Saturday, December 18, 2004

Fire in your Eyes

I got into Oakley as a direct result of becoming a cyclist. I first used Bolle (pronounced bol-lay), and they're not bad, but Oakley are in another category of cool altogether. Just listen to the names of some of some their eyewear:

Monster Dog
A Wire
O Matter
Fives 2.0
Thump (Anyone's favorite Christmas present at the moment, because it has an inbuilt MP3 Player)

I have the Juliet Fire, pictured above. I gave up a weekend trip to the Philippines to buy them.
Here's how they are described on the Oakley website at
Flex couplers allow this 25-piece blend of X Metal® and art to fit naturally around the skull. The adjustable frame includes temple shocks, interchangeable nosebombs, and all the innovations that sculptural physics can offer. Chiseled intake ports bolt the contoured orbitals around pure Plutonite® lenses to retain the precise geometry of XYZ Optics®.

I bought my first (of about 4) pair of frogskins in 1993. They are great because they can be used when training, and also fit the profile of just being outdoors, or driving in your car. Some of Oakleys stuff is just too cool, and the Frogskins were suitably understated.
Oakley, like Nike, has become so popular it has to back off from going from cool to cheesy-over-the-top, smacking itself big and bold everywhere. It has to be more subtle and less in your face, to continue to appeal as an Aspiration Brand.
Once you churn out oversized logo's on T-shirts everywhere, you you're making everything from wallets to watches, the actual Eyewear loses some of its invisibility. That's how a very nice product becomes boring, and the special magic, a sense of exclusivity is lost.

I think Oakley shoes look lumpy and terrible, and while their watches are cool, it may take a while to actually tell the time. Their t-shirts are okay, kind've cheesy, very in-your-face, and way too expensive. Years ago I bought stunning Oakley shirts that simply said: Thermonuclear Protection. No one really knew who it was, what the shirt was selling, except the people who really knew Oakley.
I did buy a rip-off Oakley bag in Thailand, and I saw some Oakley snow helmets and beanies yesterday on the slopes that looked worth having.

Way back in the 1990's, when Oakley was unknown almost everywhere, you paid a pretty penny for the unique stuff they came up with. Today it's no longer a pretty penny, it's sheer bank robbery. But people will pay anything for something that's original and very high quality. Oakley is still original, but every kid in America who thinks he's cool, and the marines all over Iraq, are wearing this stuff, and that turns the brand, for me, on its head a bit. It's not supposed to be a militant brand. It's supposed to be sleek and fresh, with an elite (athletic) feel to it. This is the sort of gear professional athletes would wear, young movers and shakers with a fresh and vigorous attitude,not assassins and snipers. That sucks.

What Oakley is so eyewear, Zipp is to Bicycle Wheels. It's simpy stands apart in almost every area, from being slightly anonymous (which Oakley no longer is), to being extremely high quality and performance, and at a price that will cause small Earthquakes under your local bank.

This was before it became 'officially' cool, before the South African cricket team, rugby team and every neighbor's son was wearing a pair on his cap. It was di rigueur (literally: required by the current fashion or custom; socially obligatory)gear amongst the triathlon squad (and still is, despite many copycat brands coming along), and its most important function when not training was to hold long hair in place. We'd perch it on top of our heads like a hairband. The Tour de France was our Catalogue For Sporting Cool, and what you saw there, was the best contemporary gear available, absolutely cutting edge, and absolutely cool.

The Tour gave you an idea which wheels were the fastest (and the winner of the timetrial stage had to be using the fastest and best wheels).

This kind of cool does not come easy. It provides protection from Thermonuclear Explosions, but is the same price as a large, flatscreen TV with DVD Player thrown in or an airticket from anywhere to Barbados.
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