If you're a Seinfeld fan who's been hankering for an urban sombrero and couldn't find one on the J. Peterman Co. website, you're in luck now.
That odd-looking hat made infamous on a classic episode of Seinfeld will be brought back as a gesture of appreciation for participating in a Kickstarter campaign for the J. Peterman Co.
But the hat, along with several other Peterman products, is going to cost you -- $275 for the hat itself, $400 if you want it signed by the real and fake John Peterman.
Rather than turn to banks for lines of credit, the privately held J. Peterman company turned to crowdsourcing. The 40-day campaign is intended to raise $500,000 for research and development for J. Peterman products. The Peterman catalog is known for applying Hemingway-esque copy points to its vintage items.
The goal is also to jog memories of the J. Peterman saga, both real and on TV. It's been 20 years since John O'Hurley played the bellowing owner. It's also been a few years since the company went bankrupt and vanished as a brick-and-mortar store. Today, it exists as JPeterman.com.
Now, Peterman wants to tap into Seinfeld followers today to help his Lexington, Ky.-based company "regain our edge."
"We have an opportunity with Kickstarter to actually bring in a whole new generation of people who either don't know about us at all or think we're a figment of Seinfeld's imagination," Peterman said by phone.
O'Hurley, who bought into the company after its bankruptcy in 1999, said it's a "great way for people who are Seinfeld fans to reconnect with J. Peterman. Kickstarter is a great way to reach that audience."
Pledges start at $25 and top out at $8,600. That top pledge buys a trip for someone to join Peterman on an eight-day buying trip to southern France and Paris in September. Airfare isn't included, but you get to hang out with the real J. Peterman for crying out loud.
As of Thursday, more than $35,000 has been pledged. Peterman and O'Hurley participated in a kick-off chat on the company's Facebook page on April 14.
The rallying point will be the creation of an actual urban sombrero. Seinfeld character Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) created it when Peterman, her boss, ran off to Burma. The hat -- "It combines the spirit of old Mexico with a little big city panache" -- was a flop on Seinfeld. O'Hurley, certain that life wouldn't imitate art, badgered Peterman for years to offer it in his catalog. Peterman relented and now 500 will be produced during the Kickstarter campaign.
"I spent many, many years of bickering with John, and he resisted," O'Hurley said. "It's a really good sight gag. In his mind, it's a parody item, but it's an item that Seinfeld fans will more associate with."
Peterman answered a few questions this week about the company and its crowdsourcing campaign. (Note that he was rather terse about the urban sombrero.)
Peterman: "Quite frankly, I'm intent upon regaining our edge. To me, regaining our edge, is doing very different interesting stuff. We lost our edge when we did some mundane stuff. Kickstarter is as natural a partner as I could find in a way to regain our edge. Kickstarter promotes new, creative edgy stuff. Our whole mission has always been unique hard-to-find factually, romantic products. We kind of fit right in with the Kickstarter profile."
Did your company's role on Seinfeld impact your business?
Peterman: "All of our customers at the time got the inside joke, those who watch Seinfeld. All the people who weren't our customers and didn't know about us thought we were a just made-up company on Seinfeld. It didn't affect our company plus and it didn't affect it minus. It was just a lot of fun at the time."
What are your thoughts on finally giving in to O'Hurley on the urban sombrero? You mentioned on the Kickstarter page that you're about being authentic and the urban sombrero wasn't authentic.
Peterman: "Well, that will be there. I've resisted. But it will be there."
You've been to Texas many times. What sticks in your mind about Texas?
Peterman: "I own 23 pairs of cowboy boots. It's not so much Texas, it's the independent nature of the people who live in Texas. Texas is a country unto itself. It's a great place. I love it. I love going down there. Dallas, Houston, Waco. I go down and I'd go riding [with the owner of J.B. Hill Boot Co. in El Paso], and I'd buy three or four pairs of boots. And we'd have a drink and talk it over and then I'd go home. I was in Dallas back when Gilley's was in favor and was the hot spot. I can remember going in there and saying 'Wow, man, these women in Dallas are really good-looking.' "
Would any of your products resonate with Texans?
Peterman: "Well, the Café Racer motorcycle jacket. It's not cowboy, but it's very independent. It's for individuals. The copy says in the '50s Marlon Brando made black the color for motorcycle jackets. Prior to that, motorcycle jackets came in all sorts of colors. So, what we're doing is bringing back color to a motorcycle racing jacket that is appropriate for individual, and since our customers are individual, and since Texans are individualists.
How about The J. Peterman Duster? That looks very Texan.
Peterman: "That's as Texas as you can get. From Lonesome Dove to every movie that's been made about the Old West. I didn't find this duster when I started the company in the mid-80s. I didn't find it in Texas. I found out in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in a little store out there. I put it on, and I was a little reticent to wear it around. I felt a little self-conscious. And then I said 'Hell, this is what life is supposed to be about.' It's about being an individual. I wore it to a friend of mine in New York City who eventually became my partner in the J. Peterman. And I walked into his apartment on the East Side. And he looked at me and said 'You know what, Peterman? He says I like you better because you're wearing that coat.' And I looked at him and I said, 'You know what, I noticed that people in the airport and every place I wear it, like me, And they don't know who I am.' It's kind of interesting. You can make a statement dying your hair green. Then you can make a statement by wearing something people like and admire. They say Aw. I couldn't do that. But I love that. Then, they think a little bit and they think maybe I can do that."