Hells Angels vs Alexander McQueen

A Harley Davidson motorcycle.

I have been meaning to write a post about Harley Davidson for some time, and it seems like today is the perfect day as there has been a fashion-related story about the Hells Angels going around in the press today.

Let’s start with Harley Davidson. My Dad is a biker, or I suppose the better term is weekend biker. He doesn’t have any tattoos, or get up to any petty crime, and he isn’t part of a club. Like most “bikers” these days, his biker commitment involves driving one of the bikes around on the weekend (only in the summer months) and meeting his “biker” friends at the Starbucks, where they sip non-fat lattes and stare at their bikes, whilst glaring at any motorcycle that is not a Harley, Indian, or Triumph. I grew up thinking Harleys were a true symbol of cool . I read Hunter S. Thompson’s book, and I loved the idea of black leather, skull motifs, and “being bad.”

Fifty-something man on a Harley. Certainly not a sexy biker guy.

Of course, while living in Europe, I hardly saw any motorcycles. Hardly anyone has any wheels in London, and when they do, it is a small car that is easy to park, not a $30,000 machine that you can only ride on sunny days. So when I moved back to Canada, I was suddenly exposed to the reality of the Harley Davidson bikers. These aren’t cool guys like Julia Robert’s boyfriend in Erin Brocovitch, these are 60-year old men with boring day jobs who think their Harley automatically makes them cool. Sort of like that old guy with the red convertible and the blond in the passenger seat (you know the guy, every red convertible has one), but not quite as bad. There was suddenly nothing cool about Harleys, if they were inaccessible to the young people who ultimately make a brand like that desirable.

I had a surprisingly rational conversation with my father about Harleys a few weeks ago (surprising because he never likes to speak badly about Harleys, and he is not one to have rational conversations) and I told him that I thought that Harley needed to work on their brand image, and make themselves cool again. A 25-year old can’t usually afford a $30,000 motorcycle, and if your product is only affordable for 60-year old men…what happens to your brand? You turn into a middle class, 60-year old men’s brand (possible the worst type of brand to be.) My father explained that Harley Davidson is apparently selling more and more low-priced bikes to target a younger audience, so that the entry-level price point is a lot lower. Based on what I saw on the website, it seems they are really trying to attract a younger, less affluent market. Here is a brand that has an amazing American heritage, who can truly consider themselves “authentic” and who has the ability to be VERY cool, so hopefully they can get out of the rut they are in. No one wants the same motorcycle as a bunch of retired guys.

The Hells Angels logo.

Anyway, the Hells Angels story is that they are suing Alexander McQueen, and a few other brands, for “trademark infringement” of their skull and wings logo. You can read more about the Hells Angels fashion case on the FT, but the summary is that some of the bags and scarves use motifs that are registered as Hell Angels trademarks and cannot be used on fashion or accessories by other brands. I guess the most interesting part of this story is that the Hells Angels are actually an organized group who are able to get themselves together and sue other companies. I thought they were a gang hanging out in clubhouses and getting drunk, but apparently it seems they are more “official” than that. I’d love to see this showdown in court, the Gucci Group people (who own Alexander McQueen) wearing tons of McQueen skull stuff and carrying $4,000 handbags, vs the Hells Angels, a bunch of burly old guys wearing black leather and bandanas. Imagine the motorcades on arrival: Harleys vs Mercedes. A very fun court case, if you ask me.

The Alexander McQueen ring guilty of "trademark infringement."

Lastly, I have a question for the Harley Davidson people: while the whole fashion world decided that skulls and studs and black leather were THE cool thing, why didn’t they jump on the bandwagon? Personally, I’d rather buy a studded jacket from Harley Davidson than Balmain (and it would be a fraction of the price.) They could have made handbags, boots, clothing, jewelry, and even homewares (skull homeware is a bit of an obsession of mine, the skull dish sponge is my favourite.) But instead they just kept making old men’s motorcycles, and their women’s accessories range wouldn’t appeal to anyone but the 50 year old wife of the 60 year old biker, who wears high waisted jeans and yearns for a pink Harley. Definitely a missed opportunity there. If Harley Davidson ever does decide to make any cool clothing, even a high end leather goods line, count me as a customer. As long as they get rid of their old man image first.

A velour bag from Harley Davidson. Looks more Juicy Couture than biker.

—-UPDATE—-

November 3, 2010: Alexander McQueen has settled the lawsuit by offering to destroy all the merchandise with the skull logo. So if you bought one of the “trademark infringing” pieces, you are in luck, it will be worth a fortune!

Image sources: Harley Davidson MotorcycleOld guy on a HarleyAlexander McQueen ringHells Angels logoHarley Davidson bag.

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  • Chris L

    I imagine a certain TV series may be a factor in Harley's increase in sales and fashion designers appropriation of their insignia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sons_of_Anarchy

    I've only ever encountered real Hells Angels a few times in my life. On two of which occassions they administered severe “violencings” to acquainenances of mine for no apparent reason other than “badness”. I certainly wouldn't want to mess with them, especially the Scandanavian chapters; or Quebec/Montreal (who the NY mafia would employ as hitmen) Even in England they killed a guy a few years ago over some supposed slighting.

    Generally speaking, people who have a proclivity to settle disputes with bazookas and hand grenades are probably best not aggravated. However cool their crest looks.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Good points, although I doubt they'll be taking bazookas to the Gucci Group headquarters… Or will they?

  • Fiona

    Would I be stereotyping Hell's Angel's by assuming they don't want Alexander MqQueen types wearing their sacred brand?

    Harley Davidson should be thanking Alexander MqQueen for promoting them while they fail to do so.

    Just a footnote, the acting in Sons of Anarchy is painful to watch.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I think Harley Davidson would like McQueen types to be wearing their clothes

    as it would up their brand positioning, but I don't think they want them

    copying the product itself. I think Hells Angels are quite protective over

    their logos, since it isn't a club open to everyone, hence the lawsuit. I

    doubt it will go very far.

  • Mary Ann

    In my personal opinion most Harley Davidsons made after about 1975 lost its cool. I probably feel this way because of the old man stereo typing. Many of the young hells angels tend to go for the more trendy chopper style of bikes. Personally I think there is nothing like the look of an old fashioned bike particularly any Triumph.

    I find it interesting that an organized crime group is involved in suing anyone. I know that some chapters are more criminally involved then others, but lets not forget that the hells angels are a gang. I wonder what would happen if the Bloods tried to sue anyone…haha

  • http://www.d2moto.com/c-758-harley-davidson-accessories.aspx Harley Davidson Accessories

    Harley Davidson bikes are always good looking and comfortable over long distance. Engine is quite gusty and sounds well, loads of torque, good seat height, not bad handling.

  • Sheryl Sorrell

    HELLS ANGEL’S is da BOMB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!