Adding a Hint of Edginess to Your Brand

  • Share:

When it comes to personal branding, one way to catch people’s attention is to add a hint of an “edge”, or a dash of controversy. You can do this by the way you look of course, as many people do with piercings, hairstyles or the way you dress. Another approach is to play around with the language you use perhaps a term when it’s least expected. I’ve been particularly intrigued by some people who have brought it into their work, adding a touch of edginess to their business, their events, and even their Masters dissertation.

I decided to dig a little deeper by getting to know some “edgy” women…

Michelle Minnikin

Michelle Minnikin of Insights Psychologyis a business psychologist: a group of people you would imagine have to be seen as being extremely professional and even traditional. Michelle, along with a colleague, has built up a strong following for her Newcastle based events which they have titled Don’t Be A Dick.

Michelle explains: “We basically share the common truth that HR and recruitment isn’t that complicated. Are you treating this person fairly? Are you listening to X? No, then you’re being a dick. Stop being a dick. It all started when people kept saying you should meet Rob Baker, founder of Tailored Thinking, you’d get on like a house on fire. Finally, when we did get together at Newcastle Start up Week, we were challenged to come up with a proactive new brand and Don’t Be A Dick was a result of that.  In start-up culture swear words aren’t that uncommon, after all people are putting two fingers up to corporate life in most cases, but it can be surprising for those who don’t come from that background.

The name has a multitude of uses. As well as catching the eye, it also acts as a filter, sifting out those fussy stuffy clients who wouldn’t want to work me with anyway. I can be quite sweary and loud. I’m chatty and informal, certainly not corporate. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m not afraid to get excited, be messy, be vulnerable. I’ve worked in construction and engineering and can banter with the best of them.  You get a flavour of me. The real me.

In marketing the only problem anyone has is obscurity and the more controversial and shocking you are, the more chance you have of being noticed. I’m increasingly becoming more comfortable with the fact that you can’t please everyone all the time, and so more comfortable being me. There is a caveat to this though – this is the authentic Michelle. I think if you’re being edgy and it’s not authentic, not really you, then not only will you come across an inauthentic but you just won’t feel comfortable yourself.”

Annie Brooks

Annie Brooks is the co-founder of women’s business club Sister Snog.  Annie and her business partner Hela Wozniak-Kay first used “Snog” for their branding consultancy “Snog the Agency” and Sister Snog was the natural choice when they started their business club for women.

She admits that the reactions they’ve had have been mixed: “Some women love it. They’re on our wavelength and we know they’ve got us. Some people, ask if we are a gay club. My response is “the membership criteria are that you are a remarkable woman in business, who is a decision maker with an entrepreneurial spirit, we have no interest in our members’ sexual preferences!”  What it does do is wheedle out the women that aren’t right for us, saving us, and them, lots of time and energy.

I probably see it as more memorable than controversial and that was the aim behind the name. 20 years ago, when we first started, it stood out more. Today, it’s not so unusual. When we chose the name we wanted something that would be remembered and Snog ticked that box. It was cheeky without being vulgar. We also liked that it felt a bit retro. It also has that Virgin element to it, in that it can be used as the parent brand for other businesses. Indeed, you can see parallels with the Virgin name, as that was deemed outlandish when it first came out, now no one blinks an eye about it. It’s mainstream.

It does, however, help sum up our brand identity. We are distinctive. Remarkable. Unconventional and not at all like other women’s business clubs or networking clubs. We’ve loved creating a brand we can live by and we don’t deviate from it. We are big, big brand advocates and live it every day.”

Paula Gardner

Paula Gardner is a business psychologist and coach and the founder of The Bitch Network, an online platform and club coaching women around confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness.

“I had been running women’s events for over a year but changed venue to a private club and needed a name for the evening that was a little more edgy and controversial to fit in with the club’s brand. I chose The Bitch Night. The response was amazing; three times the usual amount of guests. There wasn’t enough room for people to sit and we even had men join us, which was a first.

After that evening, people started asking me to do more along similar lines, and it was on a business retreat with psychologists, which included Michelle Minnikin of Don’t be A Dick fame, that the idea for The Bitch Network was born. I remember Michelle getting quite nervous that I hadn’t registered the domain!

Reactions have been interesting. It certainly provokes conversations! There have been a few people who have said that it wasn’t for them but so many women actually get it and love it.  As part of branding is making sure that it’s followed through I’ve made sure I’ve been doing that with little touches like naming our coaches Bitch coachesand have online Bitchin’ sessions.”

Tracy Pound

Tracy is the founder of IT software trainers has been running for 18 years. Their unofficial strap line is that they “take the SH out of IT.”

“We don’t put it on the website,” says Tracy, “but it comes out in out networking and our workshops. It’s how people know us. We like it because it echoes out training: there is a lot of laughter and we make an effort to get people to relax. Software training with us is not dry. People are sometimes afraid of technology, especially the higher up the ladder you go, and we find an informal and fun approach from the very beginning puts them at ease and helps them learn better.

I was a bit nervous about using it originally, but my marketing people said go for it. We don’t put it on everything so this allows us to gauge our audience and use it when we see fit. However, it’s made a big difference to our business, helping sum up our unique proposition. We think outside the box. It’s a little rude, yes, but it’s not offensive and that’s important.

