Lexington-based J. Peterman is finally going to produce the legendary, and until now completely fictional, urban sombrero.
If you’re familiar with the TV show Seinfeld, you know that character Elaine Benes’ most memorable employer was the catalog company J. Peterman, with Peterman played with clipped derangement by character actor John O’Hurley.
New generations of viewers might not realize that J. Peterman is a real business, where fanciful stories, typically involving glamorous adventure, meet stylish upscale merchandise.
Now, J. Peterman has hit crowdfunding megasite Kickstarter, where proprietor John Peterman hopes to raise $500,000 — or more — and introduce a whole new generation to items they might have thought existed solely in Seinfeld reruns.
The Kickstarter video for the 40-day campaign debuted April 11, featuring Peterman and actor John O’Hurley, who played Peterman on Seinfeld. It’s a tongue-in-cheek play on the line between unique items with exotic stories and the need for cash to produce more of them.
Enter the urban sombrero felt hat, which can be reserved with a pledge of $275, or $400 if you opt for a sombrero numbered and hand-signed by Peterman and O’Hurley.
In the Seinfeld universe, when Peterman fled to become a warlord-poet in Myanmar, Elaine became the president of J. Peterman. The eccentric urban sombrero was one of her products, causing Peterman to echo the line from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “The horror.”
The hat itself looks something like a cross between a beanie and a gardener’s sun hat. A Peterman news release describes it as a “cross between a sombrero and a Mounties hat.” It comes trimmed in grosgrain ribbon and a feather.
Peterman said he had resisted producing the urban sombrero because it wasn’t an authentic item. But because Seinfeld ended its initial run in 1998 — the urban sombrero episode aired in 1996 — and has been seen in reruns ever since, Peterman said now that the urban sombrero has finally crossed the line between TV mythology and authentic item.
Peterman said he thinks the Kickstarter campaign will take off because Kickstarter “is populated by independent-thinking people who have the same values as the J. Peterman company” and are interested in unique, hard-to-find and creative items, he said.
“This is a wonderful way to reach a whole new generation of like-minded people,” Peterman said.
J. Peterman started as a mail-order catalog company in 1987, and eventually expanded into a line of retail stores. Paul Harris Stores Inc. bought J. Peterman at a bankruptcy auction in 1999, and Peterman departed the company. Peterman returned in 2001 with his signature owner’s manual catalog.
Other items included in the Kickstarter appeal include:
▪ A “Marie Antoinette” night shirt, because the queen “hated the acres of ormolu, miles of mirrors, armies of flatterers” and longed instead to sleep in a $40 crisp cotton nightshirt among farms and cowsheds.
▪ A Prince Charlie full kilt outfit in Black Watch Scottish wool tartan, for all your highland formal occasions, $1,000.
▪ Buying trips with Peterman himself to France and the United Kingdom, $8,600 a person, not including air fare.
Peterman describes those trips as being “like a backstage pass to a rock concert.”
In France, those accompanying Peterman “will stay at friends’ chateaus, we’ll stay in kind of little places that are off the beaten mark, we’ll eat in restaurants that no one’s ever heard of,” he said.
And your evenings will be free, Peterman says. “I don’t stay up past 9 o’clock, if I can help it.”