Monday, 4 April 2011

Making your mark

Maybe it was the painfully cool interior design. Or perhaps it was the impossibly attractive sales staff. Either way, last September I found myself inextricably drawn to the Armani flagship store on New York's Fifth Avenue, like a moth to a particularly tasteful lighting installation.

When it comes to fashion, I've always erred on the side of frugality. I'd happily give Reiss or Diesel a miss, content instead to rifle for hours through the mismatched racks of my local TK Maxx. And yet here I was in a designer store that looked as though they served customers by appointment only.

I'll be honest, wearing my cheap t-shirt, Gap jeans and a cap from Next, I felt like an imposter. Even as the world's most photogenic assistants fussed over my new camera, I was waiting for someone to tap a neatly manicured finger on my shoulder and ask me to leave via the staff exit. Somehow, my very presence was lowering their share price. It's only when I tried on a three-quarter length lamb's leather jacket that I felt like I belonged. And for once, it didn't seem to matter that the price on the tag could have been in the windscreen of a second hand Volvo.

Although they were all extremely complimentary, I couldn't shake the feeling that the sales people were testing me - willing me to admit that I was just a window-fogging time-waster. In the back of my mind I felt like Marty McFly whenever someone called him 'chicken'. So before I had a chance to question my impetuousness, the debit card was out and I was entering my pin code with decidedly shaky fingers. But all my anxiety evaporated the moment I left the store, brandishing a bag so huge that it dragged on the pavement, despite its handle being over my shoulder. I finally understood the true power of the designer label.

As it happens, I'm not the only one. Last week, The Economist ran an article about the psychological significance of labels, confirming that the badges we choose confer an "an air of wealth, sophistication and high status" on the wearer. According to a new study conducted by Rob Nelissen and Marijn Meijers of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, choosing the right labels can lead to "co-operation from others, job recommendations and even the ability to collect more money when soliciting for charity".

This must come as a relief to the marketing team at fashion retail brand Ecko, who launched a new campaign over the weekend offering customers a lifetime 20% discount if they have the store's logo tattooed on their skin. Although it was initially dismissed as an April Fools joke, it seems that the company is serious about asking its fans to wear their brand loyalty beneath their sleeve. The website offers two logo variations as templates, and suggests that users personalise their scar tissue with colour and scenery of their own choosing. However, "the logo needs to be intact".

Logo tattoos are nothing new - lots of people have had the Nike swoosh or Harley Davidson insignia etched onto their skin in a demonstration of their slavish devotion. But this must be the first time a company has actually offered up a discount voucher in tattoo form. Stiletto slaves will happily tell you that fashion hurts - in this case, it bleeds too. The word brand originally comes from the way cattle owners used to burn a mark of ownership directly onto their steers' flesh. Looks like we've come full circle.

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