It’s not yet been three months since Coach Inc., the owner and operator of such accessible-luxury brands as Kate Spade New York, Stuart Weitzman and, of course, Coach, renamed itself “Tapestry Inc.” But the company has quickly buried Coach Inc. from its signage, business cards and press releases, replacing it with Tapestry’s friendly serif font and canary yellow palette. Tapestry, perhaps, has the legs to become the first great American fashion conglomerate. Coach Inc., for whatever reason, did not.
Coach Inc.’s sudden metamorphosis into Tapestry was among the more ambitious of fashion-adjacent rebrands of 2017, but it wasn’t alone. Upon hiring now-departed creative director Jonathan Saunders, Diane von Furstenberg, the company, unveiled a hip new logo last January. Calvin Klein did, too, ahead of Raf Simons’s much-hyped debut in February. Then there was Balenciaga, which rebranded its own logo for its Paris Fashion Week show this fall.
When a company, whether in fashion or not, wants to reinvent something about its business, a logo change is a natural place to turn. After all, it’s the logo that most explicitly prompts brand loyalty, that represents the product, that creates aspiration. But by no means is changing it an easy process.
Which is why, historically speaking, fashion brands wouldn’t touch its logos, even during the biggest of in-house upheavals. Justin Peters, Executive Creative Director of Carbone Smolan Agency (which oversaw the Tapestry rebrand), tells me that until recently, organizations on the retail and product level would instead apply any branding changes to the product line directly. “Traditionally, [the logo] was just the thought of the designer,” says Peters. “Fashion logos are usually the designer’s name, the city of origin, a monogram. And that didn’t change.” But as consumers continue to expect more transparency (and as brands continue to cater to those expectations), that needed to change. “The thinking behind the lines is becoming more important,” says Peters. “People want to believe that there’s a reason for shifts in taste and style, and that it’s not just at the whim of one person.”
But what makes a brand want to make such a shift in the first place? Often, it’s to signal change and usually for the better, says Armin Vit, editor, writer and co-founder of brand identity editorial website UnderConsideration. “The logo change is a public indication to consumers that something is different and they should pay attention,” says Vit. “So, when there’s a new creative director with a new vision for the products, an ‘easy’ way to communicate this is with a logo change that, hopefully, spurs both sales and media interest.” Other times, a brand may change its logo to engage a whole new audience, one that’s either higher-income and reflects an upscale shift in its product line, or the opposite.
Per Peters’s point, though, a label’s most loyal consumers need to understand that even despite its new emblem, the brand is still the same; in Tapesty’s case, it’s still the same company that’s behind Coach’s signature “C” print, but with visibly loftier ambitions.
“If that changes, and there isn’t a good story behind it, a good reason, consumers get very concerned,” says Peters. “Because those fashion brands are part of their own identity. It’s part of the things that define who they are, just like music, preferences in literature, or in art. When that changes, it’s almost like somebody’s taking a piece of your DNA without permission. It can be very emotional.”
Emotion is good — to a point — and so is evoking any sort of response from consumers, positive or negative. “Even when old logos that are considered bad and replaced with something considered good or better, they still freak out because something they’re accustomed to has been taken away from them without consideration for their feelings,” says Vit. Prior to social media, consumers harbored that frustration internally, but now, you see the pile-on; for evidence, look to the comments of Balenciaga’s Instagram post announcing its new logo.
It’s to fashion brands’ benefit to keep changes minimal, if only to reduce consumers’ surprise. Edward Russell, an associate professor in the advertising department at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, explains that as a result, most labels make subtle updates that modernize the look, as tastes in design are constantly changing themselves. “If I look at the evolution of the Calvin Klein logo, it continuously gets more modern, but the changes are subtle,” says Russell. “If I’m not paying attention to the brand, I probably wouldn’t notice at all. If I’m a fan of the brand, they don’t want to change it so much that it doesn’t feel familiar to their target audience.” Despite logo changes often being employed to allure new consumer bases, existing brand loyalty is crucial.
Russell describes a Tampax rebrand of which he was once a part in which his team was tasked with bringing the feminine care company, which was rooted in the 1970s, into the current millennium. He notes that while the modernized logo and package designs were well-received by Tampax’s most loyal consumers, those same consumers didn’t physically recognize the packaging on the shelf. The company lost 40 percent of its sales, he says, simply because women couldn’t find their most beloved brand. This is not unlike any other fashion, beauty or retail brands that relies less on prolonged social media marketing and more on an in-moment shopping experience.
