It's hard to believe that The Sopranos' final episode, "Made in America," aired ten years ago and left us with one of the most tense and infamous finales in recent memory.
While most were hoping that the diner scene at Holsten's would leave us with a definitive answer as to the fate of the family, creator David Chase opted for a much more cryptic ending which saw both the screen and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" cutting off simultaneously so that some were left to ponder if their television had actually failed them.
At the time, Chase went on record and stated, "If you look at the final episode really carefully, 'it’s all there'" — leaving those frustrated by the conclusion to sift through the final 4:50 seconds like an archaeologist in order to unearth clues which may have been cataloged simply as being on the surface level after first viewing.
Every few years I like to rewatch The Sopranos. That's how much I think of the series. Not only was it a masterclass in craft on every level, but I think it often provides answers to questions and thoughts completely unrelated to those with a passion for film and TV.
With the anniversary of the finale sure to rekindle the debate as to Tony Soprano's fate, I rewatched the final scene and attempted to pick up on anything I may have missed — despite having examined it numerous times.
People really like to focus on the man in the Member's Only Jacket as Tony Soprano's would-be assassin. Chase seemed to spend ample time focusing on him and also introduced him simultaneously with AJ's appearance at the diner which led some to speculate that he was in Tony's "blind spot."
"Could a man in a jacket like that really take out one of the greatest TV characters of all-time?" I asked myself.
And it's with this line of thinking that The Sopranos finale and fashion got stuck in my brain.
Seemingly everything about that final scene is a metaphor for the world of fashion/streetwear. It's cutthroat, risky, easy to lose sight of what's important, and downright discouraging.
But those aren't the only things.
David Chase relished taking a scene and soundtrack that could have had a Edward Hopper Nighthawks-esque quality to it — if you had no reference who Tony Sopranos was — and turning it into a tense and nail-biting scenario where each ding of the front door, giggle from a teenage couple, and sideways glance from a seemingly random guy felt like a bullet being chambered.
"The tension is quite high now, but if you think about it, for no real reason," Chase said. "Who's in the place? A guy in a jacket, Cub Scouts, a young couple, a trucker in a hat, a couple of black guys in there to buy some candy. There's no real reason for the tension to ratchet up. But it does. And that's what I love, how you make that."
This is life for Tony Soprano. Even if the infamous cut to black had nothing to do with violence being enacted against him, the threat is always there for him. He knows it; and certainly we the audience knows it which leads to the heightened state of tension.
Once a fashion brand emerges in the marketplace, they've entered a similar situation. They've dictated the tempo (as illustrated by the jukebox), the setting, and who is involved internally.
But the setting itself is uncontrollable because everyone is a threat to Tony Soprano.
In a fashion context, the young couple in the scene could be perceived as those who closely monitor trends and are easily swayed by hype. The man in the Member's Only Jacket has his own sensibilities rooted in what he deems timeless. Finally, the man in the USA hat wants something ethically responsible -- and that's simply viewing people solely as consumer-level threats.
From a competitive standpoint, all three could be perceived as archetypal "brands" - the new guys, old guard and brand with a "message" — and represent entities looking to take you out with their own strategies.
As Bobby Hundreds noted, "at the end of everything, it’s just you and your brand vs. the world. The more you grow, the further you excel, the narrower the path becomes, the lonelier the journey. True friends who support your success will stick around and put up with your selfish dementia. Hold fast to them. But you will make others uncomfortable, insecure in their shortcomings, jealous in their rivalry. Dog eat dog. Brother against brother. It’s like that Facebook movie poster: You don’t get to 500 Million friends without making a few enemies. In our business, it’s more like, You don’t make a few friends without making 500 Million enemies. If you’re not willing to offend and sever, stop now. And choose a platonic, mediocre life. As for everyone else – your competitors, especially… You shouldn’t be seeking the industry’s respect. On the contrary, you should be doing everything in your power to piss 'em off."
While it may simply be true that "everyone is here for a good time," that mentality is usually what gets a brand whacked.
Eye on the prize
The final scene heavily relies on Tony's own point of view. As David Chase describes directing the finale, "Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten's, he wasn't even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table."
This is particularly apropos because almost all of Tony's POV focuses on his family — Carmela and Anthony — and he is blinded by the aforementioned threats.
In a sartorial context, we understand that there is always going to be competition — some more friendly than others. Thus, it's very easy to get caught up in what others are attempting to pull off.
