Fashion houses have recently been following the trail of an audacious change in their brands by transforming their logo’s font and oddly enough, there is a reoccurring theme in these makeovers. From YSL to Balmain and Burberry, the move begs the question: what is the true meaning behind the font of a fashion house’s logo?
A New Wave of Fashion Re-Branding
A major shift in the fashion world took place in 2012 when former Yves Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane took the drastic measure of re-making the logo of the iconic French fashion house. Since then, the instantly recognisable three-letter logo, designed by A.M. Cassandre in 1961, is now simply Saint Laurent Paris, a minimal drawback from the brand’s original name Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in 1966.
This dramatic change received a mix of viewpoints. In a statement for Vanity Fair, Slimane said “It is interesting how much reaction this retro branding has created.” Whether this was a marketing strategy or a means to put his stamp on the fashion house, his decision to change the logo was inspired by the periodic history of 1968 France, when eleven million workers went on strike against the right-wing politics of then-president Charles de Gaulle. “Yves Saint Laurent wanted to disassociate himself from the clientele of haute couture and embrace this new generation,” Slimane added. With this in mind, the more simplistic typeface is arguably representative of the proletariat upheaval, encapsulating the significance of font and how typeface is not just letters on a page.
When the bolder Saint Laurent came to be, it took some of the most recognisable faces of today (notably Kaia Gerber and Zoe Kravitz) to front its campaigns, while instilling a timeless face like Kate Moss. The brand’s ad campaigns have shifted on a seemingly-uniformed format: a model photographed in black-and-white with Saint Laurent plastered at the centre – and its visual silence manages to scream. A far cry from the fancy “old money”, ultra-European look.
Meanwhile, other luxury fashion brands have also gone down the same rabbit hole. Influential designer Peter Seville, known for being the brainchild of British bands Joy Division and New Order’s logo, collaborated with Burberry’s Creative Director Riccardo Tisci for a re-interpretation of the company’s traditional “equestrian knight” logo, opting for a more minimalist and less-British aesthetic. Prior to that, it was also Seville who helped tweak the Calvin Klein logo under the direction of Raf Simons.
Balmain has also debuted a new logo under the creative vision of Olivier Rousteing. After seventy years, Rousteing revamped Balmain’s logo and monogram, commenting that “Balmain is now a fast-growing brand relying on new media to communicate to a global audience.” The Adulte Adulte-designed new logo is a heavier black Sans Serif font and pays homage to the house’s Paris origin, while its new monogram is an ode to its founder Pierre Balmain.
What is the difference between Serif and Sans Serif?
Serif is arguably the most discernable typeface family being the oldest and most traditional choice. Serif typefaces can be recognised by their tiny “feet-like” strokes at the edge of every letter called “Serifs”. Visible in the Times New Roman font, this lettering dates back to pre-print days when stone carving was the medium of communication in writing Latin. Today, serif typefaces are widely-utilised in large editorial copies such as books, magazines (think of the Vogue font) and newspapers due to their readability. When used in logos, serifs exude an elegant and formal quality.
Sans Serif is the cooler friend of the serif font. Unlike the Serif, this typeface has no feet hence the “sans” which translates to “without” in French. This characteristic can be seen in the Arial font and is mostly associated for its modern, more contemporary appeal. Considering how printed mass media is predominately read in Serif, it makes sense that Sans Serif is heavily used on digital platforms.
Despite the backlash or support, customers, fashion critics, graphic designers, and even business analysts can sense the rationale and ideology behind the move. Now, this is where it all gets technical.
French blogger Louis Morales-Chanard looked at the bigger picture after the re-imagining of the Burberry logo. In it he explained how brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Fendi have an inextricable link with their logos which adorn many, if not most of the designs from each fashion house. “It’s not like minimalistic sans serif logos are a new thing in fashion” he wrote, but that the old-school Burberry logo had to be replaced for upscaling purposes, making it easier to reprint the brand’s typeface onto garments and accessories in the age of logomania.
Robyn Turk from fashionunited.uk analysed how logo-rebranding can provoke consumer engagement and brand awareness, whilst in a Hypebeast article entitled Why Do All New Fashion Logos Look the Same?, graphic designer David Rudnick believes the new logos are a move forward from the past. He explained that newly appointed creative directors are “removing the shadow of the ego that they’re stepping into, by removing the presence of the great legacy designer of the house.” The decision enables a chance for these creative directors to rewrite the heritage of the fashion house.
While some brands maintained (or generated more) income and success with this decision, others have failed to do so. Gap notoriously attempted to amp its logo in 2010, opting for the same minimalist, Sans Serif typeface with a blue square overlapping the “P”. The move was so negatively received that the company returned to its roots just a week later.
The Impact of Typography
Typography choices play a huge role in brand marketing. They aren’t just a series of texts; they are the limited number of letters customers will turn their heads to in print/digital campaigns, billboards and in stores. With the specific use of typefaces, it can be pretty easy for customers to place an adjective on a brand, whether that means that it is “expensive”, “tacky” or “average”.
This new trend of sans serif branding is like taking Supreme to Paris, like marrying sophistication with angst. The social media generation has redefined fashion dramatically, making it available for everyone to appreciate, therefore fashion houses were quick to adjust by taking it to the streets (literally seen in Balenciaga’s Spring 2018 campaign). What seems like a bandwagon trend is actually a graphic imitation of the call for the new and active generation to rethink fashion’s status quo. Like these modified fonts, fashion is progressively more brash, straight-forward and less esoteric. What these fashion houses are doing through their typeface is reflecting the less conservative, more experimental, diverse and revolutionary future of fashion.
What are your thoughts on the new fashion logos of today? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
Text: Audrey Vibar
Images: Vanity Team, Fashionela, The Restless CMO, Strip Project, Spitgan magazine, Under Consideration, DesignTAXI, Fashion Gone Rogue, TomorrowStarted, Fashionista, Esquire Middle East, Luxury Society, WWD, Hypocrite Design, Arc Street Journal