is yet another book that I will add to the escalating “give-away-to-the-library” pile.
Another example is movies. Hollywood exemplifies branding. I am an avid listener of National Public Radio, especially the Film Week Marquee (a Friday critique of the upcoming weekly movies.) I often hear esteemed movie critic, Kenneth Turran condemn the premise of an upcoming movie. Contrary to the review of Kenneth Turran, the very next day I hear how that very movie broke all records at the box-office and soared to unimaginable monetary success. How is this possible? Shouldn’t quality equate with monetary success? Often times it does not. Branding gives it the boost. The actors are branded, the production company is branded and the movie is branded.
An extreme example is cigarettes. Those of you old enough to remember the Marlboro Man, will agree that the Marlboro brand was created based on the rugged and virile image of the man in the hat. The fact that the man in the hat could very well suffer from throat cancer a few years down the road was irrelevant!
However, in order to keep a perfect equilibrium to this discussion, one has to concede that branding is not the be-all and end-all. It is true that designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Betsey Johnson, Marc Jacobs or even Galliano may use their image to promote a brand. But ultimately the essence, the core, the nucleus of the brand needs to be virtuous. The product needs to be good. There must be a consistency in the quality. Rest is all fluff.
Branding is like icing on the cake. If the core of the cake is not scrumptious, icing may help initially, until it is all licked off and the only thing left is a noxious distaste.
It is similar to life. Sure you can talk the talk, walk the walk and even experience a few lucky strokes. But to achieve sustained success the work needs to be put in. Nothing replaces hard work and consistency. No amount of branding will guarantee continued success. Such assurance will only come from the essence of your work.
That is why brands such as Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, Prada have sustained the dips and tips of economies, stock markets and changing cultural times and yet emerged triumphant.
Karl Lagerfeld, is the true Head of Chanel and the “Head” around my neck.
During my trip to China I saw this necklace at a store. It was lying right next to the necklace with the face of Lady Gaga.
It was love at first sight. To be precise, it was lust at first sight. I was so mesmerized by the necklace, that even though I did not have my credit card with me, I had to borrow my friends’ for payment.
Talk about the epitome of satisfying the Id-True Instant Gratification.
What was this force beyond my control that compelled me to buy the necklace? Such a potent force that I had to resort to borrowing (thank goodness my shopping compulsion has not reached a level of begging and stealing yet, as in the expression “beg, borrow or steal.”)
What was it about this man with the silver-haired pony tail, high collars and glasses that captivated me?
In this instance, it is the bewitching rock star appeal of Lagerfeld. He has become deeply embedded in the strains of pop-culture and acquired iconic status.
Such cultural domination of fashion designers is a reflection of the changing times of fashion. Take for instance Marc Jacobs or Alber Elbaz of Lanvin or Miuccia Prada. They all have their signature trademark personalities and styles.
The recently sculpted body, with the day old beard is the signature of Marc Jacobs.
Alber Elbaz is high on the cuteness factor, with the moon-face, bow tie and round glasses. Alber Elbaz brands Lanvin.
The shy, head-band wearing Miuccia Prada is the stamp of Prada.
In the past designers used to be mostly behind the scenes. They had an aura of mystery, a certain je ne sais quoi. Sure, we heard their names such as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta or Dior and may have even seen an occasional photo of them attending a benefit, but their personas were not ingrained in the public psyche such as the ones in today’s times.
In current times, simply designing beautiful clothes is not enough. It is mandatory for designers to acquire an “X” or now a “Y” factor for branding purposes. It is essential for the designer to have a flamboyant, autographed personality.
The modern consumer is global, smart and savvy. They shop all over the world. With the advent of web-shopping the globe has become one giant Mall accessible to all, at any time. There is laser sharp competition.
With a whirlwind of choices at the fingertips of the consumers, what motivates them to opt for one brand over the other? Is it the quality, the stitching, the tailoring, the pricing or is it owning a product designed by a pop-culture icon. It boils down to the “extra” that a brand has to offer. The minds of the modern consumer, especially the younger ones is complex. They grew up in the web surfing age and jump from one “icon” to the other. Why should they then not choose a product designed by a famous pop culture “icon.” Nine out of ten times they will opt for an item with some pop-culture value, even if it is just a t-shirt with a silhouette of the designer imprinted on it. Or in my case a necklace with the “Head” of Chanel.
That my friends is the power of pop culture branding!
Some may argue that even though interpretation may be individual, certain universal basics, a foundation, an order needs to be there for the inception of art. Beyond that the artist can take creative license to express his or her views.
Non-conformist that I am, I am willing to go as far as to even dispense with the above theory of foundational art. After all, if there are universal parameters, dictums and precedence then where is the originality, the expression and the true tour de force art.
My most cherished designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel directed the latest film, The Tale of a Fairy for the 2011-12 cruise collection. As is the signature of the master couturier the movie is dripping, oozing and drenched in luxury almost bordering on hedonism. Whether it is the colonial Parisian mansion with the silent-footed bevy of maids and butlers or the “actors” walking in the house with a cascade of Chanel pearls around their long necks wearing signature white and black Chanel pumps making their 6 feet lanky frames reach towering and withering heights. Whether it is the impromptu trip to Monte Carlo or an almost on-the-verge of an orgy on the French Riviera. It is all there.
