In defense of logos

Courtesy of Achim Hepp via Flickr.

Logos are generally hated by anyone who considers themselves interested in art. They’re dismissed, rightfully so, as soulless identifiers. I love them. I’m not referring to the golden arches and curvy white calligraphy set against a blood red background—though those have their own merit in terms of graphic design—but to logos that specifically occur in fashion. There are plenty of reasons as to why they should be appreciated and even respected. 

One important reason is strictly economic. Runway shows will never support a designer’s label, and selling the clothes that appear on them doesn’t help much either. The amount of people who would dare to wear runway clothes are few, and of those, the people who can afford to are even fewer. The solution invented by major fashion houses comes in the form of diffusion lines: a series of cheaper and simpler garments that provides enough income to support their experiments in textile sculpture. Usually, these diffusion lines are subject to negative reception (“diffusion” is an industry euphemism for “watered down”), but this is not always the case. I don’t want to seem obsessed with the duo, but once again the clearest example of this comes from comparing Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons’(CDG) Rei Kawakubo. Kawakubo’s runway shows have always been considered among the best, and the artistic gap between these and CDG PLAY is the reason why they have recently been derided for sharing the same first name. Yamamoto collaborated with Adidas to form Y-3, an athletically-oriented distillation of his mainline aesthetics; Kawakubo collaborated with Polish artist Filip Pagowski to create the infamous heart-with-eyes logo for CDG PLAY. Y-3 merits its own runway show, whereas CDG PLAY does not. While the former is seen as a relatively valuable and accessible way of interacting with Yamamoto’s work, the latter is seen as tacky conspicuous consumption, bought and worn by those who will never know Kawakubo’s name, image or importance. But the most crucial aspect of this demographic is the word “bought.” They are the ones directly supporting the artist, which the rest of us sneering fashion enthusiasts all indirectly benefit from. Those who have purchased a T-shirt and a pair of the mocked Converse x CDG PLAY shoes have given more money to Kawakubo than I have. I’d venture to say that this is true for most of the people doing the mocking.

Many of these logos also reveal interesting stories or information about the brand. Alessandro Michele at Gucci has been re-appropriating ʼ80s bootlegs for years now, writing the logo as “Guccy” or with the same cheap colors and font used by the knockoffs. Hermès’ horse-drawn carriage refers to its history of producing accessories for the aristocracy, and its unusual orange color is a product of the post-WWII ink shortage. And as far as PLAY goes, legend has it that Pagowski sketched it once on a napkin and turned that into his final design. Hedi Slimane’s makeover of Yves Saint Laurent included the controversial shortening to simply “Saint Laurent” and the removal of its highly stylized vertical YSL logo for an all-capitalized san-serif bold font. His tenure was so commercially successful for the brand that in the years that followed Balenciaga, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain all switched from beautiful serif fonts (or otherwise “old-world luxury” looking designs) to capitalized san-serif bold fonts that all practically look the same. If I sound bitter, it’s because this faux simplicity removes more of the design language that ultimately defines each label. Simplifying a logo is, from a marketing standpoint, an appeal to the intuition that because they are minimalistic, they are applying their resources towards bettering quality. It implies an increase in substance, with a decrease in ostentatiousness. This is a false relationship, as these perceived increases and decreases are meaningless if the end product is identical to everything else on the market. Originality is what creates substance. Thus, I’d prefer it if the companies were self-aware enough to embrace their already ridiculous existence, thereby fulfilling the creative possibilities afforded by big budgets and big price tags. 

Those who agree with me might also point out that even when these designers are expressing themselves in ways we deem authentic (or otherwise free from these corporate symbols), the very design of their garments can become a logo itself. Take the Margiela tabi boot, whose divided hallux has become more famous than its inspiration, the Japanese jika tabi; or the classic Chanel suit. I see where this argument comes from, but I’d have to disagree—these garments are iconic instead because of their construction. Both the specificity of the target audience and its lack of promotional intent are barriers for this kind of identifier being deemed a true logo; the CDG PLAY Converses are recognizable by their logo, as a pair of regular Converses are recognizable because of their construction. And some logos  happen to be pretty great pieces of art, as defended by Warhol and the rest of the pop art movement. When paired with the designer’s ideology—and every designer has an ideology, obvious or not—the magical effect of the logo fulfills itself and bestows the wearer with a combination of efficient and implicit aesthetic elaboration. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *