The graphic design behind fashion design

Recent changes in management for fashion powerhouse Yves Saint Laurent has caused an uproar in sales of the company’s wares. Amidst rumors that the company would be discontinuing their logo in light of their change from Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent Paris, fans and collectors found it a prudent time to snatch up the last of this dying logo. Who would have thought that something as simple as a logo would impress some of the most money-wielding customers around the world?

This got us thinking about the logos behind famous fashion brands. Although these brands are based around fashion design, cloth and stitching, the fashion houses themselves and also their customers often place heavy value on their logos, hence the YSL melee.

Lets check out how some of the most expensive brands in the world created imagery that instantly conveys chic, sophistication, quality, and luxury. After all, major high fashion brands aren’t selling just clothes, they’re selling a lifestyle.

Yves Saint Laurent

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Christy Turlington for Yves Saint Laurent (2009)

The iconic, now (mostly) defunct, YSL logo was designed in 1963 by famous artist, poster designer, and typographer A.M Cassandre while Saint Laurent himself was still at the head of the fashion house.

Cassandre’s influences from Cubism to Surrealism, as well as his interests in typefaces, informed his design that present-day customers are still going bananas over.

Although rumors are that the beloved logo will be put out of use it will more likely be used more sparingly. While perhaps frustrating to the dedicated consumer, this does make for a good marketing strategy. Making product scarce increases its value, and judging by the brouhaha recently, this is going to be a success for YSL.

Chanel

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Coco Chanel created one of the world’s highest luxury brands. Although her past is filled with sordid tales (everything from affairs with Dukes and Nazi Officers to fabulous drug parties) she was also clearly an excellent businesswoman with an eye for style and design.

This was not only shown in her groundbreaking styles, even pioneering the LBD (little black dress), but also in her creation of the design house’s logo, which has become synonymous with luxury and decadence. Chanel designed it herself, based on a stained glass window from Aubazine, the church where Chanel was raised; and the logo of the Château de Crémat, a villa in Nice, France. See, inspiration can come from everywhere!

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Left to right: Chanel logo on a purse, earrings, and celeb sunnies

Chanel is particular in that it is one of the fashion brands that uses the logo as the image that gives each piece value. The logo has become a statement, showing off that you have the money and the class to buy such costly items. In high fashion, logos are everything.

Gucci

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Gucci has become so representative of the ideas of livin’ the high life that it has even become its own slang word. Its logo is yet another visual marker in the global marketplace and culture for style, elegance, and all around expensive-ness.

Designed in 1933 by Aldo Gucci, eight years after the surprisingly similar Chanel logo, the Gucci logo also uses a simple concept. While Chanel’s logo represented the interlocking C’s of Coco Chanel’s name, this logo is meant to represent the interlocked G’s of Guccio Gucci, founder of the fashion house and father of Aldo. Despite their operations in the same industry, this similarity has apparently never been an issue.

Hermés

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Hermés is very, well, Parisian. And their logo is a classic representation of Parisian class, style, and originality. The logo design hearkens back to the birth of the company, when the Hermés clan (it really was quite the family business) was involved in making the finest leather saddles for the Parisian elite. Slowly the brand grew to include other fine leather works and sporting jackets.

The logo was designed in the 1950s, roughly a century after the company’s inception, and accurately reflects their motto, “Leather, sport and a tradition of refined elegance.”

Burberry

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Apparently, as many of these fashion houses were rising to prominence, the horse was the ultimate representation of old-school nobility, class, and honor: hot qualities in the extra high-end fashion design world. In this way, Burberry and Hermes both ended up with equestrian logos. The logo also references antiquity with the Latin word ‘Prorsum’, meaning forward – implying the goals of the company.

Presciently, Thomas Burberry trademarked the logo in 1904, a smart move to safeguard his business.

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In 1920 Burberry also copyrighted their trademarked checkered design. Together, the logo and the check design have become definitive of the Burberry brand.

Lacoste

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This sporty brand got its name from the top French tennis-man of the 1920s and 30s, René Lacoste. The exact story of the crocodile though, is hotly debated. One account claims that the fans began to call Lacoste “The Crocodile” for his tenacity on the court.

Other stories attest to the mascot’s origin as resulting from a bet between Lacoste and his team captain over an important match; with the winner receiving a crocodile-skin briefcase. After Lacoste won the match a friend of his embroidered the logo onto Lacoste’s tennis shirts. And thus, the brand was born.

Regardless of the crocodile’s true origin, the brand and its logo have since become the ultimate signifier of athletically specialized luxury. Their brand reach has extended beyond just tennis, to now also include golf and preppy teens.

Prada

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Although Prada more typically relies on their original typeface to work as the face of their brand, this particular implementation is the one with the most interesting story. This thoroughly Italian company achieved this classic rope design when they were appointed in 1919 as the official suppliers to the Italian Royal Household. The rope design comes from the Royal Italian Suit of Arms.

Versace

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Visually, this has got to be one of our favorites. We love the allusion to classic Greek mythology with the Medusa imagery. This might also be one of the designs with the most interesting stories.

The brand’s reasoning for selecting this particular Greek mythological figure as their logo is perhaps due to her purported legendary beauty. However, as the story continues Medusa seduces the sea-god Poseidon and was punished with fangs and hair made of snakes. The story is meant to be a cautionary tale to avoid oversized vanity and lust, which are, incidentally, inherent parts of choosing to purchase high-end fashion. Consider that when making your next over-$1000 purse purchase…

And there you have it, the stories behind some of the logos that have allowed certain companies to charge what some (read: most) might consider obscene prices for everyday goods. The real lesson to be learned from these leaders of the fashion industry is how you can turn something like a brand name – and a logo – into something that people do not consider advertising, but rather the actual good itself worthy of purchase.

What is your favorite fashion branding?

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