The future’s so bright… (Financial Times Weekend)
The world of luxury is divided into those who like a logo, and those who don’t. For every woman who covets the gold chain, quilting and distinctive double C of a Chanel handbag, there’s another who wants a less showy, but no less statement-making Hermès Birkin. Over the last few years, the accessories market has become polarised: discreet branding accompanied by distinctive but subtle styling details, versus maximalist bells, whistles and prominent trademarks. The look of that essential summer purchase – a new pair of shades – has gone the same way. Whether you buy Vivienne Westwood’s, with her orb insignia emblazoned in crystals on the arm, or a pair of Cutler & Gross’s logo-free titanium aviators, your choice speaks volumes. “Customers at our Selfridges concessions are asking for timeless glamour and large frames,” says Richard Peck, MD of David Clulow. “Those who prefer a small logo browse Persol and Prada and those who don’t want to pass unnoticed will go for Chanel or Versace, or perhaps a Bulgari frame with Austrian crystals on the arm.”
Oliver Peoples – which celebrates 25 years in business this year – was one of the first brands to embrace the no-logo ethos. When its shades first appeared, the market was saturated with post-Risky Business Wayfarers; Ray Ban, with its distinctive script, was a household name. Though Ray Ban has plenty of chic, timeless frames in its canon, it was the Wayfarer that resurfaced in a big way some years ago, tinged with heavy 1980s irony. While the joke has worn paper thin, many irony-loving Rubik’s Cube fixated youths remain enthralled by the shorthand kitsch of the coloured-framed varieties. Oliver Peoples, however, has never been self consciously trendy, so never went out of fashion. It’s designs are classic, while being in tune with the vogue for all things mid century modern. “The influence in fashion of the 1950s era is driving fashion away from the big logo,” says Oliver Peoples founder Larry Leight. “I have always wanted our frames to speak for themselves. And our discreet branding keeps the brand discoverable.” Their classic designs, including the Sheldrake and the Benedict, are luxurious style perennials.
Discreet branding is more apparent than the bold logo right now. Some of it stems from a stealth approach to wealth during recession. The rest is to do with the revival of the 1970s Henry Kissinger and 1950s Clark Kent look, forged, in part, by Lower East Side opticians Moscot. “We’ve been selling that mid century mod-style look for decades,” says the company’s president, Harvey Moscot. “We’ve never chased trends. And our customers like to spot other customers in Moscot. It’s like a secret handshake.”
Moscot trades on its establishment image, but is hardwired into the New York fashion scene. They recently created a limited edition frame, The TERRY, with Terry Richardson. They’ve also worked with minimalist luxe-sneaker brand Common Projects. That particular collaboration nods to a parallel sea change in the style of men’s trainers. There are the heavily branded Technicolor sports brands, and the likes of Gucci – with all-over GG-web patterning – and then there is Common Projects’ minimally branded monochrome shoe, identifiable to insiders by a small, prosaic, product number on the side of the heel.
That kind of pared down, knowing branding is growing in popularity. Thom Browne’s collaboration with optical company Dita led to a range of shades – riffing on Browne’s skewed 1950s tailoring sensibilities – which replicate the tri-colour stripe from the labels on Browne’s garments, on the tip of each arm. When worn, it is barely visible. “Discreet, but detail heavy,” says Jeff Solorio, co-founder of Dita.
Then there are the companies that eschew any exterior motif. British brand Oliver Goldsmith was founded in 1926 and much of its style is embedded in the sharply tailored cinematic 1960s. The Renzo – a swinging London Michael Caine favourite – is an understated classic. “Branding through design is much smarter,” says the company’s current owner, Claire Goldsmith “One of the design features of the collection is the contoured temple. People in the know recognise it as Goldsmith. New customers are so happy to find something without diamante and branding scribbled all over it.”
Where a logo does appear in 2012, it often has a modernist, matter of fact, Muji style to it. Jack Spade makes a virtue of its simple, low-key, upper case, san serif logo. The range of sunglasses the company has produced with Selima Optique bears it on the inside of the arms. “The new product is stylish because it fills a need and has a timeless appeal,” says Jack Spade’s designer Cuan Hanly. “Likewise, military issue chinos aren’t stylish because of a logo.”
The new range of shades from Brioni, in 15 variants, are as luxurious as they are stylish – taking aviator and rectangular shapes and refining them with Zeiss crystal lenses, deerskin cases, and hand finished horn arms that bend 180 degrees. The Brioni logo is discreetly etched in the corner of a lens. “We didn’t want to put the logo on the horn arms,” says artistic director Jason Basmajian. “We wanted to give the product a signature, but Brioni is about a man’s personal expression of style, and doesn’t need a major logo to justify it.”
While some people are shameless label whores, it’s more often the case that someone favours just one or two particular brands enough to sport their insignia. They feel an affinity with a label, whether it be Prada, Brioni or Versace, whose Medusa-emblazoned shades remain as maximalist as their other accessories. “We’re about sex and glamour,” says Donatella Versace. “We can dial our branding up, or dial it down, but it’s part of our look. Versace must always be Versace, and branding through graphic motifs, log and key colours like gold, is very much what people like us for.” Sometimes, more is definitely more and only more will do.