May 9, 2012
When deviantART and Five Four decided to let the community take the lead...
It is only with the passage of time and chance moment of retrospective that the memories of an event from a decade past reveal that event to have been a harbinger of things to come – a prescient preview but of how people would very soon be changing the way they live their lives, and even defining their lives; a fundamental turn in what is to be valued in life and how to live it. The event of note occurred at the dawn of a new century and involved a group of young men were starting up a new apparel company not so much as a way to get rich (the old century paradigm) but as a way to express themselves and their lifestyle (the new century paradigm).
Needing an idea to make the launch of their enterprise a success, they reached out to a like-minded friend who was already running a paradigm-busting new enterprise to help them come up with a unique way of “announcing” their arrival and immediately indelibly branding their “very different” product. And so it was that deviantART hosted a contest for the deviantART community to create designs for the initial line of Five Four clothing, the designs to be based on two themes: “Defiance of Authority” and “Hypocrisy of Authority.” The ten-day contest was a success. Five Four was launched and continues on today as a premier innovator and trendsetter in casual apparel, much as deviantART continues on as premier innovator and trendsetter in both art and technology.
Andres of Five Four remembers:
“The community seemed very excited at the idea of the contest. This was the first type of contest like this on the site and it was very exciting for people to see their designs come to life. It was very interesting to see different takes of the themes by every artist. One of the great lessons I learned from the entire experience is that art is truly an expression of oneself, and it was great to see that in the design submissions from the various members of the deviantART community.”
It might seem that an arts community website and an apparel company would have little in common, other than deviantART and Five Four launching relatively at the same time. But that’s it precisely. The times we are living in have changed everything. Art, Fashion, and technology are fully intertwined as they have become the most important factors in how we are perceived by our peers and how we want to be perceived by the world.
As Andres notes:
“They are both companies whose founders started them out of a void they saw in the marketplace, and more importantly, as something they themselves would personally enjoy and use themselves. That’s one of the many parallels – the founders’ soul and passion is deeply rooted within the laurels and principles of the company.”
It was just a hastily organized contest, just an instance of friends helping out friends in the start-up of a new endeavor, a new adventure. But in retrospect, it illuminates the great paradigm shift affecting us all across the entire planet. First there was the observation made by the hippest seers into the future, people like Marshall McLuhan, that the coming technological new age would mean that the “medium is the message”, indicating how much the Internet, etc., would not only change the speed, etc., of communication, but the actual content of our communication itself. Things have progressed so radically that an addendum must be added to this maxim: The medium is not only the message but has become part of our actual being. In this new age it would seem that our sense of identity, of being, is defined mostly by our self-expression, rather than social position or job or wealth (the old “identifiers”).
Now, we "are" what we blog and tweet and network and we are the message we wear on our clothes. We are what social network we choose to “live on” when we’re online. We don’t sell and consume and possess so much as we express. This was the link between deviantART and Five Four in 2002 that sparked a contest that lit the way forward to a great success. Perhaps unknowingly at the time, it also shed light on the most important human evolutionary phenomenon of our lifetimes… But more importantly: Five Four still has some of the coolest clothes available ten years later and deviantART is thriving as an incredible social network.
Andres continues to innovate today, having launched the Five Four Club (fivefourclub.com), a monthly men’s subscription service that outfits members with ongoing deliveries of freshest new clothes in their own personal style all year round. Five Four has also come up with a new twist as part of the campaign announcing the extending of their apparel enterprise to include footwear: The campaign will be photographed entirely with an iPhone. And then Five Four’s customers will be asked to shoot their new shoes with their smart phones and share the shots via Facebook/twitter/instagram, etc.
An interview with:
What was the genesis of the personal and business relationships between deviantART and Five Four?
The relationship between Five Four and deviantART goes back a long time, even before the deviantART days. Five Four launched officially in 2002. As we were both growing our businesses in parallel fashion, with deviantART being much more evolved than Five Four at that time, we came across our first synergetic moment, back in the Summer of 2002. It was roughly 4-5 weeks away from our first trade show. Dee came up with the idea to reach out to Angelo, our good friend who was running the largest art community at the time (and to this day, kudos) and thought it would be a great idea to run a contest where users could submit Five Four designs. We decided to base the contest on two themes: "Defiance of Authority" and "Hypocrisy of Authority". The contest only lasted for 10 days, but proved to be a huge success for the Five Four brand. Our collection for our first actual trade show was primarily based on the designs that were submitted by deviantART users. If it wasn't for this, we wouldn't have even had a collection to go to the show. We are definitely forever indebted to the dA community for this.
Apart from just our friendship with Angelo, there have been many parallels between Five Four & deviantART. Both companies’ founders started their enterprises out of a void they saw in the market place, and more importantly as something that they would personally enjoy and use themselves. That's one of the many parallels, the founders' soul and passion being deeply rooted in the laurels and principles of their company.
Angelo is someone whom we have known for close to 12 years now, and we consider him a friend, peer, and someone whom we look up to. Angelo's accomplishments as a business man, innovator, and industry titan have always been and will continue to be celebrated by us as friends, and as Five Four.
What was the shared common vision of deviantART and Five Four in regards to business models and aesthetic missions that brought them together?
The commonality we share is that through our unique user experiences, whether it be thru the web or by putting on a piece of apparel, the consumer is sharing an emotion or feeling that the brand is creating that speaks to the brand's core, which in turn speaks to that individual. One of the core principles of the dA site that we love and admire is that it is a site for artists to speak what's on their mind via art. The mantra of dA is one that I respect and admire, as it is a ground for people all over the world to express how they feel, and what better way to do so, than art. To me, fashion is art. The way that I design, concept, sketch, and see a product from first concept, to final creation in stores, is an art form that gets me excited every single time. I'm lucky that I do this as a living, and get to go thru the motions every single day of seeing my art come to reality. That's one of the greatest rewards in the world. Much like the dA site and users, Five Four is my artistic expression. I still wake up every day thinking that something that I'm so obsessed with, fashion and style, I'm allowed to think of and create designs and fashions that people wear every single day, all over the world. Fashion is my art.
