When the Icons Become the Icons: The Met Gala Red Carpet

Its the (Real) ICON+ICONIC (Images)+the ICON (historical) that all merge into one powerful image of stardom at the Met.

The stars aligned for a night of Ideas, Imagery and Icons of Catholicism who took over the METROPOLITAN MUSEUM where the celebrities get to play dress up for one night only. Many gorgeous gowns arrived, but there was really only one or two celebrities who used not only exemplified the theme, but their powered up their own brand story as well. I am talking about MADONNA, KIM KARDASHIAN and JENNIFER LOPEZ. What made these image makers so unique from the usual red carpet fare?

Madonna was dressed like a “Virgin” in her Mexican/Russian/Romanian/Spanish ensemble; it made liberal use of the iconography of the Virgin crown, the black Spanish Duenna gown (sourcing both Velasquez and Manet) mixed with a liberal dose of the “Evita” veiling reminding us of one of her greatest roles. JAYLO decided to dress as a ROMANESQUE Virgin Mary wearing a stunning gown that was bejeweled and drew inspiration from the mosaics of the Romanesque period. A breathtaking design that brought both the art of the church and its historic designs into one unique red carpet moment with a dash of cleavage and leg. KIM KARDASHIAN took her perfume bottle (designed after her own iconic body) and with her look actually “trans morphed” into her brand. With a NOD to the theme in the form of an embroidered cross on her dress, the gold metallic gown borrowed from the world of religious iconic imagery by using the idea of pure gold leaf on a carved wooden figures just like those seen in churches in the early christian world. To understand the iconography of the early Christian church, you cannot ignore the beautiful and extraordinary architecture of the Muslim places of worship many of which later became early Christian churches. The cross-pollination of both religious is very evident in the art, architecture and sculpture in this early period. Here is a moment in which the pop culture figure blends into an almost psuedo-religious moment, especially if you are a fan. The MET Red Carpet is now one of the most sought after platforms to make, break or re-make your fame and fortune. For the audience of fans and friends of the museum it continues to surprise and delight with a pageantry for the fashion world.

A Fresh Lifestyle Brand: India Hicks

How do you build a brand based on a luxury lifestyle story with a passionate creator?

When a luxury brand begins its birth there is an ideal pedigree or story that might reflect a family and history that gives it a sense of place and origin. Royalty the world over is one of the brand stories that often needs no introduction.  Unique personalities have populated the royal stratosphere in England beginning in the 18th century with the Duchess of Devonshire who is considered the first upper crust ‘style star’.  Fast forward to the early and mid 20th century and you will find a number of unique personalities among them, the father of India Hicks, David Hicks, considered the leader of his generation in Interior Design.  Turning many British castles and country homes into chic palaces of colorful style or smart spaces for the creative elite that reinvented the old classics and refreshed them creating an empire that bore his signature style around the world.  India Hicks, one of three children by his wife, Lady Pamela Mountbatten has taken up the family passion for lifestyles and design in launching her own line INDIA HICKS that expands on her growing collection of lifestyle books.

India Hicks, the creator of her own brand designs accessories and gifts such as handbags, belts, scarves, jewelry and beauty products with the inimitable chic simplicity that is combined with a love of luxury in its DNA.  Her designs are fresh, classic yet re-invented British Luxury inspired that make them easily accessible to everyone making her practically the Martha Stewart of fashion and beauty. Her own history and lifestyle on the islands in the Bahamas is captured in a number of her books on interior style with an exotic island twist.  With years of experience designing products for other companies, the time came when she wanted to step out on her own. But she has done even more to break the mold by expanding the sales platform to include a “tribe” of women who promote the brand in their own communities. This is a key difference in the sales strategy of this luxury brand; the gospel of the brand is spread via a number of representatives who are on the ground sharing the message of the brand and their style curator INDIA HICKS.

What makes a brand based on a personality successful?  There are a number of unique elements that make a personality driven brand work:

  • Leveraging the story of the creator to generate desire for the product and its unique   history and brand message.
  • Passion from the creator who engages the target audience with aspirational  dreams and goals. Creator is as Expert, Curator and Best Friend to the audience.
  • Devotion to the quality of the product in all its details, from packaging to ingredients to manufacturing and quality control.
  • Passing the story on through a message of passionate fans who share in their communities making the message both personal and aspirational.
  • Promote an Aspirational lifestyle that everyone can enjoy and immediately apply in their own busy lives as professionals, power moms, or both.
  • Inspiring the Brand Ambassadors to empower themselves through creating their own business while sharing in their own communities about the brand.
  • Adapting the values, hopes and aspirations of the creator that rings true to all aspects of the business and its products.

