What is it about supermodels and their inability to age? From Kate Moss’s new campaign for St. Tropez to Naomi Campbell’s recent stroll down the catwalk at Versace, the classic beauties look almost the same as when they stepped into the modeling game over twenty five years ago. The same can be said for Christy Turlington Burns, 44, whose newly released campaign for Calvin Klein Underwear had us confusing the images with the model’s past campaigns for the brand dating back to the mid 1990s.
Shot by photographer Mario Sorrenti in Puerto Rico, the timeless beauty’s new Fall 2013 campaign highlights an assortment of the brand’s most iconic must-have Calvin Klein Underwear essentials. An icon in her own right, Turlington Burns’s relationship with the Calvin Klein brand spans 26 years, during which time she’s been the face of their Eternity scent (4 times around).
Clearly age is just a number for the iconic supermodel, who is shown wearing everything from the sensual push-up to the minimal triangle bra in the new black and white campaign. Come September, the campaign will be featured on the pages of major international magazines as well as on billboards in select cities.
Looked at one way, these are 17 advertisements, 17 declarations of loyalty. The function of a logo is to advertise, and these are established images, familiar and eye-catching and effective.
And yet Mr. Preston’s shirt has the air of anti-promotion to it. The logos compete with one another for attention, ultimately privileging none. They become denatured.
But can a logo ever truly be subverted? In fashion, logos are the simplest way to turn a consumer into a billboard, and we are all inexorably branded now. With each passing year, it becomes more difficult to live out of the reach of corporate influence, and each successive generation has less of an idea of what life was like back when opting out was more of a possibility.
So maybe it’s not a shock that this time is also seeing the arrival of the logo as a forward-looking fashion staple, a William Gibson and Milton Glaser fantasy come to life.
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.
“I think about the logos, but not so much,” said Mr. Preston, whose T-shirt was one of this year’s signature downtown fashion items. You see a similar energy in the work of Wil Fry, who works with grayscale prints made from scanned labels from 20 or so high-end designers, or Peggy Noland, who uses puff paint to create logo mash-ups on one-of-a-kind pieces.
You see it in the T-shirts from Hood by Air, with their bold, original logo treatments. It’s there on the racks at VFiles and Opening Ceremony, in the work of a second-wave gaggle of even younger designers building on what they’re seeing this group do. And it’s even crept onto the runway, in the hands of Alexander Wang.
The recent rise in logos is in part a response to the mass anonymity of the American Apparel-Uniqlo age, and taking a longer view, a rejection of the anti-capitalist, grunge, no-logo 1990s. But that same era also saw the rise of hip-hop and streetwear as a consumer force, and as style influences that imprinted deeply on many of these young designers.
Of these, Shayne Oliver, of Hood by Air, has stuck out by creating a line premised on his own logo, not repurposing others. “It represents power, a language, a mind-state,” he said, speaking of the strong HBA box logo, one of the most definitive marks of recent years. “But it’s a sense of commentary, too. An encrypted code.”
At VFiles, which is ground zero for this movement, the racks teem with logos, from ’90s rave and streetwear revival brands like X-Girl to the pieces by Mr. Preston, Mr. Oliver and Mr. Fry.
Like Mr. Preston, Mr. Oliver, taking what he calls a minimalist “Helmut Lang approach to logos,” also plays with unusual placement — at the top of the chest, on the lower sleeve — and sizing. (They both owe something to the Raf Simons 2003 Consumed collection as well, with its truncated logos splashed across garments.) The result is not just the refining of what are essentially streetwear ideas, but high fashion at its most legible and consumable.
Mr. Preston began making his T-shirts at the beginning of this year. Initially, in order to build mystique and deflect legal snoops, he passed off the design as a factory defect he’d stumbled upon. But eventually, you couldn’t go to a certain kind of party without seeing one or two of them. They began to take on a tribal quality, which was the point. (When New York Fashion Week wanted to make an official T-shirt for the spring shows, they turned to Mr. Preston, who made a version of his T-shirt with modeling agency logos.)
“People look for communities and families to belong to,” said Julie Anne Quay, the founder of VFiles. “They’re saying, ‘I identify with that.’ It’s just like wearing a football jersey.” (This phenomenon has been literalized in the recent T-shirts and jerseys made by Les Plus Dores, which feature designer surnames and birth years on the backs where a player name and number would ordinarily go.)
Opening Ceremony, too, has been vital to this moment. “About four or five years ago we had a conversation,” said Humberto Leon, co-owner and creative director of Opening Ceremony, referring to Carol Lim, his business partner — “and we said, ‘O.K., it’s time to bring logos back.’” Both grew up in the California suburbs in the early 1990s, where among young people, he said, “the logo or the brand was what created these mini-communities.”
That’s become part of the Opening Ceremony project, Mr. Leon said, whether it’s the revival of Vision Street Wear or the store’s ongoing collaboration with Donna Karan on a series of reissued DKNY styles.