If you take a look at the television shows that have seen the most success in recent years, shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or House of Cards, there's a noticeable shift toward a darker, more complex protagonist. In short, the antihero.
While popular film and television has plenty of flexibility to get creative with its storytelling, some less traditionally flexible industries are using the same concept in their branding and marketing efforts. Call it the allure of the badass, but we're seeing a popularization of the rebel attitude in clothiers looking for a way to distinguish themselves in an over-saturated market.
In the era of fast fashion retailers appealing to the widest demographics, there's a pushback in designers who want to bring the focus back to the quality of the clothing. They're showing that they're more than willing to give up large segments of the consumer pool to appeal to the audience that truly cares about their clothes.
Take a designer like VK Nagrani for example, the elusive Bruce Wayne of New York City fashion has been flying under the radar for decades, running his ultra-exclusive members' lodge on Manhattan's Upper East Side and crafting artistry-level designer menswear for the purist elite. Starting out with his luxury socks that have graced the feet of figures like former president George H.W. Bush, Nagrani expanded into the broader range of men's fashion, while maintaining a nontraditional approach to the fashion industry.
The India-born designer is driven by the desire to create something with a level of artisanship and craftsmanship that the average consumer wouldn't be able to even identify. It's the sort of passion that leads men to cast aside standard concerns like the bottom line and scaling plans in favor of producing something better.
While the H&M's and the Zara's of the world might be winning over customers with their mass appeal, brands like VK Nagrani are realizing that sometimes, the best approach is to tell off the masses in favor of the art. In his own words, Nagrani's been known to call out his fellow fashion industry professionals in colorful terms, "It's like a big garbage can of idiots. What do we do? Hopefully we make it for that one or two people that understand and are ready to enjoy something.
It validates my work and it makes me feel good. I'm not looking to be the next big-name designer. I'm looking to be a purist and my goal is not the financial success of the business but the impact the business will have." While he might "think most of them are f***tards," he does realize that his way is a shift in the predominant way of doing business.
So why is the antihero approach so appealing to audiences and consumers? For PsychologyToday, it's all about the idea of liberation and the shirking of normative rules, "Antiheroes liberate us. They reject societal constraints and expectations imposed upon us. Antiheroes give our grievances a voice. They make us feel like something right is being done, even if it is legally wrong.
Antiheroes do things we're afraid to do. They are who they are and they do as they want--without apology." Just as our favorite television shows allow us to live vicariously through the antihero's struggles and victories, donning the apparel of a rebellious brand lets us "put on" that attitude and adopt a bit of antiheroism in our day to day life. It's a way to stand out against the retail mass machinery and stand for something different.
And if you're wondering what's so wrong with that mass market retailing, you don't have to look very far to find out. John Oliver, HBO's resident late night host, tackled the issue of fast fashion in one of his recent segments, identifying the legitimately horrific circumstances of workers which lead to the low price points and mass scaling of such brands.
While we all remember the 90's backlash against child labor in cases of major brands like Nike and Gap, the labor standards driving these mass retailers hasn't significantly shifted in many cases. So it might seem that in an ironic twist, siding with the antihero might actually be the heroic choice.
In any case, we'll be watching to see if the tide turns back, but we suspect there are going to be more and more brands co-opting the antihero approach for a piece of the action.