katharine hearts eye patches

A few years ago, back when this was a blog dedicated to delightful things I found on the internet, I wrote a quick note about my love for the Man in the Hathaway shirt ads. Back then I’d only seen a handful of the ads including the original. Last week I had the good fortune to locate the book Hathaway Shirts: Their History, Design, and Advertising at the reference library. I spent a rainy afternoon flipping through the 90+ years of advertising history of a small clothing company. For fun.

Hathaway Shirts was founded in 1837 but it was David Ogilvy’s big idea in 1951 that earned the company a spot in advertising history. With “the Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” Ogilvy created an icon. All it took was a cheap eyepatch to take a distinguished gentleman from handsome shirt model to a man of intrigue and mystique. Ogilvy plucked Baron George Wrangell from Russian aristocrat obscurity and molded him into a jet-setting renaissance man of leisure. Each ad told a visual story of a sophisticated man of the world and his adventures. The Man in the Hathaway Shirt as personified by Wrangell was fearless, curious, and cool. The eyepatch contributed to the intrigue—what’s it for? Did he lose the eye in a wrestling match with a tiger? Or was it a fencing accident with a six-fingered man?

Wrangell retired from shirt modeling in 1961 and was replaced by Colin Leslie Fox, a sailor who crossed the Atlantic solo—while wearing Hathaway shirts, coincidentally. Fox brought a rugged, outdoorsy quality to the character and continued the tradition of the sophisticated Man in the Hathaway Shirt. There would be two more official Hathaway Shirt Men—Ned Phillips (c. 1977) and Clark Halstead (c. 1984). Neither fully captured the allure of the aristocratic adventurer. Halstead, a real estate mogul, didn’t even wear the eye patch.

At the end of the ’60s, Hathaway Shirts took a new advertising direction, hoping to capture the attention of the vibrant youths who would undoubtedly need shirts…eventually. Once Green Domatch, Inc. took over the Hathaway campaign, the creative floundered. Ogilvy & Mather had introduced this style icon that seemingly left little room for fresh creative thought. The ads from the 1970-77 era are markedly different from the previous 20+ years. As client and ad agency struggle to appeal to a more youthful demographic and distance themselves from the distinctive ad layout that David Ogilvy helped to perfect, the colour palette changed, the text placement changed, and the models changed.

The once dashing hero ripped from the pages of some epic romantic novel was replaced by a soap opera villain—the one who marries the dimwitted millionairess and whose foes vanish in tragic boating “accidents.” The campaign suffered from inconsistencies in ad layout and with models. Where Ogilvy & Mather placed the focus on one ocularly-challenged Man in the Hathaway Shirt, Green Domatch allowed for multiple uni-eyed men to frolic about in their client’s shirts. The Hathaway men of the 1970s were less sophisticated. The story behind the eyepatch could more believably be attributed to a case of chronic pinkeye or an unfortunate run-in with a lady he’d been stalking.

The eye patch tripped up the creative team. They tried using it on different models, wedging it into the Hathaway logo, and even using a white box with an illustration of an eye patch over a generic male model’s face. Why didn’t Green Domatch scrap the eye patch altogether and go a new direction? They were already running a few other Hathaway campaigns with no sign of vision impairment, including a campaign featuring Jack Nicklaus. Did the client insist on keeping the eye patch around for brand equity? The problem was that they focused on the object and lost sight of the underlying narrative. The story was lost. Gone was the intrigue and mystique. The company was no longer selling a fantasy. It was selling shirts. Even when Ogilvy & Mather reclaimed the Hathaway account, the ads were hollow attempts at recreating the Man in the Hathaway Shirt story.

Whatever your feelings of David Ogilvy or advertising in general, his take on the Hathaway campaign was a creative success that worked as more than just an ad for button-up shirts. The subtle photography and ad composition allowed the reader to engage in a story, a fantasy about a man and his exotic life. The reader can project any fantasy onto this man. This fantasy prompts the reader to rationalize that the fantasy could be attributed to the shirt, as in, “If I wear this Hathaway shirt, I could be just like this man.” The copy supports the fantasy and the rationalization while extolling the practical benefits of the garment. Not enough advertising today encourages the use of imagination. Hell, there isn’t much in any realm of popular culture in the 21st century that encourages imagination. We’re taught in design programs about short attention spans and the urgent need to capture the audience’s eye in three seconds or less. Which has lead to a lot of overwhelming imagery in the general marketplace. David Ogilvy showed us how to create a focal point and capture visual interest with a dime store eyepatch.

