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Jewish World Review July 18, 2002 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Where'd all the logos go? | Oh, alligator, where art thou?

Surely you remember the snooty little snapper. Perched on the pecs of preppies in the '80s, the Lacoste alligator - and the Polo pony and Yves Saint Laurent's italicized initials - turned the humble T-shirt into the corporate billboard of the late 20th century. For a while there, no one looked prouder than the logo-laden peacocks who overpaid for the privilege of boosting some designer's stock price.

But now, at last, that era is over - at least for adults. According to a huge study just released by marketing research firm Brand Keys, Americans over age 21 have had it up to their lapels with logos.

"We looked at 7,500 people, and we're not finding many who are looking at this as a way of differentiating themselves anymore," says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys.

Why not? Because they've wised up.

When logo clothing first came out, it was considered country club stuff: high-class, high-price, highball-inspiring. It was available only in fancy stores and seemed better made than your average, anonymous shmatte.

But over the course of two decades, all that changed. Now you can find logo shirts - and socks and spatulas - in any mall, and plenty of discount stores, too. You can get equally well-made merchandise, sans logos, at Target. And if you must flaunt a name, you can always pick up knockoffs on the street.

Who can truly tell the difference between a fake Fendi bag and a real one? Not me - except by the price. And if a purse costs $500 in a store, $10 on the corner - who gets the bragging rights? The lady who paid 50 times as much? Not in my cheap-but-cute pocketbook.

But beyond even bargain hunting - that noble sport - there is another anti-logo force at work: disgust.

"There appears to be a growing revulsion against essentially fronting for big business," says John Stilgoe, a professor of visual studies at Harvard. But that's what wearing a logo is all about.

"You have paid for the privilege of carrying an ad for a company," says Stilgoe. "And the more that company spreads its name over different products" - Ralph Lauren house paint, say, or Calvin Klein key chains - "the more people begin to be aware that they are being just a cog in an ever bigger wheel. The prestige of the logo becomes a mark of serfdom."

It is hard for serfs to score dates. So the logo begins to vanish - and gets replaced by tattoos.

Today, more and more people are getting tattoos in an effort to put something on their body that is not a logo, says Stilgoe. (Although for all we know, half those Sanskrit symbols really say, "Peace, love & buy Nikes.")

That leaves only the youngest, most desperate-to-be-hip market still clamoring for logo clothing. And clamor they do. Walk across 34th St., and you'll see a torrent of teens sporting everything from Polo to J.Lo. But it's not their daddy's logo.

"The logo has very much become synonymous with the hip hop scene," says Sass Brown, an adjunct instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "What was once meant to be an unaccessible designer label is now both urbanized and accessible."

The logo may say snob in a new way to a new group, but it still says, "I paid extra to exploit myself."

And that's as pathetic as an alligator who can't bite.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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