The New Generation of Discernible Labels

If Tommy Ton is shooting it, that must mean something.

Socks

The summer before I started high school, my best friend’s mom bought her a rectangular shaped Louis Vuitton bag. It was a more of a pouch with an arm strap, really, and featured the ubiquitous Vuitton LVs chickenpoxed all across the coated canvas. Because she had one, I think I really wanted one, which naturally prompted that I beg my mother to buy me the bag.

But would she? Of course not.

And at 14 years old, this wasn’t a matter of the bag itself, or the relatively hefty price tag ($300 for a sprouting teenager in the early 90s). Her concerns were far more tangled in the logo, the assumptions tethered to it and the notion that no girl who wasn’t yet eligible to elect her country’s president should own a designer handbag.

It was a fight I knew I couldn’t win — when my mom said no with conviction, it was always an affirmative no — so I threw in the towel (which, by the way, was conspicuously branded Ralph Lauren,) and ten years later, to my contentment, I feel pretty proud when I can say with veracity that I never gave in to the era of explicit branding.

Sure it wasn’t at my behest but does anyone need to know that? (Hint: nah.)

It’s a strange notion to stomach now — the prospect that people around you (fashion initiated or not) could know precisely what you’ve spent based on the mere branding of your handbag or belt or the shoes that you’re wearing — especially considering how deeply we’ve become enthralled in the Phoebe Philo-fostered era of anonymity and the corresponding sense of great pride we may feel when someone asks that magical question: great [insert item here], who makes it?

We’ve discussed and rediscussed a horde of explanations for our recent, collective nose-up at discernible branding. Most simply, we might just be gyrating in the cycle that is fashion, finding ourselves far more compelled by what feels fresh, which today means a sense of mystery. On a more esoteric level, we could be feeling overexposed because the Internet, though at the hand of our control, is exploiting our privacy. Or perhaps it’s something a bit more personal. Could it be that we’re finally done trying to prove our worth?

Eh.

On another trend train running parallel with minimalism, the wheels of irony are still well in motion. And there, it seems, a new wave of perceptible label is slowly percolating through fashion, sprouting up like small benign weeds we might think we don’t need o tend but may in turn obliterate the rest of our harvest.

The above image was taken by Tommy Ton last week in Paris and then posted on Style.com. This should theoretically offer it a stamp approval. While it’s not the first incident we’ve noted of sock-with-teva-heel (come on, that’s what it is), it is the first time we’ve seen such deliberate branding that may or may not provide some astute intel into the future of fashion’s relationship with irony.

Ultimately, in fashion, we’re always making a point. We often use what we’re wearing to make said point but every so often, it’s less about the actual clothes and more about our selected brands. While Vuitton may infer wealth, Nike suggests something to the effect of: “I don’t give a shit,” which in this day and age is de rigeur.

And that’s when high or low end becomes irrelevant. As far as I’m concerned, this is a much greater testament to a more flagrant human condition — one that establishes us as a pack of consumers driven by label validation. And whether it’s by way of a black embroidered swoosh or two monogrammed initials, the point is that it’s still about the label.

…Thoughts welcome.

Photos courtesy of Style.com and The Cut

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Thoughts?
  • mairajohn

    this was my favorite fashion week shot all year, and it’s precisely
    because i have no idea what brand her top and skirt are (both equally
    beautiful and sporty)- but also because of the “don’t give a shit”
    attitude of the nike swoosh. i think in fashion it’s become much more
    predictable to wear labels that people know, can identify, and then
    lust after. in instances like this, where it seems like the person
    pulled this out of their closet, it becomes individualistic, and very
    specific to this girl- which is stylish> the opposite of “fashion”.

    http://mairajohn.tumblr.com/

  • Azurely.

    Love this story because my mom always told me if you are a walking advertisement then they should be paying you, no?….
    Maybe that is why I dislike all that monogrammed nonsense now that I’m older. Also the fact that I consider it lazy fashion or fashion for those who think they have something to prove to everyone. LV LV, MK MK… Oh puh-Leeze.

    • Leandra Medine

      My grandmother used to say that too! Such a good point.

      • zoe_whip

        I’m of this philosophy too.

        If an item has overt advertising such as Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren (although the pricier stuff isn’t as overt), Donna Karan, etc. it turns me off.

        However, there are others that one must wear their money on their proverbial sleeve…

    • TNA

      Exactly! There are plenty of beautiful bags out there that are 1000x nicer, who cares if nobody knows it’s LV or Dior.

