Spirit of John Lennon lives on in Canadian clothing line
A John Lennon "Imagine" lyric collection dress shirt from the John Lennon-inspired fashion collection is shown in a handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Caulfeild Apparel Group)
Cassandra Szklarski , The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, August 18, 2016 2:37PM EDT
TORONTO -- Fashion designer Kelly Pettit started with a simple question in crafting a clothing line inspired by John Lennon: Can she imagine the legendary singer-songwriter wearing it?
She most definitely does, Pettit says, as she readies to premiere her vision at Toronto Men's Fashion Week on Saturday, noting her years-long development process was driven by a deep reverence for Lennon's artistry.
"I always say (there's) God, Santa Claus and then there's John Lennon," says Pettit from Las Vegas, where she was offering a preview to U.S. buyers at a trade show with her company Caulfeild Apparel Group.
Drawing cues from Lennon's solo years, Pettit calls the throwback collection "vintage with a little modern twist."
It includes T-shirts featuring Lennon's sketches, dress shirts imprinted with more art and handwritten lyrics (including those for "Imagine" and "Beautiful Boy"), and leather outerwear, casual blazers, sports shirts, casual pants, Henleys and polos.
It draws heavily on Lennon's minimalist jeans-and-t-shirt style, while steering clear of more dated garb that could be seen as passe instead of nostalgic.
"It would be great to introduce the high waist but I just don't think the mass market is ready for that right now," says Pettit, who is targeting everyone from the 25-year-old vintage fan to the 60-year-old Beatles devotee.
But imagining whether Lennon himself would wear the clothes is key to honouring the legend's enduring art, songs and personal style, and ultimately, ensuring the success of the line, she says, revealing that his widow Yoko Ono "wasn't approving" of the previous licence-holder's approach.
Pettit says Ono was impressed with Caulfeild's handling of the English Laundry brand in Canada and so talks began two years ago to take over an exclusive licence for North America and the United Kingdom.
Lennon's widow insisted on vetting everything from sketches to fabrics to samples to the press release, all in an effort "to keep the integrity," says Pettit.
"She's vetoed a couple of screen prints that we'd done from his artwork that we changed the colouration of -- it was too much pink or too much yellow, she wasn't too happy with some of that," she says.
"We had a print on a woven shirt that was a leaf and ... she said, 'It looks like marijuana. It's not something we'd like to go forward with.' And I was like, 'No problem."'
The collection joins a raft of campaigns built on the legacy of deceased celebrities, a big-business bonanza that has proven that a fortune can be made in the afterlife.
A Forbes list of the top earning dead celebrities in 2015 was topped by Michael Jackson at $115 million, Elvis Presley at $55 million, Charles Schulz at $40 million, Bob Marley at $21 million and Elizabeth Taylor at $20 million. Lennon came in seventh at $12 million.
It's a marketing strategy that works especially well in our celebrity-obsessed culture, says Andrew Menceles, CEO of the Toronto-based licensing consultancy JAM Brands.
"If they're powerful enough they can pretty much write their own ticket if they're willing to invest the money in marketing and advertising," Menceles says of building a brand around a dead star.
And there's a good reason why a deceased celebrity might be more powerful than a live one.
"The image of that celebrity is very stable, it is what it is. Whatever that celebrity did, accomplished, whatever the image is, it more or less remains the same," says Menceles, also president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association.
"Whereas if you tie into somebody who's living, it's kind of a moving target and things can change from one day to the next -- somebody can become involved in a scandal, somebody can commit a crime. Tiger Woods was great one day and not the next day. (Maria) Sharapova was a great tennis star one day but nobody wanted to sponsor her the following day."
Pettit says Caulfeild did a clothing line for the late Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland when he was still alive, but the relationship ended when his personal life took a turn.
"It was difficult," she admits of a scandal-plagued period that culminated in an accidental drug overdose in December 2015.
Pettit muses on the ethical dilemma of when to built a campaign around a recently-deceased star, admitting she debated whether to revive the line after his death.
"I still get emails from customers saying: 'I know your company used to have Scott Weiland (products), do you have them?"' she says.
She has no qualms about what Lennon would think about her latest collection.
"I'm so lucky that I get to do this," says Pettit. "I think he would love what we've (put) together."