Most people can identify style classics when they see them, but what elevates an ordinary product to that status? Is it the object itself – its design and manufacture – or is there something more?
American design has had a major impact all over the world in the last 100 years. There are many reasons for this, political, economic and cultural, but few would deny that if you think of an old-school petrol lighter, the Zippo will instantly come to mind.
Let’s make one thing clear: Debonair in no way condones smoking. Yet it is an undeniable fact that if you want to set fire to an object, whatever it might be, a lighter is a far more stylish way of doing it than a match.
When the BBC embarks on yet another nostalgic period drama centred on the mid-to-late twentieth century, and one of the characters is seen to light a cigarette, the chances are that they will use a Zippo. It matters not that British smokers would actually have used a Swan Vesta match, a Ronson, a Dunhill or even a Dupont, you will always hear the familiar clink and snap of the Zippo.
Debonair does not stock Zippo lighters, and is highly unlikely to ever do so, but the Zippo lighter has become a cultural icon, and the question is: why? How did the Zippo become that?
Why a classic?
The first answer is its simplicity. The Zippo is basically a brass or steel box encasing wadding – to soak up the lighter fuel – a wick, a flint and a wheel to strike the flint. It also has its famous “windproof” punctured chimney. One of its advantages, at least in the early days, was that you did not have to blow out the flame; you simply shut the top. It is even rumoured that the Zippo will work with automobile petrol, paraffin or the combustible hydrocarbon of your choice. But experimentation is not recommended.
The second – and arguably the most important – answer is its history. That is what puts the Zippo into the category of Classic Style. Like it or not, the Zippo lighter is invariably associated with American service personnel, and then either in World War Two or Vietnam. When you use a Zippo, you are sharing a device that was once used by a scared GI on Omaha Beach in 1944, or an equally scared GI in Da Nang in 1970. Consequently, vintage WW2 Zippos change hands at high prices, and there is a thriving online trade in genuine or fake engraved Vietnam-era lighters.
The third answer, which puts Zippo firmly in line with other classic brands, is its provenance. Zippo lighters have to be some of the most copied and faked artefacts ever. However, few copiers or counterfeiters go to the trouble of stamping “Bradford PA Made in USA” on the bottom, let alone a date code showing the month and year of production. This is rare in the case of mass-produced products.
Why have we featured this product? Because Debonair wants to create the classic styles of tomorrow, while learning from, and paying tribute to, the classics of yesteryear.