Fast Company

Fast Talk: The Brand Called Me

What's in a name? Everything, it seems. Building a brand is always a challenge, especially when your own name is attached. We spoke with five owners of eponymous brands about retaining control, finding aligned partners, and the importance of staying true to oneself.

Keep It Real

Tony Hawk

Professional skateboarder
Vista, California

Some people consider me an ambassador for skateboarding, but at the core, I'm just a pro skater. I've grown up with skating as a huge part of my life, but I'm past any wild days and out-of-control partying. I'm a dad. I have other responsibilities. I'm not trying to present some alter ego.

If I do have some kind of ambassador status to the nonskating world, it's because of the video games that use my name. Several companies approached me about doing one. But they either weren't sure what they wanted, or they already had something and they just wanted to slap my name on it. I really wanted to get involved from the ground level. I didn't want to direct it, but I wanted to lend my expertise to it instead of just tweaking something that already existed.

I mulled over a couple of different offers and just felt like Activision was on the best path for making something that was fun to play but that also had the integrity of skating involved. Yeah, there was a slightly higher-priced deal somewhere else. And I wasn't really in a position to turn down much at that point in my life. But it wasn't so much that it was worth the compromise.

I think the bottom line is that whenever I'm doing something that involves my name or image, I make sure that the skating aspect is authentic. It can't be exaggerated or goofy. It's got to be very much based in reality.

Tony Hawk is synonymous with skateboarding culture, thanks to product lines ranging from skateboards to video games. In addition to skating at "Tony Hawk's Boom Boom HuckJam" events, he hosts his own radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio.

The Person Behind the Brand

Nigella Lawson

Food writer and cooking-show host
London

I'm not altogether comfortable with the notion of becoming a brand. I feel absolutely fine about having my name associated with cooking and the home when it's with my readers and viewers, because they get the point of me -- someone who simply enjoys food and cooking and who is interested in the role food plays in our lives. But I get uncomfortable when I'm on some show and the announcer says, "We have with us the domestic goddess." I just want to cringe because that's not what I am. I guess it's my own fault.

I find it very odd how the world craves an expert so much that they want to turn you into one even when you're not. Somehow, in this hallowed world of TV, everything goes right. But in reality, that's not true.

I don't pretend to be an expert. For example, in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, I very stupidly call a recipe "easy almond cake." When we were doing the book shoot, I ignored the recipe, which says, "let stand for 20 minutes." I didn't, and the cake broke. The photographer asked if I wanted to make it again and reshoot. I said, "Don't be mad! If you have people coming for dinner, what are you going to do, make another cake?" So I just put a lot of powdered sugar and a few raspberries over it and shared this story in the book. I certainly believe that if you cannot cope in life with a cracked cake, then it's not just cooking you're going to find hard. It's the whole of life.

Nigella Lawson is the author of five cookbooks, as well as the host of several cooking shows in the UK and the United States. She writes a column for The New York Times and has her own line of kitchen tools.

Mix Up Your Muses

Todd Oldham

Designer
New York, New York

It makes no difference to me whether my name's on something or not.

I just like to design stuff. My style is an amalgam of inspirations that come from spending part of my childhood in Tehran, where I strolled the colorful bazaars, mixed with a cowboy culture from Texas, where I was born. Somehow, my designs come out in a way that has become a signature. But I never forget that the appropriateness of the end product is as important as the design.

For every expensive blouse I made as a fashion designer, it was as much fun to appear on MTV's House of Style and show people something for 99 cents. To keep my brain attached, I had to always have that balance between high fashion and mass culture. Being on MTV allowed me a different presence than a lot of designers have, and it made it so that people wanted my name on stuff.

My friends burst out laughing when I partnered with La-Z-Boy last year to produce a line of products. But while I don't relate to their traditional furniture -- and it's important to remember I wasn't hired to relate to it -- they've been super supportive of what I want to do. As a result, we're experiencing first-year sales that look more like third year.

Situations like these are always a balance. I urge everybody who asks my advice not to sell your name. There are lots of deals where you can lose control for a more profitable offer. I had an intense experience where I lost control over my name and let's just say I was extremely happy when I bought the rights back. Now I have 100% control over anything with Todd Oldham on it.

Todd Oldham has a new book, Handmade Modern (Regan Books), coming out this month, and is designing a new hotel in New York. He has also created several lines for Target.

Design Is a Backdrop

Kelly Hoppen

Interior designer
London

For a long time, people joked about my notion of creating a harmonious way of living. I almost began to feel paranoid that they didn't understand my work. For many years, I think people were throwing away everything that gave their homes character because they were just following trends, not really understanding what it was that they wanted.

But more people are realizing they need to live in homes that are reflections of who they are and the way they want to live. My style and products -- which I'd describe as purist, not minimalist -- create a backdrop for people to put their own identity into the design. If my clients are happy in their environments, then people who come into their homes are going to feel at ease. What I do is create a feeling in the home that enables people to be who they are.

My retail line, which includes furniture, bed linens, and paint, kind of evolved. Because I started as a designer, I was already buying products for people, and I really knew what they wanted. At first we bought things and worked it into our look. Now we're making and designing most of it ourselves. By the middle of this year, there will be many more products that are physically designed in our studio.

We've also opened a school in London to teach the Kelly Hoppen design philosophy. Luckily, I'm never lost for ideas. My brain moves faster than my capability to create.

Kelly Hoppen continues designing interiors for private clients. Her home products are available in her London flagship store and in the United States at some Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus stores.

Harvesting a Fresh Market

Andrea Immer

Master sommelier and author
Napa Valley, California

This whole thing started for me when I realized there was a need to communicate that wine is not solely a luxury product understood and appreciated by an elite few. My point of departure with my first book was to put wine in the same kind of plain language that I'd use if I were doing a live tasting. I've loved seeing the topic of wine hit mainstream publications that aren't written just for gourmands. Hopefully, with things like my books, my wine column for Esquire, and the television shows, I've been part of that.

My relationship with Target started when somebody read my book and thought we both had a reputation for being fun, playful, and user-friendly. It's a partnership that has gone far beyond licensing my name. I still work very closely with them on developing all their wine merchandise, which has my name on it. I'll give them ideas about flavor and body style that I want to communicate, and they turn those into extraordinary graphics that explain the concepts without overloading you.

So far, I haven't felt any major limitations in being too closely tied to Target. The customer we're targeting is the same. Still, I'm lucky to have outreach in other outlets beyond retail. I've got my books, and I'm releasing a wine-tasting DVD this month. About 88% of the wine drunk in this country is consumed by just 12% of those of legal drinking age. The rest of the population isn't missing from that number, there's just always been some sort of barrier they've been facing. That may just be a lack of knowledge or comfort with the product.

Andrea Immer, one of 13 women in the world to hold the Master Sommelier title, is also the dean of wine studies at the French Culinary Institute. She is the author of four books about wine.

Add New Comment

0 Comments