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Chapter 27

START WITH A MOLLUSK, WIND UP WITH AN EMPIRE.

Sounds tricky, but the Phoenicians managed it about four thousand years ago. Their tiny sliver of a kingdom was wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and a vast desert: no gold mines, no olive trees, no amber waves of grain anywhere in sight. The only thing the Phoenicians had going for them was a certain species of shellfish, commonly found lying around down at the beach. These shellfish were tasty but had one problem—if you ate too many of them, your teeth turned purple.

Naturally, most people were annoyed by this. They probably said stuff like, "Those shellfish aren't bad, but who wants purple teeth?" and didn't think much more about it.

Then one day an ancient Innovator got this crazy idea

Okay, imagine you live in Egypt or Greece or Persia back then and you're rich. You've got all the gold, olive oil, and grain you want. But all you ever get to wear is cloth robes that come in the following colors: light beige, medium beige, dark beige. You've seen the Bible movies: everyone's totally decked out in earth tones—that's all they had, that's all they could imagine having.

Then one day along comes a boatload of Phoenicians, and they're selling purple cloth. Purple!

Throw that beige wardrobe away!

For a while, purple is the thing, the biggest fad since that whole wheel craze. After a lifetime spent wearing sixteen shades of beige, everyone's lining up to buy the cool new cloth. The price is crazy high, partly due to demand and partly because it happens to take about 200,000 shellfish to make one ounce of dye, and pretty soon the Phoenicians are rolling in dough (actually, they're rolling in gold, olive oil, and grain, but you get the picture).

A trading empire is born. And talk about branding: Phoenicia is the ancient Greek word for "purple." You are what you sell.

After a while, however, an interesting thing happens. The people in charge decide that purple is too cool for just anyone to wear. First they tax purple cloth; then they pass a law forbidding the hoi polloi to wear purple (as if they could afford it); and finally, they make purple robes the sole property of kings and queens.

Over the centuries this dress code becomes so widespread and so ingrained that even now, four thousand years later, the color purple is still associated with royalty throughout Europe. And all this because an Innovator who lived forty centuries ago figured he could make something cool out of the purple-teeth problem. Not bad.

But why am I telling you all this?

A few days after the Hoi Aristoi launch party, as rumors about purple-headed Blue Bloods spread across New York and big chunks of the wealthiest segment of society disappeared to the Hamptons to wait out the dye in royal isolation, some concerned parent had a half-empty bottle of Poo-Sham tested to see what was in it. The shampoo was discovered to contain water, MEA-lauryl sulfate, and awesome concentrations of medically safe, environmentally sound, and righteously staining shellfish dye.

One thing about the anti-client: they knew their history.


Chapter 26 | So Yesterday | * * *



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