If this past menswear season showed anything it was that the logo, that constant companion of fashion that periodically goes in and out of style, is now firmly back. The Balenciaga show was a parade of mega-sized logos. At Junya Watanabe the North Face collaboration pieces featured logos as large as half a torso. There were also plenty of logos at the two perennial favorites of the current generation of fashion victims – Vetements and Gosha Rubchinskiy. And of course the much-talked-about collaboration of Supreme and Louis Vuitton was all about the logo.
What is a logo and what is its purpose in fashion? First and foremost, a logo is a symbol. In fashion a logo is mostly a status symbol, the most direct and often the crudest way of broadcasting to others what you are about. It used to be that the logo signaled purely monetary status – I can afford, there for I am. It was mainly the provenance of the arrivistes to signal that they, well, have arrived; that they are now able to spend money on certain things. This is why logomania was particularly aggressive in the greedy 80s. In the 90s, the fashion audience seemed to mature. Logos became to be seen as vulgar, a prime example of the ostentatious, dumb and loud fashion of the previous decade. The consumer was now more sophisticated and elegant.
The logo, of course, never went away completely. There were the Helmut Lang t-shirts with his name on the back. Originally created for Lang’s fashion-show crews, eventually, in an ironic gesture, they migrated onto the backs of his devoted followers (I still have one, black on black, so you have to squint to see it).
And, of course there was the pinnacle of the logo for the cognoscenti, Martin Margiela’s four white stitches, that held the blank white label inside. Margiela meant for these to be cut off with the label after a purchase, but, in one of the great fashion’s moments of misunderstanding, they had become the secret handshake of the artists, gallerists, architects, or simply people with understated taste, who nevertheless wanted to carefully signal it to the select few who were in the know. This was particularly relevant for men, because Margiela’s garments looked fairly basic at a first glance. They required a much closer look in order to see their ingenious construction, but who had time for that?
Margiela’s four stitches was the first logo that signaled something other than material status – it subtly let others know that you belonged to a club not necessarily based on money (though Margiela’s clothes were certainly not cheap), but on knowledge accessible to a relatively small number of fashion sophisticates. How many of us have exchanged the stories about how our dry cleaner wanted to cut off the label (the irony being that he was right)?
In the 00s, as the luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Kering began to consolidate fashion, the logo has returned in full force. The world has grown significantly richer, and they were going to give the new generation of American housewives, and the newly minted consumers from Russia and China all the status symbols they craved. Louis Vuitton and Dior at LVMH and Gucci at Kering led the way, along with Chanel. It was the reign of the monogram, and it lasted through the decade until the knockoff industry along with the brands themselves (by catering to the lower end of the luxury market and producing logoed products specifically for their outlet stores) had the world vomiting the logos back at them. The rich have revolted and jettisoned their monogrammed possessions in favor of subtle luxury brands like Bottega Veneta.
And then there was Instagram. With the app becoming a primary driver of fashion imagery, the designers became to design clothes that looked good on a small screen of a mobile phone. Subtlety was out, and graphic elements became increasingly important. At the same time fashion enjoyed an unprecedented expansion of its audience, especially amongst the tech-savvy young. Because of Instagram’s hash-tagging mechanism one could easily know which garment belongs to which brand. Now graphics could become the new logos – so someone like Riccardo Tisci did not need to put “Givenchy” on his sweatshirts; he could simply put a Rottweiler on them, repeat the same graphic several seasons in a row and it would become a logo in itself. Over the years Tisci developed a very strong iconography to a point where a Givenchy item became easily recognizable. It was not before long that the logo would make its natural return.
In terms of semiotics, the new logos have much in common with the old, but now operate in a more hybrid way, as things do in their postmodernist stage. As before, logos signal belonging to a club, but now irony is a big thing, as seen especially in the case of Vetements, which has appropriated and morphed the logos of Champion and Everlast into the brand’s own. As before, logos hide lack of design, only now, unlike say a D&G logo of the early 90s that would never see the light of the catwalk, Gosha Rubchinskiy parades his logoed sweatshirts and sweatpants on his Paris runway. Because, who would buy a plain sweatshirt from Rubchinskiy if it did not have his name on it? And why not put it on the runway, to give it additional cache?
The whole logo phenomenon went to the highest level of absurdity this past men’s season when Demna Gvasalia put a Kering logo on a plain white hoodie at Balenciaga. What did it mean to produce a garment with a logo of his corporate employer? “I don’t think the end-consumer, or the customer I like to dress, cares about the deeper meaning behind the logos,” Gvasalia told Business of Fashion. He was right, because no matter how you present a logo, its meaning remains the same.
The original version of this article was published in Them magazine in Japan