Book Review: Brand Story
Hancock, Joseph. Brand/Story. New York: Fairchild Books, 2009.
Brand/Story offers an insightful and engrossing history of fashion brands and the culture surrounding them with a specific focus on well-known brands including Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Vera Wang, and Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as new and niche brands like Johnny Cupcakes and Ginch Gonch. In addition to a thorough history of nine brands, including the choices made surrounding their branding both in advertising campaigns and in-store branding and interviews with those who are responsible for key decisions surrounding the brands, the book covers the basics and history of fashion branding and explores what might be in store in the future as the market becomes more competitive and marketers begin to present style in different ways, for example as a hyper-personalized mode of self-expression. Each chapter includes discussion questions meant to foster critical thinking and exercises to help students examine their professional plans and take what they’re learning out of the classroom and into the real world; the book is indexed and contains endnotes for each chapter with references cited. The publisher (Fairchild Books) also offers an Instructor’s Guide which includes branding-related news items and project suggestions. As an object, Brand/Story itself is very nice, printed on high-quality paper with a sturdy paperback binding. This book brings a lot of critical thought to something which is supposed to be almost invisible; that is, the effect brands are supposed to have is primarily emotional, not intellectual, so it is fascinating to see the lens of academia turned on questions of why Abercrombie and Fitch chooses to have a shirtless male greeter alongside a fully-clothed female “chaperone” at their main store in New York or why Ralph Lauren might hire model Tyson Beckford to pose in his ads. At the same time, the language is accessible and clear; it never descends into opaque academic prose which obfuscates for the purpose of seeming more complex than it actually is. If Brand/Story has one weakness, it’s that it could use more photos to illustrate some of the steps in brand evolution it discusses. For example, the chapter on Vera Wang notes that she broke into styling Hollywood stars after Sharon Stone wore one of her dresses on the red carpet. It would be nice to have a picture of that dress to see what might have been so arresting about it.
This book would work well for students of retailing, design, and merchandising, especially if used in conjunction with a more general introductory text, such as Under-standing Aesthetics for the Merchandising and Design Professional (Ann Marie Fiore, 2010).