In Russell’s case, he estimates the logo change could have cost Tampax $400 million had it been rolled out nationally. But it didn’t. Peters says that the rebranding process is configured to minimize potential loss, financially or otherwise. “If you make a change that may be not received well, not long after that, you can make another pivot and you can use what you’ve learned from that prior shift to inform your next one,” says Peters. “You can keep iterating and moving with your audience. I think today, that momentum saves you from having to invest too much at any one point within that journey. People forgive pretty quickly.”
Russell’s Tampax revamp — or Peters’s Tapestry project, for that matter — started as the majority of rebrands do: with a business imperative. “What are we trying to accomplish, from a business perspective?” asks Peters. “So that would mean, is my audience changing? Are the desires or what’s important to that audience changing? Is the business landscape changing? Are we responding to change, or are we actually carving out a new space in the landscape?” These audits involve a huge number of stakeholders, most especially the brand’s creative directors who act as the forward-facing part of the brand. If it’s not a privately owned company, there’s the board of directors, too, as well as tastemakers and influencers that companies might want to involve. “That research, that consensus-building, is critical,” says Peters.
When it comes to actually drafting the new logo, it’s crucial that the brand lets the product — in fashion’s case, clothing and accessories — speak for itself. “In fashion, you’ll notice that logos are usually pretty classic,” says Peters. “They’re not trying to be too expressive on their own, because what underlies them, what we’re actually selling, is the expressive part of the brand.” No brand wants for its physical label to overshadow the product.
Meanwhile, the size of the team tasked with the redesign can range anywhere from two people for a smaller brand to 15 for ones much larger; in the case of the latter, those projects can take up to “six months, a year,” according to Peters. “A logo change will usually require a capital investment from small things like business cards to big things like changing signage, possibly across hundreds of locations,” says Vit. “A launch done right means that hundreds of touch-points where the logo appears physically and digitally have to all be lined up and ready to go so that one day the company can flip the switch and go, ‘Ta-da!'”
Vit mentions that poor roll-outs happen all the time, usually when a company will update its logo inconsistently, like on its social media channels but not on its website, or not even make any sort of public announcement at all. “And that’s not just sloppy, but it can actually be very confusing and harm the relationship between brand and consumer,” says Vit.
To execute a roll-out correctly, as with most things, is an investment, as some of the more high-powered art directors and designers — including Jonny Lu and Peter Saville, who were behind DVF and Calvin Klein rebrand’s, respectively — can cost a pretty penny. But again, as with most things, you get what you pay for. “While you can obviously get good results with independent designers who charge a lot less, there is a kind of guarantee with the big, prestigious firms that the work will be good and that they will have the manpower and womenpower to facilitate the process and tend to the needs of the client. You are paying for expertise, professionalism and talent, and there’s a reason prestige firms have said prestige — so, yeah, if you can afford it, it’s worth it.” On the other hand, though: “Carolyn Davis, a graphic design student at Portland State University, was paid $35 for the Nike swoosh in 1971,” says Russell. “That worked out pretty well.”
Balenciaga, however, eliminated this quandary entirely by conceiving of its new logo — inspired by current artistic director Demna Gvasalia’s affection for public transportation — in-house. When Balenciaga debuted it three months ago, Gvasalia had already been at the Parisian brand for no less than a year and a half. When a newly-hired creative director is expected to leave their own mark on the house codes, why postpone a logo change for so many seasons?
Peters says that the personality behind the creative director can be very strong, so it’s beneficial to see where that person is guiding the direction of the brand before putting a badge on it. “Sometimes the best change is no change at all or, if change is looming, have tiered, slow segue,” says Vit. “Get the consumer used to the idea that there’s a new sheriff in town and once that’s sunk in, then there’s an opportunity to introduce further changes in a way that’s less shock-and-awe.”
The logos trending most frequently of late could not, as a concept, be any more averse to shock-and-awe. Both Calvin Klein and DVF’s relaunched titles embrace a bare-minimum, all-black typeface. Balenciaga’s, too, became more compact. “It has to work on a phone screen,” says Russell, adding that today’s logos also must get enough height in a square space. “That’s more difficult than it probably sounds.” But Vit adds that the sans-serif parade has its drawbacks. “I can understand that it’s all about making the product the hero and not the logo, but all the logos and identities are slowly looking alike,” he says.
Interestingly, Vit notes that outside of fashion in industries more corporate- and consumer-facing, they’re using a lot of color. “Like, everyone wants to use every color ever, which is fun for a little bit, but then it’s hard to tell who owns what color anymore,” says Vit.
On that note, we have some great news: Might we suggest this little-known hue, millennial pink?