Brands: Men Don’t Know the Difference

by Harry Sheff

As I was reading about how the hickey brand is officially gone today, I remembered a conversation some editors here relayed to me between a couple of tailored clothing executives during the Hartmarx sale a while back. “Hickey is the crown jewel of that company,” one executive said.

This provided me with about a year of confusion. Hickey was the more fashion-forward, trimmer young sibling of Hickey Freeman. Many editors adored it for its high quality and the spot-on designs of Eric Jennings and then Aaron Levine.

But the line was expensive and Hartmarx abandoned it during its financial troubles. I assumed that the clothing exec who called Hickey the “crown jewel” of Hartmarx was referring to hickey, when he was actually talking about Hickey Freeman. And that executive assumed that when he said Hickey, everyone knew he was talking about hickey. Adding to the confusion, when I’ve written about hickey, I’ve capitalized the H because I’m old-fashioned, and lowercased proper nouns bother the editor in me.

But alas, we won’t have to worry about this anymore, because something called Sterling will replace the too-racy hickey.

Or will we? I also learned that Hart Schaffner Marx has spawned a younger, more fashionable (and affordable) brand called HSM. So if any of us has any urge to abbreviate Hart Schaffner Marx, we should quash it.

But this brings up a more important issue about branding, one that has to do with consumers. Brands get arrogant, thinking that men care about the differences and the subtleties between DKNY and Donna Karan, the hundreds of tiers of Calvin Klein and Polo and between the typical luxury line and its diffusion or bridge lines.

Perhaps that’s the idea. It wasn’t until years later that I realized a Zegna suit I almost bought wasn’t, in fact a Zegna suit, but a Z Zegna suit. Or that C’N’C Costume National is different (cheaper) from Costume National. It makes us wage earners think we’re able to (almost) afford the nice stuff—and not just the colognes and sunglasses.

My point is that sometimes the brands in the apparel business forget that what seem like big, marketable differences to them are barely perceptible nuances to most men.