I’m going to get shot in the head for this: I can’t stand designer brand labels on the outside of clothing. Our culture is riddled with it. From Gucci to Gap, labeled garments are designed to broadcast to the world whom we’re wearing. The streets have been taken over by slaves of branding, overrun by Banana Republicans and Abercrombie Zombies around every corner. The Walking Dead in Designer Thread.
Over the past few decades, the fashion industry has perfected a brilliant advertising scheme. Genius, actually. Clothing companies have managed to effortlessly persuade their customers to pay them cash money to advertise for them. It’s brilliant.
I should pause here to emphasize that I find nothing wrong with wearing a shirt that has the word “GAP” slapped across the front of it. But the way I see it, the flow of cash for that shirt is going in the wrong direction. I personally would never pay for that shirt. I wouldn’t even wear it for free. In fact, Gap Inc. would have to pay me to wear its company name or logo on my body because it’s an advertisement. My services as a sandwich board for brand reinforcement are not free.
Maybe it’s about feeling like we’re on a team or being part of something familiar that unites us. “Hey, he likes Abercrombie & Fitch. I like them, too! We can be friends. Maybe even both wear our A+F t-shirts together to the new Ben Stiller movie.” A boldly branded Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt is meant to suggest that we’re members of the dudes club portrayed in their billboard and magazine ads. You’re one of them, just like those all-American, hairless, fat-free boys in the black & white pictures. Right? They build the image, which is a completely fictitious dream concocted by corporate executives and ad agencies, and we pay them to be associated with that dream.
Then there are the luxury lines that offer easy status and cheap prestige with less expensive extensions of their brands like t-shirts, jeans or sunglasses. A pair of Gucci shades sends a message to your audience: I’m on the A-list, I’m one of the chosen (or at least I want to be perceived as one of them). And what’s the point of owning Gucci sunglasses unless it’s patently clear to everyone around us that these are Gucci sunglasses. If you can’t afford a Gucci suit (and most people can’t), you at least purchase some small token of bragging rights for having a luxury brand associated with you. Or is it you being associated with the luxury brand? Either way. It’s a dream, a non-reality, a fantasy. And luxury brands offer a slightly more affordable slice of the fantasy.
I prefer the endangered aesthetic of mystery. You won’t know whom I’m wearing unless I tell you or unless you ask me. Looking through my closet, one could find items from J.Crew, Suitsupply, H&M, Uniqlo, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein and others. But you’d never know it because I feel no compulsion to bludgeon onlookers with how fabulous I want them to think I am because of the designer labels I was able to acquire. I’m not impressed with anyone else who does so, either.
Rather, I’m in full support of retaining a little mystery and avoiding the Garanimals-for-grown-ups phenomenon that goes with our label/brand obsessed culture. Exceptions to this would be wearing logos for benevolent and creative artists, charities, non-profits or other organizations whose existence hinges on awareness, like John Bartlett’s Tiny Tim Collection. (And, no, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are not artists that need my support.)
One might argue that my Levi’s 501s and my Ray Ban Aviators bear a logo. What gives? Yes, Levi’s have the iconic red tag, pocket stitching and leather waistband badge. Ray Ban lenses bear a tiny logo on the upper left corner of the right lens. But Ray Ban makes effective, affordable and great-looking sunglasses that are endlessly imitated at a premium. My inexpensive, well-worn 501s fit better than any other jeans, and are the original upon which all other designer jeans are based. Neither Levi’s nor Ray Ban could be considered real “bragging” brands. And neither brand slaps the logo on the merchandise so loud and hard that they knock you over the head from across the street.
I’m more impressed with the idea of creating something wonderful with limited resources. Years ago, my friend Glenn found a pair of gorgeous sunglasses on the street. Handsome movie star frames with gradient lenses. He still rocks them today, and he looks amazing with them. A label didn’t take him hostage. Rather, he creatively chose the look for himself. No label. No logo. $10.
But in the end, it’s all about guerrilla branding these days. Everything at Banana Republic goes with everything else at Banana Republic. We don’t have to create our own identity or image. It’s been created for us. Mix and match. If our clothing is an outward expression of who we are, then I am not me. I am the Gap. And the Gap is me. Like Meryl Streep memorably said in The Devil Wears Prada: “You’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you… by the people in this room.”