December 17, 2010 10:08 pm

How to gift wrap the news

There is a lot of gifting opportunity that is not being seized

Let’s face it: after a while all pundits secretly think they can do a better job at whatever discipline they study than those who are actually doing the stuff. That’s why, for example, so many political journalists run for office (the Johnson brothers – London mayor Boris and MP Jo); why so many socialites think they can become designers (Tinsley Mortimer, Jennifer Creel); why designers want to be filmmakers (Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld); and why, after six weeks spent compiling gift guides, the last of which graces this week’s Life and Arts issue, I have some big ideas on the subject. In fact, lately, almost everything I read makes me think of a gifting opportunity that is not being seized.

It’s very frustrating. For example: every day it seems various US papers and blogs are filled with yet more stories about the personal space problems created by the Transportation Security Administration, whose X-ray machines and less-than-ideal people skills have offended numerous passengers, including secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who told Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer that if she could “avoid” a pat-down, she would.

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Vanessa Friedman

As we approach this heavy travel time of the year, I find it inexplicable that some fashion entrepreneur, or even an established brand, has not seen this as a chance to carve out a special product niche in travel-friendly clothing. I mean, every high-end accessory designer worth their salt has produced travel-friendly toiletry bags made to hold those teeny amounts of creams and gels that air authorities now allow on-board, all encased in nice see-through designer plastic. How come they haven’t taken their thinking one step further and applied it to fashion?

Even if clothing can’t defeat the dreaded scanner, it can certainly be both comfortable and body-aware enough to demonstrate the difficulty a passenger might have in secreting a weapon on their person, and thus reduce the examination stress. And don’t tell me such outfits already exist, in the form of leggings and T-shirts, because plastic baggies already existed, too, and that didn’t stop anyone from buying the more beautifully packaged alternative. It’s all in how you pitch it.

Then I found out a company called MIC Gadget had made a little nodding figurine of Steve Jobs – and all 300 had sold out lickety split, at $80 each (the Apple lawyers got on the case and the company had to stop making them before the next batch could go on sale). Now, I know there are tons of crazed Apple obsessives out there, and the idea of a stocking filler featuring their idol is hard to resist but, given the number of Facebook fans of Burberry, Gucci, Chanel and the like, you can’t tell me that a similar run of fashion dolls wouldn’t have equal, if not better, success (my guess is fashion fans like dolls more than Apple addicts).

. . .

Mini Marc Jacobs; mini Frida Giannini; mini Christopher Bailey; mini Alber Elbaz. You could collect them all. And you could even extend the franchise and sell them with mini versions of the real runway looks (men’s or women’s wear). The brands themselves could get a little sliver of the profits. Tell me there’s not a market for that? My Diane von Furstenberg Barbie is on my desk right now and I can tell you: everyone loves her.

And forget all those rip-offs of Kate Middleton’s engagement dress or Diana’s suddenly trendy engagement ring – think laterally. For Middleton watchers, or Middleton wannabes, the most compelling visual signature of the almost-princess is her hair. Long and lustrous, it practically begs: market me. Some beauty company is missing the boat by not linking her image, or the idea of her image (because let’s face it, that image is pretty protected right now) to vitamins for the hair or some hot rollers. Or even better, how about a hairpiece for those young women who were inspired by Emma Watson to chop their locks into a pixie cut, only to now regret it as they find it difficult to choose between attractive young beauty icons? Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too, especially at Christmas, and the same goes for hair.

Finally, does no one else see the possibilities in that oh-so-catchy Conservative term for the current economic situation, “the age of austerity”? How it trips off the tongue with Whartonian elegance! What delicious irony in the idea even deprivation can create consumer opportunity.

Think of it: “austerity handbags”, made from long-wearing canvas, trimmed in hardware, the antidote to all It bags; “austerity greatcoats”, enveloping and body-heat-saving, thus cutting down on the need for radiators; “austerity evening wear”, made from curtains à la Scarlett O’Hara. In fact, why doesn’t the new government start its own brand: The Age of Austerity, designer George Osborne? It would be a modern way to plump up the public purse. Besides, the House of Commons already sells key rings, china and such. It would just have to increase the selling space.

vanessa.friedman@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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