We deliberately chose trainers that live up to our message. They’re charismatic, with a knowledge of business as well as the software. Above all, they suit the brand.”

Rachel Daniel

It’s not only businesses that can benefit from a little edginess, Rachel Daniel, a masters’ student, entitled her dissertation A gift of shit: A study on professional burnout from a Lacanian perspective, looking at burn out in three professions: plumbers, midwives and therapists.

“I chose to be a bit edgy because I thought it would help me stand out and help me to achieve a better grade. Having said that, I was lucky enough to come across the quote…gift of shit etc. by the person I was basing the dissertation on – and this was literally a gift to me!

My mother was mortified and shocked by the title, my peers thought it was funny, and my tutor thought it was brilliant. I love talking about it to people as I feel it shows my playful side in work and life. I ensured my work lived up to the title by weaving this into the work as a main theme and using the three respondent groups in my research as holding the theme is some shape or form. So the plumbers deal with shit as an integral part of their work, midwives can often do so too, and counsellors deal with metaphorical shit also.”


Thanks ladies for sharing your inspirational and edgy stories! Anyone else up for adding a little spice into their brands in 2019?


Leave a comment

Your “Year of Personal Branding”, December Edition

  • Share:

Welcome to the last month of your Year of Personal Branding, where I’ve broken down key branding concepts as part of a month-by-month guide to help you with each step of growing (and implementing) your personal brand. As always, I invite you to use these monthly Year of Personal Branding posts as a map that will allow you to navigate all aspects of personal branding.

Another year is coming to a close. This December, we’ll take a step back and reflect on the state of your personal brand. Through these posts, I hope I’ve demonstrated that your personal brand is a total picture of how others see you and what you represent, not just the product you’ve created or the position you fill. It’s about the person behind the product or position…and their personal story. It’s about what makes them unique, compelling and memorable.

Image: iStock

During this year you have been, hopefully, living and working more consciously with your personal brand in mind. Of course, there will have been failures and setbacks and even things you completely forgotten about. However, a personal brand is always a work in progress. Here’s a quick inventory to help you reflect on the state of your brand this year:

Your Inner Brand

  • Over this past year, think about how you may have been perceived by others. What three words would your clients and/or co-workers use to describe you? Your boss? Your family? Your friends? Others in your the community?
  • What accomplishments over the past year set you apart from others?
  • Who where your biggest influences or inspirations?
  • What unique traits or strengths did you discover about yourself?
  • What did you feel most passionate about (work or personal)?
  • Were there times when you shined, or you felt you were at your personal best?
  • Which world events or personal causes in 2018 moved you the most?
  • Who has supported you this year?
  • Who has been a distraction or drain?
  • What weaknesses would you like to make less relevant?
  • What personal values were the strongest?
  • Did you accomplish the professional and/or personal goals you set for yourself this year?
  • Did you feel good about your answer when people asked “what do you do”?

Your Outer Brand

  • Do you feel you “looked the part” in 2018? Did your personal style accurately reflect the image you intended to project?
  • Overall, do you feel you had a sense of presence when you walked into a room?
  • How would you describe your overall level of assertiveness and ability to effectively communicate?
  • Did your lifestyle (home, leisure, health) over the past year align with the image you intended to project?
  • Did you effectively communicate your personal brand to a wider audience, including engaging in social media and promoting your online presence?

Bearing these answers in mind, what new actions are you doing to take next year to help your brand strengthen and sparkle?

I hope you’ve found this segment of your Year in Personal Branding useful.

And remember…

HAPPY NEW YEAR from all of us at Golden Notebook!


Leave a comment

The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

  • Share:

Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. Every now and again, I choose “Brand Legends” who are no longer with us, and this month it’s all about…

Frida Kahlo

Here’s why.
There’s always been something quite mesmerizing about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. And this month, we saw the close of the V & A exhibition in London about her extraordinary life, entitled Making Her Self Up.

The title alone reflects the importance she placed on constructing her own identity.  Nearly seven decades before personal branding was a concept, Kahlo’s legacy demonstrates that she was a master at it.

The late Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. Photo: Nickolas-Muray

There are so many unique aspects of Kahlo’s remarkable brand that I could talk about, however I’d like to highlight a couple in particular this month.

A strong theme resides at the core of her brand.

A theme of resilience emerged from her tragic past. At age six, Kahlo contracted polio, leaving her one leg shorter than the other. Then, as a schoolgirl, she was involved in a bus accident where a steel rod impaled her, resulting in a number of horrific injuries that caused a lifetime of suffering. She spent three months in a full body cast and endured more than 30 surgeries throughout her life.  Yet, as The Guardian’s Cartner-Morley pointed out, she went on to become the only female artist who is instantly recognizable all over the world.

The Observer described the V&A exhibit as “an extraordinary testimony to suffering and spirit”. This captures a theme to Kahlo’s personal brand; a co-existence of suffering and beauty, of agony and ecstasy, of darkness and vibrance. We even find symbolism of this during her accident, when a packet of powdered gold carried by another passenger had exploded all over Kahlo upon collision. Covered in blood and gold, she laid there hemorrhaging and shimmering among the wreckage.

Kahlo painted in bed while recovering.

