THE RETURN OF THE LOGO

Byline: Janet Ozzard and Alice Welsh

NEW YORK--They're back--in front.
Whether the product of hip downtown designers, more traditional mass merchandisers or companies with an upscale image, there's a resurgence of interest in logos across the board--or across the chest.
Some observers credit the comeback to designer Laura Whitcomb, who put her Adidas looks on the runway a year ago; others say it's a look that emerged from the street.
It's a phenomenon that can be partly attributed to giving consumers a sense of belonging to a particular group or an association with a company they think is trendy. The look is especially strong among juniors and young men.
Designers such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, who have become popular among teenagers and young trendies, have laid their logos on many of their products. Companies such as Adrienne Vittadini, Anna Sui, Esprit de Corp., Levi Strauss & Co., Adidas and Guess are also getting mileage out of their monikers. But it's not everyone who can slap on a logo and expect to be successful.
"It started with the urbanwear homeboy look that [the men's sportswear line] Stƒssy is a part of," said Patricia Field, who designs her own line and also runs her own East Village boutique here. Other young groups picked it up, she says, and "it's now filtering down to everybody else."
"Not only logos, but monograms and graphics are big, as well as plays on logos and twisting of brand names," Field said.
Field said some bestsellers at her store include styles from Adidas and Hello Kitty, a Japanese children's character that has gone worldwide.
Field also sells Living Doll, a line designed by Amanda Uprichard, who has always incorporated logos into her designs.
"I've used flames, last season I used a bunny and this season I'm into this new Turbo Girl design, and I'm using some glitter," said Uprichard. "I'm also using my own Living Doll label on the outside of the garment for the first time. A logo is a design element, but it's also an affirmation of your taste or style; there are some people who wouldn't be caught dead in a DKNY T-shirt who will wear one of my designs."
Logoed merchandise is also becoming a hot business at department stores.
"It is true," said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president and fashion director for Bloomingdale's. He named several areas of the flagship shop that are carrying logo or licensed goods, and showing good sell-throughs.
"We did a tie-in in our junior department with 'Beauty and the Beast,"' he said. "Little did we think that the T-shirt and sweatshirt would be the best-selling items. We're selling New York Rangers hockey shirts to women. When we opened our Barbra Streisand boutique, I personally didn't think the items with her name or initials would sell, but they did," he admitted.
"I think it's related to the nostalgia for the Sixties and Seventies," Ruttenstein said. "We thought we were all so sophisticated that we were done with all that. Going into fall, we do anticipate that logo will be a growing area for us."
Ruttenstein said he thinks the growth will be mostly in junior and young men's apparel.
Benny Lin, fashion director for Macy's East, said that he feels the lure of the logo has never gone away.
"It's just moved from designer to designer," he said. "Right now it's CK, Tommy Hilfiger. It's a very street fashion that has to do with the resurgence of interest in graphics. It also has to do tremendously with a company's overall designing and advertising look--how the company is perceived, what makes it hot."
Lin noted that the trend "started with what we call the leaders: If really cool people wear it, filters down."
"It's tied into the whole MTV and music culture, too," he added.
Buffy Birrittella, senior vice president of advertising and women's design at Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., said that the company will be using logos in its Ralph line "in playful ways on shrunken T-shirts and short little polo dresses for cruise. The logos are never overdone or too serious. They are also important in activewear as sport motifs that give athletic authenticity to the clothes."
Margie Hanselman, merchandise manager for Levi Strauss's women's apparel, said that company began to notice an interest in its printed and embroidered tops about a year ago.
"We had been concentrating on our jeans line for a couple of years, and about a year ago we started working on the tops," she said. "We had done logo tops for the boys' line, so we took a few of those around to our retailers and asked them if they'd like something like this for the girls. They went wild."
The response was so strong, said Hanselman, that printed or embroidered logo shirts "will be a growing part of our business from now on."
"From the embroidered T-shirts, we went to fleece tops, which will hit the floors in mid-to-late August. Then we also did classic crews, V-neck crews, a variety of silhouettes and embroideries."
Logos include the American flag, environmental prints or heritage looks.
"I just think what kids are looking for are good, grounded brands," Hanselman said. "It's a way of showing some identity."
She said that for this spring, Levi's has taken its core group of printed logos and made them smaller to go on baby T-shirts. "There's a lot more fashion in the spring junior line than there has been in the past," she said.
