Brewing Up Hype — The Secret Ingredients

In our last article, we detailed a type of hype that many brands (fashion or otherwise) are longing to achieve — a type of social status that has the power to attract attention, fanfare and subsequent consumption. But as we witness more branded hands grasping at straws to work out the secret behind the promise, a different interpretation of hype has begun to emerge. In certain circles, hype has acquired a rather negative reputation that questions its genuine nature and the purpose it serves.

An example of this re-interpretation is the backlash received for the recent marketing campaign of Dior's Saddle Bag. Originally, the televised story of a noughties Manhattan — painted by costume designer Patricia Field and worn by Carrie Bradshaw — propelled the bag into an iconic status. Now, as if just overnight, the bag reappeared on the arms of major influencers across the world, served through our Instagram feed with minimal narrative but maximum exposure. The lack of meaning made people wonder if this was just an act of a marketed hype.

The commercial promise of hype may well be appealing — particularly in today’s ever-accelerating market — but to create hype just for marketing sake distorts the object’s real potential for meaning and human connection.

To further understand the personal values that hype brings, we spoke with consumers, specifically those who’ve admittedly fallen in love with either of two brands — the jewellery design team of The Knobbly Studio whose collaboration with photographer and tattoo artist Laurie Franck has received widespread praise and devotion, and the sun-drenched label Paloma Wool who has created the much sought after Leandra blouse. What is important is that the two projects are surrounded by a version of hype that is unintentional; created by fans whose attraction is both “organic, and natural” — Anonymous.

On The Personal Resonance Of A Hyped Product:

“I think the difference with this blouse is that these delicate body shapes are a reflection of every single woman, but also a form of art” — @chloe.chunk. As Chloe explained her thoughts on the work of Paloma Wool, it was clear that her comments echoed the views of the many who took part in the conversation. The overall consensus was that both brands explore a deeper sense and understanding of what it means to be a woman today — a person that is equal in every way.

“I found out about the Knobbly Studio x Laurie Franck collaboration through Instagram. They were blowing up all over and this pair of earrings just happened to pop up on my feed. I decided to look into the story behind it and I loved how they represented the female figure.” — @justcallmeesophia

“I think it's partly due to the synchronicity with the feminine revival, the celebration of all women and their sexuality being recognised in their own right; without being objectified. I think the design and illustrative work we're seeing symbolises all women and almost reclaims it for our own.” — Anonymous

Being inquisitive, as is the nature of psychology, we noticed the various action calls that came with the renewed description of the portrayal of women, as if — and described by those who took part — “a fight” or “a stand” needed to be made. The creations from both Paloma Wool and Knobbly Studio became a tool to act out these beliefs.

“I think the feminine form is resonating with people at the moment because women are powerful. We’re in a moment in time where so many women are speaking out for their rights not just the #MeToo movement. Women are taking back control.” — Anonymous

“There's a strong focus on celebrating what it means to be a woman at the moment and I hope it continues. The sketch print feels like an artistic reflection of this, but also an escape. Femininity and feminism should be beautiful and something to enjoy” — @sarah_leigh

“The female figures (depicted) create an impression and a message to society and I am being part of that.” — @susannarrr

Social Psychologists would explain this desire by our need to self-stereotype. We endorse gender-typed characteristics as more descriptive of our identity; part of our overall effort to curate an ideal perceived self. In the eyes of the brands’ devotees, the act of wearing and owning the item offers a chance to participate in an important watershed moment — where a reclaimed womanhood confronts the old gender norms.

As it was this personal meaning that drew the crowd, the surrounding hype was just a vehicle that presented the product to the beholder; it was the values of the product that captured and engaged the visions in its sight. The power of hype therefore lies in its ability to present the items to an already (or soon to be) resonating audience. It is then for the audience to own, wear, and share these values — made easier by the connecting nature of social media — that strengthens the brand’s community and status.

On The Value of Authenticity:

It may sound obvious but hype is only justified if it reflects and celebrates the values that the brand holds — without being compromised by commerce. When asked to compare the hype of their much loved Paloma Wool or Knobbly Studio products to those created by the likes of Supreme and Balenciaga, participants in our study expressed a struggle to view the attempted hypes of the latter without getting suspicious of their ulterior motives.

“I feel that the blouse was different because of its perspective. The print is designed from a feminine point of view and seems very much focussed on designing something refreshing, rather than purely rooted in profit.” — Anonymous

“The hype around Balenciaga or Supreme is only fashion-based whereas Paloma Wool’s pieces are an artistic and feminine statement.” — @dianousssh

According to the theory of self and personal identity, the argument holds that the pursuit of authenticity is entrenched within all of us. We do our best to be perceived as authentic and genuine, whilst being quick to judge others who seem dishonest, fake, or simply pretentious. This also applies to hype; its disingenuousness can be spotted and can detract from the real meaning of the product.

“Oh I think it's a different thing entirely — with Balenciaga and Supreme, people are buying because of the name. With the Knobbly Studio collaboration, it's about buying something because it is beautiful." — @vchamlee

Returning to the dilemma faced by Dior’s Saddle Bag, as discussed at the beginning of this article, the campaign had transpired little content or value except for the purpose of promoting the sale of a product. In contrast, the organic hype surrounding Paloma Wool and Knobbly Studio echoes the rich ethos and the creativity behind their work.

The talks and comments of those who took part have offered yet another insight into the magic formula of hype — that is, it all starts with the genuine creativity behind a meaningful product. To design and produce fashion solely for capturing a marketing hype is to willingly join a crowded bandwagon, as the success of being the ‘# of the day’ only lasts until the next hashtag that comes along. To manifest the energy of hype is to stay true to what creatives are known to do; using creativity to inspire the hearts and desires of others. Like the renewed sense of womanhood that is portrayed by the projects of Paloma Wool and Knobbly Studio, it was hype that offered a chance for more people to own and be empowered by their work; but ultimately it was the creative values that mattered.

A special thank you to all the respondents who took part in this article, including @chloe.chunk, @suziesmalls23, @vchamlee, @sarah_leigh, @justcallmeesophia, @dianousssh, @susannarrr, and those who wished to remain anonymous. The brands and projects discussed included Knobbly Studio, photographer and tattoo artist Laurie Franck, and Paloma Wool — thank you for bringing us something that people can believe in!

Resources For Further Reading:
i. Hipsters in the Hood: The Search for Authenticity in Young Men's Hip-Hop Talk by Pia Pichler & Nathanael Williams
ii. The Ethics of Authenticity by Charles Taylor
iii. Self-Monitoring & its Links to Materialism and Product Involvement by Beverly Browne & Dennis Kaldenberg