After several months recovering in hospital, she returned to her family home to continue her recovery; it was here where she started painting, including one of her first self-portraits. Kahlo spent a lot of time alone recovering from operations and apparently had a mirror fitted above her bed so she could spend time with herself. Perhaps this was where the importance of exploring her identity and constructing her image stemmed from. Many of her paintings are self-portraits – 55, to be exact – many expressing two different versions of herself.  These deeply personal self-portraits often convey her suffering, but also capture her inner-strength and resilience. She wasn’t afraid to cast a light on the darker corners of her life, and her experiences of pain and suffering became a central part of her brand.

The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas), 1939, the first large-scale work done by Kahlo, is considered one of her most notable paintings. The work was painted after her separation from Diego Rivera and reflects two different personalities.


The Wounded Deer (1946) painted after a failed spinal operation earlier that year.

She had an innate understanding of the power of image.

Kahlo knew the power of image from an early age.  As a teenager, she posed for a family portrait in full male attire: a three-piece tweed suit, complete with shirt and tie. Here she seems to have used cross-dressing as a way to express power and independence.

Kahlo in a family portrait, 1926.

One of Kahlo’s traditional outfits on display at the V & A exhibition.

This form of expression continued throughout her life, as she turned to her wardrobe as a means to experiment with perception, and how she would define herself as a woman and an artist. She spent hours in front of the mirror experimenting with looks, and loved to shop for colourful garments and accessories.

As a result of her childhood polio, Kahlo’s left leg was thinner and shorter than her right, for which she wore a prosthetic. The regional Mexican clothing she wore, such as the long, colourful Tehuana style skirts that became a defining feature of her outer-brand, also concealed the physical trauma of her past. Given her immaculately curated outer-branding, Kahlo seemed to reserve the expression of her physical pain for her paintings.


Kahlo’s most distinctive feature of course is her unibrow. Her brow is as much a part of the Kahlo brand as the swoosh is to the Nike brand. It has come to symbolize a confident expression of unconventionality, described as shorthand for: “I won’t curb my self-expression to meet your expectations of how a woman should look.” It is a big part of what has shaped the image of Kahlo as an enduring feminist icon.

Since her death in 1954, Kahlo’s image has been used in a wide array of consumer products, from tequila to throw pillows, and recently, even a Barbie doll. In personal branding, a Barbie doll created in your image is considered a crowning achievement.  However, when Mattel revealed its Frida Barbie as part of its “Inspiring Women“collection this year, the doll wasn’t necessarily well received; critics claimed that Mattel’s minimization of her unibrow and absence of facial hair was a devaluation of the meaning attached to how Kahlo presented herself in life and art.

Mattel’s Frida Barbie, launched for International Women’s Day 2018

The eyebrow pencil Kahlo used to accentuate her facial hair was even included in the V&A exhibition; a reminder that even back in the 1940s, Kahlo was challenging beauty norms in a way that still feels progressive today.

Let’s not forget her co-branding…

Kahlo’s Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931, was painted a wedding portrait.

Kahlo had many lovers of both sexes over the years, including well know names like Josephine Baker, Georgia O’Keeffe and Leon Trotsky, yet her relationship with Diego Rivera, to whom she was married twice (yes twice!), has become known as one of the most vibrant and tumultuous love stories that exists between two legendary artists. Rivera and Kahlo did not have a traditional marriage and each of them had affairs. In addition to sharing a passion for art, communism was a very strong part of their life, a cause they both incorporated into their art. Rivera’s name overshadowed Kahlo’s during their lifetime, however Kahlo has gone on to eclipse him since her death.

A strong personal brand endures the test of time. Given the extraordinary brand she constructed for herself, Frida Kahlo is sure to live on, inspiring generations to come.

Frida Kahlo. Photo: BBC Radio 4



How to bring your personal brand into your CV

  • Share:

Imagine your recruiter or potential employer, on an average busy day, furiously making their way through a seemingly endless collection of CVs, with yours buried somewhere within.  How can you stand out amongst the sea of other applicants and get noticed…and noticed in a way that authentically reflects your personal brand?

Our guest blogger this month is Belinda Coaten, a Career Coach and Mindfulness Teacher who helps people gain clarity on their next career steps, successfully deal with change, learn how to best tackle the job market, as well as understanding how to present yourself confidently and authentically. Here Belinda talks about how to stand out by bringing your personal brand into your CV.

Here’s Belinda:

When we read a novel, if we care to look deep into the style of writing, the layout and structure of the chapters, the words, often painstakingly crafted we get the occasional glimpse of the author…and I think it’s fair to say that a CV, although minimal in size by comparison to a novel, should do the same.

There are usually lots of challenges we face when sitting down to write the CV – it’s often a while since we last updated it or even wrote one.  We are also writing about ourselves, so more of a biography than a novel, and for most of us we are so deeply attached to self that it’s hard to step away and look objectively at me. What have I done? What have I accomplished?  What should I write?

What’s the purpose?

So let’s step right back and pause to consider why? What’s the purpose of a CV? The CV is the first stage in the recruitment process.  The recruiter simply wants to answer the question in their mind, which is, do you have the necessary skills and abilities to do the job? The overall purpose for you is to open the door to the next stage in the recruitment process, an interview.

There is no blue print to say this is how a CV should look and also what it should contain. And so one of the first ways to bring your personal brand to the CV is to consider the visual image, how do you want it to look? Ninety-nine percent  of CV’s will be fairly uniform in their layout, being creative but not flamboyant will make your CV stand out from the sea of other applicants.