What do you remember about the design contest collaboration between deviantART and Five Four?
The community seemed very excited at the idea of the contest. This was the first type of contest like this on the site, and it was very exciting for people to actually see their designs come to life. Second, I think it was definitely a learning experience for the designers that were involved in the process. For the actual winners of the contest, I worked with them individually to ensure the artwork was delivered in the proper format that was ready for printing. This was 2002, so programs that converted regular artwork to vector ready or print ready art formats weren't as accessible as today. It was quite an experience, working with some artists via AOL chat, MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger, and ICQ. Fast forward 10 years, most of these messenger platforms aren't popular anymore and have been replaced by things such as Gchat and Facebook chat, and God knows what else. One of the great lessons that I learned from the entire experience is that art is truly an expression of oneself, as every artist has a different take on all themes/emotions/etc, and it was great to see that in the design submissions from the various members of the dA community.
To what in the changing culture of the times do you attribute the parallel ascendant success arcs of deviantART and Five Four in their respective fields of art and fashion?
We live in a time where change and innovation is happening by the minute, and communication is moving at light speed. Things change come and go, trends get started and die just as quick, and new ideas are being conceptualized every second of every day. We live in the best times ever. This has definitely affected both companies in great ways. The ability for Five Four to adopt to new platforms, business models, changing landscapes in the economy, and to continue to persevere has been a constant challenge and motivator. That challenge has served as a motivation tool every single morning when coming into a business that is affected by the world around it, and the way that the world is changing by the day. I believe these same issues have affected dA as well. We have evolved with our customers, and they have evolved with us. We have both grown with our fans, remained loyal to them, and vice versa, and that's one of the best feelings in the world.
What are the common ideas, attitudes and passions shared by devotees of both deviantART and Five Four?
Fashion is art, and art is fashion. Both affect each other in many ways, hence the marriage of so many collaborations and partnerships from both worlds with one another.
From an attitude perspective, Five Four fans have confidence when it relates to their personal style. When you put something on and express it as your personal style, there is some element of confidence that goes into that, especially when it is a branded product. You are saying, "I support this brand and its message." The same goes for art, whether you create something and put it on display for the world to see via dA or any other platform, you are expressing and exposing yourself for others to see. So whether a person is expressing themselves via fashion and their own personal style, or thru their works of art, it is all one in the same. All of this ties into passion of course, whether it is in a quest for style, for art, or both.
In the past, a celebrity might wear fashionable clothes and surround himself with fashionable art, simply reflecting good taste and affluence. Is there more to the "message" of which fashions one wears today? Of which artists and art forms one patronizes? Is there a definite fashionable politics being expressed? Something complementary to and in tune with one's own artistic expression, rather than being a mere perk of success?
One's style definitely tells a message of who they are, what they are all about, and what kind of interests they have. Especially people who have a unique style, or eccentric style. Like I said earlier, I feel that a lot of people use their style to reflect who they are, and when one is eccentric or well dressed, they are obviously making a statement about themselves. A lot of people say 'image is everything'. With all that said, fashion and art, how we dress, and the art we choose to buy or simply like, definitely all help to contribute to one's image. It tells a story about you, and who you are. So yes, the message that one is sending is simply, "this is me, and this is what I'm all about". It's as if people are speaking via fashion and art, and they don't have to say anything else past that.
How much has one's fashion, like the art one creates or buys, become an essential rather than trivial component of modern generations' identities and signifiers of their personalities? Why has personal expression become such a dominating factor in what one wears and what one hangs on their wall?
People sometimes like to show what they are all about, versus talk. The common saying that "actions speak louder than words" is very symbolic here. If one can show you via their personal style, and the art that they have on their wall, what they are all about, then that is much easier and less 'arrogant' than one saying, "Hey this is what I'm all about, the good life, the best of the best, etc." It is much easier to show. You simply can see all of these components, from style to art choice, in the background and then one builds an image of that person instantaneously based on what they see. Fashion and art have become a voice for people, without having to speak. It is more powerful to see than to hear, I feel. The mind processes what they see first, then what they hear second.
Both the deviantART and Five Four logos have become internationally identifiable emblems and fashion statements in their own right. Are these "badges" indicative of the sort of bridges that are connecting diverse cultures on a human level, as the Internet does, on a level far more significant than mere "product penetration" (e.g. Coca-Cola in Borneo) ever has?
An interest in the same brands/experiences (via a brand), have become common unifiers for people across the world. When that brand creates a unique emotion/feeling, then that brand becomes an ice-breaker and unifier between two people. With the Internet, and the globalization of the world, cultures/races are all becoming one. The biggest common area amongst people are ideals, beliefs, interests, vs. race/religion/etc. I've always been impressed and enlightened to see that the common unifiers amongst two random people from different ends of the Earth can be something like a brand, or an emotion/feeling that is derivative from a brand. That's really special. Fashion and art are HUGE unifiers for people across the world. People ask me, "What is your target market?" I usually reply that it is not necessarily an age group or race, it is more a state of mind. I feel that is the same with dA. When Angelo shows you a map of the world and where deviations are being submitted from on a minute by minute basis, you see that it is less about where that person is from or their age or religion, but more so about their interest in art, and their desire to express themselves via art. It’s a state of mind, feeling and emotion that ties back into the brand that they are engaging with, via fashion or art or both.