    • proy8

      I know you think you’re so much older and mature but what’s up with “puh-leeze”? PUH-leeze tell me why you talk like a a teenager. Unreluctant to let go of your youth, much?

  • Megan

    Alexander Wang’s latest collection for SS14 saw him boldly emblazon his name/brand on several of his garments. Some suggested it was Mr. Wang stepping into a new confidence, he knows he’s good and so he marks his art. Whether the cause was what the critics suggested or not, covering items of clothing in a brand’s name or logo isn’t new. You’d be hard-pressed to find a GAP t-shirt, hoodie, or base ball cap without it’s logo. If nothing else, it’s free advertising, in fact, it’s advertising paid for by the customer. We buy the clothes and wear them, declaring to the world that we own this brand, it gets the name out into the world for everyone to see. And of course in terms of the higher-end labels of the fashion hierarchy we use them as a status symbol. Wealth is what the world lusts after, and toting around anything with the words Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc is the ultimate look-at-me-I’m-so-cool, rub-it-in-your-face tactic.

    • Alex Poirier

      What I find interesting, is Alexander Wang isn’t a household name. While maybe walking the streets of NYC or Paris, most will know the reference, the majority of places in the world will be clueless as to who or what Alexander Wang is. He also took a more interesting approach, laser-cutting his name into leather is a little more interesting than just silk screening it onto a sweater.

      It’s almost more of an inside joke within people also interested in fashion. Most women around the world I think would recognize the LV logo immediately. Maybe this is an attempt to bring his name into the everyday household?

      With that said, what about brands like Peter Pilotto, Mary Kantrantzou, and Etro, whose prints are almost as recognizable as if they just plastered their name onto a shirt. Just some food for thought.

      • liv

        Great point regarding prints.

      • Megan

        You’re right in saying that Alexander Wang isn’t a household name among those not so fashion obsessed, and that his approach to labelling his pieces was far more interesting than the standard. That being said, it’s still labelling. I’m not saying there’s anything bad about label and logo embellishments, so long as there’s a balance. Like the designers you mentioned whose prints are infamous, it’s a mark of their craftsmanship, like a painter who signs their name on a piece of their work. The problem can arise when we start buying pieces just because of their name. I want to own an Hermes bag because they’re beautifully designed and fantastically made, not just because it’s Hermes. I’m speaking mainly of designer wear here, but we’ve gotten to a place where fashion has truly become an art form, in the way that it’s crafted and presented. I feel that going back to a point where the logo is all that matters and is festooned on every item, we lose that sense of artistry. Having pieces be recognizable is fantastic, I just don’t want to end up looking like a walking billboard.

    • Madame Ostrich

      I’m so glad you pointed out Wang’s collection! I wrote about it in my review of the Fall collections. It would be interesting to do a study of the social and cultural pushes behind “logo culture.” Reflecting upon the late 90′s / early 00′s obsession with monogramming–I’m not sure if this is just a coincidence or if there’s any direct correlation with the state of the economy and the prevalence of branding. Could it be that after 5 years since the 2008 economic collapse, we’re ready to “move on?”

      XxMO
      Here’s the link to my review of Wang’s collection, if you’re interested: http://www.madame-ostrich.com/2013/09/20/five-top-5-looks-nyfw/

  • http://mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr/ Mafalda

    I was just like you as a teenager, but my single mum always managed to buy my brother and I a couple of “branded” pieces a year (not as expensive as Vuitton, far less expensive actually), but I had to wait for months before I could have what I lusted for, and I really miss this feeling. Today, there is so much stuff (that we don’t necessarily wear), that I don’t have this beautiful feeling anymore. It’s a shame really, I feel so jaded now!

    Mafalda ❤
    http://www.mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr

  • STYLE-SQUARED

    WE CAN ALL PRETEND WE DO NOT CARE, BUT WE ARE PRE-PROGRAMMED TO DO SO! UNFORTUNATELY! ONLY IF WE HAD BEEN BORN AND RAISED IN A LITTLE SHOE BOX WE WOULD BE IMMUNIZED AGAINST BRANDING…THIS WAY-IT IS A LOST CAUSE….!;)

    http://style-squared.blogspot.ca/

    https://www.facebook.com/StyleSquaredByZM

  • http://smithandbergen.tumblr.com/ Kate

    I can still remember full-on begging my mom to let me buy anything at Limited Too. That was the brand aspiration of my youth. Then as I got older and wiser, I was happy that my parents never succumbed to my desperate attempt to dress like everyone else in my grade school. It has made me creative in my clothing choices and suspect of any branding – granted, there is a major difference between having Limited Too splashed across your chest and an LV or Celine logo on a handbag. I guess my point is that I feel as though people (obviously not all people, but most) have wised up to obvious branding and are choosing pieces that reflect their style regardless of brand and the associated price tag.

