By  on December 11, 2006

Saks Fifth Avenue is going back to the future in the New Year.

Next month, the retailer is launching a new logo that will grace everything from awnings to shopping bags, hat boxes and even exclusive designer merchandise. Developed by Terron Schaefer, Saks' group senior vice president of creative and marketing, and Pentagram Design Inc., the new logo harkens back to the well-known stacked-script one developed by Massimo Vignelli, which was launched in 1973 but eventually was replaced with a cleaner, modern font.

"In 1997, they did away with the original logo, although it still exists on many of the buildings," Schaefer said of the script logo. "When asked, people would probably still say that it's the Saks Fifth Avenue logo."

Schaefer, who joined Saks in 2003, spearheaded the logo change practically from the day he arrived, tinkering with the existing one by tightening it and putting it into a square as a segue of sorts to the new image.

"I asked the board, ‘Can you describe the packaging for Hermès? It's orange. Tiffany? It's blue. What is the logo of Louis Vuitton? LV. Burberry? The plaid,'" Schaefer said. "These are four luxury companies that have an iconic color or pattern and we had neither. Now there is a color palette and the potential to change this is very easy."

Of the new black-and-white logo, which was created with Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, Schaefer said: "We gave Massimo Vignelli's 1973 design a kind of liposuction, and trimmed it down and made it sleeker, but there was a great concern the cursive font was too feminine, so we put a rule around the edges and really made it a tighter square, eliminating these cursive elements."

Once the logo was refined, executives started to deconstruct and reconstruct it to create a new visual language for the store. They divided the perfect square into 64 quadrants and started shuffling each one around to produce a new pattern that loosely resembles a Harris tweed. To underscore this method of scrambling the logo, Saks developed sterling silver thumb puzzles of the logo, which are expected to be for sale at the stores. Each quadrant that features an element of the logo — a swirl of the letter "S," a part of the "F" and the "I" dot, for instance — will now be used for shopping bags, packaging boxes and even employee pins.Saks is referring to the scrambled pattern as the "DNA" motif because it reflects all the elements of the logo. It will serve a variety of purposes.

"This presents enormous opportunities in terms of upholstery or carpeting, for instance," Schaefer noted. "It is the Saks Fifth Avenue DNA, but at the same [time], isn't something as identifiable as a logo carpet. We can use it on awnings, stationery programs and on the backs of cards."

Saks also is working with designers to develop special merchandise featuring the new deconstructed pattern, and Schaefer has been in touch with Christian Louboutin about doing an espadrille with it; Diane von Furstenberg for a wrap dress, and Albert Kriemler of Akris, as well as George Sharp of Ellen Tracy and brands such as Moncler and Vilebrequin, for special items. Except for Ellen Tracy, which will launch items such as a skirt, blouse and scarf for spring, these collaborations are still being negotiated.

"It needs to be a mix of high end and low end, so that it's both affordable but still desirable, and not just PVC bags," Schaefer said. "It could be fantastic lining for a fur coat. It's a no-brainer."

If there was any skepticism the new logo was too vintage-looking, Schaefer downplayed the notion. "It's not so logo-driven, but still so iconic," he noted.

The concept of going back to Saks' past to build the future is also in line with other initiatives at the store that have been introduced under Saks Inc. chief executive officer Steve Sadove. They include bringing back such categories as petites and private label, which had been abandoned under previous management in favor of more designer apparel.

"We really wanted to look back through history and take something from our past, modernize it and make it friendly, modern, fun and different," Schaefer noted. "We wanted to create something that will have legs, because we cannot continue to change logos every four or five years."

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