I enjoy shopping alone, but I’m never truly alone. Inside my head, a chorus of critics—ranging from my accountant to Trinny and Susannah from the original British version of “What Not to Wear”—tends to weigh in on potential purchases. A few seasons back, it was my mother’s voice that piped up as I stood in the downtown Manhattan Balenciaga store, transfixed by a preppy-ish denim tote emblazoned with a retro-looking logo. “How tacky!” she said. “You don’t want to be a walking billboard.” In my childhood, she’d barred me from wearing logos and, as an adult, I found them kind of distasteful myself. Yet recently I’ve been inexplicably drawn to conspicuously branded fashion: shoes with Chanel’s interlocking Cs, Supreme baseball caps, Gucci sweaters. Why, as a rational, frugal, navy-clad mom myself, am I suddenly struck with an embarrassing case of logo fever?
Judging from the spring runways, designers are similarly infected.
for Gucci and Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga (the brain behind that magic tote) have kick-started traditional luxury houses by creatively remixing the brands’ design codes, including logos. Mr. Gvasalia’s efforts are particularly thorough: This season, you can buy “Balenciaga”-stamped scrunchies and pool slides. A stroll through a department store or a scroll through an e-commerce site might also reveal ’90s-style “Versace”-printed T-shirts or checkerboard outfits stitched at the edges with “Christian Dior.” J.W. Anderson has even made a (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek logo doormat to wipe your Gucci loafers on.
This logo frenzy can stoke desire: If you like what a label represents, you might find its branding and even its shopping bags appealing. But what does it mean to brandish a brand name in 2018? Is it possible to play with logo fashion without looking like a status-hungry follower? Asking for a friend, of course…
According to Paola Antonelli, who curated the recent “Is Fashion Modern?” show for New York’s Museum of Modern Art, logo fashion can be traced back centuries to the tradition of sewing one’s initials into a handkerchief. “Monograms and brand logos have always had currency as a way to flaunt status and allegiance, taste and style,” she said. Lots happened between the personalized hankie and the first wave of logomania, which peaked in my view in 1996, when Aaliyah popularized head-to-toe Tommy Hilfiger-branded gear and Chanel sent a teeny-weeny logo-printed bikini down the runway (its logo-to-fabric ratio was 1-to-1).
THE SUBTLE SET // Five Logo Items That Embrace the Trend Discreetly, Even Classically
Today’s logo fashion can be inventive: Heritage logos from the archives are dusted off or signature typography playfully reconfigured. “When we saw it in the ’80s and ’90s, logos were more of a status item. It was about luxury and branding,” said Marina Larroudé, fashion director at Barneys New York. “Now, logos have a street tone that makes them youthful and approachable.” Pieces printed with “Balenciaga” in the typography of the Bernie Sanders campaign are certainly youthful. But does that kind of ironic wink have a place in a considered, adult wardrobe?
Like any style decision, to logo or not to logo is deeply personal. Some people shun the consumerism of wearing them. Others legitimately enjoy feeling like they’re part of a fashion tribe. Still others just fall for the elegance of a certain font or join the party without overthinking it. The Los Angeles designer Jeremy Scott exuberantly layers on logos for his eponymous label, for his collaborations with Adidas, and for Moschino, where he is creative director. He told me they align with his philosophy of fashion, which is: If something “excites you and you put it on and you think, ‘I look good,’ then guess what? You look good.”
When I met with stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, who often works with Mr. Scott, she wore her signature pileup of logos and “CCD” monograms. “Why logos?” I asked her. “Because j’adore ça,” she replied. (“J’adore” is her catchphrase, and the name of her YouTube show.) When pressed on how your average, insecure woman—say, me—could integrate logos into her wardrobe, she paused. “It depends on the way you put everything together, so you don’t look ridiculous,” she said.
Not looking ridiculous depends on how in-your-face one’s logos are. Ms. Cerf de Dudzeele admits she’s never worked at an office, so she can logo up. But for women working in more rigid environments, an unmistakable logo could spell trouble. Mary Beth Maloney, 41, is a corporate litigator in New York. While she loves fashion, she told me she’d never wear such a logo. “I just think that if I advertise something I should be paid for it” said Ms. Maloney, who must be in cahoots with my mother. In court, she’s cautious about what she projects: “You don’t want anything that too aggressively calls attention to what you’re wearing, because I think it’s unnecessarily distracting and not productive to your image.”
Some brands communicate with a very expensive version of the secret handshake— furtive yet recognizable visual symbols
The white Margiela stitches delineate a fashionable void.
Thom Browne uses grosgrain to underline his work.
Few women are immune to the red soles of Louboutins.
Majora Carter, 51, a Bronx-based real-estate developer, would agree. “I’m essentially trying to raise millions of dollars, and I’m not a white guy in a hoodie trying to run a tech company, talking to venture capitalists,” said Ms. Carter. “It is different for women and women of color. It’s hard to even get in the room.” The last thing she wants people looking at, she said, is any logos she’s sporting. She’d rather they focus on the ideas she’s presenting. Which is not to say that Ms. Carter’s style is low-profile: She wears her hair in an Afro and favors “big chunky jewelry.” Not to mention a belt buckle that features a more personal logo—it reads “Majora.”
The closest thing Ms. Maloney has to a logo item is a bag from Mansur Gavriel, a Manhattan label known for its refined, simple handbags. Its logo is the brand’s name spelled out in tiny gold letters, luxurious enough to telegraph quality but discreet enough to let the woman wearing it take charge. “I will tell you, among female litigators, that’s been a popular bag,” said Ms. Maloney.
If you decide to wear a logo, don’t let it wear you. Choose classic pieces like an Hermès scarf or a Comme des Garçons “Play” sweater, or ones that seamlessly integrate a label’s graphics, like Thom Browne’s covert tri-color ribbon details (see “Stealth Logos”). Balance a branded item with neutral pieces that assert your sense of independence. Victoria Beckham recently stepped out in Adidas track pants paired with a tailored black coat, and looked phenomenal.
What was cool about Ms. Beckham’s approach was the mix of high and low, the deft use of symbols that showed good style is democratic. While I ultimately loved that denim Balenciaga bag enough to spend hard-earned money on it, the idea that I was obviously pledging allegiance to an elite club never sat quite right with me. This season, my mom will be relieved to hear that I won’t be buying any logo items. But I will be scouring eBay for my latest obsession: vintage Marimekko prints that are signatures of the Finnish brand. Wait: Do those count?
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