Friday, November 25, 2005

The emperor's new brand.

Excuse me if I don’t feel threatened by the current crop of unbrands, antibrands and nonbrands.

Ever since Naomi Klein had that spiffy logo designed for her big, scary book, antibrand branding has become both high art and perversely Zen-like proof that brands are inevitable. Which, if I may say so, is a rather clever segue to Muji, arguably the cleverest and most dedicated unbrand of them all.

Here is where you may need to pretend, as I did, that you know all about Muji. In fact, only the most painfully hip, fashion forward types are truly familiar with this brand. The name translates, the company claims, to “No Brand Quality Goods”. They are a sort of Japanese IKEA, with a little American Apparel thrown in. Carefully designed, achingly minimalist household goods, clothing and accessories (the CD player is to die for). 285 stores in Japan, the UK and Europe where, as you may know, everybody hates brands.

There is no louder way to declare that you are immune to marketing than to shop at Muji.

Except that, um, it has a logo. And stores. And a distinctive aesthetic. And copyrights. And social meaning. And they’re charging seventy bucks for a paper table lamp and six for a wooden spoon.

Sorry, but that’s a brand, baby. You can’t fool me.

I mean, does anyone really think the following conversation has ever taken place?

“Yo, nice lint roller. Where’d you get it?”


No. If that’s your lint roller, you’re going to find some way to answer, ‘I am so transcendentally cool that I bought it at an exotic Japanese department store that you have not heard of and by the time you do, my mainstream consumer friend, I will have moved on to something even more obscure, difficult to understand, and strangely desirable. Speaking of which, have I shown you my pumice stick?’

And good for you. If you can’t occasionally use a brand to make other people feel inadequate, where’s the fun in conspicuous consumption? So Muji’s secret is safe with me.

Bit like this blog, come to think of it.

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