Vintage Produce Labels Are the Cat's Meow

Redefining “cool”

There are many definitions for the word, cool. Cool can describe the weather (opposite of warm), colors (hues of blues as opposed to reds), even one’s disposition (“Are we cool now?”). Webster’s dictionary will reveal many more meanings of that simple four letter word. In fact, it is one of the other meanings that prompted this blog. Cool can also be defined as fashionable or hip as in, “WOW, that car is so cool!”

There are those that spend their whole lives trying to be cool. They want to walk cool, talk cool, dress cool and act cool. They want to own cool things and be thought of as, you guessed it, cool. I recently read an excerpt from Leslie Cabarga’s book, Logo, Font and Lettering Bible in which he attempts to define cool. To quote, “Cool, actually, is a protective mask worn by the fearful. Cool is disenfranchised, dispassionate, alienated and frightened. Cool is non-committal for fear that to commit to an unpopular idea might make one uncool…Cool is uncreative. It follows, but does not lead. True cool – if that term can be used – is being true to thine own self.”

Can a person be true to themselves and still be considered cool by others? I would think so but wonder if that is really even important. The bigger question is, Why do we try so hard to gain the acceptance of others? I suppose one reason is that the opposite of acceptance is rejection and nobody wants that. We should all take pause to reflect on whether we have a desire to be cool and if so, pinpoint our motives to see if we are being true to ourselves.

Leslie Cabarga asserts that cool is uncreative. I work in a field where customers expect me to be creative. Does this mean that my designs are not cool? I think that is sometimes the case. I remember boat customers contacting me over the years to do something custom on their boat. They wanted it to be different, to stand out, to be cool. If Cabarga’s definition of the term cool (the untrue kind) is correct then there is a conflict. For how can the boat lettering be different and stand out when it must also be accepted by others as cool?

In almost all of the aforementioned meetings with yacht owners, what they really wanted was the safe, conservative, Times New Roman style of lettering that all of their sportfishing buddies had on the transoms of their boats. They believed they wanted something truely custom but rejected all of my “thinking out of the box” suggestions. Their idea of “cool” ended up being spun silver leaf instead of spun gold leaf. To do something truely different and look out of place with their tribe was simply unacceptable. I get it. We all want, even need, to belong.

What cool means to me?

I have changed my Red Rocket Signs website heading several times. One of the reasons for so many revisions is that I am building the site myself and there is a learning curve as to how to get the look I want. But another more important reason has to do with branding. My brand is vintage inspired signs and logo design. That is not to say that retro is all I do. But, it is my specialty and a subject on which I have accumulated much reference material. Anyone visiting my website should immediately catch the vintage vibe. My heading as of this writing (who knows if I will change it later) is an attempt to emulate vintage early American produce labels. Why? Because I feel they represent in a tangible way my brand. Also, as a form of vintage ephemera I think they are very cool.

Borrowing from the past is my idea of cool

Will anyone get it? Will they understand that my website heading is paying homage to vintage produce labels? I doubt it. Unless by some remote chance they too are familiar with vintage crate label design then I imagine they are scratching their heads as to why the layout is so topheavy and wonder why the words, U.S. No. 1 along with the other secondary copy is even there. Do they need to know what served as inspiration for my design to get the vintage vibe? I certainly hope not. That would mean that my branding strategy has a major flaw. Lastly, am I being true to thine own self? If the potential customers that enter my shop only to be turned away is any indication; then yes I am.

We all in our own way want to be cool. But if we are in business then we also need to separate ourselves from the pack. We need our product or service; our brand, to be different enough that we don’t disappear in the crowd of competitors. To be true to thine own self means to be true to thine own brand.