Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Steve McQueen Still Sells: The Impact and Influence of a Hollywood Superstar on Fashion

It’s one thing to have a company invite you to endorse their product, and – at least in the case of fashion – wear it on their behalf. It’s completely another when they re-name their product after you and make it a “Signature” item.

Unless you’re Steve McQueen.

He didn’t put his name on products. Companies proudly put his name on theirs.

Let me remind you, it wasn’t McQueen approaching these companies for endorsement deals. These weren’t his own products drafted for his own line. That wasn’t his style, and – unlike most of today’s shamelessly-self-promoting celebrities – he would consider it selling out.

How many of your brand reps can score a shot on the cover of TIME Magazine? You owe him one, Baracuta!

How many of your brand reps can score a shot on the cover of TIME Magazine? You owe him one, Baracuta!

Why would a brand, moreover, a luxury brand, be crazy enough to place someone else’s name before their own on a product? As simple a reason as this: Steve McQueen sells. In the 1960’s, his name could sell. A decade later, his name could still sell, and even today, he has just as many fans as he did then (if not more). He still sells. Go to the newsstand, pick up this month’s copy of GQ, and I’m sure you’ll find his picture someplace in there.

His style is timeless. And when it comes to fashion, whose fads move quickly from one to the next, “timeless” means one thing for companies: business. Steady, sure business. The item can sell itself. There’s no need to put out an extensive commercial advertisement campaign, because consumers already know what the item is and what it stands for. Moreover, it’s already being advertised by someone like McQueen, doing it for free and not doing it for any sort of paycheck – which, at least I think – would make a product more desirable to consumers.

He wore them by choice. When given the title role in “The Thomas Crown Affair,” he chose a distinctive pair of Italian sunglasses for the character, made my Italian manufacturer Persol. The tortoiseshell framed, blue-lensed glasses grew on McQueen enough that he began wearing them on his own time, both on and off of the movie set. Persol re-released these sunglasses as the PO 714 SM “Steve McQueen” Folding Sunglasses.

Straight out of the pages of today’s fashion mags, McQueen’s influence is as strong today as it was over 40 years ago

Straight out of the pages of today’s fashion mags, McQueen’s influence is as strong today as it was over 40 years ago

Sure, the guy had some great taste when it came to clothes. But those of us who know him also know he had some very memorable cars, namely, that green Mustang from “Bullitt.” Only just a few years ago, after re-designing and re-releasing the Mustang, Ford saw an opportunity for a contemporary homage to the infamous vehicle, and created the 2008 “1969 Steve McQueen Signature Mustang” Bullitt.

Other signature items include the Herringbone International Motorcycle Jacket [from The Barbour Steve McQueen Collection], as well as the Tag Heuer Steve McQueen Edition Monaco Watch (from the movie, “Le Mans,” as well as doubling as his personal racing wristwatch).

Sure, some celebrities may have one item named after them, but how many receive their own honorary line?

Sure, some celebrities may have one item named after them, but how many receive their own honorary line?

McQueen could take something so every day, so layman, so functional, and not only make it his own, but make it immensely popular. He wasn’t the first celebrity to wear the G9 Original Harrington Jacket. Sinatra did. So did Elvis. Search this jacket on Google Images, and take a guess at which celebrity is the first to appear in your search results.

Hint: it isn’t either of the aforementioned international superstars. Let’s just say it pairs really well with those aforementioned sunglasses. And, by no coincidence, the history of this jacket (with a shot of McQueen wearing it) is featured in the May 2012 issue of GQ. “Thomas Crown” was released in, oh, 1968. Meaning you could’ve bought that jacket almost 50 years ago, and it still hasn’t fallen out of fashion. Name any other celebrity whose sartorial influence has that much staying power. I doubt you’ll find one.

What do you think? Do you consider Steve McQueen a fashion icon with timeless style? Can you think of any other celebrities who fit this description?


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  1. Jill Tooley

    Great post, Eric! I’ve only seen a couple of Steve’s films (Thomas Crown Affair and Great Escape) but it’s easy to see why he was such a renowned actor. He had style, he had class, and a bad boy edge that set him apart from the rest. I didn’t realize that so many companies were eager to put his name on their products and encourage him to wear them! You’re right, that does go against the grain by today’s standards, when it seems like any celebrity would endorse a product for a couple of bucks.

    Just like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, I don’t see Steve McQueen’s influence going away anytime soon. In fact, I think it’s only going to grow as the years go on…you can’t beat a classic! 🙂

    • Eric

      Was watching “Papillion” with him and Dustin Hoffman awhile back and that’s what inspired this post. He was an interesting guy. He’d a rider demanding strange things, like electric razors and jeans, but he’d donate them to halfway homes for boys and charities. The guy was – undeniably – talented, though. The devil-may-care attitude lent itself well to fashion, and things he wore were sometimes out of sheer practicality: the Belstaff touring jackets were from his racing experiences.

      Dean’s in the same league as McQueen. I’d kill for a dead-on red jacket like the one worn in “Rebel.” I’ve one like it, but if ever I find a dead-ringer, man, I’m buying it.

      Can’t go wrong with a classic, Jill! 🙂

  2. Kelsey

    This is an interesting post, Eric. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything with Steve McQueen in it.. uh, am I too young or something? Speaking of using his name though, I will say that my favorite band M83 has a song called Steve McQueen on their new album and It’s one of my favorites! 🙂

  3. Jenna Markowski

    Along with Kelsey, I don’t really know much about Steve McQueen at all, but I do recognize the name. This is an interesting post, Eric! I think you hit the nail on the head about everything that makes is unpaid endorsement timeless. Most importantly, I think it’s the fact that he wore everyday items: sunglasses, watches, jackets. Throughout the years everyone is going to need one or all of those items, and the styles don’t really change too much over time with those items. Most celebrities today endorse or create clothing that goes along with the current trends, which quickly fade into the background. Whereas McQueen was clearly a simple, but nonetheless suave dude who’s name got associated with stuff that never goes out of style.

    Nice work! 🙂

    • Eric

      Very good point, and entirely true: celebrities today (especially those going as far as creating their own trademarked line) tend to place too much emphasis on trendiness. Another thing McQueen has going for his name is the quality of the brands associated with it: almost all the aforementioned companies make very sturdily constructed, quality clothing/accessories. Celebrities today just like selling as much as they possibly can and will sacrifice quality for quantity. Thanks for reading, Jenna!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    I haven’t seen many Steve McQueen movies, but the man definitely has a timeless style. Like Jill, I didn’t realize that so many brands had jumped to put his name on items, even though he just picked what he liked and wore it. That’s pretty awesome.

    • Eric

      To be honest, I hadn’t either until I did the research to write this, Mandy! I think it’s incredibly cool to have a company name one of their products after a person, and really, it’s a brilliant marketing tool, especially for companies that may be older and more established, but could use a bit of a boost in sales.

      I mean, hey…imagine how you’d feel if Converse named a pair of Chucks after you. Can’t deny that would officially make a person a bad-ass!

  5. Rachel

    I never knew there were so many Steve McQueen-inspired items out there. Very cool! Thanks for the rundown, Eric, this was interesting stuff. 🙂

    • Eric

      To be honest, neither did I, Rachel! It only came through the research that I learned there was a lot more out there than I’d ever imagined. I mean, it’s cool to have a signature item, but to have a complete line? Unimaginably cool. Speaks volumes to the influence he ultimately had on the fashion industry, keeping current even some decades later. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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