LONDON — As they hit the refresh button, luxury brands have been unveiling new logos and sparking heated discussions about whether their rejection of the past — and newfound flair for minimalism and Helvetica fonts — is the right path to a successful re-branding.
“Basically, 99 percent of logos in fashion are just black text on a white background at the moment,” said Gregorio Poggetti, a graphic design expert and Istituto Marangoni professor, referring to recent re-brandings by the likes of Celine and Burberry, which both favor a clean, fuss-free aesthetic, sans-serif typefaces and block lettering.
“I’m not sure the designers in charge of these re-branding moves even know that being a type designer is a profession,” said Hannes Famira, the graphic designer who created the typeface for the Celine logo in 2005.
He questioned Hedi Slimane’s revised version without the accent and other tweaks: “I feel that the new Celine logo is homogenized rather than modernized. The brand just handed back the baton of sophistication and taste it carried so nicely.”
Famira added that the logo appears to be “off-the-rack” and echoed many typography experts concerns, that the growing penchant for clean, modernist typefaces could ultimately lead to the homogenization of luxury logos.
“I don’t want to end up in a world filled with sans-serif and sans-personality logos,” said Leslie David, illustrator and art director, who designed the highly recognizable and Millennial-friendly Glossier logo. “Our tastes have become increasingly homogenous, we’ll soon be fed up with the uniformity of our society and tastes. Just look at how we are all obsessed with avocado toast at the same time, all over the planet.”
Yet, luxury brands are racing to replace all the tails and flourishes from their logos and embrace a more pared down visual identity — as a re-brand offers an easy way to grasp the attention of a new, younger audience and keep up with the times.
“Brands all have an eye on each other and whatever their neighbor is doing right, they want to mirror that,” Famira said. “At some point, they also start showing their age, and for an industry that is so conscious of what is going on right now and of the immediate future, [such change] is bound to happen.”
As more and more consumer touch points emerge — from desktop, to mobile, packaging and Instagram — minimal branding is also a more pragmatic option for brands trying to navigate this new multimedia landscape.
“It’s easier to read a serif font on paper and much easier to read a sans-serif font on the web, especially on mobile devices,” Poggetti said.
Jack Llewellyn, senior designer at the design consultancy Pentagram, agreed. “A brand needs to be recognizable as a social media icon and this becomes very hard to do if your brand assets are decorative. A simpler typographic approach can scale a lot better. It can look just as good in the corner of your mobile screen, as it does on a 10-foot billboard.”
According to Llewellyn, a single social media campaign could require 10 different versions of a single asset, so logos need to remain versatile for the sake of practicality, too.
“Brands have no other choice than to embrace this digital marketing world, and in a digital world, logos need to be functional and efficient,” David said. “That’s the reason why new brands like Glossier would directly create a sans-serif logo and heritage brands like Burberry would replace their nice, classical logo with a more digital-friendly one.”
But practical reasons aside, a re-branding also acts as a clear signifier of an incoming shift in power dynamics, that can be utilized as an easy marketing tool. In an age where social media buzz is king, a new logo that grabs attention and gets people talking, be it for or against the change, can be seen as a success in itself — particularly in the lead up to a big catwalk debut by a new creative director.
It’s why Burberry revealed its new logo and monogram on Instagram, ahead of Riccardo Tisci’s big runway debut on Sept. 17, alongside an e-mail conversation between Tisci and famed graphic designer Peter Saville, where the two spoke about evoking a “contemporary” look and drawing inspiration from an archive logo, dating back to 1908.
Celine took a similar approach revealing its new branding under Slimane and the story behind it, on its Instagram account.
“The new logo has been directly inspired by the original, historical version that existed in the Sixties. The modernist typography used dates from the Thirties,” the brand said in a statement.
While the changes were minor, there was an outcry from diehard fans of Slimane’s predecessor Phoebe Philo and experts alike — but there were also clicks and likes and high engagement.
“Change grabs attention,” Llewellyn added. “Brands need to make a splash to be noticed, a seeming rejection of heritage in a re-brand can cut through the noise.”
As for the drivers of the trend, who have been raising the profile of the Helvetica family and steering luxury brands’ liking for clean typefaces, it all boils down to younger-minded, millennial-focused brands, from streetwear labels to direct-to-consumer lifestyle brands.
“Labels like Supreme, Off-White and Hood by Air have long adopted minimalist typography for their branding and luxury brands are eager to tap into the hype and the potential of the streetwear market,” Poggetti added.
Similarly, direct-to-consumer labels, which rely entirely on their own digital marketing efforts to connect with the customer, have been focusing on creating a strong visual identity, with currency and modern flair in order to stand out in a saturated online market.
The lifestyle luggage brand Away, which has become immediately identifiable for the black, bold letters of its logo and neutral color palette, is a prime example.
According to the brand’s cofounder and chief brand officer Jen Rubio, while storytelling and a constant communication with the consumer is what defined Away’s success as a direct-to-consumer brand, recognizable branding can be the starting point of the connection with the consumer and evoke a feeling of familiarity.
“Away’s logo was designed to be bold and simple, with clean lines and monochromatic colors, meant to evoke a feeling of familiarity, which also comes through in all of the storytelling we do at Away,” Rubio said. “We wanted to create a brand that felt as familiar as an old friend, and we designed our logo to be something that was simple yet recognizable. People feel connected to brands that remind them of something that they love, or that inspire them to do more of what they love, through their branding and storytelling.”