Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heritage as a theme in fashion and brands

Given all the talk of the decline of America's preeminence as well as all the chaos and uncertainty in the world right now it should come as no surprise that people are looking back at earlier times in American life with nostalgia. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal reported on the "American Heritage" trend in fashion. Varsity sweaters, newsboy caps, tweed, argyle sweater vests, checked shirts and shawl-collar cardigans are all on the comeback.

(WSJ:Designers Mine American Heritage for Rags and Riches)

This may be more accurately described ads the peaking of trends that have been in play for several years now. Things like argyle, have been around for several years now. Lacoste's comeback and Pan Am bags are old news. In New York City bars and restaurants the "hunting lodge" has been in full effect for many years.



Ralph Lauren has always been the master when it comes to capturing and romanticizing American Heritage.

I actually have a theory about the aesthetic narrative of Ralph Lauren for women.
There is a cliche moment in many films, a morning after moment between couples, the woman is dressed in the button up shirt the man had on the night before. There are many ways to read this: symbolic submission, a symbol of their coming together as one. She on some level has crossed over INTO his world

The aesthetic narrative behind Ralph Lauren is that moment on a larger cultural scale. Ralph Lauren leverages iconography and symbolic imagery more effectively than any other fashion brand. It is a storybook narrative of a classic, eastern-seaboard America. A folklore or industrious and wealthy men who's patriarchy is so powerful that even the women's clothes seem fashioned from "his" world from things pulled from "his" drawers.

That ain't no woman, it's a man, baby!
-Austin Powers
(From my essay: The Aesthetic Narrative of Ralph Lauren for Women)







A few years ago Canadian Club wiskey ran a heritage campaign that celebrated dad with the tagline "Damn right your dad drank it". It didn't do very well. I think they were on to something but missed the mark by centering the campaign on dad. Grandpa, more often than dad is the guy esteemed and revered as cool in a young mans eyes.




Related Previous Essays:

Life's Sweet Revenge. Part 1

Life's Sweet Revenge. Part 2: Decadence

Life's Sweet Revenge. Part 3: Pop Decadence, The Candy Macabre and Bourgeois Estate Sale


11 comments:

Heather Dutcher Spencer said...

It's no secret that "classic" clothing styles come back around every 50 years or so. The clean lines of Heritage and no fuss attitude are starting to be seen in younger generations and are fitting. The Millennials are even being touted as the Next Great Generation because of their higher expectations, volunteerism and generally have an older outlook. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have the sense of humor or penchant for sarcasm that our generations have. Take the following: http://bit.ly/3rEMkr

Thomas Sherman said...

I think you're right on the fashion and wrong on the millennials. Most of the literature I've read describes them as unabashedly materialistic consumers who lack the anti-establishment attitude of Gen Xers. Compare the films that defined gen x, breakfast club, less than zero etc with those of the millennials, High School Musical. Enough said.

Thomas Sherman said...

I think you're right on the fashion and wrong on the millennials. Most of the literature I've read describes them as unabashedly materialistic consumers who lack the anti-establishment attitude of Gen Xers. Compare the films that defined gen x, breakfast club, less than zero etc with those of the millennials, High School Musical. Enough said.

Heather Dutcher Spencer said...

Maybe if you're quoting the Aug. 1993 Ad Age, certainly. But I see them every single day. Yes, they are materialistic, to a point. They still have the highest instance of volunteerism of any previous generation. Read Strauss and Howe's "Generations." They were born during what's called a Hero/Civic era. The reason they are materialistic is because it comes from their parents, who have sheltered and hovered over their entire lives. "Helicopter parents" give their children whatever is demanded b/c God forbid they should do without.
The bubble gum feel of movies extends to music as well. It's a conservative, conformist ideal that mirrors some the 30s and 40s. "Work together for the good of all." There is little to no activism in music, theory or art of this generation because it might upset the status quo.

Thomas Sherman said...

I wasn't quoting Ad Age, but there does seem to be a divergent perspective on this demographic. Either way, it's a little premature to bestow grand titles on this generation.

Ollie said...

I'm intrigued by that Canadian Club ad and think you're spot on in saying they shouldn't have brought dad into it.

In the terms of the oedipus complex, other women are the young man's concession prize after giving up mom to dad. So setting up this competition with dad over them would be very disheartening, seeing him get two numbers in a night when he's getting what you want at home as well is rubbing it in your face.

Grandpa would indeed be safely removed from the paternal triangle but close enough to care about. You could have a whiskey with him while you both set about getting numbers - go gramps! - or just bitched about your dad. Another interesting choice would be mom: hey boys, dad wasn't your mom's first either. I bet you could sell a hell of a lot of drinks on the back of that.

I'm assuming the young person / target audience is male here of course, I'd be interested to know how the ad fared with young women, although I would change the copy to "wasn't your daddy's first" if I was selling to them.

Thomas Sherman said...

Ollie. An excellent psychoanalytic framing of this. I'm embarrassed that I totally missed that perspective. Well done.

I think this will compel me to took at other narrative and dynamics in advertising from the perspective. Thank you. Well done!

Ollie said...

Thank you. I like the perspectives you bring to things too.

Promotional Products said...

I agree, when it comes to fashion trends, they are cyclical and will resurface somewhere down the line. Look at how the 80's is influencing modern fashion. I think Americans like to think nostalgically during difficult times as a reminder of when they were more innocent and had a more positive outlook on life and society.

Thomas Sherman said...

spot on!

baby cribs said...

This post is one of the most interesting topics I have seen today. I want to have more info about this. I will be visiting this blog more often.