When Louis Vuitton's AW/2013 collection debuted at Paris Fashion Week today, audiences witnessed some extraordinary moments. Kate Moss finally walked a runway after a two-year hiatus, Marc Jacobs took his bow in a pair of red PJ's, and blondes may soon be rushing for black dye if the models were in any way indicative of upcoming trends. It even appears that we may start looking at underwear as outerwear. The surprises didn't stop there, however. Always one of the most anticipated shows of the week, Louis Vuitton had model after model walking the runway with one expected element oddly amiss; there wasn't an LV logo in sight -- Monogram, Damier or otherwise. A very deliberate act on the part of LV creative director Marc Jacobs, who emphasized "The house's Damier or Monogram canvas are nowhere to be seen on the catwalk."
While I typically try to keep my focus on happenings within a 10-mile radius of my little nest in Manhattan, this has left me wondering: what implications will such a bold move by LV creative director Marc Jacobs have on the rest of the fashion world? Since the mid-90's a key element in successfully merchandising what have become some of the most lucrative brands today was the mysterious power of a luxury logo, and LV played a huge role in implementing this strategy. With the 1996 celebration of the Centennial of the Monogram Canvas and release of the Monogram Vernis collection in 1997, LV's logo had become instantly recognizable to even the not-so-fashion-forward. I can remember that even as a teenager in rural Ohio (a fact I try to erase from my memory), the tiniest keychain dangling an "LV" had suddenly become a status symbol. Something in Monogram or Vernis was even better. Girls would save babysitting, birthday and allowance money for months upon months with the goal of eventually owning one such coveted item. For those girls to whom the dream of owning an LV seemed too farfetched, the front and back -facing "C's" of a Coach bag became the next best thing.
Coach was one brand that followed suit whenLV's logo seemed to become more powerful than the legacy of the brand itself. Founded in 1941, Coach was a New York luxury accessories brand for clients of discerning taste. Vintage Coach bags were expertly crafted of smooth Glove Tanned leather, had no lining, and simple gold hardware. They were expensive in their own right and targeted a niche market of successful New York yuppie types, but by the mid-90's realized this was not enough to be relevant in the broader market. Albeit, Coach is not likely to admit that it was influenced by any other brand in creating its Signature Fabric, but after hiring Reed Krakoff in 1996 Coach reinvented itself to feature more affordable bags in the "C"-covered fabric accented with leather trim. In fact, this design was eerily reminiscent of Gucci.
Gucci bags have always been recognized with their traditional fabric design of interlocking "G's". A period of massive financial failures eventually led to the hiring of Tom Ford as creative director in 1994 and a complete overhaul of Gucci's image. This not only included new marketing tactics, but the iconic fabric was suddenly complemented with large hardware elements also featuring the logo.
Chanel is almost more recognized for it's interlocking "C's" than it's quilted leather pattern and leather-woven chain-link straps. A reinvented Henri Bendel is now an accessories producer and features it's traditional brown and white stripes with HB logo. Michael Kors: an MK in a circle. Tory Burch: two elaborate "T's" forming a cross in a circle. Even Marc Jacobs himself, who pushed LV imagery even further with the introduction of the Graffiti collection, features bags in his Marc by Marc Jacobs line embossed or printed with the letters of his name.
Having gained so much momentum that it's lasted nearly a decade, this trend has made brands both recognizable and desirable to the average non-luxury consumer (i.e. teenagers in rural Ohio). We've even seen fashion logo imagery become a key element of mainstream pop culture. From musicians to A-list celebrities to reality show personalities, the tabloids and social media are overflowing with who wore what where. It's a status symbol that is far more accessible than, say, driving a luxury car.
Ultimately, people want to spend money on things that show they spend money, with a decadent "the more, the better" attitude. That teenager who shells out her hard-earned babysitting dollars for a bag doesn't want something that won't be instantly recognizable (and envied) by her friends. Note: the same is generally true for hard-earned adult dollars, as well. It's a throwback to the idea that old money doesn't feel the need talk about it while new money brags. Okay, so maybe the old money consumer has gotten to a point where they're sick of everyone toting around the same logos and are looking for fashion with more substance. But is there enough "old money" out there to carry the luxury fashion industry at the level to which it's grown? These are no longer small, independent fashion houses making the bulk of their profits from sales to the elite few. They are mainstream brands with hundreds of stores around the world where they sell their goods to millions of middle-class customers. The middle-class may not shop high-end on a regular basis, but they'll sacrifice when they can for a little taste of luxury.
If Louis Vuitton's latest show is in any way a precursor of what to expect going forward, will other brands follow? It's surely a test in loyalty. For those of us few who actually live in a world where "anyone who matters" will be fashion-savvy enough to recognize a designer piece when they see it, the new logo-less designs may be even more appealing. I have to admit, it drives me crazy when I walk into a shopping mall in Ohio only to see a girl half my age in sweatpants and flip-flops compare her bag with the same logo to the one I bought after deliberating in a boutique on 5th Avenue. But would that girl recognize, or even know the brand itself if not for the fame created via the logo to begin with?
In fact, this may very well be Jacobs' way of venting his own frustrations as a designer. Silently screaming, if you will, "Louis Vuitton is NOT meant for everyone!" Frankly, too many people with poor taste but enough money commit crimes of fashion simply because they equate brandishing a designer logo with having style. Luxury is not simply a byproduct of a hefty price-tag, nor is fashion-sense the ability to mimic a trend. I do hope that this logo-mania will slowly disappear, but that the appreciation it's established for designer brands will not. Perhaps such an exercise of restraint will force consumers to develop their individual fashion tastes, considering choices based on more than just a symbol, and luxury fashion can once again be something truly special.