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The rise and fall (and rise again) of the monogram

We explore the phenomenon that is logomania and the role it plays in a fashion brand’s evolution.

The rise and fall (and rise again) of the monogram

When Gigi Hadid left her New York apartment one morning, no one knew why but everyone knew what she wore. Emblazoned on her roomy baseball jacket and a matching bag strap were black “F”s against a caramel-coloured background. For that photo op, the supermodel had chosen to flaunt Fendi. That, ladies and gentlemen, illustrates the power that fashion’s top logos wield. 

Logomania is no novelty. Since the 2000s, logos have taken the guise of every possible shape and form. In the not-too-distant past, hotel heiress Paris Hilton trudged through middle America in her TV show The Simple Life, togged out in a Dior Oblique printed bodysuit with her Louis Vuitton bags in tow. 

In 2018, when Riccardo Tisci first took over Burberry’s cockpit, one of his first moves was to reintroduce the brand’s monogram into leather goods. “It’s a really significant step for us. The TB monogram really establishes us as a true luxury house,” said Judy Collinson, Burberry’s chief merchandising officer. “This grounds us in our heritage, which is the right thing to do. There aren’t so many heritage brands in the end.” 

Featuring the interlocking initials of brand founder Thomas Burberry, the monogram became key to ramping up sales of its leather goods. In 2018, prior to Tisci’s arrival, Burberry’s leather goods range accounted for only 38 percent of the business — a huge gap behind Gucci’s estimated 60 percent and Louis Vuitton’s 75 percent that same year. Even though 2020 isn’t over, revenue reports for the year so far indicate healthy sales for Burberry, with accessories being the most profitable product line at £948 million ($1.6 billion) so far. Just this summer, Tisci reinterpreted the TB monogram for a capsule collection, where the logo was not only magnified but also awash in hues of pool blue and sunset orange. We couldn’t miss the message: even in uncertain times as these, monograms still rule. 

“A monogram is an important brand anchor, which can be used to display heritage,” as John Guy, an analyst at business investment bank MainFirst, points out. “At the same time, it enhances brand awareness by reaching out to a younger and broader demographic.” 

The last decade, for instance, was a visible ode to both the nineties and noughties. And consumers who once watched their mothers and style icons carry, say, a bag branded with Chanel’s interlocking “C”s, now want to embrace logos and monograms as a nostalgic wink to their childhoods. 

The popularity of logos among millennial and Gen-Z shoppers can be attributed to social media too. At press time, a search for #monogram on Instagram yielded three million results. Last November, Burberry took to TikTok to challenge users to recreate its TB monogram with the #TBChallenge, which garnered 57 million views in a single week. 


“Chanel, Fendi, and others have obviously seen a huge amount of social currency in appealing to millennials and Generation Z,” says Anna Ross, associate womenswear editor at trends forecasting service WGSN.

Logos afford visibility, simply because they are easily read through your smartphone screen. Consider this: why wear a beige knit dress from The Row when you can flash out in a Fendi suit that instantly ups your street cred? Or, why settle for a plain black face mask in the time of Covid, when you can have Off-White’s logo stamped front and centre? Oh, and the Off-White face mask ranked as the top-searched item in Lyst’s quarterly fashion report. 

“Today, everything is branded. Everything has a logo. That to me is the reality,” says Demna Gvasalia, creative director at Balenciaga and founder of Vetements. He was also instrumental in reviving logoemblazoned T-shirts — his Balenciaga T-shirt riffed off US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo, while Vetements did a DHL version. 

“For me, the visual is what matters really,” Gvasalia admits. “It is really for the fashion insiders — for the people who know what’s happening behind the scenes.” 

Gvasalia isn’t the only designer peddling his logoed wares. Even a veteran like Tommy Hilfiger, who has built an empire on eternally classic, preppy styles for a more mature clientele, sees value in marketing his brand monogram to younger shoppers. “Consumers, especially in youth culture, have always used logos and graphics to make statements about their choices and express their individuality,” said Hilfiger. “It’s grown even bigger today in our digitally connected world where images and symbols circulate globally in an instant on social media.” 

Even streetwear brands have also got in on the logo gold rush. Led by current CEO Chip Bergh, Levi’s underwent extensive rebranding in 2011 to reclaim its cool status with consumers, after losing its rudder for a few years prior. And one of the things Bergh’s team brought back into focus was its iconic batwing logo. Once done in crisp red lines, the logo experienced creative reinterpretations through limited collaborations with the likes of Nintendo (with Super Mario bouncing on the logo) and Beams Japan (a reversed logo done in white). Bergh’s rebranding exercise paid off — annual sales revenue at Levi’s increased by more than 17 percent between 2017 and 2019. 

In 2017, Champion — a heritage sporting goods brand best known for its nostalgic logo — also received marked attention at the same time that Gvasalia began turning millennial consumers towards logoed merch. Scrolling through streetstyle Instagram accounts, you’d find people wearing Champion hoodies and track pants with Chanel jackets and Manolo Blahniks. By the end of 2017, global sales hit US$1 billion ($1.3 billion), and rose again to US$1.36 billion a year later. It expects to reach US$2 billion by 2022. 

Still, everything has a tipping point. For logos, that could be the year 2020. When the last global financial crisis occurred in 2008, our love for bling and brandishing monograms caved in favour of quiet luxury. The ultra-rich shied away from flaunting their wealth while middle-class families lost their homes. 

This ushered in the likes of Phoebe Philo at Celine and Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta — two brands that actively shun overt branding, preferring to create designs that are almost anonymous. Bottega Veneta is now helmed by Philo’s ex-protégé Daniel Lee, whose formula of sleek, “stealth wealth” dressing has been a hit with customers — with nary a logo in sight. 

But beyond external factors such as financial hardship, the decline of the fashion logo was brought on by itself. The oversignalling of wealth and fashion knowledge that once indicated you were part of the in-crowd suddenly became tacky. When a handful start doing something, it might be cool — but when everyone else is doing the same thing, it might not be so anymore. 

But just because many are showing signs of logo fatigue, it doesn’t mean it’s the end for the monogram. Already, creative directors are identifying novel treatments to refresh the logo. Look at Virgil Abloh’s recent partnership with streetwear designer Nigo, or Donatella Versace’s reimaginations of the iconic Medusa logo for AW20. 

“Customers are more interested in things with immediate resonance,” said Coco Chan, head of womenswear buying at e-tailer Stylebop. “I’m sure in 10 years, someone will be scouring eBay for the most iconic iterations from now. That’s the perpetual cycle we’re in. Fashion is nothing if not cyclical.”

This story first appeared in the October 2020 issue of A Magazine.

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