  • Ludapris

    This may be a stretch but, we as humans are always about “the label.” Whether in clothing or relationship status or job title. We always need something to help identify or as you stated, validate us. Thus, naturally, spreading into fashion. So be it love, work or clothes to the outside world the label is really all that matters…

  • from_syd

    Though I completely dig this look. Personally, I am against wearing overt branding, all clothes reveal something about the wearer – branded or not – but I have a hard time wearing something that literally talks for me.

  • Sinje Lesemann

    Finally somebody says it how it is! IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT THE LABEL. So many buyers and editors today claim that it’s all about discovering new designers or fresh points-of-view but reality is that it’s really not. Except a few visionaries (thank god they still exist), many ignore lookbooks of emerging designers, deleting them straight from the inbox until they are validated by prestigious retailers/magazines/bloggers (catch 22). Of course we must not forget that they get bombarded with images and lookbooks and simply don’t have the time to look at everything (and let’s face it a lot out there is of questionable taste) but my point is that our society is so label-driven that the name of the label is more important than the innovation of the designer.
    http://www.koza.uk.com

  • Rose

    I’ve never been a fan of the branded and labeled bags-or clothes, for that matter. As much as I love the Kenzo sweatshirts, does everyone need to know I’m wearing Kenzo & where it came from? I even had this discussion about Target collaborations-EVERYONE knows the Phillip Lim pieces, and everyone will know it came from Target, regardless of the fact that there is no “Phillip Lim” branding on it.

    PS-I feel like the math is a bit off here. 14 in the early 90′s? I’m older & wasn’t a teen til the turn of the century….

    • liz

      Ha, I am glad someone else noticed the timeline posted in this article, 14 in early 90′s? more like early 2000′s..I think someone misprinted here, or this article wasn’t written by Leandra?

  • Ashley Tyner

    while it’s definitely an ironic play, i think the power of this photo and that outfit actually comes from the history of nike and the storytelling they’ve done for decades. her outfit says, “i’m powerful, i can do anything” because that what a nike swoosh signifies. if we’re seeing a shift back toward graphic branding i think it’s less about people wanting to locate themselves socio-economically (i can afford this bag, i can afford luxury, whatever) and more about people wanting to locate themselves socially, maybe even philosophically.

  • RitaB

    The bigger the logo, the cheaper and vulgarer (?) the clothing. Nothing beats simplicity

  • Rebecca

    I love a good sports sock/bag/shoes/anything, has a fun carefree youthful street appeal

    http://www.yess-please.blogspot.co.uk

  • Elizabeth

    I think it’s worth mentioning that unlike a lot of other creative/artistic work today, in the fashion world someone’s designs can’t be copyrighted and aren’t protected by law. However, your label/brand symbol can be. In an age where fast fashion can quickly reproduce a cheaper version of what was just sent down the runway, and canal street is littered with knock-offs, adding your label to your design in a way where it becomes part of the design is a way to protect it from being ripped off.

  • Harper

    I never understood the ‘items covered with a designer’s logo’ attraction. This is just my opinion, but I think it’s terribly tacky, unchic, uncreative, and banal. It doesn’t seem like something a stylish Parisian, or Audrey Hepburn, would buy into (though I’m sure many Parisians have).

  • Margaret Ely

    nothing is worse than white Coach sneakers with colorful C’s taking over. I am cringing thinking about it.

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    Ha…my mother was the same way! She always said that it’s tacky to wear clothing with the company’s name on it – and inevitably, she was right. She still wears mom jeans that are too short, white sneakers, and the ugliest sweaters known to man…but dammit, she was right. (Shout out to the Midwest Mom out there…holla!)

    The only place I’ve found it difficult to get away from swooshes and branding is workout clothes. It’s a tough fight to get away from the swoosh, stripes, pumas, and LuluLemon flowers on our butts. Then again, when I work out I’m not really concerned about much other than “Does this wick sweat? Because I’m going to sweat and it’ll be gross as shit.”

    I’m hoping that the photo above was someone trying to either break in a new pair of shoes, or is being ironical about it. Even if she’s not, I seriously hope we all remember to stick to our guns, and remember our mothers and their amazing advice. Logos instantly age our clothing/accessories, and the last thing I want is to keep buying new bags every year because my perfectly good black leather tote is “so 2013.”

