Ahead of Blade Runner 2049‘s October release I’m sure we’re going to be assailed with merch and tie-ins. Once, it was low-key adidas, now-defunct companies on billboards, a Marvel adaptation and ERTL toys. This one won’t be quite as low-key. Merchandise is an unpleasant certainty now, but in the very early 1980s, readers of magazines like Starlog could buy some more considered gear to tie in with a new breed of sci-fi that was largely focused on headwear. The Thinking Cap Company was a key player. Based in California and founded in 1979, its origins remain something of an enigma to me — the name Sy Gottlieb crops up online as an original agent, and I know that the trademark had lapsed by 1987.
Best known for their Empire Strikes Back Yoda ear hat, the Thinking Cap Company seemed to take their name from a wide collection of hats adorned with the name of iconic intellectuals in 1979, but they quickly got involved in licensing deals. What stands out is the commitment to authenticity. While these aren’t Real McCoys 1:1 affairs, they were far more than just logo-splashed cash-ins. Keen to call out their association with famed movie costume designer and military uniform expert John Molloy, for Empire they also put out Rebel and Imperial designs and for Alien, they dropped that Nostromo hat (“In space anyone can wear a cap“) with the gold “scrambled eggs” on the peak. Additionally, they put out the magnificent Alien Kit portfolio that was the work of Molloy and designer/artist/cartoonist Ron Cobb which you can see right here.
As a kid, I was briefly obsessed with Peter Hyams’ 1981 Sean Connery starring space western Outland — a cult flick but hardly the stuff to set cash registers ringing for affiliated garments — which had a similar evil corporation sensibility and uniform attention to detail to match Ridley Scott’s masterpiece and it transpires that we could get hold of a CON-AM 27 mining company hat (salutes to Molloy again) in different colours to match roles (administrative/medical, maintenance, mining or transport), a Federal Security Agency hat or a CON-AM 27 t-shirt. Additionally, the Thinking Cap Company dropped Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan pieces and Blade Runner REP-DETECT and TYRELL designs. Just as Blade Runner and Outland weren’t vast successes on their introduction, the company also put out some pieces for another flick that amassed its audience later down the line — Dragonslayer. Because those sixth century villagers taking on Vermithrax Pejorative would have looked conspicuous in truckers, those satin or poly selections were pitched as being made for the movie’s crew.
Finding out that I could have worn a copy of Connery’s hat from Outland is up there with discovering that I could have owned Clash of the Titans and V action figures, long after those lines made little noise.