There are beautiful girls kissing each other, a waif who looks like an angel and an element of surrealism. In fact, all the elements of a good Hollywood blockbuster are blended into the film.
So then what is so wrong, so very wrong with the film? Well, the simple answer is the lack of a story, a script and a backbone to the film. The story centers around three women, one who is hysterical through the whole movie, the other solely there to provide the international element with her well-modulated British accent and the third for the hot and steamy girl kiss. The story borders on being cheesy and entering into the realm of being ridiculous.
What redeems the movie is the physicality of the cast. Two of the lead actors are in their mid and late 40s. The girls are androgynous without the essential prerequisite Hollywood bust and lip enhancement. It is antithesis to Hollywood casting. It defies all traditional norms of established standards of beauty.
The silver-haired, 40-some year old Kristen McMenaney with her pierced nose and bouffant hair gives any 20 year-old run for her money.
Freja Beha in her underwear is reminiscent of Kate Moss in her very young and best days for the Calvin Klein ads.
In summary, even when Karl Lagerfeld does something less than his trademark perfection, a little oops, a faux pas-somehow it is interpreted as art. In this film, the physical attributes of the cast of “actors” redeems Lagerfeld’s movie from entering the Girls gone Wild genre.
Karl Lagerfeld and Diet Coke. What is the common denominator? Skinny silhouette, hi-style appeal and quirkiness.
Karl Lagerfeld designed the cover of the limited edition Diet Coke bottles coming out in June. Yes, Diet Coke has upped the style factor and is now clothed in a haute couture wrap of swirly psychedelic candy stripes, kaleidoscopic polka dots and dizzying stars. It appears that Coke and Mr. Lagerfeld are trying to invoke a hallucinatory and phantasmagoric experience for the drinker. Trying to give us “commoners” a heady rush!! (With the upcoming nuptials of the blue blooded in London, all of a sudden I have become conscious of the social class system.)
I like that Mr. Lagerfeld used basic colors such as white, black, grey with a prudent dash of cotton candy pink in his design. The cover results in a pop artsy image, something maybe a modern day Andy Warhol would design.
Being the master of the business savvy fashion world, Lagerfeld knows it is all about branding. What can be a more powerful brand than an image of himself! Hence, he places a signature caricature of his “skinny” silhouette standing erect, further selling the concept of “drink Diet Coke and be skinny.”
What can we expect next from the hi-priest of fashion? Possibly a bottle of Moët et Chandon clothed in a quilted leather cover with a chained bottle stopper…a la bubbly Chanel experience!
What is the message in the bottle? Life is merely a mirage, it is a fantasy-drink Diet Coke, live the dreamy haute world of fashion and most importantly be skinny!
Chanel and Jeans in one sentence? Is it an anomaly, an aberration or perhaps an unorthodoxy?
Chanel is synonymous with opulence, luxury and affluence. It is a status symbol of old money, pedigree and an impeccable taste to be flaunted.
On the other hand, blue jeans usually (before the advent of the $500 price tag jeans) are synonymous with basics, wants and needs. An everyday Joe’s work outfit, an outfit you can simply don on with a t-shirt in order to catch the 5.30 early morning tube to work so as to avoid being late and written up by the supervisor. An outfit that you can wear to work while carrying your lunch pail and also in the evening while taking your kid out for a slice of pizza and coke. No connotation, no inference, not even a whiff of lavishness within miles.
How then is the eponymous name of Madame Coco Chanel associated with “Chanel blue jeans?” How then can a name oozing with hedonism such as Chanel be associated with something as basic as a pair of blue jeans? Well, the jeans are the brainchild erupting from the loins of the genius Monsieur Karl Lagerfeld. He is the master of evolvement, of keeping up with the changing supersonic times and of understanding the evolution of fashion. It was a delight to watch his interviews and to learn from the master himself. To learn how to grab opportunities by evolving with the times.
Jeans have become high fashion, with the advent of brands like Rock and Republic, Citizens of Humanity and Joe’s Jeans carrying heart fluttering price tags touching the range of $500 U.S. dollars. You can see fashion mavens all over the world in varied cut jeans paired with expensive jackets such as Chanel, ballet flats with the double C’s on it and quilted purses with the signature chain and double C’s. It is high-low dressing. Although judging from the price tag of the jeans, there is nothing “low” about it, except for the “rise.”
Mr. Lagerfeld understands what a tour de force fashion is for the young ones in their 20s, 30s and even 40s. (Isn’t 40 the new 30?) He is capitalizing not only on the brand name, but like a lion he has given a taste of the royal blood to his young ones. Once they get hooked on to a drop, they will aspire for the entire prey. Once you own the jeans, what will stop the fashion mavens from saving up for the iconic Chanel tweed jacket or the Chanel ballet flats?
Who will not want to have a piece of the double C’s, even if it starts with the blue jeans? Lagerfeld is the lion who lures the young ones to his lair with the jeans and then inculcates them into the elite club, or should I say CHANEL CULT, thereby capitalizing on it with one “C”!!