After years in the fashion wilderness, the look-at-me logo is back. Whether it’s on sweatshirts, T-shirts or bags, designers have rediscovered the guilt-free way for consumers to indulge in their fetish for brands: irony, and lots of it.
“The return of logos, especially those used in an ironic manner, makes sense right now,” says Dana Thomas, author of the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre. “Young creators, in music as well as in fashion, are turning to the 1980s for inspiration and that was the period when logo mania first hit hard … The new take on logos is more romantic, softer, and even humorous – it has all been filtered through the haze of time. We’re all a bit more jaded, a bit more wise. We bought into marketing then; we mock it today.”
American designer Alexander Wang has been at the forefront of this new logo wave, lasercutting his name into leather dresses, T-shirts and skirts for his spring collection. The DKNY collection featured its name in bold repeat on tracksuits, skirts, sweaters and anoraks. Then there was Marc Jacobs’ swansong collection for Louis Vuitton, which opened with model Edie Campbell painted with Stephen Sprouse-designed Vuitton lettering. London Fashion Week designer Nasir Mazhar’s first collection, for autumn/winter 2014, used clothes inspired by the 1990s group TLC and covered in his name. And for the past four seasons Kenzo has applied its name and tiger motif to sweaters, caps, bags and wallets – and the fashion crowd love it.
The concept of authorised “brand-jacking” is another thread to the knowing tone. Following the success of Brian Lichtenberg’s line of sweatshirts and T-shirts bearing the legend “Homies” (in Hermès iconography) or “Féline” (in Céline lettering), other brands have been seizing on the taboo of counterfeit culture. In November last year, musician MIA collaborated with Versus Versace to create a capsule collection inspired by bootleg versions of Versace products.
More appropriation of brand imagery appeared in Ashish’s spring/summer 2014 collection, which included sequinned garments emblazoned with the words Coca-Cola. Jeremy Scott’s Moschino collection for autumn/winter played with images from mass-market brands such as McDonald’s and Hershey’s and cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, while Anya Hindmarch used graphics from household products. (See: Fashion for laughs, March 29).
So far, so tongue in cheek, subverting the idea of what constitutes a “luxury label”; but this ironic stance enables consumers to have their cake and wear it when it comes to bold branding.
“We’re seeing our core customer in her thirties or forties mixing and matching logos with high-end looks and understated separates,” says Ben Matthews, buying manager at Net-a-Porter. “Logo-emblazoned pieces are also a fun way for a younger customer to buy into a brand. And, for those of us that remember logo mania the first time, these pieces bring about a sense of nostalgia. It’s linked to the move towards sportswear and streetwear we have seen on runways in recent seasons.”
Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, says: “It’s also playing to the current idea of “high low”. Céline and Louis Vuitton, for example, have both referenced the famous Tati print [synonymous with the French budget store Tati].”
The rise of Instagram also has a lot to do with the trend. The latest wave of logos – bold, often garish – is perfectly suited to, and, perhaps, cynically optimised for social media. By creating something shareable and recognisable, labels are muscling in on the digital dialogue.
Many have tried to co-opt the selfie. For example, this February Calvin Klein sent out classic CK 1990s underwear with logo-bedecked waistbands to bloggers and models, including Kendall Jenner, Miranda Kerr and Leandra Medine, editor of the blog The Man Repeller, inviting them to photograph themselves in the pieces with the hashtag #mycalvins. Since then, thousands of the brand’s fans have joined the parade, uploading their own pictures. Jenner’s snap received a million “likes” in three days.
Is this latest wave of logo mania, even if ironic, anything new? Andy Warhol, in the 1960s, was one of the first to comment on the ubiquity of branding with his Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola screen prints. Since the 1980s boom, logos of global luxury brands were appropriated first by hip-hop, and then once again by luxury, while being deconstructed and parodied even further by the art world.
“To me it’s just old now and really lacking in a new idea,” says Ed Burstell, managing director at Liberty of London. “Cool and underground logo referencing has been going on for the past few years. I think it’s just a rehash.”
Steele adds: “The cleverness varies – irony in fashion is a little tired. It’s also a tricky rope to walk for brands. If a reference is too insider, it seems almost Masonic. If it’s too open, everybody gets it and it’s not seen as cool. There’s a sweet spot.”
The name game: investing in look-at-me labels
Clothes and accessories with obvious branding might be back in fashion now but will they be collectors’ items of the future? While certain brands will command a premium in vintage fashion boutiques, they have, of course, to be the right brand and the right era, writes Emma Firth.
At vintage store Rellik in west London, co-owner Claire Stansfield says: “People will spend a lot of money for something that has a logo on it. Take Chanel costume jewellery from the 1980s – what sells it is the logo. People want someone in the street to be able to recognise instantly what they are wearing.”
At vintage website atelier-mayer.com, founder Carmen Haid says when it comes to clothes and accessories increasing in value, “a logo helps to make an item more sought after and desirable in the long term because people identify with it more easily.” However, she adds that, “it really depends which designer, which year and whether it was in an important collection. One example of something that has increased is the Louis Vuitton Murakami bag, which was limited edition.”
In terms of investing in heavy branding this season, Haid’s advice is to look for “pieces that aren’t too mass produced”.