India Hick’s brand has already taken hold around the US and will continue to expand by adding more ambassadors to the group as she continues to introduce new products.  Her latest introduction is a series of skincare products that she has developed in chic clean black and white packaging making it easy for travel or a busy lifestyle.

For further information on the products: http://www.indiahicks.com

Note: We recently received the travel package for the new “Unexpected Beauty” and will report back our review on the products at our magazine on fashion and beauty feature at: http://www.artofstyle-magazine.us



The Pink Hat that moved the World: The Pussy Hat Riot

Can the simple wearing of a “Pink Pussy Hat” move the world? 


What we love to talk about here are brand stories.  Not just the ones created by fancy advertising agencies (those are certainly useful and effective) but the authentic stories; the kind that really moves people to action.  In the case of the “Pink Pussy” knit cap, the initial project began in earnest to unite a community.  (pussyhatpwroject.com) (#pussyhat). When this hat project was taken up around the world with its simple ‘home-made’ origins the women who could not attend the marches themselves could still feel a part of the community.  They could make something and pass it along. This is powerful and as a costume designer it re-confirms how powerful an item of clothing can be.  Some have mistakenly taken the color “Pink” to resemble a particular part of a woman’s anatomy but the hat is actually designed to reflect “pink” as a girls “empowerment color” and not literally, as the title suggests. The fact it has taken on almost ‘folkloric’ story and proportions was helped along by a certain exposure of a “tape” spoken by a certain individual also added to its history.

Here is what the originators have to say about the original concept: 

“The aim of Pussyhat Project is not just to make the hat, a singular moment recorded on January 21, 2017. It’s an ongoing movement that uses design to create social change, and inspires people who have felt invisible, feel visible”.

When fashion, and politics mix there is magic, empowerment and yes, even the moving of the political needle. Knitting circles that were already gatherings of women across the country, took up this hat and still do, as one of their projects.  They create the hats, pass them along to friends and sisters, mothers to daughters.  Yes, even some men have joined in to show their support. The hat this year, in 2018 is still powerful, and showed up in the recent protests on the one year anniversary of the Presidential Inauguration; now it means even more as they movement has taken up the cause and call to action: The movement to bring more voters to the polls. More women are and will be running in the upcoming elections, both locally and nationally. This is what a symbolic piece of clothing can do in a society. It is a concept not lost throughout history when kings and queens attempted to regulate the use of fabrics, clothes or types of clothing to the populace.  Yes, back in those medieval days if you weren’t a nobleman, you were not allowed to wear purple cloth; that privilege was reserved for the royal house.

What I see as a brand storyteller is both an individual and collective ownership of an idea and movement that is symbolized by a piece of clothing.  Communities around the world joined in making it one of the most powerful and unifying marches around the world.  The beauty of creation and ingenuity is the varied and colorful interpretations of the original idea, and that is what makes it so beautiful.


Editor’s Note: Thank you to the Los Angeles Times, The Pussyhat Project and Reuters for the images.

Create Your Own Brand of Style: Take it to the Streets for Fashion Week in Paris

What I love about fashion week, is less about the shows, and more about the people.  The people are unique, fashionable, expressive and enjoy the art of fashion and “artifice” at its best.  Our photographer Corinne Rollins was stationed outside some of the shows and discovered this wide range of styles on both audience members, street bloggers, Insta-stars and professional fashionistas.  Truly, you can be your own movie star if you want, and the movies these days are just 30 seconds to one minute long.  Why not?


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Cult of Personality in Politics

This is not an article about politics. Well, it might be just a little. It’s an exploration about how a luxury personal brand became a political brand and the question remains if they are able to survive separately now that they are merged.  Has it been a success? Some would say, “yes, smashing” while others who used to ‘aspire or admire’ the solid gold billionaire are less than impressed.

What did Donald Trump have that the other Republican candidates didn’t have? From a branding standpoint he created an illusion of success with his billions and a luxury lifestyle that included the model wife. He was also willing to be a beacon of light for the darker side of politics. Other Republicans had political pedigree but they weren’t very appealing to a public that was tired of feeling that their voices were not being heard. Washington was a ‘swamp’ where the typical everyday politicians lived and his ‘outsider’ or ‘businessman’ brand appeal seemed like a novel idea. He made sure they all felt like they were part of a greater vision to “Make America Great Again’.  This is heady stuff for someone who has never thought he could even be close to a guy like Donald.

