How did logos in fashion became “a thing”?
The idea of over-displaying wealth originated as early as the 1980s in the rap subculture (Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster, Chapter Eight, page 262). It was all about the bling, brands were named in songs, and logos were flourishing. Drapper Dan’s biography is a wonderful book that explains how everything started, from the view of a protagonist that was part of this change.
The story takes us into the streets of Harlem, where life was tough and poverty at its strongest. Being a hustler meant getting out of poverty by figuring out how to make money, and always outsmarting the next guy. However, while money was important, it wasn’t everything. Speaking “slick” and being able to socialize with ladies was also part of the criteria, as explained by Drapper Dan; but, perhaps the most important quality was “being fly”.
“Flyness” is described as a more complex criterion – one that completes the package. Flyness “was about something intangible…it was about style and how you carried yourself in the street.” It covered all aspects of one’s character – from attitude to style; from the car you drove to the girl sitting by your side. One line that stuck with me from the book was “Power was fly, and fly was power” (Drapper Dan: Made in Harlem, page 31, chapter 3).
So, in this world, we understand clothes were part of the being “fly” concept, and street wear was pivotal. Showing off what you have was part of the hustler lifestyle, where you always had to prove yourself on the street. It was how you were perceived that really mattered. As Drapper says in his book, “clothes have a power that cuts across social and economic status.” If a hustler earned his place, he should have access to the heritage brands and be able to wear them, right?
The high society only rule
The main issue back then was the fact that big fashion houses were associating themselves with aristocrats and high society classes only – old-money folks. Additionally, the black community didn’t have the means to go and study fashion, nor the means to create high fashion items. The resistance to cater to the black communities was very strong. I will give you an example, just to have a better understanding of this. Frederic Rouzand, Head of the Louis Roederer company that makes the famous Cristal champagne, once made a very strong comment as his brand was getting popular in rap culture. He basically remarked that he can’t forbid people from buying his brands, but that he is certain that brands like “Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business” (ref from deluxe book, page 263). As this was a clear diss to the rap subculture, the famous Jay-Z took immediate action by removing Cristal off the wine list at all his clubs. Moreover, he also promised to change the lyrics to all songs that might have any mention of the brand, thereby definitively cutting support towards Cristal.
So, where does Drapper Dan come into all of this?
We know that being “fly” was a key criterion for being a hustler. Showing that you earned your spot in the community and that you made it was a very important social factor. Fashion was crucial, and yet most brands did not want to be associated with the community. The great Gianni Versace proudly declared that Tupac wore his brand going in and out of prison, but that was mostly it. So, here is where Drapper Dan and others like him come into play! They discovered a niche – a demand that no one was caring about, but that had tremendous value. Buyers had as big of a budget as the aristocrats, and they were ready to spend…
Drapper Dan opened his first shop at the age of thirty-seven and started catering for this niche from the very start. He started going into high-end stores and noticed that brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci were not focusing on apparel. Rather, they mainly focused on leather goods. He then created his own system and built a team to incorporate the famous logos into garments, which were tailor-made for every hustler coming into his shop! He was amazing at this, while initially unaware that he started a trend and a fashion revolution. Even when luxury brands were not so logo-centric, the rap subculture was making their own prints and styles, which influenced the market overall.
Flyness becomes universal!
In the early 1990s, Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at Chanel, incorporated the street style when he made the interlinked double-C logo into everything the brand had to offer. He put it in chains, printed it on clothes, made fancy earrings, and eventually put it on bags. The other brands shortly followed, with Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Dior embarking on the same trend. The timing was also just right, as the early 2000s were all about the brands and flashy items. You know, all about the bling that celebrities were wearing – from Paris Hilton wearing Juicy Couture pink tracksuits paired with a Dior Saddle Bag, to P. Diddy and other rappers stacking on Diamond chains and shining in anything logo patterned.
While the rap subculture along with singers like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez took off, so did their influence on the general public when it came to fashion. Whatever they were wearing became aspirational for the middle- and upper-class. With the increase in popularity of loans, this customer demographic was suddenly given the disposable income to actually afford some of the luxury pieces. Like some would say, to “buy into the dream,” right? Luxury brands saw this movement as an opportunity, and surely the new demographic was the golden ticket to expansion.
2008 Financial market crash & the rise of Minimalism
The American consumerist trend was brought to a great halt with the advent of the great 2008 recession, which impacted the lives of millions. To some extent, its effects are still felt to this day. The change in consumer behavior was sudden and extreme. Opulence was no longer viewed as something desirable, but rather despised. You see, when you barely make enough to put food on the table, shiny rhinestones and logos suddenly lose their appeal. With the expansion plans of the luxury fashion brands targeting the middle class, they took a massive hit when their customer demographic lost everything basically overnight. Moreover, the rich, which were not so heavily impacted and still shopped. However, they avoided logos that would show their wealth. In an article published by Vox, they mention there was a “pushback against items with noticeable logos, while more subtle designs gained respect.”
