Arnold Palmer: Youth Fashion Icon

Although globalization slowly expands the number of cultural references transcending borders, misunderstandings and strategic alterations of icons and symbols in specific regions still thankfully manage to defeat a staid universalism of stable meanings. For example, you Anglophones may know 77-year old golf legend Arnold Palmer as “The King” of his sport and a hero to the contemporary American elderly population. In Japan, however, Arnold Palmer’s name graces a popular youth fashion brand.

That’s right: apparel-makers Renown — who have owned the “Arnold Palmer” license in Japan since 1961 — now use the man’s signature and multi-colored umbrella logo as part of a brand targeting “a youthful generation with a new kind of sensibility” (「新感覚の若い世代」). The brand’s preppy female line gives Mr. Palmer a cuter edge by shortening Mr. Palmer’s full name to just “arnie.” The men’s line nominally reconnects to the sporty-ness of being on the green, but “Arnold Palmer Timeless” on the other hand is a total “lifestyle line” of basic and casual goods.

Walking through perennially hip youth fashion boutique La Foret in Harajuku the other day, I did not expect to see an “Arnold Palmer Concept Store” in the same retail space as Bernard Wilhelm and Theatre Products. But guessing that the name recognition of Mr. Palmer among Japanese young people is statistically equivalent to zero, the better question is, why not use the license as the backbone of a casual line for girls? The umbrella mark is objectively adorable. “Arnold Palmer” might as well be the name of a foreign designer — like “Paul Smith” or “Paul Stuart” or “Geoffrey Beene.” And with so many Japanese brands appropriating real personages’ birth names — like (Gabriel) García Márquez, Gertrude Stein, or jazz bassist Cecil McBee — Renown looks pretty classy in actually having the formal approval for usage.Just as Kentucky Fried Chicken invented a successful marketing campaign around the outright lie that “Americans traditionally eat KFC at Christmas,” the team behind Arnold Palmer youth apparel have skillfully made up for the lack of familiarity in a new generation by creating a brand new story more convenient to their positioning needs. But hey, Arnold Palmer could have been the go-to guy for basic, casual youth fashion in America as well. We just suffered a failure of imagination, locking him inside a prison of his golf prowess and half-tea/half-lemonade beverages.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

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2 Responses to “Arnold Palmer: Youth Fashion Icon”

  1. Aceface Says:

    “lack of familiarity in a new generation by creating a brand new story more convenient to their positioning needs”

    You can add Onitsuka Tigers in the same league.OT was never a hip brand in my days.It was ASSICS and known to be worn by highschool sports teams(to some still is).
    Although I did bought a Jya-ji from OT brand the other day.(and another Jya-ji for my wife from Arnold Palmer).

  2. W. David Marx Says:

    Obviously, rebranding away from the original image is always a possibility for any brand, but it is interesting to see this when the brand nominally revolves around a living human being. It’s much easier to change when your target audience has no clue who Arnold Palmer is.