Failure #17: Develop drug addiction

In an alternate reality, I have inherited my mama’s trailer and inhabit it with several illegitimate babies from multiple donors and my ill-conceived lover du jour. The first spawn would’ve been obtained at some point in my high school career or shortly thereafter. This life would be made bearable with some form of chemical escape or a nicotine habit which also allows me to keep up my novelty lighter collection.

photo by Jen Vargas

Alas, I have no novelty lighter collection. There is nary a lighter in my possession. My mother’s trailer is occupied by new owners—faceless strangers with mysterious backgrounds and questionable morals. And I have reached my 30s (mostly) drug-free, thanks to one defining moment in my early teens.

My exposure to drugs as a youth was very limited. Like, maybe I saw a few episodes of Miami Vice and that “very special episode” of Gimme a Break. Aside from what I’ve seen in movies, I am incredibly naive about drug culture. I have no idea how much recreational drugs cost. I wouldn’t know what to ask for…do dealers have printed menus of their offerings? I suppose not. Also, is it customary to tip your dealer? If so, what percentage? I would be laughed out of the opium den, for sure.

As I entered my formative teenage years, my mother and I moved into a trailer park on the very outskirts of a very small town. Fortunately, this particular park was mostly clean and populated with family types. If deals were being done, they were conducted in the wee hours and away from impressionable sorts like myself. Still, in civilized society, trailer living is equated with white trash and it’s amazing that I have been able to distance myself from that stereotype.

The closest I have gotten to any drug use was during my freshman year of high school. My BFF of the year dragged me out to the designated smoking area for a chat about BoyDrama and a nicotine fix. Someone offered me a cigarette and I agreed. In my defense, I was 14, my father just died and I was coping with that along with the typical teenage woes. The BFF lit the cigarette—a Marlboro Light, maybe. It was foul. The taste offended all of my taste buds. My mouth is accustomed to the sweet and savory. This was worse than accidentally getting gasoline in your mouth. I’m not sure I was invited back to the smokers’ corner. Certainly I wasn’t invited out to the edge of the parking lot, where the real shit was happening…probably.

I’m sure my taste in romantic partners played a role in my drug-free existence. While my mother fretted over the day I’d bring home that tattooed prison-bound Romeo on a Harley, I was hanging out in the science wing and swooning over the Poindexters. If those guys had pot, they were Bogartin’ it for their anime marathons.

I have been offered marijuana fewer than half a dozen times. I have rejected every offer. Why? Shouldn’t I have tried just once, for “research purposes”? Was I afraid of germ-laden spliffs offered up by guys with iffy hygiene? Or terrified that I’d do it wrong? Had all of those anti-drug assemblies in school been effective in more than just getting me out of math class?

Honestly, the whole drug culture does not appeal to me. I am unable to rationalize how ingesting foreign substances by otherwise unnatural means to achieve a brief mental escape from reality. That’s what television was invented for, right? Well, and the promotion of needless consumerism. The only foreign object I’ve put up my nose was a pencil eraser. In my defense, I was two and my imaginary friend just died. I did not inhale. Well, not so much did not as could not.

This is not to say I’m a total goody-goody without vices. I enjoy an adult beverage on occasion. Admittedly not as many occasions as when I was younger. If it were not for the help of caffeine, I would sleep 17 hours a day instead of the usual 10 hours I get normally. As I get older and deal with chronic pains and aches, I am reaching for more OTC medications. The sciatic nerve pinch serves as a constant reminder that I’m no longer a sprightly youth.

Would drug use have had an impact on my social life? Could I have been a social recreational user? Or would I get hooked on the harder stuff that results in lots of time holed up in the bathroom alone? I don’t know. I might have a deeper appreciation for black light posters. I do know that I am so far removed from the drug world that I was unable to intelligently discuss any of the harder substances for this essay. The amount of research I would have to do just to make cracks about cocaine or…see, I can’t even come up with a second thing, is daunting. I’m better off sticking to things I do know, like bubble tea and the merits of Art Frahm’s paintings. I may revisit the whole topic when someone creates a dealer menu that can only be read in black light or by the flame of a limited edition sterling silver Daffy Duck lighter.