Has Logo Fatigue Reached a Tipping Point?

What does it mean when Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury brand, shifts its focus away from the very trademarks on which its success has been built?

Louis Vuitton Monogram

PARIS, France — At last week’s Louis Vuitton show, all eyes were on Kate Moss, as she walked down the runway in a long-sleeved embroidered tulle dress and a choppy short black wig. But while the Croydon-born supermodel was certainly attention-grabbing, a more interesting surprise was tucked into the show notes that awaited each guest. There, hidden between celebrations of the house’s savoir faire and high quality materials was this sentence, penned by Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs: “The house’s Monogram and Damier canvas are nowhere to be seen on the catwalk.”

Especially in light of last season’s Vuitton showing, inspired by the label’s signature two-tone checkerboard known as Damier, the disownment of two of the brand’s most recognisable visual signifiers seemed like an about-face. But rather than being a seasonal whim on Jacobs’ part, the shift reflects a new strategy outlined earlier this year by the designer’s boss, Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH, the luxury conglomerate which owns Louis Vuitton.

After the fashion and leather goods company, which accounts for more than half of LVMH’s profits, reported, for the second quarter in a row, its slowest growth in revenue since 2009, Arnault said, on an earnings call in January, that the brand would open fewer stores, focus on more luxurious materials and reduce the visibility of its monogrammed products.

“Of course it would be easier for Louis Vuitton to boost its revenue; all it would take would be to launch ten new products with the monogram product, but down the road it’s not a good strategy,” he said.

But what does it mean when the world’s largest luxury brand shifts its focus away from the very trademarks on which its success has been built? Clearly, Louis Vuitton has detected that some of its customers are tiring of the brand’s increasingly ubiquitous ‘LV’ monogram and its equally familiar Damier, begging a question with wide-ranging ramifications for the sector.

Has luxury logo fatigue reached a tipping point?

As LVMH generates 28 percent of its sales in Asia (excluding Japan), according to the group’s annual results, it’s not surprising that Vuitton’s strategic reorientation is inextricably linked to shifting consumption habits in China.

To be clear, the logo-loving Chinese consumer hasn’t disappeared and still accounts for a significant portion of revenue. According to Bain & Company’s ‘Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study,’ published in cooperation with Italian luxury goods trade association Altagamma, “Consumers in China remain focused on conspicuous logos. Fifty-five percent of consumers outside of Beijing and Shanghai say they will buy more products showing logos.” Similarly, a recent survey by the Hurun Report identified Vuitton as the top preferred brand when it comes to gifting by wealthy Chinese men.

But the rise of a more discerning consumer, who eschews blatant brand signifiers, is putting new pressure on brands like Louis Vuitton to adapt their communications strategies and product assortments. “Chinese shoppers in Beijing and Shanghai are now truly global luxury consumers. They are shifting away from typical emerging market preference for logos and other visible signs of luxury spending, and shifting to a global mindset of uniqueness, high-quality and understatement in luxury items,” according to the Bain study.

“Luxury in China is now about being ‘in the know’ versus being ‘in the show’,” said Bruno Lannes, a Bain partner in Greater China and lead author of the Chinese edition of the study. “Changes in what Chinese shoppers want are now a central issue for the global luxury sector’s largest brands.”

Of course, logo fatigue is not new. Nor is it unique to China. The phenomenon swept over Japan, Europe and the US long before emerging in less developed markets. In the 1990s, the ‘LV’ monogram was highly popular in American and European cities, but slowly drifted away (often relegated to the provinces) as more savvy and demanding consumers sought out less obvious brand signifiers like iconic shapes or signature design treatments — Chanel’s quilting, for example — that only a select, like-minded minority would recognise.

By 2001, logo fatigue was pervasive enough in the West to power the rise of ‘stealth luxury’ brands like Bottega Veneta, which, over the last decade, grew from a small, family-run enterprise to a global powerhouse driving over $1 billion-plus sales.

But in the last few years, even companies like Gucci, which continued to rely heavily on logo-ed products well into the 2000s, have changed direction. In 2010, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive of PPR, which owns Gucci, told WWD: “Our groups are moving toward fewer logos, more discreet luxury. It’s a question of adapting our ranges very rapidly to this new perception of luxury, a luxury which is more subtle, more sophisticated which is what we are doing.”

Conventional wisdom, however, said that conspicuous logos would remain desirable in emerging markets like China. But in a country where luxury brands have expanded their retail presence aggressively — Vuitton is available even in provincial cities like Guangxi and Hefei — logo fatigue is starting to take hold sooner than expected. Indeed, it’s taken Chinese consumers only a few years to approach the level of maturation that took more than a decade to emerge in Japan.

It goes without saying that being seen as commonplace is poison for any luxury brand, thus Arnault’s plans to limit Vuitton’s store openings and focus its communications on high-value, logo-free leather goods that signal their specialness more discreetly, through shape and materials.

But as Vuitton shifts course, the challenge will be striking the right balance between exclusivity and popularity to remain profitable.

Disclosure: LVMH is part of a consortium of investors which has a minority stake in The Business of Fashion.

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19 comments

  1. Fantastic article.
    Great insight into the developing business model of the brand.

    Robi_Red from United Kingdom
  2. Very insightful article.

