It’s All In How You Say It

Posted by on August 21, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo for the Clients and Friends of Williams Marketing

“What am I bid for this classic Shagger?” I’m sitting in the third row at the famous James C. Leake auction in Tulsa watching a tuxedoed, British auctioneer work a room full of Oklahoma oilmen. Ninety seconds later, the auctioneer drops his hammer and the Shagger sells for a record price. Just then, an old coot sitting next to me leans over, cups his hand to my ear and whispers, “I’ve got a car just like that at home, but mine’s called a JAG-wire and it won’t bring anywhere near that kind of money.”

Sometimes the power of a thing isn’t in the thing, itself, but in the way that you present it. There are no rules to the game called “Style”; it’s a game that anyone with enough boldness and audacity can win.

No one knows this better than Gabrielle. Gabrielle is a little orphan girl who lives with her 2 aunts in a desolate section of rural France. In 1899, at age 16, Gabrielle runs off with Etienne Balsan, a young cavalry officer who calls her “Little Pet,” the name by which she will become known throughout the world.

At age 30, Little Pet opens a boutique in Paris where she breaks every rule of fashion. Occasionally, her rule-breaking is based purely on practicality: She wears bell-bottom trousers in Venice only because she feels it will be easier to climb in and out of gondolas in them. It starts a pants revolution. After accidentally singeing her hair, she decides to cut it off completely and boldly strolls into the Paris OpŽra that way. It starts a craze for bobbed hair. While watching a boyfriend play polo, she becomes chilled and borrows his blazer. It turns so many heads that she immediately begins designing what will become known as her famous “box jacket.”

Throughout her life of 87 years, Little Pet is bold, driven, and intense. “There is time for work. And time for love,” she says, “That leaves no other time.” Little Pet’s friends include Picasso, Churchill, Dali, Cocteau, Stravinsky and Princess Grace. Her Paris boutique will have more than 3,500 employees and her designer perfume will become the most famous in the world. In the movie about her life, Katherine Hepburn will be chosen to play the lead. When she passes away in 1971, TIME magazine calls her “the 20th century’s single most important arbiter of fashion.”

How does she do it? What secret energy does Little Pet use to rocket herself from the desolate fields of rural France onto the covers of every fashion magazine in the world? The answer in a word, is generosity. Throughout her life, Little Pet never once tried to “protect” her style. Anyone who wanted to sell knockoffs of her products was perfectly welcome to do so. Little Pet knew that it would only make her more famous.

When one of the world’s wealthiest men, the Duke of Westminster, asked her to marry him, she turned him down flatly, saying, “There are a lot of duchesses, but only one Coco (French for ’little pet’) Chanel.”

You go, girl.

Roy H. Williams

Although I usually feature American personalities in the Monday Morning Memos, I chose to use an international example today because I’m sending this memo to you from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I’m currently conducting a series of seminars. The Portuguese translation of my first book, The Wizard of Ads, is selling very well in Brazil, so I’m speaking to very receptive audiences through an interpreter. My new Brazilian friends seem to especially like my jokes about Texas, though I’m never quite sure whether they’re laughing with me or laughing at me.


Leave a Reply