Last April in this blog I offered appropriate homage to the 50th anniversary of the Peace Symbol — a logo that most would agree summarizes the tone and tenor of the sixties. It’s the most iconic image linked to Boomers and their impetuous youth.
It did not occur to me when I wrote the post, but seems obvious now, that some enterprising retailer would adopt the symbol this year as a selling tool. Anniversaries inspire homage, even crass commercialization. And what better time to do this than following the defeat of Proposition 8 in California (and many subsequent sixties-esque protest rallies), a rapidly collapsing stock market, and two overseas wars that are challenging national resolve to be in combat?
Now Barneys New York has undertaken just what the psychiatrist ordered with its holiday window theme, “Peace and Love: Have a Hippie Holiday.” If you’re vague about the central symbol for this extravaganza, gaze upward.
Barneys has placed on display 30 not-for-sale designer dresses, all emblazoned with some representation of the Peace Symbol and all made with sustainable materials. How very groovy!
Not being in the target market for designer dresses, I admit that I’m not familiar with some of the designers, but I could hardly ignore one contribution from the progeny of a sixties’ legend: Stella McCartney. Paul’s daughter is reinvigorating her dad’s magical mystery tour through the musical sixties with a dress fit for any mod-loving diva.
Simon Doonan, creative director for Barneys, has counted 55 birthdays, so not only does he qualify as a merchandizing mastermind, he is a Leading-Edge Boomer and someone who must have personal memories of those halcyon bygone days of building occupations by students at Columbia University, racial turmoil in Harlem and shocking bohemian counterculture toking away in Greenwich Village. Surely he remembers when the counterculture was a lot less about shopping and a lot more about bellicose confrontations with authority and strident protest marches for equal rights, whether gender, racial or sexual.
With a pretense of social consciousness — given dress designers’ use of sustainable materials and a parallel moment in time when simmering collective dysfunction dominates — Doonan nevertheless made his motivation clear to media covering the grand unveiling.
“It’s very hard for girls to be counterculture now,” he lamented, “because they’re all so materialistic. I don’t (reconcile it). Shopping is the only thing that matters! Buy handbags!”
Although I haven’t spoken with Mr. Doonan, I suspect Boomers have not been overlooked in the planning process, given the value of this symbol as an attractant. Earlier this year Boomers had about $750 billion in discretionary dollars to spread around. (Things change when the stock market tanks.)
At times of extreme duress and turmoil, nostalgia is a powerful ally. Louise J. Kaplan, Ph.D. proposes nostalgia’s role in managing loss (as in your depleted portfolio): “Nostalgia softens grief. It takes the sting out of a sense of loss. Grief empties the soul. Nostalgia replenishes.”
This is uncomplicated generational marketing, neither subtle nor apologetic. But wait, there’s more!
Offspring of Boomers, members of the Millennial Generation, have also found satisfying allure in the Peace Symbol and clothing styles representative of the sixties. So these window displays are also a form of Ageless Marketing, ala David Wolfe.
You can be in the autumn of your life and walk by Barneys and find yourself transported back 40 years, perhaps to some Midwestern college campus when a miniskirt and you were good allies. You can be a mere twenty-something and feel that ancient countercultural fervor urging you into the store, and you can discover equal attraction to the same miniskirt because in it you know you’ll look really hot this weekend!
Although I’m not big on cooptation when we lose the history and meaning of symbols and slogans, I’m rather encouraged that Barneys has helped itself to Boomer cultural history. Many today are quick to revile the way we were.
Some talented artists have given that half-century old symbol new twists and they’ve done it with a mind for sustainability. They’ve introduced a spark of optimism into a holiday season guaranteed to be struggling for good cheer.