Out with the old, in with the new…logo, that is.
Since the radical and irreverent restyling of the Yves Saint Laurent brand and logo masterminded by Hedi Slimane in 2012, many other fashion brands have opted in favor of a refresh.
From Balenciaga to Berluti, from Balmain to Burberry to the infamous accent mark removal at Celine, it seems that the most important step taken by brands in need of new life in recent years has been to change the logo. (The design keywords seem to be “Bold” and “Sans Serif.”)
But, in China, in particular, such a radical move can backfire. Luxury customers have reacted fiercely to the redesign of brand logos like Balenciaga and Celine, and Burberry’s less-fussy new 2018 logo sparked concern it would be easier to counterfeit. Logo culture is a way for heritage-conscious Chinese consumers to understand luxury brands. So — especially with China taking a lion’s share of the luxury and accessories market — is such a core change to the brand a risk or it an opportunity?
Interestingly, some of the biggest names avoid it entirely. Salvatore Ferragamo, for example, has always preciously kept the genius shoemaker signature as the brand logo. The Chanel logo dates back to the time of its founder, Coco Chanel.
But they can afford to be timeless. Luxury brands built on an enduring style and brand concept clearly can rely on a long-term vision and management, they can focus more effectively on the brand reputation as well as the aura that the brand exudes by itself rather than on a new logo. They are more keen on developing a subtle yet powerful relationship with customers who don’t expect brands like Hermès to be freaking for change and disruption.
As Jean-Noel Kapferer wrote in his influential 2009 book The Luxury Strategy, “luxury brands are powerful identities able to reassure and seduce by the dream they create…The luxury brand cultivates its uniqueness: it prefers to be faithful to an identity rather than constantly worry about superiority over an opponent.”
On the opposite side of the argument, industry brands that seek to be more fashionable, more pop, need to keep up with the spirit of the times now, to have quick and more frequent refreshes, hence more frequent creative director changes, brand-image disruption, and brand-message updates, sometimes radical.
Balenciaga, for example, went through a bumpy road of never-ending changes when it split from Nicolas Guesquière, then appointed Alexander Wang and lastly (but not least) Vetements founder Demna Gvasalia landed the top role in. 2015. From the product to the brand image, the brand drastically redesigned three times in just six years, going from fashion insiders’ niche favorite to (not enough) cool American athleisure to cool sneakers and freak brand. And it started as the uber-chic Haute Couture go-to brand for Hollywood divas in the 20th century.
All this logo restyling is just a sign of all the activity needed to keep the attention high in a very crowded market, where new generations of consumers may get bored very easily and dump a brand, in the same way, they follow/unfollow their favorite influencers on social media. In September, when Celine eliminated the accent from its logo — and launched a handbag with a “C” logo that Chinese netizens found far too similar to Chanel’s — complaints were viewed by 3 million visitors on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Yet Gucci’s decision to sell a line of “Guccy” products in its spring 2018 resort show, a logo that parodied the luxury industry’s problem with counterfeits, was seen as quite witty by Chinese consumers.
Why? Because the logo of a fashion brand is just one of the tools of the kit.
Its restyling is part of an essential process of maintenance that keeps the brand well-oiled and updated.
What makes a fashion brand strong in our time is the magic mix between its own history, uniqueness, and values as well as a carefully executed constant upkeep through a daily dose of buzz and cool contents.
Only when the brand kit is well balanced, precise and focused the brand will thrive. The logo is the gate to the brand castle. If the castle is richly decorated, full of history (and ghosts) there will be amazing and attractive storytelling to share. If the castle is in ruins, no amazing drawbridge will be enough to conquer the hearts of the cavaliers and dames.
The real risk is when brands are developed by a “consumer-led” attitude. As they increase their similarity with other brands in the industry, they develop a weak and not consistent brand image and offer, they lack innovation and do not evolve in their own terms.
In the end, it’s not the logo that makes the difference and opens the road to success. It’s the authenticity of the whole brand.
Susanna Nicoletti is the founder of The Fashion Dispatch, a Milan-based digital platform on Branding, Luxury and Fashion Strategy.