Friday, March 23, 2018

A Mission, a Mark, a Brand, a Logo

I returned to my mother's house in the late spring of 2005 with a trunk filled with linens, books that I couldn't bear to resell, a stack of fashion magazines, a diploma, and a Coach bag. At least it had been sold to me as a Coach bag when I had foolishly overdrawn my account when buying it on eBay a few weeks prior to graduation. I had spent ages closely examining the shape of its iconic C's in the images posted by the seller. The colorful pieces of suede resembled waves and were assembled much as they had been when Summer Roberts carried the same bag in a different colorway on an episode of The O.C. The one that would soon be mine featured fabric strips full of those C's I craved in addition to the suede and leather. But when it arrived, it became obvious that it was not the real deal. It was the small things, like the uneven stitching along the edges of its straps, that revealed the truth to me. I knew others wouldn't nitpick it in the same way, would think its various shades of pink lovely, and would never question its authenticity. But I never carried it, could never bring myself to carry it. Instead I stuffed it with the bank statement outlining my folly and hid it in a closet.

I already owned a Coach bag, a simple, slouchy hobo in brown suede that had been a Christmas surprise after a first semester of pretty good grades during my freshman year of college. For reasons that could fill a novella, the pretty good grades were not long for this world. That hobo, however, went out with me last month as I drank wine while in the midst of a cliché fit of Valentine's Day melancholy. Those iconic C's live on the lining and nowhere else. On its surface with patches worn smooth with age and much use, the bag proclaims itself as coming from nowhere and belonging to no one. I've come to love that mystery, but at 22 and in the midst of reacquainting myself with my childhood love of fashion, I craved something that did the opposite.

I may not write about fashion collections in the way that I used to, Favorites of the Day and posts brimming with suits and coats, but I still make my way through every collection I can get my hands on. It was while in the middle of the Pre-Fall 2018 offerings that the logos popped out to me. There had been a sharp move away from them in ready-to-wear after the heady days of the first of the Murakami for Louis Vuitton collaborations, Juicy-stamped behinds, and Fendi baguettes carried by Carrie Bradshaw. To wear a logo is to strongly swear allegiance, to mark oneself. To act as ambassador and billboard. But as the economy shuddered near the end of 2000s, a fall into anonymity was to be expected, especially on the higher end. Things began to recover of course and other trends, colors and prints and blown out silhouettes came and went and came again, but the logos remained buried. Normcore became a buzzword then a joke then a way of life for those in certain circles. The influence of Everlane, Mansur Gavriel, and their cousins spread. Kinfolk with its minimal aesthetic was crowned The Last Lifestyle Magazine.

And so I forgot about the logos for a time. It was easy enough to do. I am in the midst a years-long journey of stripping my wardrobe bare of colors and prints and other things that might, at a cursory glance, stamp it as of a particular time. But I should have known better than to ignore them. This has been a decade of retreads to the point of worry, a circling of the same half-century for inspiration. In ten or twenty years will there be any way to know that an item of clothing is from the 2010s? There will be other context clues, hair and makeup and atmosphere, but the distance between a 2016 bodysuit and a 1993 bodysuit is small.

Why we returned to the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s at any particular point in the past eight years is a mystery that I generally don't try to solve. Mostly I sigh and think here come the strong shoulders again and again and again. Even as the extreme low rises and track suits of my college years reemerged, I thought little of the why and mostly of how fast time gets away from you. But I can't get this new wave of logomania out of my head. The Fall/Winter 2018 collections did nothing to help matters. The distaste among those sitting at the top of the fashion hierarchy seemed so strong for so long that I honestly thought the logos would never return, at least not to the ready-to-wear stage.

We've lived through a decade of dire retail news. "Apocalypse" has been thrown around a lot recently. Various strategies flung at walls to see what sticks. An increased focus on one's menswear arm. Transformation into a lifestyle brand. See Now, Buy Now. Chicken sans head is the perpetual mood. As the turmoil and angst continued even after the economy as a whole began to recover, logos were an easy target. They played the sad opposition in writing about the rise of the minimal squad. Easier to blame logos than some unwieldy shift in when we shop and where we shop and how much we shop. Yet the deeper I got into the Pre-Fall 2018 collections, the brighter the light shining off of the logos became. As that season wrapped up and everyone began preparing for the runways of New York, I received an email from Gap announcing their logo remix collection promoted by a group of bright young things.

The Gap of 2018 is not the Gap of my teens. If they were on this bandwagon then I had missed the signs of its coming. Or I had chosen to ignore them.

My indifferent feelings about a handful of brands and their creative directors are obvious to anyone adept at deciphering passive aggressive tweets. One friend is amused by all of this, my eye rolls and sighs and jokes about fashion nemeses. But it was there in their work, and in the land of athleisure, where the logos began reemerging. Jeremy Scott landed at Moschino. Demna Gvasalia and Vetements blew up seemingly overnight before he went on to replace Alexander Wang at a Balenciaga that didn't know what it wanted to be after Ghesquière's sudden departure. Alessandro Michele got promoted at Gucci.

One could put all of this on athleisure's rise. Yes, Valentino took a whirl through le sportif. And yes, Karl sent sneakers down Chanel's couture runways but that influence has always been more about style and silhouette than loud naming. The iconic Nike swoosh never went anywhere, the taint that covered ready-to-wear logos never really touching it, but neither did the staying power of it and its cousins have much to do with this particular return. And where does Supreme fit in this equation? There have been many many words written about the brand by people better equipped at understanding it than I. Best to leave it to them.