Be clear on what you authentic brand is

Your brand consists of a blend of different elements and all of these can be displayed within your CV. To name a few:

Your personality – consider how you work.  If we all complete exactly the same task, we will all complete it differently. What’s your difference? Ask yourself, so how have I achieved the things that I have? Through honesty, integrity, sheer determination?  Or some other quality?

Your credibility and reputation – this is a bit harder to convey within the context of a CV. You could talk about the context of your role, for example, how many customers you support, your reporting lines, or even how you came to achieve this role.

Your Values – if you include a profile section in your CV, your values are a good place to position these, simply stating them is a start.  Turning your values into benefits goes one stage further. If you describe yourself as professional, what is the benefit to the reader or potential hiring organisation of you having this value? Being professional might mean to you that you go out of your way to stay up to date in your area of knowledge so your work is always current.

Recruitment Software
If you apply for a job online it is very likely that your CV will be unseen by the human eye until it has been zipped through some recruitment software.  This software will be pre-programmed with key words. It is therefore essential that you create a match to the role you are applying for. You can do this by stating what you have done and include an example to what the recruiter is specifically looking for. This needs to be your main focus.

Is a CV the only place, or the right place, for your personal brand messages?

Today over 50% of recruiters are not placing adverts for jobs, instead they are using the quicker, cheaper method of searching for people on Linkedin.  And the other 50% of recruiters who still want your CV, will go straight to LinkedIn to look you up and see what information is there before they pick up the phone and dial your number.

So, I’d like to propose that you also focus on creating and projecting a strong brand on your LinkedIn profile too.  Within the scope of its drop down menus you have far more flexibility to describe yourself, and talk about what is important to you and why this is.  Your brand can sing much louder and clearer via this method.  You can display your photograph, upload a banner header of your choice.  Talk about why you do the work that you do, what you enjoy most about it, and why. You can ask people to recommend you and so build your presence and credibility too.

My conclusion is that weaving your brand into your CV is crucial; you need to be authentic.  And yet it’s a challenge, you only have two pages and what you detail must create a specific match to the role you are applying for. Using your CV in conjunction with your LinkedIn profile creates much more opportunities for you to be you. And this in turn allows the recruiter to see your personal style and to have much more than a glimpse of you, they can hear your brand messages loud and clear.


Belinda Coaten is a Career Coach and Mindfulness Teacher. She has worked with thousands of people across the UK who have received their P45 or are waiting for it.  She helps people gain clarity on their next steps, successfully deal with change, learn how to best tackle the job market, as well as understanding how to present yourself confidently and authentically

To learn more and book a complimentary phone call, visit




Leave a comment

Your “Year of Personal Branding”, November Edition

  • Share:

Welcome to the November edition of your Year of Personal Branding“, where I’ve broken down key branding concepts as part of a month-by-month guide to help you with each step of growing (and implementing) your personal brand. As always, I invite you to use these monthly Year of Personal Branding posts as a map that will allow you to navigate all aspects of Personal Branding.

For us Americans, November is the month of Thanksgiving, a time to reflect on what we are thankful for. Oftentimes what we are thankful for is also what we value the most in our lives.

This month, In true Thanksgiving style, we will be looking at your values.

Are you living in accordance with the values you uncovered this year? If you’ve identified discrepancies between your values and how you’ve been living, what needs to change? Of course, this values exploration requires putting aside some time for personal reflection.

But why bother looking at our values?

Here are my top four reasons.

Values bring purpose and meaning into our lives.
Identifying your values and living consistently with them can be a way of injecting purpose, meaning and passion into your brand.

Values lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment.
Living in congruence with your values can lead to feelings of happiness, fulfillment and well-being. Inversely, when we are acting against our values, we can usually feel that something is off.

Values can be our greatest guide.
They are the leading principles that can guide us through life, kind of like a compass. If we follow our values to choose our jobs, our friends, even what we do in our spare time, chances are we will feel more fulfilled. What’s more, others will sense that we are living in accordance with our values and feel more comfortable in our company.

Values can motivate us.
Values can serve as a great motivator through life, particularly when things get difficult; they can make our hard work and struggle worth the effort. Furthermore, if we identify discrepancies between our behaviours and values, this realization can provide the motivation to help us take action to improve our lives.

To summerize, our values are at the very core of our brands. They embody what we want to be in this world. They represent what we want to stand for. They guide us in making decisions. They are highly individual and personal — and are what make us unique in this world.

For more on assessing your values, check out my blog.  You may need to put a little time into contemplating your values, but what they will bring to your personal brand — and your life — will be well worth it.  Just the thing to do on a dark November evening!


Leave a comment

The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

  • Share:

Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…

Yayoi Kusama

Here’s why…
The 89-year-old Japanese artist makes for a perfect Brand of the Month this October. After all, it’s Halloween time (and pumpkins are a bit of a thing of hers) and her sold-out exhibit has recently opened at the Victoria Miro Gallery here in London. The exhibition also coincides with the UK release of a film about her extraordinary life, entitled Kusama: Infinity.

Not to mention that her brand has been launching like a steady rocket over the past few years. Large-scale solo exhibitions have popped up around the globe, as well as major touring exhibitions in the US and Europe. Last year, we saw her open her own five-story gallery in Tokyo. Yayoi Kusama has become the biggest-selling female artist in the world, and certainly the most recognizable.

