Brand identity, for a fashion label, is its strategy for creating positive, memorable associations among its target market through visual cues: names, design, colours, logos and symbols. It means that when designers take over large fashion houses, they tend to play around with the brand’s visual signifiers – but that might be counterproductive.
When Hedi Slimane took the reins of Yves Saint Laurent he changed its name to Saint Laurent, to bring the essence of the brand closer to its rebelllious dentity. In his collections from the past four years Slimane has preserved that identity of Saint Laurent through the representation of different genres of rock in his designs. But to me, Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking suit and see through dress were his true interpretations of feminism. Perhaps Yves Saint Laurent’s design was free from any constraint, so his brand identity operated on a philosophical level which could explain the avant-garde path of such an iconic brand. So, by changing the brand name, Slimane stayed true to the identity of the brand, yet he was able to change its direction in a revolutionary way.
What’s been bugging me lately is that fashion houses’ brand identities are fragile and vague, which leads to a very narrow interpretation of design. We’re a long way from aesthetic revolutions like the New Look of the 1950s, featuring items such as the miniskirt. Fashion risks being trapped in a vicious circle where it is doomed to steal ideas from the past.
In his 1971 book Design for the Real World, American industrial designer and educator Victor Papanek wrote: ‘The insights of the social sciences, biology, anthropology, politics, engineering, technology, the behavioural sciences and much else must be brought to bear on the design process. But the most important ability that a designer can bring to his work is the ability to recognise, isolate, define and solve problems.’ Designers should be able to explain the thought process behind each piece they produce.
I have always enjoyed designers who define the rules only to break them, using fashion to express their views of the world through symbolism in the way, for example, that artist René Magritte does is his symbolic paintings of everyday objects. For Prada’s SS17 collection, Miuccia Prada used luxurious feathers to accent working class, uniform-like designs. She has long used uniforms in her work, including those of nuns, soldiers, schoolchildren and maids, using their identities to break down barriers between cultures. She extracts meaning from items and materials, such as patience from an apron, porn from PVC, nostalgia from wool and so on. This constant contemplation and interpretation leads to the consistency of creative ideas that has been the backbone of Miuccia Prada’s decades of design. Each collection is visually distinctive but they always express what Prada should be. In a recent cover of System Magazine, which states ‘Everybody loves Miuccia’, I feel there is a good reason for that. We like to have our identity associated with this ever evolving form of creativity, which is so much more than just a logo – something that other brands mostly rely on.