But it's wise to keep one's perspective rooted in the things that you can tangibly control and aspects that you personally care about. What matters for others shouldn't matter for you.
Lev Tanju, founder of Palace, noted of this phenomenon: "You have to have your own ideas, and your goals, and not look at what anyone else is doing. As soon as you try to tailor your thing to something else, people will see right through it."
Our own David Fischer echoed similar sentiments in 2013, saying, "You can of course slightly adapt to current trends, but in general you have to stay true to yourself with your product. Trends come and go and if you do not want your brand to do the same, then you have to establish your own look."
Don't stop believin'
Aside from the abrupt ending, people will probably best remember the final scene for Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" which Chase used masterfully.
"I directed the scene to fit the song," Chase said. "The singing gets more and more strident and more invested as the song goes along. Musically it starts to build and build into something as it's just about to release. And when you look at the scene, you get that feeling."
While Chase particularly focused on the "Midnight Train" being a metaphor for a journey shrouded in darkness, the title of the song itself is a good representation of a mantra every brand should have.
Yes, it's okay to have self-doubt. But if a brand doesn't think it's good enough, the consumer never will.
Take for example, Anti Social Social Club — the winner of our Best Breakthrough Brand of 2016. In our coverage we noted, "Although Neek is no newcomer to the industry – having worn important hats for brands like Stussy and Undefeated – it’s doubtful even he predicted the brand being successful in such a major way."
Neek's usage of negativity in design is a cultivated aesthetic achieved through years of struggle after moving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
"I was in my room 24/7, except for school," he remembered. "I still don’t have any friends from Vegas. It was just me, my computer and my room.
His brand's Instagram even reads, "self doubts."
But this is more a representation of a feeling than uncertainty that shines through in the clothing.
His statement, "Negative is positive," is the "Don't Stop Believin'" for the Internet age.
Focus on the good times
In the season 1 finale, "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano," the Soprano family seeks refuge from a storm at Artie Bucco's restaurant. Tony proposes a toast, saying "if you're lucky, you'll remember the little moments, like this... that were good."
This moment comes full-circle for the family in the finale when AJ tells his father, "Focus on the good times. Isn't that what you said one time? Try to remember the times that were good."
While it may seem a tad bit cliche to follow their advice, it's important for brands to relish in their successes.
In an interview recounting his experience with his own brand CLSC, Josh Vides, perfectly illustrated the ebb and flow of the business and how they went from $1 million USD a year in revenue to struggling for survival.
"The beginning of 2015 was amazing, but towards the end of ’15 is when we and bigger brands started going through what everyone is going through right now," he said. That retail is fucking tanking and wholesale is slowing down. But we were still breaking through that, because we were new."
But when 2016 came around, CLSC knew they were in trouble.
"Fast forward to 2016, retail is really taking a shit," Vides said. "Especially for the big guys and U.S. doors, for everybody, in this fucking industry."
Eventually the tide turns for every brand. While not all will end up shuttering their physical spaces or cease production, new trends emerge, consumers get older and loyalty shifts.
You never see the end coming
Many people interpreted the cut to black as Tony Soprano being shot in the back of the head by the man in the Member's Only Jacket who had gotten up from the counter and entered the bathroom (an homage people saw as similar to The Godfather).
In Tony's world, that's how you go. It's as fast as that.
But when you're the one living it, it's hard to fathom a finite conclusion.
Similarly, most brand owners never anticipate or consider an end game. They keep going and slowly fade away like a patient suffering from dementia.
Although it may be pessimistic to consider end strategies while you're in the midst of executing a business plan and delivering seasonal goods, it's wise to understand that mismanagement happens and failure often occurs.
Highsnobiety Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Raised by Wolves, Pete Wiliams, illustrated the point by referencing just how much has to be considered other than creating a product:
"Beyond all the cool clothes, this is a business first and foremost. Well disguised as art in many cases, but at the end of the day we’re playing a game of supply and demand," he said. "I can tell you from firsthand experience that once you get out your first few seasons and things go from hobby to legitimate business, you need to actually buckle down and get to the numbers or you’re done. If you wonder where all those incredibly cool brands went after a few years on the scene, it’s likely they crashed and burned through mismanaged books."
At the end of the day, David Chase went out on his own terms. There's something admirable about that.
Want more Sopranos content? Check out five style tips to learn from Silvio Dante.