“Kusama with Pumpkin” (2010). Photo: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; David Zwirner, New York; KUSAMA Enterprise

At first glance, it’s easy to see that her brand holds a certain magic. Her outer-branding is spot-on (pun intended!). Her co-branding of course is incredible (her 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton produced some of their most coveted bags). But there is a certain depth to her personal brand that makes it extraordinary.

Kusama posing with a bag from her Louis Vuitton collaboration. Photograph: Yayoi Kusama Studio

Authenticity is a prominent part of her personal brand. 

Kusama has created much of her unique brand and fascinating works while living voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital over the past 41 years.

She knows herself, and indeed what she needs to take care of herself. She also doesn’t try to hide her mental illness or demons of the past, but instead works with them. She found a way to channel her manic episodes and allowed them to drive her creativity.

Kusama in her signature polka dots. Photo: Wikiart

The hospital offered art therapy courses. She explained, “It made it possible for me to continue to make art every day, and this has saved my life.” Kusama sleeps at the hospital and then works in her studio across the road six days a week. She has a small team of studio assistants and gallerists who look after her affairs in New York, Tokyo and London.

“I have been painting, drawing and writing from morning until night every day since I was a child.”
explained Kusama. “When I arrive at my studio in the morning, I put on my work clothes and start to paint straight away, and I work right up until dinner time. I don’t rest. I am an insomniac. Even now, if an idea comes to me in the middle of the night, I pick up my sketchbook and draw.”

Kusama shares that when she was a young girl in a field of flowers, she experienced a hallucination in which the flowers started talking to her. She likened the heads of these talking flowers to dots that went on as far as she could see, and she felt as if she was disappearing (she calls it ‘self-obliterating’) into a field of endless dots. This episode influenced most of her later work.

Kusama in her studio, in front of her work “The Moving Moment When I Went to the Universe”. Photo: Yayoi Kusama Studio

Kusama’s art is very much part of her survival story. In fact, many of her trademark forms today were an effort to manage and make sense of her hallucinations over the years. The first pumpkin Kusama saw was at age 11; when she picked it up, it began speaking to her. She painted the pumpkin and won a prize for it. Almost eighty years later, one of her pumpkin sculptures (2007) sold for $1.5 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Her “art medicine” as she calls it includes a compulsion to spread those forms in a repetitive fashion on every surface, walls, floors, furniture and even the clothing she makes herself, and continues today.

Pumpkins, 2009, Outdoor Sculptures at Victoria Miro, London

Resilience is also a strong feature of her brand.

Kusama is a survivor. She not only endured an oppressive childhood in Japan and a lifetime of mental illness, but also survived (and thrived) as a struggling artist in the male-dominated art world of 1960’s New York .


Kusama knew she had to escape her stifling home environment. She made the bold decision to reach out to one of her greatest inspirations, artist Georgia O’Keefe, writing to her for advice. O’Keefe answered her letters, advising Kusama to go to the US and show her work to anyone who might be interested. O’Keefe became a remote mentor of sorts.

Kusama in New York. Photo:

Speaking very little English, Kusama arrived in New York City in 1958 with a few hundred dollars sewn into her dress and a stack of her artwork and silk kimonos to sell. According to her autobiography, she sustained herself by scavenging food like discarded fish heads. But through determination and passion, she managed to infiltrate the avant-guard art scene and had the first of many exhibitions there in 1959. She met and inspired important artists including Donald Judd, Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell, and, alongside of them, made contributions towards pop art and minimalist movements.

She was also one of the first artists to experiment with performance art; she would create what she called “happenings” around New York, by getting people to strip naked in places like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, and paint their bodies with polka dots.

Body-painting for Kusama’s Self-Obliteration. Photo: Photobuket

Although she did gain a degree of recognition, Kusama never reached the level of fame as her pop art contemporaries and seems to be largely excluded from pop art history. Kusama herself believes that her original ideas were appropriated by male artists in her New York circles (the film Kusama: Infinity seeks to expose that appropriation).But by the end of ‘60’s, she had managed to lay the foundations of the work we see today.

In the early ‘70s, Kusama returned broke to Japan and checked herself into the psychiatric hospital where she still lives today. Her work was rediscovered in 1989 when the Centre for International Contemporary Arts in New York put on a retrospective of her work. A slow, steady revival started to emerge. And now her resilient brand has become a global phenomenon.

If you’re not one of the lucky lot who was able to snag a ticket to her exhibition, you can still experience Kusama’s magical wonderlands for yourself on social media: #YayoiKusama or #InfiniteKusama

And of course, be sure to catch the film Kusama:Infinity!


Leave a comment

Capturing an inspiration: Filmmaker Bridie O’Sullivan on creating the documentary Zandra with a Zee

  • Share:

As far as unique personal brands go, Dame Zandra Rhodes certainly ranks up there. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Zandra about her brand, and have experienced firsthand just how magnetic and inspirational this British icon is.  Next year, Zandra will dazzle us with her 50th anniversary show, and to mark this milestone, a feature documentary about Zandra Rhodes is now in production.