Bottom line: at this point, it was suddenly uncool to be rich, and more minimal designs took the stage.
Back to Maximalism!
fter 2009, we started seeing some improvements in the fashion industry. Nonetheless, as before, the focus was on minimalism, and less on showing off. It did recover, but slowly and steadily. It was 2015’s movements that changed the course of how we see fashion today. As we can see in the below graph from Statista on the “Value of the Personal Luxury Goods Market Worldwide’, a steady movement with small increases here and there may be observed from 2009 until 2014. 2015 took a bigger leap in terms of revenue generation, and there are few reasons why.
Remember how I mentioned that the logo-centric fashion emerged from the urban rap subculture? As we know, fashion is cyclical, and it is only a matter of time until it comes back in style…
2015 was the year when Kanye West released his first Yeezy shoes design in collaboration with Adidas. Brands like Off-White and Supreme, although not founded in 2015, all saw a ramp up in demand and increase in popularity. Alessandro Michele was also appointed as creative director at Gucci, and we all know how great that turned out for Gucci. Alessandro’s style is the furthest from minimalism, so all these signs were clear – maximalism and logos were back!
Fashion has changed a lot with the passing of time, and 2019 is considered by many to be the best year in fashion. If my statement does not seem compelling, we can let the numbers speak for themselves. In the “Value of the Personal Luxury Goods Market Worldwide’ graph from Statista (above), we can see a clear peak corresponding to the highest value of revenue since 1996. Not only the luxury business grew, but also the fast fashion industry. The staggering growth along the years is very evident in the below graph!
Title: Fast fashion market value forecast worldwide in 2009 and 2019, with a forecast for 2029 (in billion U.S. dollars)*
Interestingly, the second-hand apparel market has also grown substantially, reaching $24 billion in the U.S. alone in 2018, versus $35 billion for fast-fashion (to read more see CNBC article here).
Looking at this numbers, something becomes crystal clear. We buy a lot! We spend on fashion so much, as we keep on emphasizing our personal styles and Instagram page walls.
Additionally, the emergence of an interesting facet has taken place: that fact that we buy and combine fast fashion and luxury items. What was once a dichotomy is now a blurred line, as men and women around the world started wearing Zara clothes paired with luxury leather goods like bags and shoes. It is widely acceptable to straddle in both worlds, without needing a certain categorization for it. You don’t need to be part of the Elite to own a Chanel handbag in the same way as being wealthy stopping you from being a Fashion Nova ‘Babe’!!
So, where do logos stand in all of this? The logo represents a company identity, and thus it makes it easily recognizable. Brands have become important, and their logo became a status symbol more than ever. It wasn’t always a designer’s worry to incorporate logos in an obvious manner in their work. Take for example Miuccia Prada, who was always against big and bold logos on her clothes. The infamous Prada nylon backpack was first launched without any logo on it. Another example was Mr. Martin Margiela, from the reputable fashion house Margiela. He had a very unique signature on his clothes, which only those close to the brand would know to distinguish.
Nowadays, with the return of Maximalism, logos are in full power, but in a different way. Maybe the rhinestones of the 2000s have taken a backseat, but, in many ways, we have reverted to the show-off culture. This is also another reason why some fashion items that were popular in the 2000s have had a come-back, especially in the handbags department. I wrote an article discussing the ‘It Bags’ of 2000s, if you are interested to read more.
Atheleasure, baggy styles, and indie brands are also under the spotlight, but almost always with a touch of luxury, through small leather goods. Take a look at the below graph from one of the most successful luxury companies, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). We can see that the Fashion and Leather Goods account for the most of the company’s revenue, with a year-on-year increase. Perhaps now, with the appointing of Virgil Abloh, the ready-to-wear section will exhibit a ramp in revenue. Nonetheless, handbags, luggage, and other small leather goods are still driving a large proportion of revenue. If we look at the other fashion houses of LVMH, such as Dior, the situation will be no different. We know that Dior has been heavily promoting its leather goods through traditional and social media platforms. Everywhere you look, there is an influencer that receives handbags in order to promote the Dior style; this approach has been quite successful for Maria Grazia Chiuri (Dior’s Creative Director).
Source: LVMH.com; Annual Report
To sum up, as time passed, consumers have found a way to manage both worlds in the fashion industry. While the lifespan of our clothes has decreased considerably, the buying power has increased. We actually buy more volume and more frequently than we used to; because of this, both fast fashion and luxury brands have equally experienced increases in sales. Logos have remained important as the middle class has more disposable income. It is very common nowadays to have a $20 outfit paired with a $1000 belt and $3000 handbag. The consumer has become more interested in longer-lasting items such as leather goods, as well as tends to spend more in quality when an item is advertised as timeless.
As we strive to work our way up the corporate ladder, we tend to show it through the brands we wear, and the fashion houses know that. The market will adapt according to the consumer behavior, and this is what we see today… Nowadays, the clear decrease in the importance of couture, coupled with the rise in streetwear and the incorporation of logos and branding is in the middle of it all.