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Op-Ed | Logomania? Blame the Hipsters

80s nostalgia? Check. Instagram-friendly? Check. But more than anything, luxury brands have turned to logos to justify their prices in a world where consumers crave banal clothing, argues Liroy Choufan.
Versace, Dior Homme and Valentino Autumn 2018 | Source: Inditex
  • Liroy Choufan

TEL AVIV, Israel — The message for next season is clear: logomania is here to stay. Once again, designers feel the need to punch brand iconography all over their collections. On the Versace men's autumn 2018 runway, for instance, garments were adorned with graphic golden pins or somewhat preppy scarves bearing the house's name, while at Valentino things were more minimal, but by no means more discreet, with the new VLTN logo screaming from bags, sweaters and parkas. Some designers tried to be more original, as in the case of a Dior Homme sweater emblazoned with the words "Le new look 1947," paying homage to the founder's signature silhouette that became synonymous with his name, but the basic idea is the same.

This present wave of stamped designer goods started about three years ago. And if the men’s shows are any indication of what we’ll see on the women’s runways for F/W 2018 later this month, the trend is both growing and taking on new shapes. The broader question, of course, is why do we need logo items and why are they back again? In general, there are two theories.

The first posits that today's logomania is part of a retro movement — a return of the logo obsession of the 80s and 90s. Back then — think the Tommy Hilfiger tube top that was more of a signpost then an actual garment, or the much too colorful Benneton sweaters — logomania was usually seen as an antithesis to the grounded hippie movement, the output of a capitalist world prescribed by Thatcher and Reagan that endorsed success above everything else (and nothing says "success" better than a pair of CK underwear). It was also easy to do, considering the extent to which licensing was in vogue, so designers could print their names almost on anything.

Re-using those ideas today might be seen as pure nostalgia, a floating memory that can transport us to a time before Trump and Brexit, and even back beyond the shaken first decade of the 21st century, before the world — let's be young and naïve — went mad.

On the other hand, if in the 80s logos were meant solely to be carried on the body, nowadays they have an added role in the virtual world that might explain their current comeback. Bold logos are good for Instagram. At a time when social networks are a dominant form of communication and a good picture is worth more than a long text, logos are an excellent way to make a product, feeling or tribe recognizable. In this regard, logos are somewhat like emojis. Moreover, big logos also ensure that selfies can be as effective marketing platforms as billboards on Times Square. After all, as every fashion house knows, image is everything.

Big logos ensure that selfies can be as effective marketing platforms as billboards on Times Square.

And yet there's a key point these assumptions miss. Logomania is here again not only as a strategic or stylistic choice, or as a part of some cynical escapism. Logomania is here again because there is a serpentine connection and interdependence between the simplicity of contemporary design itself and the boldness of logos.

When the first wave of post-modern logomania emerged in the 80s and 90s, it was not only a case of status. In fact, it was less about true luxury and more about a practical solution for a fashion industry that was in trouble. Paris, as a general representation of high fashion, extrovert know-how and western elegance, had lost its position — first to London, with its rebellious and irreverent youth culture, which had become the essence of cool, and then to New York, which had a rising street culture and the oh-so-hip MTV. At its point of weakness as a leader of fresh styles, in that same year, Paris was also penetrated by foreign agendas, far removed from haute couture, in the form of the Japanese designers and their 'strange' muted ideas.

All these factors profoundly altered the clothes that we were wearing. Without Paris' traditional inspirations, they became much less grand. Outside the business world and its power suits, which for most people were quite plain, fashion became sportier, more casual, with lots of jeans and t-shirts. After all who can forget the athletic-yet-blingy Eighties hip-hop looks, Jean-Paul Gaultier and his homoerotic striped t-shirted sailors or a young Kate Moss in jeans and a tank top? Even Brooke Shields had nothing under her Calvins almost 40 years ago.

That, of course, caused a huge problem for designers as well consumers. With simpler clothes, who can tell if your white t-shirt is a designer white t-shirt or not? The solution that fashion found is easy to guess: moving the clothing label from the inside to the outside, without any subtext. The result was bizarre — basic clothes with bombastic naming (and in most cases, the simpler the design, the bolder the logo).

That wave of logomania survived for a little more than a decade but then slowly lost its power. In the economic reality of the very beginning of 21st century, with the dotcom crash and later with the mid-decade crisis, it was considered tacky to flash designer names. So, fashion returned to discreet but more complex trends: elaborate designer sneakers which had nothing to do with sports, gladiator sandals, 50s dresses or hyper-expensive Balmain leather jackets with exaggerated shoulders. Collaborations between high-end designers and mass retailers boomed, such as H&M with Karl Lagerfeld or Lanvin. While the crowd might have been poorer, it certainly didn't want to give up its rich taste.

But then, when good taste was almost free of tacky logos, the hipsters came along. The hipsters, at first eclectic arty types gathered in cheap neighborhoods which rapidly gentrified, were striving for something else. Call it “authentic,” call it “real,” call it “authentic but ironic,” the idea was to try and find the things in life that matter – good coffee, good organic food, a house full of good ol' furniture and, of course, good clothing with a solid history. They favored archetypical garments: a solid pair of denim jeans, workwear shirts, buffalo checks and anything sold at APC.

Hipsters soon appeared to be detached from their original agenda as young intellectuals with specific cultural values and attitudes.

Towards the end of the aughts, at the turn of the decade, things changed dramatically. In this global world, where culture moves so fast, hipsters soon appeared to be detached from their original agenda as young intellectuals with specific cultural values and attitudes. They spread out from arty areas to wider urban landscapes, gained a class consciousness and, more importantly, became a style.

The success of the hipster look, based on workwear, vintage-inspired sportswear and anything beige, is undeniable. In fact, it has developed, spread much further and taken on forms other than those of the original kernel of the hipster tribe. The look has resulted in specific trends like "Normcore" or the "dad-or-mom bod" (which, of course, sport dad-or-mom clothes). Even Gap, in 2014, launched the "Dress Normal" campaign which was based on a similar agenda.

Designer brands — and commercial luxury houses — had to play the game if they wanted to stay on trend. They had to obey and communicate with a new public taste for the generic, imbued with this hipster allure. The problem was rising again – how could you justify your hyper-luxury name when consumers crave banal (some might say ugly) clothing? How would you sell a classic cotton hoodie, a Stan Smith look-a-like sneaker or Levi's 501-inspired jeans for over $500 each?

The solution was something that had worked in the past: give the people the boring clothes they want to wear, but emblazoned with brand names and the price tag to match. That might explain, for instance, how Demna Gvasalia, founder of cult-neo-hipster label Vetements — who started with the sarcastic branding of nothing, as the famous DHL t-shirt suggested — was able to teleport so many of his cunning streetwear designs to Balenciaga, the respected and traditional French fashion house that he has been artistically managing since 2015. Although the two brands have nothing in common historically — Balenciaga was known for its uber complex couture creations — they now share some similar trendy designs such as sweatshirts and caps. Those from Balenciaga — surprise, surprise — say "Balenciaga."

For the joy of buyers, logomania is now everywhere again, offering simple, generic and easy-to-wear garments that substitute new ideas with a recognized brand's name or symbol. Gucci can revive its hit logo t-shirts, while Prada sent a repetitive retro-future collection down its latest runway, full of black nylon articles pinned with a multitude of logo patches.

In a way, all of this is truly ironic. What started out a decade ago as an aspiration for real clothes with less marketing in a small subculture group has become the complete opposite world-wide. Well, blame it on the hipsters.

Liroy Choufan is a fashion writer and creative consultant in Tel Aviv.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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