    Ska Sebata from United States
  3. Looks very much the same as the article published by Nicole Vulser in French daily newspaper Le Monde last week-end…. very very very much….

    Pierre from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  4. I love the LV logo. Its benefit a favorite of. mines before I even knew what it stood for. That was when I was in elementry. I wash just fasinated by it. One thing I do know and I’ve known this since highschool .The way to stand out or be different is to let people wonder or be puzzled about what. you area wearing.

    chrissi from Washington, DC, United States
  5. Slick article thank you it’s an eye opener

    sergei from Aubervilliers, Île-de-France, France
  6. I think it’s great that LV is moving beyond the trademark logos. Those of us that have been faithful to the house want more full leather bags and luggage as found in special and custom order materials such as Nomade, Suhali, Taiga, Epi, and Exotics. LV doesn’t need to over logo a bag or valise. They simply need to continue with the craftsmanship and savoir-fair that made them synonymous with true luxury since 1854.

    Chls. Grimes from New York, NY, United States
  7. I love this. Label slaves are dwindling in numbers.

    Hh from Boston, MA, United States
  8. It’s not just the public fatigue with logos that is to blame for this shift in brand identity. With the consistent increase in counterfeit seizures, brands have identified a need to move away from their trademark logos and monogrammed leather goods, which are unbelievably easy for counterfeiters to replicate. As enforcement of intellectual property rights gets harder with the sheer amount that is being pumped through the counterfeit rings and customs, brands are beginning to take things into their own hands by abandoning their signature styles and opting for something a little trickier to mimic. Anything that makes the work harder for the counterfeiters is absolutely fine by this fashion lawyer!

    Sian from Esher, Surrey, United Kingdom
  9. thank you, yes logos are over, as the owner of an e commerce luxury site dedicated to limited edition and one of a kind israeli art design and fashion, i know and my customers know that being fashionable is about being your own brand not and advertisement for someone else’s. be one of a kind.

    diane from New York, NY, United States
  10. Furniture Fabric.

    Chris from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  11. Logos…are out and that’s great news! Being fashion is being yourself whatever you wear! Brand is a way to become what you want but you don’t have to become the advertiser of the brand!

    sylvie mercier France from France
  12. I think it has.
    At least, I don’t associate conspicuous logos with luxury brands, I categorize them as “high street”, not even “lifestyle”.

    It’s tacky and attention seeking. You don’t need a logo to attract the right kind of attention, true luxury clothes/accessories speak for themselves, and in volumes!

    Rolake from Ottawa, ON, Canada
  13. Do you think the same will be for shoes, specifically Louboutin?

    Patty from Toronto, ON, Canada
  14. Branding is everything; Quality is subliminal towards a “mark of excellence!” I want others to know I prefer the “real” versus “what can be copied or faked.” It is worst to be positioned in line with “phony.” LV branding is pinnacle and is as close to an apex when luxury and quality are considered; it is about celebrating what is “hand-made,” which gives the ultimate compliment; the absolute value of worth (the price of being creative which is unique, needed, and valued)—but, I understand a need for a branding to be “refreshed”—today, all are demanding an “instant or auto-centric newness;” what is cool and is different are always preferred, because significantly we are influence exponentially through the internet, a “value-driven” newness, and an old adage, globalization—what is old is new again! It is ultimately, a choice between is it a trend versus is it a classic in the making? The key today is how technological advancements create a need to question if hand-made production breeds obsolescence; which is not necessarily directed to the branding principle, in terms of being what LVMH calls “la passion creative!” All can be created, but will it be sold?—once again, we must decide if innovation is needed for the brand or do we risk the loss or tarnishing of a “mark of excellence” that can take years to establish. Yet, time has proven a cyclical spin-off of fashion and geniuses born who can create form and function that whispers fashion…fashion…fashion…a brand superstar!

    Joseph Nieves from Stafford, VA, United States
  15. It won’t be as obvious as in China, minority for sure, but not the mass Chinese public, it’s more of a culture thing, China is a very complicated market, a lot of things that happened to the West or Japan simply don’t apply to the mass Chinese public, it’s just a different world!

    Sindy from Glasgow, Glasgow City, United Kingdom
  16. I agree the logo has become somewhat obsolete as the identity of a brand has moved on to other, more abstract territories. BUT parallel to this there is another trend in streetsyle level that involves the comeback of logos: http://www.aksel-mag.com/2013/06/emancipation-of-the-logo/

    Aksel Magazine from Estonia
  17. Two dynamics that I would be interested for this article to touch on which are critical in emerging markets are the availability of very good quality knock offs and the extreme wealth in emerging markets.

    It’s hard to keep the semblance of exclusivity when even market stall owners are counting change out of logo’d purses.

    Also the extraordinary wealth found in the emerging markets means that the true luxury is not just having the major brand but having bought it in the brand’s home country. Additionally when the wealthy of emerging markets travel and see the range difference in western markets they realize that they aren’t getting the most exclusive products in their home market.

    I would think that these dynamics play a role in the new strategies that brands are taking in these markets.

    David Llewellyn from Manassas, VA, United States
  18. Very informative article! Will be interesting to observe LV & Gucci to see if they make this transition without hurting sales. Guess more select runway clips & commercials will hit social media to educate future customers & encourage current ones. A fascinating work-in-progress!

    Tommy Nero from Bronx, NY, United States