The politics of Donald Trump had nothing in common with what was considered a Republican or Conservative agenda. He confounded the pundits who declared that anyone running on his platform could not become a President.  “He simply does not have the brand of a president” they all declared.  He proved them wrong.  We are focused here on the aspects or a personal luxury brand; how a billionaire told a brand story, passed out red caps with a slogan that placed himself in the center of the discussion about what was wrong with America.  The working classes (mostly men) all lined up to listen to his pitch.  It has been said that this brand of politics based on a “Populist” philosophy was part of a movement that is now sweeping the world. From a brand standpoint, it was nothing short of a successful pitch that closed many sales. The politics of  “the other” as a brand story, resonated with many people.


The Selling of a President

The Trump Brand is one of luxury and perfectly expressed by the 14k gold chairs he and his family sit on in this magazine photo.  Like ‘faux’ American Royalty, the Trumps are a total re-write of Donal’d’s previous family and children. An entire “brand revision” if you will. The transposition of a personal luxury brand into a political brand is fraught with difficulties.  As we reflect on how a personal luxury brand became a President we need to understand the story that was created. Like all old school corporate brands, his story is not about ‘authenticity, transparency or empowering the common man or woman’ (especially not women).

What did Mr. Trump’s story promise?

Trump’s story is really about the ‘forgotten’ white male.  Statistics show that the highest growth in our economy which began in the 1970s, occurred because women joined the workforce in large numbers. It changed the GNP of America, forever. Mr. Trump knew that certain sectors of the country were not being served (how he knew is another story) but this awareness put his audience into clear focus. A story crafted carefully for the right audience becomes a powerful tool for connection and puts the seller into the shoes of the buyer.  He promised that using his business expertise, he would fix stuff that the regular guy didn’t really understand. This is a heady promise to his audience who have felt displaced in a rapidly changing world of technology and innovation. This working class audience, many whom were high school (some college) educated but displaced dreamed of the golden opportunities that awaited them. And Donald would be the guy to deliver it.

Signs of Stress in the Facade of a Personal Brand

The unraveling of the brand and its promise began his first official day in office when his communications director (remember those mythical crowds?) began the year with a lie. With the murmurs of conflicts of interest and secret Russian connections in the background his brand story changed in subtle ways that were very damaging to his main story; it would be hard to sway his devoted audiences who were not necessarily looking at these nuances. But when you begin to layer it on for a long period of time, the crack in the facade becomes pronounced. A brand can only stand that for so long. 

What Branding Strategy does a President Need to Succeed?

Our nation is not a nation of personalities but of laws.  But if we look at the idea of the Presidency (itself a national brand) so much depends upon the man (or woman) to execute a successful brand strategy. This was a hallmark of the Kennedy, Reagan, Roosevelt, George Washington or Lincoln presidencies.  Each had a sense that their role was to both to communicate and to ennoble the best aspects of ourselves so that we might succeed as a country. This was largely due to the success of their personal brand, in modern terms and certainly, President Lincoln knew how to write a speech. He was a great communicator.  So is Mr. Trump.  He has an instant communications stream and tells his followers on Twitter just what he is thinking.  This has many consequences in the overall communications strategy of a brand.  Some good, some not so good. 

The Undoing of a Personal Brand

The force of a brand or a personality does not make a democracy nor does it guarantee anything except the hope that a certain personality and dedication can succeed given the challenges that are the inherent in the office of the presidency. 

If there are flaws in the personality there is trouble in paradise for a personal brand. This is because a personal brand must be based on some aspects of a personality, that “seem” to authentically possess a ‘set of values’ (they can be ‘good or evil’). Without this consistency a brand simply cannot operate with sustained success.  I repeat:  Without a consistency of purpose and a set of values, a successful brand cannot succeed. Mr. Trump had a well established personal brand but it is now showing signs of trouble.  

“The Stormy Factor”

And then along came ‘Stormy’ and the story of this affair and subsequent cover-up may be the undoing of the brand of Donald Trump as we know it. What does a story like this do to a brand? For Mr. Trump, maybe not that much.  I would not comment here on the legal or illegal aspects of the story, rather the fact that as a character flaw it could be problematic.  The people in his audience truly like his wife, Melania (who has a very high approval rating)  and would see this type of behavior as unacceptable.  This can do damage to his overall brand and  could be seen to show his lack of respect for her, and the marriage.  As the voters have already shown in the recent elections, there may be as new storm, coming. I hope he has packed his umbrella, because I think it’s gonna rain, big. 


Editor’s Note:  A test of how the office of the presidency remains forever in our collective memories as something greater than the man or woman who occupies it will stand as the future of the Presidency as having its own personal brand, its own standing separate from that of the person who occupies it.  We sincerely hope so.