Commentary: Confessions Of A Logo Addict

It's all my fault. I admit it. For years, I've allowed it to creep into my home, a little at a time, so slowly that I never even saw what was happening. It walked in on a pair of really cool running shoes and worked its way upstairs to the bedroom and into my walk-in, cedar-lined closet. Before I knew it, it was deep in my chest of drawers. Human-As-Walking-Billboard disease had gotten me.

The label-itis plague has been spreading for a while now, but it wasn't until a year or so ago that I began to notice how far it had gone. That's when I saw some guy wearing one of those goofy baseball caps, the ones that say Your Basic Hat. I stared at it, dumbly moving my lips, reading the words over and over until I understood. Oh. Duh--it's advertising! A stupid ad for a cut-rate cigarette Philip Morris Cos. calls Basic. And this guy is wearing it on his head. How basically lame can you get?

Immediately, I felt better. Compared with guys who choose their headgear while buying a pack of smokes at the filling station, who wouldn't feel superior? And I enjoyed that snobbery, I did--for a while, anyway.

ET TU? But my smug satisfaction is gone now--gone because of what I heard the other day at that peculiar intersection where Seventh and Madison Avenues meet Wall Street. Maybe you heard it, too: Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. is going public.

That's right. Fashion Avenue's snobbier-than-thou Ralph Lauren, who got his start hawking neckties at Bloomingdale's while on a day pass from his native Bronx. Yes, Polo, the designer label Lauren burnished into a golden scepter governing a $2.5 billion global empire. He slaps the Polo insignia on most anything and, ka-ching!, it's raking in zillions. He even has his own line of designer house paint with such colors as Polo Mallet White and Estate Limestone.

Now we're taking logo mania to its logical extreme with Polo-brand designer stock. And guess what? We're going to pay about $700 million for the privilege. That's a lot of latex, even on Wall Street, and at first, I got itchy. Why not join up with Ralph, you know, get a piece of that Polo action for myself?

Thankfully, right about then, I am so, so happy to tell you, I walked into my closet, turned on the light and saw what I've been missing all these years: neckties. Well, no, not the ties, but the labels on the back of the ties. Polo. Barneys. Giorgio Armani. And, yeah, O.K., there are more than a few Lands' End numbers in there.

Staring into my closet, I realized that for ever so long I had been knotting those ties with a perverse intent: The better the label, the worse job I'd do on the knot--all in some semiconscious hope that the tie would serendipitously flop wrong-side-up on my shirt, putting the label--and my expensive taste--on display for everyone.

I might as well have been wearing Your Basic Polo Cap.

Sick, sick, pathetically sick, I know, and I prefer not to dwell on it. The real point is that before I lay out cash for a stake in Polo's stock offering, I have resolved first to yank out Polo's stake in me. As a clueless billboard for someone else's name or logo, I'm through, finished, kaput.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER. So I'm clipping off all those designer-necktie labels. And while I'm at it, the T-shirts are going, too: those big, beefy ones advertising surfboards, those sentimental ones promoting my son's preschool--even my favorite, a stylish black number inscribed with the single word, EGOISTE. Out go my Calvin Klein boxer shorts; from now on, I'm settling for the discretion that is the very soul of BVD.

If all this sounds more than a bit nutty, let me tell you, it could've been worse. I never paid more than 50 bucks for sneakers, regardless of whose swoosh adorned them. So I won't be tossing out any $150 featherweight air-pump cross-trainers. And just think of the heartbreak had my wife ever sprung for one of those briefcases with the dangling Coach tag. It's a damn good thing, too, that when I went minivan shopping, I didn't fall for the Mercury Villager Nautica Edition. Nor, thank God, is my daughter named, as is one of her schoolmates, Chanel.

One day I may regret having thrown away all the items that silently hype someone or something. But I doubt it. In fact, I've got a great idea for how Polo can use all that new cash. How about they start paying us back for all those years of servitude? From now on, no more logos unless someone wants to pay us to wear them. To get the ball rolling, I'm hanging on to my Chaps by Ralph Lauren trench coat. Size 40, tan, it's a pretty good knockoff of a classic Burberry's. And for the right price, I'll take it out of my cedar-lined closet.