By Ricky O’Bannon
When is conspicuous consumption just a tad too conspicuous?
A new handbag created by New York-based designer Diana Broussard might be pushing that line. The purse features a customizable LCD screen that could presumably be programmed to play anything from baseball highlights to cat videos, but in the announcement video, Broussard opted to feature optimism by Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang.
The piece is from Lang’s soundtrack to the 2010 film The Woodmans performed by the group So Percussion, which can be heard in full here. In an interview with Forbes, Broussard described her design as TechLuxe, a line of wearable technology. Think of it as a high-fashion, couture take on the boombox of the 1980s for when you want everyone you happen to share a train with or pass on the street to know just what kind of music or YouTube videos you’re in to.
Whether or not you’re the type to want to join the new wave of wearable tech, the ad for the dbCHRONICLE handbag does show that art music can still be effective in commercials. Last November, a Lexus ad ruffled some feathers as many classical fans took umbrage with a commercial that tried to rebrand the Lexus image by ditching a Mozart-playing string quartet that was riding shotgun.
Granted, David Lang is from this century while Mozart is not, but maybe classical music (contemporary or canonical) might still have some selling power for more than just the music itself. There is no shortage of odd merchandising ideas out there that try to peddle everything from classical music-branded skis to toilet seat covers, the merits of which you can judge for yourself below.
1. Composer Action Figures
What child wouldn’t want action figures of the greatest 18th and 19th century composers? Admittedly, “action” might not be the best description for a figurine designed to do very little else but sit on a piano bench. The Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Wagner figures are produced by Accoutrements, a novelty gift supplier who also sell things like a unicorn horn for your cat.
Accoutrements understandably went with the big names, but they might be missing out on an opportunity for some action-packed but lesser-known composer figurines. Take for example French Baroque master Jean-Baptiste Lully who had a habit of beating a large staff into the ground to keep time while conducting, which led to his unfortunate death when he once stabbed his own foot that turned gangrenous. It probably wouldn’t take too much work to repurpose the “karate chop action” mechanic out of a super hero figure to create a beat-keeping and occasionally foot-stabbing Lully action figurine. But until then, one creative YouTuber has found that the Beethoven figure can make for some amusing stop motion videos.
2. Classical Skis
Back in 2010, the Colorado-based ski manufacturer Icelantic released a series of musical ski designs. One of those featured a strangely compelling classical theme. The intersecting demographics of classical music and skiing might not make obvious sense at first, but musician Sean Pawling’s viral video from a few years ago suggests that there is a market.
3. Violin Shoes
Israeli shoe designer Kobi Levi designed a pair of 5-inch heels for the 8 Variations for Stradivarius 2013 violin exhibition in Italy. Levi is known for what he calls “footwear art” that might be more whimsical than functional, but there is a historic precedent for combining shoes and violins.
In 1838, violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini received some fan mail that included a letter and a sabot or wooden shoe. In the letter, the man told Paganini he had heard of his genius, so to prove that virtuosity, he wanted Paganini to perform a concert on an instrument made out of the wooden shoe. Paganini was at first annoyed, but a friend he mentioned the mail to took the shoe to a luthier who crafted it into a something resembling a violin, which Paganini did use in a performance.
4. The Piano Toilet Seat
As they say, music is life, but it probably doesn’t have to be involved in every aspect of your life. Musically themed decorating flourishes can be nice, but chances are there has never been a dinner party guest who thought their host was more cultured after noticing a piano-shaped toilet seat in their bathroom.
5. Band Merchandise
Recently, the Swiss Youth Orchestra had an idea to create the kinds of merchandise for classical composers and their work that you would find at a rock band show. They created shirts, hats and patches for the likes of Tchiakovsky and Haydn that took a heavy design influence from rock and metal bands like AC/DC or Metallica. It might be a bit strange at first to see the F in Franz Schubert replaced with a sickle or a logo for Verdi’s La Traviata modeled after '50s horror movie posters, but the merchandise was popular and funded a trip for the orchestra.