The Originals: 6 Iconic Products That Define Their Own Categories
“Transcend” isn’t the right word. That word would apply only if this handful of products were loftily, eerily suspended above their peers by some divine blessing. Instead, these are “gold standards,” “textbook examples.” If Messrs. Merriam & Webster didn’t have a posthumous lock on the whole dictionary racket, pictures of the following items would be slotted next to the definition of their respective categories, since they define the very products they are: SUV’s, outerwear, timepieces, furniture, smartphones, instruments.
They lead categories by example rather than by contrivance, each serving as inspiration and aspiration. But these aren’t meant to reside behind glass in museums. They are in homes, on wrists, in pockets of actual mortals. They are icons, and very deserving of the title.
The First SUV — By a Long Shot
Due to their ubiquity, nowadays we take sport utility vehicles for granted — they are, in many ways, the go-to choice for American automotive consumers. They are Ubers, they are soccer-parent shuttles, they are status symbols and road trippers. But long before the modern concept of an SUV was commonplace, the Jeep Wagoneer SJ — its production run lasting for 28 years from 1963 until 1991 — set the standard. Though rugged adventure vehicles have been around for decades (as military-inspired trucks, or simply warmed over pickups with more seating — think utilitarian Land Rovers of yore), the Wagoneer was by a long shot the first to meld the SUV shape with luxurious appointments and amenities, and set it all on a sturdy 4×4 frame.
Over its production lifetime the Wagoneer changed marques twice: originally owned by Willys, AMC took over production of the Wagoneer in 1970 and made significant upgrades across the board; in 1987 Chrysler obtained control of Jeep and still holds it today. Though the Wagoneer’s reign ended over a quarter century ago, examples still trade hands for significant change, only solidifying the first SUV’s mark on the automotive landscape even further.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Classic
The Modern Observer’s Watch Defines a Timepiece Tradition
The most recent iteration in IWC’s Mark series is a return to streamlined form. The series, dating back to the Mark X launch in 1944, has been praised for decades as a collection of durable and supremely engineered timepieces. Originally (and obviously) designed for combat pilots in the ’40s, pilot’s watches carry on the general functions and spirit of their predecessors. Large numerals, oversized crowns and resilience are hallmarks of the first of the breed — an irresistibly handsome combination that produced an instant following, even outside the cockpit.
IWC’s pilot’s watches continue those design traditions and feature antimagnetic cages, high endurance in extreme temperatures and bold, crystal-clear legibility. In recent years the Mark series endured design changes that complicated its face; namely, the addition of a date guichet and the removal of certain numerals. The 40mm Mark XVIII has returned to its roots, and features nothing extraneous. The date function remains, but is seamlessly integrated into the otherwise traditional and simple face, keeping quite true to the original. And when things are original, IWC purists are happy.
The Standard Gentleman’s Raincoat for 200 Years
Named for its Scottish inventor, Charles Macintosh (but, yes, with an added “k”), the waterproof overcoat has been around nearly 200 years. Many centuries earlier, the Aztec people came up with the idea of soaking cloth in latex to produce a waterproof membrane; Macintosh’s innovation iterated on the innovation, sandwiching a rubberized layer between outer fabrics to keep rain out and to keep style at the forefront. Some years later, vulcanized rubber came around and changed the game further, eliminating problems of stiffness, smell and the original garment’s tendency to literally melt.
Now owned by a Tokyo-based firm, Mackintosh lives on as a truly iconic outerwear garment that’s saved countless suits from ruination and will continue to do so for generations to come. It is the outerwear every man should plan to have in his arsenal — because inclement weather is a given, and a two-century tradition must be on to something.
Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
The Most Beautiful Seat Ever Made
After a solid 50 years, the Eames’ iconic chair and ottoman design are still a style benchmark, eliciting lustful stares from design aficionados. Stylish, well-appointed dens and offices the world over either use this Eames set as pillars around which they base their decor, or wish they could. The original furniture consists of Brazilian rosewood-veneered, five-layer plywood shells upholstered in fine leather, meant to elicit the feel and look of a “well-used first-basemen’s mitt.” It’s always been costly, but the numbers are outweighed by its simplicity and elegance.
Myriad details set the first-run chairs apart from later models — the number of screws holding pieces together, the rubber spacers versus plastic washers — but the general design has gone unchanged through the years, proving it is truly timeless. Currently produced by Herman Miller, 50th-anniversary models utilize Palisander rosewood veneers. To sit in one is luxury; to own one is divinity.
The Smartphone That Changed the World
Perhaps with the exception of Tesla Motor Company‘s automotive advancements, no product in the last decade has changed the game — and indeed life as we know it — so much as the smartphone. Whether you’re an Apple enthusiast or not is irrelevant; the iPhone will go down in history as the most important and iconic smartphone ever made simply by dint of it being the first, the most beautiful and the most groundbreaking. In the nine years since its introduction, each of the device’s nine generations (and 13 separate iterations) has arguably been more desirable than the last. More importantly, though, over 700 million units have been sold since 2007 — definitive proof of that same desirability.
The preponderance of Apple’s phone among mobile devices isn’t what makes it such an iconic product; rather, its popularity is the byproduct of both sleek and imaginative design and technology that before its launch hadn’t been seen in the mainstream. The world lost its collective mind over the first iPhone, and though Apple’s recent sales slump may be indicative of the bubble bursting, it has been the way most of us communicate with, well, most of the rest of us for nearly a decade.
Gibson Les Paul
The Electric Guitar Whose Musical Legacy Is Unparalleled
Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Slash, Peter Frampton, Pete Townshend, Billy Gibbons: this isn’t a list of legendary Gibson Les Paul fans; it’s a (very) abridged list of famous rockers who have developed signature models with the brand. The famous solid-body electric guitar has been around since the early ’50s; now in its third and longest-lasting iteration, its six strings have created and perpetuated a massive chunk of the Great American Songbook, solidifying its place in the pantheon of iconic originals.
Named for the well-known guitarist and inventor Les Paul, the guitar was actually designed by Ted McCarty, then-president of the Gibson company. The Fender Stratocaster is a similarly iconic instrument, but the Gibson Les Paul’s exhaustive list of remarkably famous players qualifies it as the quintessential example of American music innovations.