Jul 18, 2019 | By WGSN Insider
Apr 27, 2017
By Nick Paget
Nearly all of us are conscious or unconscious walking adverts for clothing brands, with a few objectors viewed as the vegans of the fashion world – slightly confusing, often misunderstood and even ridiculed for holding the view that we shouldn’t offer ourselves up as billboards.
Only the most expensive or the very cheapest brands opt never to brand their clothing. The Power of giving a moniker to a brand and applying that consistently, repetitively, to not just the product but the packaging, advertising, in-store visuals and online presence is immeasurable; or rather, is directly measurable – just look at the success of global brands built on instantly recognisable branding, from McDonalds, to Mercedes Benz.
Until around 30-years-ago, particularly within the menswear sphere, men embraced the notion that well-respected and renowned brands should be taken to heart and so form part of a kind of rites-of-passage process to being a ‘grown-up’ with a wardrobe that consisted of clothing worthy of the term ‘adult’, with different brands performing these roles in different cultures. Moreover, the right coat, the classic watch and the hand-made shoe were indicative that you’d ‘arrived’, that you’d ‘made it’.
The meteoric rise of sportswear from the late 1970’s onwards smashed this notion almost into the ground. Because the savvy marketers at these brands (along with those at fast food and soft drinks companies) chose to take aim at a much younger consumer than had traditionally been the focus, a generation of young people grew up with brands such as Nike, Adidas and many more virtually branded into their retina. Heavy sponsorship of the emergent music television genre as well as sporting events and team strips aided the fast-rising tide of omnipresent logo culture.
Reaching (what seemed at the time) to be a peak, the mid-1990’s saw something of a backlash against the phenomenon, with designers such as Margiela and Jil Sander profiting from their preference for a lack of obvious branding. Branding writ large on oversized tee shirts and jeans began to give way to a newer aesthetic of pared-down classic pieces with minimal or no branding.
Just as Donna Karan’s heavily logo’d DKNY brand reached its zenith, so Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ book took to dissecting the whole issue. She questioned the very ethics of the biggest corporations, citing aggressive market grabbing, exploitative employment culture, as well as pointing to how the globalisation of these brands led to a decline in manufacturing jobs in company’s home territories.
However, as influential as Klein’s book was then (and remains today), the tide of globalisation was not turned and while the trend for heavily branded clothing ebbed and flowed, the pursuit of ever-bigger profits and market share carried on apace.
The turn of the Millennium brought more of the same, but we are now experiencing a new wave of brand exploitation, thanks to collaboration culture. Ironically, this trend began as a way for emerging brands to leverage their connections with more established companies to increase their exposure but, as something of a victim of its own success, bigger companies eyed up the potential of multiplying their cool value and their turnover through teaming up to create marriages of brands that hold all the appeal of a glittering celebrity pairing; immaculately turned out for the front page-worthy paparazzo shot.
More recently, the trend for oversized and essentially plain tee and sweat shapes perfectly enabled the rise of the branded print, literally providing the blank space to be filled with logos. The stage was set for collections to be scatter-gunned with eye-catching logos emblazoned across the chest, down the sleeves, around the hood or anywhere else that could be dreamt up.
Already seeming to acknowledge the saturation point of collab’ culture, Vêtement’s Demna Gvasalia showed a collection for S/S ’17 that took enlisted the co-operation of 18 other brands. Was this already a satirical comment on the whole endeavour? Whatever next?!
Well, the answer was bricks it seemed. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know all about Supreme and it’s innumerable collaborations with… well, anyone it fancies bc SUPREME! The imprint’s relentless success has allowed it to sell housebricks, metal cutters and more, although signing up to work with Louis Vuitton was viewed by many to sound the death knell for these kind of streetwear and high-fashion partnerships, and may possibly take the whole collaboration culture with it, leaving Supreme’s skate fans to wonder who is buying the $54,000 Louis Vuitton x Surpeme skateboard case…?
And now, as with so much post-post-modernism, it’s often hard to tell who’s joking, and who the joke is on. Milan-based nss magazine recently released a collection of retro football shirts, perfectly remaking official retro kit but adding the logos of superbrands Gucci, Vêtements, Dior and Saint Laurent to the insignia of the club and the ‘authentic’ strip manufacturer’s logo. The shirts looked fantastic and suitably sold out in hours.
This retail trend is now so prolific that key artists are working to document the phenomenon. Photographer Polly Brown’s work explores why we covet these brands, taking away the substance of the garments themselves and reducing them just to the logos.
Her work seems to ask why we place such importance on the label, with the actual garment itself becoming almost inconsequential. For anyone who’s looked at the retail price of a Vêtements hoody, it’s obvious that what someone will pay for the brand they want to wear has no real limit.
Similarly, graphic artist Reilly makes funny and sometimes uncomfortable renderings of familiar logos, often skilfully blending the names of high fashion houses with the instantly recognisable logos of fast food chains and supermarkets. While he playfully describes his intention as “to make people look at them and go, ‘what?!’”, the outcome often looks like a comment on the constant churning of collaborations across the industry. Do these kind of projects cheapen the artisanal reputation of high-fashion brands and does the subversive message of streetwear get diluted when it’s channelled through a luxury brand? Or is this levelling simply the expression of the generation who consume this stuff – that the Instagram-able pic of max brand opportunity is king and whatever enables that to happen is what a successful brand will look like?
However long this trend continues, it feels as though something else is already in the air. A smarter, grown-up, less shouty and altogether more understated look would seem to be in order. That’s just basic fashion history right?? We can only consume the same thing for so long before we get sick, and begin to welcome a new wave, a new feeling, a new mood. The Supreme die-hard fans will always be fans but, no doubt, high fashion will turn its fickle gaze to some other muse soon enough.
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