Just a few years ago, Chinese consumers were still shunning prominent logos as, traditionally, flaunting wealth in China was seen as tacky. On top of that, a wave of anti-corruption policies further dissuaded ostentatious shows of luxury among high-end consumers. But suddenly, logos are becoming important to fashion consumers in China, and fashion houses are responding with a bevy of new logo designs and applications.
Sales associates who interact with clients understand this best. For instance, Lucy, a sales associate at a New York City luxury brand store, noticed that mature, affluent Chinese consumers learn about how logos reflect a designer’s ideology and philosophy, and she said they enjoyed feeling more “in the know” about these symbols. She also stated that her younger clients lacked interest in press clips about Chinese celebrities rocking the “branded” look because they understand how PR and media companies use these celebrities. “They despise it,” said Lucy. “They’d rather hear about the story behind the clothing.”
The same goes for the logos they wear. “The way people see big logos has switched from tacky to claiming a social status—it’s a way to showcase one’s aesthetic sensitivity,” said Remi Blanchard, a strategic planning expert in the China luxury market. “As consumers learn to appreciate logos and the luxury market becomes more complex, it seems like logo trends shouldn’t wear off any time soon.”
The risk of playing with the logo
Therefore, it might seem as if splashing extravagant logos all over products is a quick strategy to draw crowds of buyers, but sophisticated consumers in China aren’t easily fooled by gimmicks. For fashion houses, the risk lies in how far they can push this logo trend while still feeling authentic to consumers.
“Personally, it’s a bit boring to see so many brands embracing the same street-cool aesthetic,” said Jiaqi Luo, a Chinese millennial and marketing strategist at East Media. “Consumers are very smart these days—they get which brand is really having fun with their new design and which brand is just trying to fit in.”
We’re seeing various clothiers approach this trend differently: Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Gucci all jumped on new designs right away, hoping to forge strong, new identities along with them. Meanwhile, lower key brands like Bottega Veneta, or Zegna have preferred to keep their logos discreet. So which approach is seen as more “authentic” by consumers?
The answer is: It’s hard to say. A recent report from Agility Research & Strategy on affluent Chinese Gen-Z consumers shows that they prefer luxury brands with solid identities that stay true to themselves—not ones that blindly follow trends.
Gucci, the king of extravagant logos, stood out as a polarizing brand name among Chinese Gen-Zers. In the report, some respondents (mostly women) recognized how well the company adapted its logo while maintaining its fundamental identity, but others (primarily males) felt the brand released too many logo styles, giving the fashion house a “pompous and flamboyant” feel.
On the other side of the logo spectrum, Bottega Veneta—a house that’s deeply rooted in its slogan “when your own initials are enough”—is actually valued for its understatement, according to Gen-Z respondents. Instead of changing its logo—something so integral to the brand’s DNA—Bottega Veneta used another tack to connect with younger generations: brand ambassadorship. Recently, the brand appointed teen idol Jackson Yee as its first celebrity spokesperson in the Asia-Pacific region. The move received significant fanfare, but the company hasn’t indicated whether it has translated into sales yet.
Co-branding is another way to connect with the young crowd while not having to ditch an identity entirely, Blanchard suggested. “Brands with a heterogeneous audience like Louis Vuitton chose to follow a diversified strategy to answer the needs of all their customer profiles,” he said. He pointed to the streetwear looks of the Louis Vuitton/Supreme collaboration, which necessitated a showy logo, while LV’s other product lines remain mostly dedicated to discreet logos.
Will the logo trend ever wear off?
As illustrated above, fashion houses are well aware that logo trends cannot work for every brand. The core task is to set up strong logo differentiation and esteem before going “streetwear-ized,” suggests New York-based Senior Consultant at Labbrand Ray Ju.
But whether this fad will wear off or stay put could be up to bigger economic trends in China. “If history is any indication, the current logo trend will stay as long as the economic outlook is optimistic,” said Ju. “Whereas, during an economic contraction, less flaunty or even minimalistic styles are more relevant to consumers.” The recent slowdown in economic growth could work against the booming logo trend. Released this July, China’s second-quarter GDP rose 6.7 percent year-on-year, but that’s the weakest growth in about two years.
“The trend works for brands until it does not,” said Ray. “So it is even more crucial for companies to look beyond the logos and have a holistic understanding of their brands and consumers in order to innovate, which is what really rejuvenates a brand and makes it resilient.” This means that brands need to focus on the stories behind the logo as much as—or more than—simply changing the logo for new generations of Chinese consumers whose tastes are starting to mature.