Jamie Mustard | The Iconist

by Natalie Lucas

How can I be an icon? How can I make something iconic? How can I stand out?

Whether it be ourselves, our brand, our creativity or our ideologies – we are all trying to find ways to distinctively project ourselves in a world full of mass similarity. We are living in a time of dilution, with little understanding of how to make ourselves a breath of fresh air in a society of “visual pollution.” Jamie Mustard became fascinated with Billy Joel’s success rates after reading an interview about his hit songs. Years later, whilst watching a documentary on Louis Kahn, a famous architect, he had his eureka moment and connected the two legacies. This birthed the ideology of The Iconist, his new hardback book. This lightbulb (iconic) moment now offers individuals a way to cash in, either literally or metaphorically, on the “economics of attention”.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Chocolate bars in a vending machine is the metaphor Mustard uses to portray options in a choice-filled society. Whilst most of us will consider this pairing in terms of a personal distraction, Mustard states he focuses on “what that means for me.” In other words, it is hard to stand out in a society that is inescapably distracted and diluted. He exemplifies not how to sift through a vast amount of choice, but the reverse: how to stand out in a way that means nobody has to sift to find YOU.

Mustard’s book exists as a physical manifestation of his theory; the “blocks” of his ideology and formula of success are the twenty-two short chapters (each designed to capture and temporarily hold your attention). Visual statistics are set in bold and spread over numerous pages, along with well-known examples of iconic successes in culture.

Blocks, or icons, are not limited to particular categories; rather, the world is full of icons. Think about memorials or architecture that become tourist destinations. Further, Jackie Kennedy was known as a ‘style icon’ for her simple chicness that marked a reforming of the view of conservative clothing expected for the First Lady. However, her ‘iconic’ pink suit is not a mere memory of a time in fashion; rather, it remains in the American collective memory of the JFK assassination. Following this correlation, it becomes clear that icons in the fashion-world are not limited to, but can be associated within, a time or place. Further, if an individual’s style can be iconic for a historical moment, then a fashion brands “blocks” have the potential to do the same.

Mustard used the example of Donwan Harrell, whose worn-look design of jeans made him one of the most celebrated men in denim, to highlight the successful use of blocks in fashion. It was a pair of Donwan Harrell jeans that Mustard bought from H Lorenzo when he first got paid. “He is like the Alexander McQueen of denim. He has always amazed me as I never thought someone would be able to wash denim in a way that I could recognize, purely from it being so authentically made […] It is kind of like a hobo Dior”.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

If an individual is described as iconic, they are representing the essence of the category they are iconic within. For instance, to be iconic Mustard says you must include melody, which every category has: “it doesn’t matter if you’re not a pop, mainstream artist. But, you can’t not use melodies and be questioning why people aren’t catching on.” Melody seems to be a term exclusive to music; but Mustard challenges us to consider the Adidas three stripe, Fendi Zucca print, or Warhol’s screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, as the melodies of the art and fashion worlds. “From 100 feet away you can tell that it is Adidas; it’s the same with Alexander McQueen, Donwan (Harrell), Vivienne Westwood. You need your line connected so that even you evolve it is recognized twenty-years into your career”.

I ask Mustard whether he believes there is a science, or equation, to the way we perceive things in the world; he replies “Absolutely. When you see a repetitive thing that is similar, it communicates something to our lizard brains. It’s a concept which applies to fashion, music, visual art, architecture, and business.”

Whether we realise it or not, icons are effective in all our pasts, our presents, and our futures. Mustard argues that “in a digital world, where everything is diluted, [the use of icons] becomes imperative.” He emphasizes to me that he does not “just define success as pop culture, viral, collective known-ness,” rather, he is aware that there are many talented individuals struggling in a choice-filled society. This is the exact reason he wrote The Iconist. Think of it as a new era of literature that aids the everyday person attempting to concentrate themselves in a “diluted” society.