Seeing this fantastically patriotic sweater posted the other day by Tommy Hilfiger in the NYTimes’ T Magazine blog made me smile. It’s apparently something his daughter found in a vintage shop in SoHo that is now on display in his Fifth Ave. flagship. I wish I’d had this to wear last week when some friends threw me an All-American themed party to celebrate my recent attainment of United States citizenship! All the iconic American brands were represented — Budweiser, McDonald’s, KFC, Oreos, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola — and of course, two types of apple pie (handmade and Mickey D’s rectangles). As someone who once worked on a trend project around shifting perceptions of Americanism, it’s interesting to see how instantly these connections are made. A lot of classic American brands currently seem to be fumbling their way towards identifying what the New Americanism looks and feels like. One of the more interesting recent attempts that comes to mind is the Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign by Wieden + Kennedy.
The commercial makes use of a few stanzas by Walt Whitman, the most American of poets, in an unconventionally erudite effort to convey a wildly exciting youthful American energy–implying that Levi’s, like young America herself, is part of a historically rooted continuum, constantly pioneering into uncharted territory. There is a certain nostalgia for all things Americana nowadays, and classic American brands like Woolrich, Filson, Red Wing and Bass are now cool again in ways they couldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago. The new Budweiser American Ale is similarly capitalizing on this sudden popularity of Americanism. I’m sure I will get a lot of flack for saying this but it really is fascinating how quickly the image of America as a brand turned around after 8 years of a semi-apologetic and embarrassed stance under Bush. Obviously the U.S. still has more than its share of problems under Obama but the overall boost in American pride since the change-over is truly notable from a marketing perspective. God bless America!
Aside: Check out A New Literary History of America by Greil Marcus & Werner Sollors. It’s a fascinating (and gigantic) collection of essays on the history of our great nation. Not your typical reference book, it really captures the richness and vitality of American history in an eminently readable way.