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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!