The Emperor’s Black Turtleneck & the Kaiser’s Diet Soda

Legend has it that brands emerged from the fog of war. Back when both sides wore similar suits of armour and visors covered their faces, it was hard to distinguish friend from foe.

Until 1127, when the Count of Anjou solved the problem by introducing a shield emblazoned with golden lions.

This decorative yet practical idea caught on, and the small but influential industry of heraldry was born.

Now the guys with the golden lions could club the guys with the black dragons with far less chance of maiming one of their own.

Medieval trade guilds rapidly adapted this heraldic system by devising their own symbols to mark the quality of goods made by their members.

During the 17th Century, war became more sophisticated as widespread use of gunpowder and muskets made armour and shields redundant.

All the major Europeans armies were kitted out in uniforms to readily distinguished friend from foe.

Brands and uniforms are still intrinsically connected.

Take major sports franchises, whether it’s the pinstripes of the Yankees, or AC Milan’s rossoneri, the brand and the uniform are indivisible.

But brands and uniforms can also interact on a more personal level.

What would an Apple product launch be without Steve Jobs in his jeans, black turtleneck and sneakers? A uniform the Emperor of Apple  has worn consistently for close to 20 years.

{Image Fast Company}

It’s a look that speaks of simplicity and authenticity, but also of the confidence to be oneself, and perhaps a dash of stubbornness or single-mindedness.

So much so, that a younger version of the look was co-opted by TBWA/Media Arts Lab in 2006, for Apple’s “Get a Mac” TV campaign, facing off against a young Bill Gates lookalike.

At which point it gets a bit confusing as to where Mr. Jobs stops and Apple starts.

Just how much Mr. Jobs' personal style has been responsible for Apple’s success is a question many financial analysts have also asked about Apple, albeit arriving at it via spreadsheets and not sneakers.

There’s another legendary figure with a uniform who’s possibly even more recognizable than Mr Jobs.









Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, or The Kaiser as he's called by  fashionistas, although I imagine not to his face. Mr Lagerfeld is also known as the hardest working man in fashion and very  possibly the world.

He also sports a similarly distinctive uniform.

True, Mr. Lagerfeld’s uniform is a little less uniform than Mr. Jobs', as it undergoes subtle variations, but it’s every bit as recognizable.

So recognizable in fact that, Mr. Lagerfeld’s trademark look can be reduced to a simple graphic silhouette on these limited edition bottles he designed for Diet Coke.

Given Mr. Lagerfeld’s whiplash thin frame, this is undoubtedly an inspired piece of cross branding.

His emblematic representation reminds me a little of Don Quixote, is it too far-fetched to imagine it adorning a shield and glinting in the early morning sunlight centuries ago, upon the field of battle?

I don’t know whether Mr. Jobs and Mr. Lagerfeld have ever met, or indeed whether they would have much in common aside from their respective uniforms and a dislike of mediocrity.

But maybe that's enough for an alliance of the uniformistos.

I can see them now, riding forth like knights of old astride their steely chargers, in a sacred and unceasing quest for excellent design.

Maybe their alliance would bear the fruit of an inspired collaboration.

Karl Lagerfeld for Apple – an iPhone 5 limited edition.

Sires, what sayest thou?