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Newsflash! Personal branding isn’t new...

The truth is that every artist who ever signed a painting was expressing their personal brand. Every fashion designer who put their name on a label or emblazoned their logo on a shirt, purse or shoe was laying claim to their brand identity. People have been thinking about their brand in the context of their art or vision for centuries, not decades.

Last week I took one of my frequent “art nerd” afternoons with some of my favorite museum pals and visited the Bard Graduate Center for the first time. The entire museum was an exhibit dedicated to Sonia Delauney, who I regret to say I wasn’t familiar with. But wow. This woman was PROLIFIC. And the Queen of color.

Beginning her career in the early 1900s and continuing until her death in the late 70’s, she was a painter and a designer, not only producing her own textiles, clothes and patterns, but decorating her spaces and those of her friends. Rugs, curtains, upholstery, you name it. But not only did she create these materials, she put her name on them. As if they were works of art — which they were.

A wall hanging with her signature.

Move over Marimekko, this was a child’s room she designed complete with curtains, bedding and upholstery.


Marketing before we called it marketing

Participating in the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Industrial Arts in Paris, Sonia set up a temporary shop front called “Boutique Simultané” with a furrier and leather goods manufacturer. Here she was able to showcase her coats, fabrics and accessories to a global audience. But knowing she had to market her wares, she commissioned a photographer to capture models wearing her designs against the backdrop of modernist buildings as if to suggest that her fashion was on par with the most cutting-edge art and architecture. And it worked, helping her to expand into the US and across the globe.

As her notoriety grew, she was asked to design costumes for the ballet and even film.

Even a scarf gets the branding treatment.

Right before her death she developed a range of textiles, tableware and jewelry with a French company, inspired by her work from the 1920s.


An Evolution Revolution

I love how she continued to evolve not only her style, as so many artists do, but her mediums. She was always interested in what was next and never rested on her laurels. She tried whatever she was inspired by and wasn’t afraid to fail. But because she had built up such a renowned brand, it allowed her to be more creative, to expand and to experiment because she had earned the trust of her audience. She’d proven that she had talent and that she could deliver what they wanted from her. But it also gave her latitude to know that she could push the boundaries.

So when you think that personal branding is new, remind yourself that it’s been going on for centuries. Remember that people have been making a name for themselves in their fields, whether creative or otherwise in order to get noticed since way before you were born. Since before the internet. And before there was paper to print anything on.

Branding isn’t new. Marketing isn’t new. But the ways we go about them is. And the control we have over our message is. How we want to brand ourselves is totally up to us — and anyone can do it. You don’t have to sign your name to get noticed, but you do need to stand for something. And if you need help, let’s chat.

LOOK at this stunning mosaic...

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