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LEARNING FROM DEAD VICTORIAN HAT MAKERS?

If I get the train into my office in Oxford Circus, I’ll often get off at Charing Cross Station and walk the rest of the way. It’s nice to get some fresh air and a little time to think. But it is also fascinating to look at the buildings as you wander through Soho. There are some real beauties and I’ve noticed something really interesting about a lot of them. A lot of them have beautiful facades above ground level. Stone facades, very often physically adorned with the names of the businesses (long gone) that built them, carved hugely and confidently into the stone.

In the old days, when people opened a business they didn’t have a little sign, brushed aluminium plaque or a natty awning. Oh no. They carved their name, MASSIVELY, into the whole building. Sometimes they even built the building itself. It takes a certain level of confidence to do that, right?

My particular favourite is that of Henry Heath’s Hat Factory on Oxford Street. If you look up between numbers 105-109 (modern day ground floor houses Foot Locker amongst other retailers) you’ll see a trio of stone beavers on a stunning facade. On the back of the building (on Berwick Street) you will see the name of Henry Heath boldly carved into the stonework. Go and take a look, it’s genuinely lovely.

There are many other examples of this kind of Victorian boldness displayed all across Soho. Businessmen (mostly, but I’m sure the odd lady too) who were so confident in the future success of their ventures, they literally set their name in stone.

But what on earth am I wanging on about it for and what can we learn from them?

Confidence is no bad thing.

We need to get more confident, as advertisers and marketers. When and why did we lose the confidence of the Henry Heath’s of this world? Confidence isn’t a bad thing – it is simply a matter of having the courage of your convictions.

Confidence leads to bigger decisions and braver choices. All of the times I’ve been involved in creating the best work in my career things like Carlsberg ‘Old Lions’ or our recent Honda ‘Illusions’ spot at mcgarrybowen – it has had something in common. It has involved a strong, brave client willing to take risks and do something different, often against strong objections from less confident colleagues.

There is nothing wrong with being confident if you have something genuine and interesting to sell – be it a service, creative idea or even one of Mr Heath’s top hats. Confidence is necessary, particularly in times of recession pressure. And we need more of it to take bolder decisions to get to better work.

We need to get a little bit of the spirit of the Victorians back. Forget about a nice window decal or a posh plastic lenticular. Sod it carve your name with pride. Carve it in STONE whether physical or metaphorical.

Take a big decision to create something that you want to last. Swing for the fences. You’ll be glad you did. All hail Henry Heath! (Whoever he was).

Kevin Chesters – Executive Planning Director at mcgarrybowen.

Follow Kevin on twitter @hairychesters.