Here, I chat with filmmaker and photographer Bridie O’Sullivan, a former student and personal friend of Zandra’s, to learn more about her documentary Zandra with a Zee, and how we can help make it happen!

Dame Zandra Rhodes. Photo: Times Higher Education

Bridie, you’re taking on quite an ambitious project at the moment. Tell us a bit about it.

The film will take us behind the scenes during the run up to Zandra’s 50thanniversary fashion show in 2019, showing us everything from the early stages of research as she forages through her vast archive and looks elsewhere for new inspiration, through to the nail biting last minute backstage changes at the catwalk show itself.

Along the way we will dive into Zandra’s colourful personal history and own archive as she recalls some of her most iconic designs for royalty and rock stars – from the Japanese state banquet dress for Princess Diana featuring cherry blossom, to Donna Summer’s dress featured on her album cover, Bianca Jagger’s glam Studio 54 dresses, Diana Ross’s after party outfits and Freddie Mercury’s white pleated Bohemian Rhapsody cape, and tells the often hilarious or poignant stories behind them.

The film will also take an intimate look at the person behind the brand, as she deals with life concerns about aging and legacy, witnessing how the threat of illness and familial pressures take their toll on her professional life.  In the course of this journey we will examine Zandra’s history as one of Britain’s most revolutionary designers, and understand how she managed to maintain her single-minded creative vision for more than 50 years in the harsh fast-paced landscape of the fashion industry.

Bridie O’Sullivan in her documentary Zandra with a Zee

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Zandra in the past about what an amazing and unique personal brand she has. What was it about her that specifically motivated you to do this documentary?

I have worked with Zandra since I was a 16 year-old student (so nearly 10 years in total now). The documentary is something I started four years ago when I was experiencing my own mental health issues. The process has been a massive journey of discovery and healing. In an attempt to understand Zandra’s own quirks and coping mechanisms, I have started to understand my own, so naturally the film has mental health aspects in relation to coping, ageing, family dynamics and survival with a lot of humour along the way.

Dame Zandra Rhodes. Photo: Facebook

I was motivated to tell this story, as in the current global crisis it will bring the fantasy and hope of
Zandra’s work and teachings to a wider audience, along with showing the beauty of creativity and community. During my difficult battle with mental health, it was this very family unit of support, creativity and fantasy that got me through. This is why this story is so important for me to tell, as it is not just a film about the legendary designer’s life. It is a story of an unconventional family. Zandra’s slightly eccentric mothering/bringing together of people is at the center of everything. It goes beyond the constructs of what success is in terms of the industry and looks to the legacy of people she has taught to buck against the norm. The core of this film looks at the meaning of what it is to be vulnerable and human. It looks behind the fabulous chiffon armor we construct for ourselves.

What about Zandra do you personally find the most inspirational?

It’s definitely her fearlessness, in being herself and creating designs be damned what others think or say.

How has she specifically shaped your personal brand as a creative?

For me Zandra encompasses so much, especially when it comes to growing and finding my feet as a creative. Use of colour, texture and fantasy are definitely massive ones! But I think underlying everything is her teaching about truly looking at something when you’re drawing. I have brought this in to all elements of my film and image making.

Zandra and Bridie in action

In what ways do you feel the documentary will capture her unique and authentic personal

I feel the documentary will capture her unique hands-on approach to design from her travels and sketchbooks, revolutionary take on pattern cutting and her love of analogue. It will also capture her eccentric, youthful, transformative, gritty and humorous spirit, which is such a vital part of what makes Zandra Rhodes.

In what ways will the documentary reflect your own personal brand and story?

In a lot of ways this documentary will reflect more then I could ever say. It marks my journey from adolescence into adulthood, my battle with mental health into recovery. In regards to my brand the process has taught me to have a voice and not to be afraid of being vulnerable.

Last but not least, tell us about how others can get involved and help make this documentary happen!

Get Donating!

Check out our crowdfunding page, where there is more information on how your donations will help complete the film. We are also offering loads of amazing one-off perks; from vintage signed and numbered posters all the way up to a couture dress and fitting with Zandra herself.

Zandra With A Zee [WT] – Tigerlily Productions – Crowdfunding from Bridie O’Sullivan on Vimeo.

We really look forward to you becoming part of the family and thank you for supporting a young British filmmaker!


Leave a comment

Your “Year of Personal Branding”, October Edition

  • Share:

Welcome to the October edition of your Year of Personal Branding“, where I’ve broken down key branding concepts as part of a month-by-month guide to help you with each step of growing (and implementing) your personal brand. As always, I invite you to use these monthly Year of Personal Branding posts as a map that will allow you to navigate all aspects of Personal Branding.

You may not realise it, but there’s a whole team out there that supports your personal brand. As virtual assistant Natalie Guerin of pointed out in this article, your team can include a wide range of people in your network; your friends, your personal trainer, your answering service, your cleaner and, of course your team at work, if you have one.

This month, we challenge you to take a closer look at identifying your “A Team” (or “YOU Team”!) and evaluating whether you are getting what you need from them. Are they supporting your brand in a way that is in line with your brand attributes? Have you communicated your values to them? Does your hairdresser understand that you want to look a little edgier? Have you communicated to your cleaner how you want your office or house to be left?