  • Poe

    When I was a naive silly little girl at 21, I was dating a man whose coworkers’ wives all carried the biggest most recognizable Gucci/Louis Vuitton bags. I felt insecure and perhaps even a little envious and my man said, “They’re dumpy, old, and boring, and they need those things to make them feel good about themselves, you are beautiful and young, and you don’t need a bag with a name on it.” Did I believe him? Of course not. But it stuck in my mind. The thing is… I cared when I was that pathetic sad naive insecure and silly little girl… THAT is the person who would be impressed by a fancy label-advertising bag.
    Since then, I have grown up, and I only wear things because I love them and I refuse to knowingly wear labels that are prominently displayed.
    Not too long ago, I was wearing a bracelet that I purchased off of etsy, simply because I liked it. The woman who I consider to be the most vapid, frivolous, and unintelligent person in my entire office came up and said, “Wow, that’s a Cartier!!!”, pointing at my wrist. I just smiled and continued on my way – but went back to my desk and Googled… OH… I had unknowingly purchased a knockoff of a Cartier bracelet. And, I thought to myself – wow, if THAT is the type of person who would be impressed by that, then I don’t want to be “impressive” at all!

  • http://www.abstractorganza.blogspot.com/ Idalia

    I love that people are slowly turning away from the labels & incorporating more of an originality into their wardrobe. Especially with the economy being so shitty, a person can look just as great in a Banana Republic white blouse, as opposed to a Lanvin white blouse. It all depends on how you style your look.

    cheers,
    idalia
    http://www.abstractorganza.blogspot.com

  • lemkam

    Back in the 80′s when labels were EVERYTHING to girls in junior high school, my mother refused to buy us anything that had a logo or label on it simply because she refused to pay a company to market for them.

    To this day I stand by her decision and won’t by anything that has a logo or label showing.

  • Perry

    I like to think that the aesthetic of the designer is the logo. You look at studs on Rocco’s and you know it’s Wang. You see fringe boots and you immediately scream Isabel Marant. You see the PS1 bag and it may not blatantly satyProenza Schouler, but the design informs you so. The aesthetic is the logo.

  • rouxa megala.megethi

    Να πω την αλήθεια αυτό δεν μου πολύ αρέσει αλλά γούσα είναι αυτά!! ρουχα μεγαλα μεγεθη

  • iswhatitis

    This was a great read but I take offense to you trying to pin yourself to a generation you’re simply not a part of. You’re, what, 24? You were a teen in the early 2000′s and not the early 90′s? I know the 90′s carry a certain cache these days but c’mon.

    • agreed

      That struck me as pretty strange, as well.

  • TNA

    This brings back nightmares of when I was in middle school and found a LV agenda book in my house and convinced my mom to give it to me as a Christmas gift. I carried it everywhere! Thankfully my eyes were opened and I swore off logos forever. Which is upsetting, because an amazing family friend gave me her mini vintage CD covered Dior purse and I’m still having an inner struggle if I should wear it or not (then again where I live people do a triple take on a Coach logo bag….). Maybe Alexander Wang will make me feel less guilty about carrying such a flashy item.
    Funny you mentioned Nike socks as well, in my school girls have taken to wearing them in place of standard knee highs.

  • Label Land

    Fashion blogs have made everyone brand whores. We are a shallow nation. Wish we were better than that. But we are not…

  • Avery

    I feel that there is another layer to this. (ha, layer.) Since this lovely woman is at Paris Fashion week being photographed by Tommy Ton, it stands to reason that she is a bit more well off than average Joe. Therefore, while HER Nike-with-heel screams indifference, I have to work a bit harder to be just as cool. If I were to attempt the socks and heel trend (and don’t tempt me), I would make a point to NOT “just do it” with a swoosh on my ankle. I would do a plain white sock. Because who knows, those socks could be Hanes or Hermes. I am agreeing with you that it is and forever will be all about the label, but only if you show the world that label.

