The battle for authenticity

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I was struck by this post on Japanese streetwear label Neighborhood’s blog for a ‘Vietnam-era’ Zippo lighter. The lighter has a burnished finish, wear marks on the edges like you would have from prolonged use and the kind of design that may have been carved by a talented soldier or to order by an engraver.

Neighborhood 'Vietnam' lighter

I found this craving for authenticity facinating. Even the designers own styles illustrate that: look at DJ Nigo of BAPE and Tetsu Nishiyama, of WTaps in this picture on SwaggerDap. Nishiyama is sporting what looks like a Rolex Submariner with a military strap aping the old pattern of watch that Royal Navy divers would have worn and both of them sport car coats that are straight out of American Grafitti.

Now lots of people hark back to other eras and styles. I love to listen to everything from 1960s and 70s country music to electronica, I see rockabilly types on the tube every so often and there are the  famous groups of rockers who dance in Tokyo’s Yoyogi park to 50s rock music.

Yoyogi Park #2, originally uploaded by Guwashi999.

What struck me about the lighter is that they were trying to embue the experiences of the object, the memories that would be tied up in an original item: a kind of voodoo version of the science fiction swapping memories stories like Strange Days, Blade Runner or Total Recall.

The Neighborhood lighter is not an isolated product class, Japanese apparel company Buzz Rickson prides itself on providing garments with a fanatical attention to detail, even down to getting exactly the right amount of tension in the thread. The clothing is based around US Air Force jackets and other clothing from the mid-20th century. This isn’t just borrowing from history but stealing it wholesale.

My friend Graham Brown focuses on providing counsel and research findings on young consumers to the mobile sector. He recently did a presentation called ‘The End of The Pepsi Generation‘ and the allusion in it is that young people will no longer be marketed an image, they want a product that is authentic. As the slide asks ‘Are you marketing to or Are you marketing with?’

I don’t think that this hunger for authenticity is just something for young people. They definitely couldn’t afford a Buzz Rickson jacket and Neighborhood as a brand is definitely aimed at people in the creative classes and ‘in the know’.

If we are looking to the past for these authentic memories, what does this mean to the future?

Bruce Sterling and William Gibson have been giving it some thought with their theory of atemporality, is the authentic memories meme a way of running away from our non-future?