You can also extend this to the people who surround you on a daily basis. Are your friends supportive…or at least provide fun and stimulation and take your mind off work and worries? Or, is one dragging you down with back-handed compliments or draining you with their problems to the extent that you are beginning to feel like their counsellor? Of course, it’s important to help and support people yourself, but if it gets to the point where you know you are being affected yourself, it is time time to draw up some boundaries and point them in the direction of a professional.

Don’t forget your significant other. A supportive partner can be a huge boost on so many levels, but they can also end up a liability! Just as politicians are also judged by their spouses, our own partners factor into how others see our personal brand. We’ve all come across the colleague with the questionable partner, whether they can’t hold their drink, dress inappropriately or just give off the wrong impression. Of course, it’s not all about being charismatic and confident. A quiet and supportive partner can contribute just as much to a personal brand as an openly extrovert and ambitious one.

Regardless of the relationship, it is when their behaviour holds you back or diminishes your own brand that problems emerge. First, collect data and observe how you work together over time. Second, make a decision on how you’d like to proceed with the relationship. If you notice a pattern, you have some choices:

  • Stay and change what you can, while building acceptance around the rest.But do realise that can be very hard to change someone else!
  • End the relationship. The most dramatic of the options but if you’ve been thinking this for a while this may just confirm what you’ve been feeling all along.
  • Do nothing. But the likelihood is that you’ll get frustrated and the situation will deteriorate.
  • Shift focus. Focus on developing your own personal brand and cultivating relationships with other “team members” as opposed to co-branding with that individual. This may include going solo to events or with someone else instead of your partner. This works for a lot of people!

So this month, spend some time developing and giving a little TLC to the personal and professional relationships behind your personal brand!


Leave a comment

The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

  • Share:

Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…

Victoria Beckham

Here’s why…
As our first “Brand of the Month” following our #BrandTransformation campaign, Victoria Beckham is truly fitting. After all, who doesn’t know the story about her evolution from Spice Girl to sophisticated fashion designer? And her show during London Fashion Week earlier this month captures this sophistication.  Not to mention it’s also the 10th anniversary of her fashion line.

Victoria Beckham at London Fashion Week September 2018. Photo: Victoria Beckham Instagram

On its shiny surface, there’s something quite magical about Beckham’s brand transformation. But let’s take a closer look at how this was achieved (perhaps it’s not that superhuman after all!):

Driven by passion and inspiration.

It all starts with a movie.

In her first autobiography, Learning to Fly, she wrote, “I was a girl with a dream. It all started when my mum took me and my sister to see Fame, the Alan Parker film about the Manhattan school for performing arts. It was 1982 and I was eight.” From there her passion grew. She studied ballet as a young girl and then pursued her interest in dance at the Laine Arts Theatre College in Surrey.

In 1994, Beckham (then Victoria Adams) auditioned for an advert in The Stage, looking for girls who were “street smart, extrovert, ambitious and able to sing and dance”. Her dream soon became a reality; she found her fame as “Posh Spice” in the all-female pop group, the Spice Girls.

The Spice Girls performing live on stage at the 1997 Brit Awards. From left to right: Emma Bunton, Melanie Brown (Mel B), Melanie Chisholm (Mel C), Victoria Adams (Beckham) and Geri Halliwell. Photo: JMEnternational/Redferns/Getty Images

Add some spicy co-branding.

We know that with the right co-branding, each respective brand’s strength tends to remain stable, even through various transitions. And Beckham has achieved some fantastic co-branding through the years.

Just as the Spice Girls were at their peak, Beckham began a relationship with David Beckham. Co-branded by the media as “Posh and Becks”, the couple’s celeb-status seemed to become instantly magnified.   As a result of their partnership, Beckham’s brand was also elevated and appeared everywhere, from tabloids to the very fashion glossies that would soon be dripping with her label.

“Posh and Becks”. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

More recently, she also co-branded herself with UNAIDS, highlighting a socially responsible dimension to her brand. In 2014, Beckham was named a UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador. “This is the beginning of an important journey for me,” she explained at a United Nations General Assembly event. “As a woman, and a mother, I have a responsibility to support other women. I am proud and honored to be working with UNAIDS in this new role to help to raise resources and awareness, to support and empower women and children affected by HIV.”

Beckham with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe at the UN headquarters in NY, 2014. Photo: Agencies

Mix in hard work, risk-taking and smart brand positioning (and re-positioning).

After the Spice Girls reign came to an end, Beckham started a short-lived solo career, during which she was signed to Virgin Records and Telstar Records and had four UK Top 10 singles. Beckham soon abandoned her music career to pursue her real passion: building her fashion brand.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” she shared during a Q&A at Saks Fifth Avenue (via InStyle). “There was a little detour because I was in a pop group, but it was the fashion that excited me. I felt like I had a point of view. And I love women and I want to make women feel the best version of themselves. I always say it started with girl power, and now, it’s about empowering women through fashion in a different way.”

Note that even while repositioning her brand from the music industry to the fashion industry, the core of her brand – values, passion, purpose, vision – remained true: to empower women.

Beckham promoting her jean line at Saks Fifth Ave in Boston, 2008. Photo: Michael Blanchard

She positioned herself in the fashion world through modeling, fashion mag editing and some
high-profile collaborations with other brands, including a limited-edition fashion line for Rock & Republic. In 2006,  Beckham created her dvb Denim collection and launched it in New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue the following year, alongside of an eyewear collection. Her US launch proved to be some savvy brand positioning, given her brand there was less associated with her former pop persona.

