Society’s relationship with the power and promise of the fashion logo.
By Mary Stringham.
In 1925, Coco Chanel transformed her brand by doing something that was, at the time, revolutionary — she put her name directly onto her clothes. With two interlocking “Cs” the iconic designer created a lasting insignia that is still recognizable worldwide today. Much like Claude Monet’s name scrawled on the corner of his famous Water Lilies, something about Chanel’s newfound logo crafted from her very own initials imbued a particular kind of magic into her designer garments. Since then, the fashion logo has acted as a symbol of status and belonging for generations of consumers.
The origin of the fashion logo is centuries old. The term’s root derives from the Greek “logos” meaning “word,” “reason” or “plan.” Ancient Greek philosophy defines the logo as the divine reason implicit in the cosmos. Much like the Greek attempt to bring order to the universe, a brand logo attempts to visually signal a company’s identity and values.
A millennium later, came the advent of family crests. Consider these medieval emblems to be the OG fashion logo. Coats-of-arms were passed down through generations to be sewn onto flags above manors or placed on shields. They signaled family identity as well as legacy to those who saw them. Much like the family crest, a brand logo can symbolize a particular identity. Now, instead of using one’s own initials on a favorite jacket, the wearer substitutes their identity for that of the celebrity designer. A fashion logo, elevated in status, can then act as a badge of pseudo-aristocratic heritage. European fashion houses have managed to maintain identifiable branding for decades now, symbols that are intrinsic to their very DNA.
With the logo came logomania—a trend whereby obvious branding is strewn all over one’s clothes. Rather than a brand name hidden away in a shirt on a tag, a fashion house’s logo was now worn to be seen. The Reagan era saw a rise in overt logos during an age of opulence for the upwardly mobile white-collar yuppie. Though, according to David Marchese of the New York Times, in all actuality, it was the music industry, specifically ‘80s and early ‘90s hip-hop, that made logomania what we know it to be today. The game changer responsible for popularizing the aesthetic trope was none other than Harlem-based designer and haberdasher Dapper Dan, a.k.a. Daniel Day.
Back in the early 1980s on 125th Street, Day began screen printing leather goods with high-end logos ranging from Fendi, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. Rather than ‘knockoffs,’ the haberdasher called his pieces “knock-ups” since he used these logos in entirely new ways. According to a New Yorker piece done on the designer, Day and his customers saw the logo-covered clothes as “paying tribute to [the luxury houses].” Marchese likened it to the music sampling happening at the time.
As these monograms were incorporated into Day’s street style designs, they were reimagined for powerful people —for rappers, hip-hop artists, and athletes. Day dressed everyone from LL Cool J to Salt-N-Pepa, from Diddy to Run-DMC, and as a result, the designer helped define the visuals of the emerging hip-hop counter-culture. According to The Strut Magazine, by taking the logo out of its clean-cut European roots, Day reimagined the luxury clothes with a streetwear edge that would influence emerging designers for years to come.
The Cut’s 2015 interview with Day proves that the designer knew the power of the logo from the get-go, “It signifies status, and money, which go hand in hand. The thing is, you can have the status but nobody will know you don’t have the money. So that’s what gives it such an impact in your look.”
Though the ’80s were known for opulent excess, the 1990s saw peak logomania as consumers used branding like Fendi’s double ‘F’ monogram on bags, clothes, even strollers, to assert the status, and that magic that Day so knowingly talked about.
Just like all fashion trends, however, the logo goes in and out of style over time. Since its inception, logomania has risen and fallen in tandem with the current economic climate, as noted in a 2018 Ruth La Ferla article for the New York Times. Soon after the economic collapse of 2008, logo-wearing became more discreet. Those with wealth may have felt embarrassed to flaunt their status or worked to avoid being publicly ostracized for their expensive clothing. Soon minimalism took hold.
The late 2010s saw a reemergence in the maximalist aesthetic. As street style gained more clout in the last decade, and as nostalgia for the 90s took hold, the logo, once again, was everywhere. As such, it was just a few short months ago, in what we’ll call pre-Coronavirus fashion when the industry was living in another golden-age of branding. From high to low fashion, even online fast-fashion retailers like ASOS had hopped on the trend.
A quick peek back to the Grammys in January, Billie Eilish’s look epitomized pre-Coronavirus logomania. The singer’s outfit was dripping in hundreds of coupled G’s and the designer logo was even painted onto the eighteen-year old’s neon-green manicure. She even wore a Gucci-covered mask (foreshadowing what would be our fashion future?).
Photo credit: Homepage via Gucci