As part of the continuing saga of how everything that is cool eventually makes a pit stop at Urban Outfitters before it is finally laid to rest at Target, we offer this: Last week, 700 Club co-owner Tracy Stanton received a phone call from a friend who happened to be visiting Kansas City, MO. After exchanging pleasantries, Stanton's compadre informed him that, "Dude, I'm standing in the Urban Outfitters in Kansas and I'm holding your hat!"
The friend was referring to the knit ski caps the 700 has been making as a wintertime promotion for some years now. (A check of the PW archives quickly reveals that they were featured in our Holiday Guide three years ago.) They're cute: tri-colored (in either the U.S.A. or rasta-variety color schemes), emblazoned with "700" both in its numeric form as well as spelled out around the hat's circumference and, perhaps most endearingly, bearing a little fuzzy pom-pom on the top.
There was one significant difference, though, in the hat that Stanton's buddy in KC was holding as the thumping post-emo and bright lights of Urban Outfitters conspired to give him seizures--his hat, odd as it may be, said 800. "It was definitely like a backward compliment," says Stanton. "I instantly thought it was extremely funny that this million-dollar company was so lame as to lift our jerkwater little promotion. And also I was really psyched that they put some intrigue into my boring life. Now I had to go to Urban Outfitters and see what the hell was going on."
As if to add insult to injury, Stanton found a second hat style on his own trip to that bore the natural correlative to his beloved number "7": a hat that said 1100. "I walked up to the third floor and sure enough, there was display of our hats. I took the ones that were on display, pulled the paper out of them, threw it all over the floor and then went downstairs and purchased two of them. But at that point, it was hard to be mad because I was just psyched that I was holding an 800 hat. Because," he laughs, "that's really one better."
This is not a case of brilliant people all over the world having the same brilliant idea at roughly the same point in time. As best as can be surmised, somebody at the Urban Outfitters design department--which is conveniently located right here in Center City--thought the hats were cute enough to steal, mass produce with the slightest change and then sell all over the country, deliciously free of their original context.
"Once again," says Stanton, "they offered me an opportunity for some haughty pride. It's a weird position being aped. There's almost no way that you can take it as anything other than a compliment. If they'd asked me to just do 700 hats for free--just to have them all over the country--I would have said yes." A representative of Urban Outfitters' design department did not return our inquiry by press time. (In fact, the receptionist even seemed a little annoyed that we were asking.)
This is not the first time Urban Outfitters has been caught red-handed sniffing through the strange and fowl bin of pop culture ephemera. Just last year, the store reportedly settled out of court after being sued for using an unlicensed picture of Johnny Cash on a series of T-shirts. "I find it hard to believe that even if the perpetrator was someone that I didn't know from coming to the bar," says Stanton, "that someone that I did know didn't okay the whole thing as well.
"So immediately, I'm thinking of my next promotional item, which I think should be a rip-off of an Urban Outfitters item," Stanton continues. "But because they steal all their ideas from thrift stores and other new stores, they have no identity. How do you plagiarize the already-plagiarized?"