Never mind the brand bollocks

In the late sixties I’d just started at art school in Brooklyn. I was really disappointed. Everyone was so uncool. They either dressed like slobs or nerds.

I’d just come from London, I was a mod. I thought if London was stylish, New York would be way more so. But I was wrong. Style had totally bypassed America.

They thought if you were stylish you must be gay. So most of the other students ignored me. This wasn’t the rebellious, outrageous, art school atmosphere I’d been expecting. I felt like I’d been exiled to an old folk’s home.

Then one day I was walking across campus and this blonde guy came up and asked me where I got my hair cut. He was from Queens, and he sounded like Yogi Bear when he talked. He liked my hair because it didn’t look like anyone else’s.

I told him I cut it myself. He asked me if I’d cut his, so I said yeah. And we became friends. He didn’t want to be like everyone else either. He wanted to be different.
He didn’t even like wearing the same clothes as everyone else. So he used to buy all his clothes from thrift shops (the NYC equivalent of Oxfam shops).

But not just for cheapness, for weirdness. He would buy things you couldn’t find anywhere else. White hob-nailed construction boots, WW2 floor length army greatcoats, sequin-covered trapeze artist’s leotards. Stuff like that.

We shared a student flat for a few years. Gradually the sixties turned into the seventies and we both went different ways. I came back to London to work in advertising.
He stayed in New York and founded a group, called The New York Dolls. His name was Artie Kane and he was the bass player.

They were quite successful for a while. But not because of their music. Because of their style, or lack of it: their couldn’t-give-a-fuckness. They were a brand not a product.

They came to the UK and visited Vivienne Westwood’s bondage shop. Malcolm MacLaren saw them and became their manager for a while. He said it was the first time he realized you didn’t have to be able to play a note to be rock stars.

It was all about image. All about the pose. Eventually he found four other teenagers hanging around the shop and formed the Sex Pistols. And punk was born.

A marketing vision that was much more about brand (image) than product (music). Maclaren understood that people buy a product for what it DOES. But they buy a brand for what it SAYS about them.

People bought the New York Dolls (and afterwards punk) not for the high quality of the music. They bought it for the rebellious image it gave them. They bought it for the badge. Being seen with the album cover said far more about you than listening to the record inside.

That’s brand over product. See, anyone can be a motorcycle rebel. You don’t have to drive a Harley Davidson. You just have to wear a T shirt with the Harley logo on.

Artie never did advertising, but he understood the power of a brand way before I did.

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    Dave
    Wow, you knew “Killer” Kane! Did you see the fascinating film, ‘New York Doll’?
    One of those little films that you don’t expect much of, but are blown away by.
    A great documentary that surprises with the amount of heart it has!
    Aurthur came across as a warm, funny and unique person.
    A link to their brand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct9aBySJkRQ&feature=related

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    “I’d just come from London, I was a mod.”

    WAS a mod, Dave – always a mod.
    Might have hung up the crombie and the brothel creepers, but it’s an attitude, a way of life, a view on the world – born with it and it never leaves you.
    Still wear Brooks Bros button downs?

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    John.
    Yes they spent a day interviewing me for that film.
    And I told them all the stories about what Artie and I got up to at art school.
    But, because it was made by the Mormons, I don’t think my stories had the redemptive quality they were after.
    So they never made it to the final cut.

    Gotnoteef,
    We didn’t have a mod uniform in my day, the idea was to be ahead of everyone else.
    But that was East London,, I think West London was a bit more Quadrophenia.

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    Dave

    You managed to understand each other at Art School in Brooklyn then?!
    Yogi Bear? Perhaps Snagglepuss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4qFxTTi8q0

    I can’t imagine there were many brits at your art school. Were you referred to as the limey?

    I was accused of sandbagging, over a game of darts, the last time I was in NYC. I had no idea what they were on about until I asked.

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    Hi Dave,

    My friends used to call me ‘The Mad Catholic’.
    At the age of 13 I used to serve on the Altar.
    I was 6’3″ with a surplus halfway up to my kneecaps.
    At the bottom was a cherry red pair of doctor Martens.
    Usually hungover on Sunday Mornings at 08.30 mass.
    Frank Bruno’s bodyguard invited me to join a certain
    Inter City Football Club, however, when he told me he
    went to Woolwich to round up the faithful at 6am, I knew
    I’d never make it from a Friday night out and became a
    headbanger instead, shoving my head down speakers
    at the Astoria, and having shouting conversations with
    my fellow Yeti’s all the way home.

    Branding was very important in South East London.
    If you was not a Skinhead or a Headbanger you were dead meat.
    Branding saves lives.
    (Well it did in my case).
    Run with the Wolves.
    Swim with the Sharks.
    Get nipped when I get it wrong.
    Unforgettable way to learn.

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    I don’t think it’s a uniform Dave, don’t think it ever was or will be – it’s about blending in with the rest to the common observer but standing out through subtlety, through quiet, unobtrusive non-comfomism in a way that takes a lead from others but puts a new twist on it. Those that know will see, appreciate, admire and twist again – Mod (or the look – Skin, Soul-boy, Casual, Stickman, Rudeboy, Ivy League) is the greatest clique and is forever shifting with the music, the times and the attitudes.