    wellbygeorge.blogspot.com

  • mmmdot

    Ehh, I guess I’m a fashion victim or heathen then because I’ve bought a bunch of designer bags over the years and I LOVE them, lol. I started buying vintage Gucci and Louis Vuitton monogrammed bags years ago in vintage stores and off of Ebay and got much love from other fashion folks in NYC for them. Lmao, who cares if they’re monogrammed with big fat logos? Who cares if some people believe they are indicative of conspicuous consumption? They are ALSO beautiful bags in classic silhouettes, made of quality materials that have held up for at least 20 years. They are made of sturdier material then a couple of my more current designer bags. (Terrible quality) My bags also have a pretty good resale value: I could go on Ebay right now and sell them for as much or possibly more then what I bought them for because there will always be a market for them, if not in America, then internationally. I also got a vintage Chanel flap bag for such a ridiculously good price from Ebay, I could make a 150% profit if I sold it now because it is a quintessential Chanel design that has remained relatively unchanged for over 50 years, and it would still cost someone less then a current Chanel bag sold in stores. I bought my last designer bag about 3 or 4 years ago…am I going to buy anymore? Probably not, but I wouldn’t let somebody presumptuously thinking that all I’m doing is free advertising stop me, when what I’m really doing is buying a classic bag THAT I LIKE, made of good materials, that has a decent resale value if I feel like selling it 5-10 years from now. Sounds like a good fashion statement AND investment to me.

  • hanadi

    You have to come to Delhi to see the ultimate logomania. Here, the rich have gotten richer in the last ten years or so and refuse to understand the word understated. I have seen people wear a Burberry checked shirt, Dolce and Gabbana jeans (with the shiny gold plate at the back) LV or Gucci shoes, the H for Hermes belt and a Birkin bag (this is one person, one outfit) … and this is all that people wear!! Its honestly unbelievable. Every time you go to a club or a mall with designer boutiques you want to cringe.

  • Tamara

    I am not a logo fan. My only daily concession is my ray ban sunglasses. I’ve worn the brand for so long I remember them from befor they put the logo on the glasses!

  • Brigid

    When I saw this look, branding was not my first thought. Sure the swoosh of Nike rang familiar in my logo overloaded mind however I saw it as a vivid shape to define an otherwise typical fashionista’s uniform.

  • kate

    to me, this look deconstructs the nike logo to its essence. simple, modern, graphic. and a mark some unknown design chick got paid $200 to whip up.

  • Clémence

    I’m probably not old enough to have an objective observation about that phenomenon, but I’ve never really found that the I-am-cooler-than-you-because-I-wear-that-brand disappeared. It may have been less with the tool of the logo than with the clothing or accessory itself. Or may be that was just in my middle school and elementary school!

    Oh and I just wanted to tell you, “de rigeur” is not exactly correct, in French it’s “de rigueur” (but I don’t how you’re suppose to write it when you’re using it in english).

    and a great article that opens a discussion, as always, I love reading you!

  • http://www.looksharpsconnie.com/ Look Sharp Sconnie

    ‘Gotta say, Lea, this is a good one.
    Brands v. trends v. money v. cool…

    I think it’s less about brands, really though, and more about boiling a trend down to its most recognizable bit. It’s like we adopt the LCD of a trend in order to prove to the largest percentage of people that we get it. “It” being whichever form of “cool” is cool. Even if that form is “uncool”.

  • simone

    i had assumed the backlash against labels was because they were too ghetto, too frequently referenced in rap songs etc, and those that need others to think they are intellectual and classy are often against conspicuous consumption and bling. in a gloria steinem book i read years ago, she referred to the “cheap dressing up” of people from her home town, as opposed to the expensive dressing down of people from the city, and those terms seem like such an accurate way too look at things. some girls spend millions of dollars on wheat grass juice enema’s, exotic superfoods, and yoga classes, which is all fine, but to congratulate oneself for being superior to the girl that wears visible make-up and $2 bright plastic earrings is a bit tiresome. i’ve always tried to walk the line, and think it is fantastic that fashion is going there.

  • Jenn

    It’s hard to take labels away from our society. I think our generation has been able to find a balance of mixing high-low fashion brands but even if printed logos have been left behind in the 90s you can still tell when someone is carrying a ‘designer’ piece simply from the style (Céline trapeze bags, Valentino studs, Pilotto prints). The name’s now in the piece itself.

    That aside this photo and many shots by Tommy Ton are refreshing in that you see a more diverse range of brands that are getting thrown together going from thrift shop status to high end.

    xx Jenn
    weartofocus.com

  • http://www.thirdlooks.com/ Third Looks

    That celine bag is branded as well, I suspect if it wasn’t it wouldn’t see half as well.

  • Flavia

    Oh my God!

  • Maria P.

    I believe its more and more about the it thing/item and labels are captions in pictures.

  • Allison

    Labels, ah what a funny thing. It’s certainly not specific to fashion. Every day we make choices that reveal the power of branding and advertisers’ abilities to portray a lifestyle that we buy into. Nike or Lululemon. Tide or Gain. Apple or Microsoft. Some decisions are naturally more visible to others than some but trust me, they’re there.

    http://otisunfiltered.blogspot.com/2014/02/formative-moments-in-fashion-history.html