Yesterday, Jon Caraminica of the New York Times penned an article about the return of logo-heavy design as a platform for high fashion. He highlights various designers he thinks are both responsible for and indicative of this niche trend, such as Heron Preston of Been Trill, Wil Fry and designer of Hood By Air, Shayne Oliver. In his piece, Caramanica alludes to each designer's mission to create garments that are fully-formed commentaries on today's cultural zeitgeist.
He writes, "This is happening in the hands of a group of young designers who accept the ubiquity of logos and who work within that framework to turn their purpose and effect on their head. The logo becomes the canvas, whether it’s their placement on a garment, the juxtaposition of several of them together or a rendering with an unconventional treatment. In all cases, the logo becomes a graphic element that can be mined for its familiarity, but is at least in part stripped of its corporate purpose."
In my opinion, Caramanica gives far too much credit to these designs, even if I appreciate every single one on a purely aesthetic level. I would honestly wear Heron's bootleg T-shirts and Wil Fry's "Brooklyn Nets x Givenchy" jersey, but not because I think they're revolutionary, and especially not because I think they’re worthy of a NYT think piece. I mean, is subversiveness all that appealing if the message these designers are ultimately serving up is an obvious one? When distilled to their purest form, all these T-shirts are really saying is the incredibly played out idea that we live in a logo'd out culture and are slaves to corporations. The real appeal of these clothes is simply their hype, and I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. Hype is especially crucial in a world where the average person can view literally thousands of different products a day—a sentiment I've expressed on Four Pins a few times. I think it's safe to say that hype is how many consumers differentiate products from one another nowadays. However, hype also has a sort of halo effect on the products it consumes. If you look past it for a moment and simply read Peggy Noland's own description of her products, it's clear her clothes simply aren't as smart as she wants them to be: "It’s all a critique...I’m taking the idea of being marketed to and turning it on its head." When Jon asks her why she bought knock-offs of her own gear, she states simply, "It was so meta."
Sure, this may very well be "high fashion at its most legible and consumable", but can't it just as easily be streetwear at its highest level?
The rise of logo-heavy gear in Fashion can be traced back to the industry's equal parts begrudging and late acknowledgement that streetwear is now a legitimate force in even in its highest annals. Once looked down upon for its heavily branded T-shirts, hoodies and snapbacks, streetwear is overlapping with Fashion now more than ever. That's why so-called "cross-over designers", like Shayne Oliver, exist at all. Streetwear was built on subversive logos (see: Fuct, Bape, Stussy, Supreme), whether original or appropriated, because screen printing graphics on blanks was simply cheaper and easier to make than traditional cut and sew garments. And then, of course, there's the entire point of logos to begin with: They're the easiest way for the wearer to communicate their preferences to the outside world. In streetwear this is the quickest way to show who is and isn't "in the know." As the world becomes more fast-paced and, some might say, lazier, high-fashion has caved to the idea that people want to overtly demonstrate their tastes—no matter how expensive—as quickly as possible thanks to social media.
As always, this all comes back to hip-hop: a product of the streets that crossed over into popular culture and brought its uniform along the way. As it continues to push upstream and find itself in the driver's seat of fashion trends, so does streetwear. And the results have been astounding. Today, once predominantly couture labels like Givenchy and youth-fixated designers like Raf Simons are more popular than ever because they get it. As streetwear creeps up, high-fashion in turn trickles down, the two meeting somewhere in the middle, as the items showcased in this article so clearly show. Any implication that this new logo craze is somehow the bi-product of high-fashion's sudden desire to be self-referential doesn't tell the entire story and overvalues what, ultimately, has been in streetwear's DNA since the beginning. Sure, this may very well be "high fashion at its most legible and consumable", but can't it just as easily be streetwear at its highest level? If that sounds like I'm saying the two are now practically indistinguishable, it's because I am.