There was a saying where I came from about people who were easily confused or taken in. “Brian can’t tell his arse from his elbow”, we’d say.
Americans have a pithier expression: “Larry can’t tell shit from Shinola.” The alliterative ‘sh…’ here adds an important degree of subtlety that makes some allowance for possible confusion among the perceptually impaired.
I had no idea what Shinola was but I was pretty sure I could distinguish it from shit.
Shinola, as it turns out, was an American shoe polish brand. Wikipedia reliably informs us that it was introduced in 1907 by Shinola-Bixby Corporation of Rochester, NY.
The -ola suffix for product names was all the fashion thanks to the popularity of the Pianola at the time, a player piano that possibly derived its name from the violin-viola relationship. In 1906 the Victor Talking Machine Company launched the Victrola gramophone and Galvin Manufacturing later introduced the Motorola car radio, a ‘Victrola’ for your motor.
Shinola (add shine to ‘ola’) polished its last boot in 1960 when the company went out of business but its name lives on as more than a euphemism for you know what. Shinola has been reborn as a luxury brand.
Yes indeed. You now need to think of Shinola in the same terms as you do Mont Blanc with its pricey pens and other accessories. Or, perhaps, retailer Restoration Hardware might be a better comparison with its ‘curated’ lifestyle products.
The company behind Shinola, Bedrock Brands, was started by a founder of the Fossil brand of watches, Tom Kartsotis. Last year, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that Mr. Kartsotis commissioned a study in which people were asked if they preferred pens made in China that cost $5, the United States at $10 or Detroit at $15, and when offered the Detroit option, they chose it regardless of the higher price.
And so a luxury brand was born, trading on the manufacturing prowess of a city that was once known as Motown, the Motor City. And its name is Shinola?
The Shinola product line consists of an unlikely paring of watches, bicycles and leather goods, many of which are made in Detroit, or at least assembled in Detroit. Yes, you can buy Shinola shoe polish ($15 a can) and, if the impulse takes you, there’s a “Rare American Flag” going for $15,000. Add it to your cart.
Shinola has an odd, incoherent product set with no brand focus, it is all marketing. The faux authenticity of its schizophrenic story that awkwardly straddles a “storied American brand, and a storied American city” is pure Shinola.