So let's start at the beginning as it seems only right that I go back and examine in order the points at which I closed my eyes. Scott was named the creative director of Moschino in the fall of 2013. (Somehow I'd forgotten that it happened that long ago. Anyone staying put for more than three years feels like a rarity nowadays, an achievement to be lauded.) The Moschino name is everywhere in Scott's work. Here it was that first season irreverently twisted and folded into a form reminiscent of McDonald's golden arches. And then there it was stamped on prescription pills and their accompanying bottles. His work immediately became the stuff of a fashion influencer's dreams as well as catnip for street style photographers. It was an aggressive wink at our consumer culture, and, therefore, you could almost convince yourself that these weren't the same as the logos of yore. They were fun! They were joking! Just don't look at them too hard or too long.

Gvalasia wasn't known for his brand's eponymous work, at least not at first. People weren't walking the streets in sweaters and tees stamped with Vetements. Instead DHL and its easily recognizable shades of yellow and red lived on tees costing hundreds of dollars. One might put this work in the same class as Scott and his golden Moschino arches but there was something more sly happening here, something that made my skin crawl. Could I put my finger on it? Not really. It would be odd to express a discomfort with late stage capitalism on a blog where I so often write of luxury but I think that might have been what it was. And so when Gvalasia landed at Balenciaga, my hackles went up. He wasn't really to blame for my apathy laced with distaste. I could deal with Vetements as an entity that had sway over the way that the fashion world was moving, but his appointment at Balenciaga, a brand that had been pivotal in my mid-late 2000s fashion reeducation, left me with a sinking, queasy feeling. Once there, he went the route Scott had taken at Moschino, albeit with a more serious tone, and I recoiled. I turned away from 2016 election throwbacks. I broke my pact with myself to merely subtweet those designers and brands that I did not care for. And at times, I stopped paying attention altogether.

And that brings us to Michele. Everything leads back to Michele nowadays, doesn't it? I'm still waiting for the inevitable bursting of that bubble, and in that in-between space, I forgot that everyone would need to fall in line in every possible way before the cracks would truly begin to appear. I forgot that I still needed to pay very close attention.

He has been doing the most traditional logo work of the trio. This was the interlocking G's as central talking point. This was the classic red, blue, and green stripes in fur coat form. This was Gucci front and center again and again. It was the old way. Yes, it was infused with his eccentric, sometimes chaotic, style profile (Guccify Yourself!), but it was still the old way. It was what I thought we were to leave buried in the past. This new yet old direction wasn't without controversy. Michele liked playing with the idea of fakes, sending pieces marked with Guccy down his runway, and ran into a wave of criticism when he took "inspiration" from the work of Dapper Dan, a king in that space. He mostly fended off that controversy by having Gucci team up with the man himself. This particular bit of the tale all makes sense if one thinks about it for a moment for in Michele's work there is an air of unconcern about the very thing that helped bring down the logo in the first place.

Fakes and knockoffs never stopped existing. In fact, I'd say that they've flourished in this decade. I spent months taking note of copies of a Rag & Bone sweater at stores ranging in price point from Charlotte Russe to H&M to Banana Republic. Before Nasty Gal's sale to Boohoo, their original offerings were often anything but. I walk through Zara picking out Dolce & Gabbana floral prints and Céline heel shapes. Is this new? Of course not. But the fast fashion juggernaut, another of the factors often cited when discussions of retail's demise occur, can't follow this new yet old trend. No one wants to risk the legal wrath of Fendi if you cover a sweater in their logos. Zara may be able to fend off the indie artists that it often steals from but they are not going to take on a well-established, heritage brand. (Forever 21 is an outlier in this regard. They are currently locked in legal battles with Adidas and Gucci although I think even they wouldn't go so far as to stamp another brand's name on, for example, a hoodie.) And so what have the logos and the like become now? They swear allegiance and mark their wearers. They let loyalists act as ambassador and billboard. They staunch the bleeding.

No wonder Gap was so drawn to the idea of them.

Early last month, I decided that it was time for the Everlane tote I used as my work bag to be retired. It had endured many bus rides, a vinaigrette incident, and an encounter with a shitting pigeon near the corner of 5th and Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. But when I accidentally knocked iced coffee off of my desk and onto it, I knew it was the end. That day I took to Twitter asking which of three similarly anonymous options I should replace it with. I knew the answer already. I often do when asking such questions but I'm always curious to see if someone will change my mind. If they will expose me to some fact that I am missing. In the end, I went with the same bag with a coated base in black to better protect it from commute grime and my penchant for spilling. But that first gray Everlane hadn't always been my work go-to.

When I moved across the country four springs ago, I brought a red, quilted Coach tote with me. Much like the brown suede hobo, it had been a Christmas present from my mother. Not that I had done anything in the preceding six years of my life to earn it or deserve it. I think for my mother those college years represent the best version of Samantha, which is why she still sometimes defaults to Coach bag as gift. I never carried it in Boston. I couldn't imagine stuffing it into the small locker that I shared at my part-time retail job or bringing it along with me to the $6 movie matinees that I frequented. But in Los Angeles, in a new life, I thought it might have a place. I was drawn to its candy apple color and finish, but that finish would be its downfall. Five days a week on my shoulder or in my hand was too much for its straps, and they began to crack. It went back to my mother and then back to Coach but there was nothing to be done. I put it, still in the box in which it was mailed back to me, on the shelf in my closet next to an old comforter.

My new gray tote with its black base arrived soon after my informal Twitter poll, but there was something different about it. Pinned to one corner was an enamel pin, white with a black trim and inside its rectangular shape in black and raised was one word, EVERLANE. I unpinned it from the bag and looked it over before leaving it on the wooden ledge of a large mirror in my bedroom next to earrings and nail polishes and lipsticks.