By taking risks, working hard, and positioning herself with the right people, she launched an eponymous label in 2008, and a lower-priced label in 2011. The Victoria Beckham label went on to be named designer brand of the year in the UK in 2011. Since its launch, her brand is stocked in over 60 countries internationally. A hit with celebs, her label consistently makes an appearance on the red carpet.

Just some of the celebs who are fans of Victoria Beckham.  Photo: Getty Images; StyleBistro


Victoria Beckham’s SS19 10th anniversary show at London Fashion Week included model Stella Tennant (middle). “This season I wanted it to be about women as well as girls. I wanted to have women on the catwalk who my customer can relate to.” – Victoria Beckham

Finally, she owns her transformation.

Beckham doesn’t bury her past. In fact, quite the opposite; she brilliantly uses it to add humour to her personal brand. I think this recent “Victoria Beckham: A Decade of Elegance” video by British Vogue says it all:

Over the past decade, Beckham has recreated her brand as an internationally recognised style icon and fashion designer. This month, we watched her shut down London Fashion Week with a stunning show, as her children and husband David sat FROW. And what a perfect way to mark her decade of fabulousness.

The Beckham family. Photo: Instagram @romeobeckham


Leave a comment

Behind the Cameras: Personal Branding and Directorial Style in Cinema

  • Share:

We know in personal branding that one’s personal brand is the entire perception of a person. However, oftentimes, the particular style used by creatives such film directors can dominate their personal brand. They become known for their distinct cinematic style, which in many cases, becomes synonymous with their reputation.

Our guest blogger this month is Felix Hockey, film student, blogger and freelance writer, who talks about how directors use the unique style associated with their personal brands to build a reputation with their target audience.

Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL

Here’s Felix:

For many, the director of a film often helps us guess whether or not the film will appeal to our tastes, or not. Often seen as the authors of their work, many directors are known for a certain aesthetic or thematic style throughout their career that becomes an integral part of their personal brand. For example, when one thinks of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Rushmore’s Wes Anderson, pastel colours, symmetrical shots and deadpan dialogue are likely to be some of the first things to come to mind. David Lynch, on the other hand, inspires a completely different expectation; a dreamlike quality, Noir-ish storylines and general confusion on what is actually going on.

With directors becoming known for specific elements, this allows for fanbases to accumulate around them. For instance, there are many eagerly awaiting the upcoming film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood simply because of the involvement of Quentin Tarantino. Yet expectations around the consistency of a personal brand can be a double-edged sword. In 1997, Tarantino followed up his massively popular Pulp Fiction with Jackie Brown, a slower paced crime film based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leanard, rather than one of his original screenplays. With many expecting something more like his previous work, the film’s achievement was both critically and commercially disappointing. In recent years, however, Jackie Brown has been frequently championed as the director’s finest work. Tarantino has not made an adaptation since, however, and has arguably never strayed as far from the style that became associated with his personal brand again.  Similar issues with personal branding expectations can be seen in the response to Martin Scorsese’s Silence, with many reviews pointing out the film’s lack of swirling cameras, and whip smart dialogue one would expect after seeing his various films set in America, like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas.

There are some directors who have been able to change their style and keep a strong personal brand, however. Woody Allen began his film career with sketch-like comedy pieces like Bananas yet, over time, he branched into making more narratively structured comedy like Annie Hall. And then even fully serious dramas such as Match Point. Whilst Allen still often makes comedy pictures, however, Kathryne Bigelow has completely abandoned her place as a creator of eccentric genre pieces along the lines of Strange Days, in order to pursue films that have far more political and social themes, leading to her winning the best director Academy Award for The Hurt Locker. Other directors don’t seem to have a defining style at all. It could be argued that one wouldn’t be able to tell if a film was directed by the likes of Robert Zemeckis if one wasn’t aware, as his work is so varied, spanning everything from Back To the Future to Forest Gump to animations such as The Polar Express.

Auteur Theory

This all ties in to ideas about auteur theory in film studies, an idea that came to force around the 1960s but is still widely contested. Brought forth in post-war France, the auteur theory allowed focus onto the director as the main creative force rather than the writer, producer or studio. This has been disputed by a number of critics, however, as film is usually a much more collaborative medium than literature or painting and therefore it can be argued that the end product cannot be attributed to just one person.

In certain instances, its still not the director who is seen as the main creative source. The films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation are directed by Michael Gondry and Spike Jonze respectively. Both these men are well known directors with decades of work behind them yet these two films are more widely known as the works of the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Similarly, Richard Curtis is also often more recognised than the directors of his screenplays, due to his staple of writing romcoms like Notting Hill.

Studio Brands

Certain studios also seem to maintain a consistent brand irrelevant to the director. Marvel have allowed themselves to achieve success after success by keeping to a certain aesthetic and tone. This can also be seen in smaller studios such as A24 who are beginning to be known for the horror films they release, such as Get Out and Hereditary.

The idea of a director as a tell-tale sign on whether it will meet people’s tastes, however, remains a strong point in both reviews and advertisements. Perhaps it is easier to see an individual as an author more than a collective; one can have a more personal connection with a person, or at least the illusion of one.



To learn more about what Felix does, you can connect with him here.


Leave a comment