If you want to recreate the 1960s winged eyeliner that Cailee Spaeny wears in “Priscilla,” you’ll have to do so without the aid of the limited-edition makeup kit produced by the film’s studio, A24. It’s sold out. Ditto the dark gray sweatshirt with tonal “Priscilla” embroidery across the front. You can, however, still purchase a baby-doll T-shirt bedizened with the film’s title in rhinestones. And the heart-shaped locket by the jewelry designer J. Hannah, inspired by the one Priscilla wears in the movie, which was in turn inspired by one Priscilla Presley actually wore, is still available, in sterling silver ($400) or 14-karat gold ($1,280).
I was chatting this week with some colleagues about the locket, about what animates someone to buy a pricey piece of jewelry that’s being sold as a merchandise tie-in for a movie. Is it love for the “stealthily devastating” film “Priscilla”? For Priscilla Presley herself, or Elvis, or the film’s director, Sofia Coppola? Perhaps one just likes the necklace. A24, the studio behind films like “Hereditary,” “Midsommar,” “Uncut Gems” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” knows it’s probably some combination of these factors, mixed with love for the studio itself. A24 is known for its canny collaborations with hip designers — a “Hereditary” tee, designed by the trippy design studio Online Ceramics, originally $65, now sells for at least double that if you can track one down on a resale site. You can also buy hoodies, half-snap fleeces, dog leashes and dopp kits featuring the A24 logo.
Our conversation quickly turned to questions of identity. Why do we buy merch, or shy away from it? What does the merch you wear say about who you are, what you believe in? You might buy a sticker from your local bakery to support the business, or wear a Renaissance tour shirt to declare yourself a member of the BeyHive. “If I ever move away from New York, I’d buy a tote bag from my favorite Brooklyn sandwich shop,” one of my colleagues declared. Carrying the bag in your own city seemed too boosterish, too earnest for a New Yorker, whereas outside the city, the local merch telegraphs your hometown pride and N.Y.C. pedigree. Once you leave the place, the merch becomes a souvenir, a nostalgic keepsake. Another colleague, an avowed merch skeptic, got her daughter an Los Angeles Dodgers shirt when her family relocated from L.A. to New York, memorializing the matrix of allegiances the move evoked.
Perhaps we were overcomplicating it, getting too Gen X in our obsession with authenticity. Justin Bieber famously ignited the ire of indie-rock snobs when he wore a rare Nirvana T-shirt to the American Music Awards in 2015: How dare a purveyor of pop hits appropriate the cred of a beloved countercultural institution! Why does merch have to mean so much? Of course, it doesn’t. Debating the laws of merch is a diversion, an amusing exercise in questioning our own pieties. I made no fewer than two friends in college because one of us was wearing a Pixies T-shirt: “I’m into this band, you’re into this band, let’s see if that’s enough to fuel a meaningful relationship.” (In both cases, it was.)