genius steals?

So clearly larceny is in the air…

A couple of days after I wrote this post, Ben Sherman pulled off a pretty interesting stunt as part of New York Fashion Week.

Entitled ‘Nicked,’ the campaign involved dangling 600 Autumn/Winter 2011 collection shirts from the outside of the brand’s Soho store, rigging the scene with CCTV cameras, and waiting to see how passersby responded.

And naturally, they stole them.

On the inside, each shirt was sewn with a limited edition label bearing the following message of absolution:

On one level, I reckon the thinking behind this is quite clever.

It not only makes the brand radically more exciting than it’d otherwise remain, it automatically imbues each piece of product with a ready-made narrative: ‘Do you remember that time I stole that shirt?’ You can tell, watching some of the CCTV footage on the video, that every time one of these those people’ll wear those shirts, they’ll recall that little thrill of adrenalin, that little criminal frisson, and maybe even start spreading the word…

What exactly that word is, though, is another question.

The official brand blog states that the campaign aims to bolster Ben Sherman’s reputation as ‘The Original’ shirtmaker. In the words of Pan Philippou, the CEO,  “we’ve always known the Ben Sherman aficionado to be someone to take that added risk, so why not offer the shirts in such a way that only the brazen would dare to take?”

Well, maybe …  but then surely this is a slightly disingenous claim.

Because it’s pretty clear that while the campaign borrows from a rhetoric of subversion, the act of stealing one of these shirts couldn’t be more conservative. About as ‘risky’, perhaps, as playing Grand Theft Auto…

I’m reminded by something Rob Walker has written in Buying In – that while we all want to feel like individuals – independent, self-reliant, self-determined – we also need to feel part of something bigger, something communal. ‘That’s the fundamental tension of modern life,’ he writes – the desire to simultaneously stand out and fit in.

Clearly, Ben Sherman has figured this out.

After all, what could be more simultaneously extraordinary and ordinary – more heretically orthodox – than shoplifting from a brand that invites you to steal from it?

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