Logos have also translated into big volume for Esprit.
"Logo [apparel] is one of the fastest-selling segments and accounts for 20 to 25 percent of our business," said Barry Bates, vice president of the San Francisco-based Esprit.
The boom in business started in January and has increased every month since, he said. Logoed merchandise wholesales from $7 to $9 for T-shirts and $14 to $19 for fleece products.
The Esprit logo, combined with planets or angels, has checked well at retail, said Bates.
"Think about what we put our logo on," said Bates. "It's the most wearable thing in a junior wardrobe--sweatshirts and T-shirts."
"I like to think the [logo resurgence] is about a new kind of status," said designer Betsey Johnson. "Before it was about money; now it's more about what's hip and cool. A name conjures up an image this company has worked on building. People wear labels that mean what they care about."
Johnson began offering logo T-shirts when she started her business in 1978, using children's T-shirts. She then moved on to oversized shirts and skinny poor-boy styles. Currently she's offering silkscreened baby T-shirts for adults.
"I'm not sure why people want to wear a picture of me, but it's nice advertising," she said. "Customers are a walking advertisement for the company."
Allan Schwartz, president of ABS USA, the Los Angeles-based bridge sportswear company, agreed.
"For spring and summer, we always do a logo group along team lines," he said. "This year we're shipping a Lycra spandex blend polar fleece with Team ABS on it. It's nice to put your name out there."
Necessary Objects, a junior sportswear company here, will enter the logo field with a twist.
T-shirts will incorporate the company's new advertising line, "Just say N.O. to the boys" or "Just say N.O. to your boss," for example.
"I feel strongly that in the young market, you need to have more than a logo; you must have a message," said Ady Gluck-Frankel, president and designer of Necessary Objects. "A message is young and forward."
The T-shirts will be offered for holiday delivery at about $15 wholesale.
For designer Adrienne Vittadini, the growth in logo items stems from "the big return of athletic-inspired clothing, which prompts fun with playful colors and writings."
"This inspiration comes from real athletic clothing, which we have incorporated into our sports and active lines," she said.
Vittadini has another theory about the popularity of logoed merchandise.
"The strong renewed interest in graphics and graphic designs have inspired numbers and letters to take on importance," she said.
"We've seen that faux activewear has been very successful at retail," added Ann Lockyer, national sales manager for the Adrienne Vittadini Sport collection. "With athletic inspiration, logos fit in well."
Vittadini Sport recently showed a graphics group for October delivery. Colors are brights, mango, tangerine and yellow, and styles include a hooded sweatshirt, quilted vest and funnel-neck pullover in polar fleece, thermal cotton, cotton and Lycra or terry-backed cotton. The logo is a small "av active" on various locations.
To date, top performers include a hooded logo polar fleece pullover for $22.50, with 1,800 units booked, along with 3,000 units of matching cotton jersey pants at $44.
The company is moving ahead with logo items, showing a group in flax with navy trim for January delivery. Popular styles include a short halter tank, a V-neck cardigan and a Henley shirt in cotton with jute trim or a cotton and linen blend. The logo is the same.
"Activewear is a huge part of our [Sport] business and accounts for about 50 percent right now," said Lockyer. "I think now the product itself has to have integrity, quality and interest before anyone will buy it."
About 20 percent of the activewear pieces have logos, she said.
Kenar Enterprises expects to introduce a new logo line using the name "Harlem" in January.
Kenneth Zimmerman, president and chief executive officer of Kenar, acquired the name in the Eighties because he "thought the day would come when the Harlem of the Thirties and Forties would come back."
"Harlem used to be a place of music and fashion, and I think it will be again," he said. "I tried to offer the name in the Eighties, but no one was interested. In 1993, some Japanese came over and flipped for it."
Zimmerman is putting the line together slowly, developing a special Harlem logo "that will be very descriptive." The line will include T-shirts, sweatshirts and shorts with detail and finishing and a relaxed soft fit. All items will wholesale for less than $50.
Zimmerman plans to give a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Harlem products to a Harlem charity that supports children and education. He hired former pro basketball star Earl Monroe as consultant for the charity aspects.
Designer Vivienne Tam will introduce her first logo collection for next spring. The designer's name in English or Chinese will be on T-shirts and her signature pleated looks.
"I'm going to use a new pleat--a knife pleat--which will really contour to the body and provide a lot of movement," said Tam. "Chinese brush strokes will be very graphic on the pleating.
"I'm doing the group for recognition of my logo," she said. "There is a growing interest in the market for logo, because people have connections with designers and their name."

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