Sans-serif fonts are taking over fashion and it's signaling a bigger shift in conformity among fashion brands.
Flipping through fashion ads isn’t like it used to be (and not just because you’re on Instagram and not holding a magazine). As one browses what today’s luxury brands have to offer, something seems vaguely familiar about a fair number of them, and it isn’t awful ugly shoes. The fashion industry is going through a peculiar white-washing period: The Age of Sans-Serif.
From Balenciaga to Valentino, Ventements to Balmain, we are seeing an overwhelming number of brands ditching their old logos for simpler, more modern fonts. Sans-serif refers to the family of fonts with bold, simple lettering that brands right now are flocking to like a HypeBeast editor to a Nike press release. Where Burberry once had a very distinguishable logo that reflected the tomes of the house, a literal knight in shining armor, the British fashion brand now sports a simple sans-style logo with a not-so-gentle reminder of its heritage: “LONDON ENGLAND” stamped beneath the brand name. Burberry isn’t alone, everyone from Diane von Furstenberg to Saint Laurent (the artist formerly known as Yves) are unceremoniously throwing their logos away.
There is an overarching explanation for this seemingly innocuous shift toward homogeny. Largely, it is driven by what everything in fashion is driven by: trend. Changing logos is a reflection of where the industry is today and what consumers are looking for when they buy. Unfortunately, this co-dependent relationship between brand and consumer has not always reaped the most amazing results (Hedi Slimane at Celine and the advent of the “ugly sneaker,” anyone?). There are a few trends that are making it more economical for brands to change their logos.
In the past few years fashion has taken a very huge turn with athletic wear and subsequently street fashion. With simple clothing, the way that brands use their logos has changed. Before we saw logos on shirt tags, on the chests of polo shirts, or stamped on a bag. All of these methods allowed the design of the garment to remain the focus. However, brands no longer use logos to distinguish quality like Louis Vuitton did at the turn of the century. These days consumers are more interested in a much cheaper version of luxury. Consumers can find Dior t-shirts and Gucci sneakers. Consequently, sans-style logos are easy to splash across a Kering sweatshirt or a Balenciaga bag. Bolder, simpler logos stand out against a wider range of backdrops in advertisements. A busy logo doesn’t look at appealing on a baseball cap and a culture centered around the Instagram flex wants logos as visual as possible. As luxury embraced more casual streetwear, traditional logos became less and less practical.
Further, as a logo is stripped away, so is the consumers’ association with that logo. Companies spend millions on creating a positive, relevant, and desirable image around their brand and a logo functions as the beacon that takes on every facet of that image. When a logo is changed, it signals to the market and to the consumer that the brand is in a transition. This is very beneficial to creative directors. When a new creative head enters a company, it is common to see the direction of the house change. We saw this with Celine and Chanel recently; a new designer means a different aesthetic. While this ranges according to both house and designer, designers who are looking to overhaul brands are held back by a brand’s old logo, simply because it represents where the company has been, the past. A shift to a neutral, sans-serif font has a ripple effect within a brand. Because the face of the brand is neutral, so can everything else in the brand be, from design aesthetic to signature bag. This gives new directors unencumbered creative freedom to shape the brand in whatever image they choose.
This may seem like a waste of money for the companies that own these brands, as designers are essentially throwing away years and years of time and money spent building a brand. However, brands are drifting toward a homogeneous aesthetic in a time when creative director turnover is the highest it has ever been. And when conglomerates bring in new talent, it can cost millions to re-brand globally to the new creative’s specifications. This shift to simple logos could be a security measure on future investment for these conglomerates. If money is invested in a logo that doesn’t reflect the brand itself in any aesthetic way, but retains the brand’s identity simply through representing its name, conglomerates may save money by allowing new creatives to shape a brand behind the logo, instead of through the logo. And with creative director reigns trending more towards a “Raf Simons” (at Dior 4 Years and a mere 2 at Calvin Klein) rather than a “Lagerfeld” (decades at both Chanel and Fendi) it can cost companies big money to turn over brand image every handful of years. A neutral logo can adapt to new creative leaders and offset re-branding costs.
This is all seems fine, what are we really losing here? A knight on a horse and an accent mark above an ‘e’? On one hand, we are losing diversity within the fashion industry, something the fashion industry should be a bit more aware of by now. It is difficult to see brands almost falling in step with one another. With all of the t-shirts and tennis-shoes and nylon bags endlessly stamped with a brand name and nothing else, there seems to be something...missing from fashion. Yes, trends change and that’s what fashion is built on. However, this seems a bit different, as if we are erasing the past to gamble with the present. What will brands do when they no longer have their heritage to fall back on when branded t-shirts and baseball caps are no longer in vogue? Can we expect new creatives to steamroll a brand with every new appointment? Why is everything starting to look so...similar?
Losing the heritage behind these logos is one thing, but the larger issue is that these changes are signaling a much bigger shift at the foundation of fashion. Rather than hold onto what makes these brands great and unique, ie. their heritage, brands are choosing to become less rigid and more adaptable to current trends. But is that what we really want? Do we want every brand to have an ugly sneaker because it’s cool? Do we want brands to pump out less than desirable product just because it’s supposedly what the people want? Do we want everything to be the same?
Currently, influencers reign supreme with logo dropping across social media and brands have lined up to get in on the money they generate. In order to fit in, brands have inadvertently thrown away the only insurance afforded to fashion brands: their own historical capital. How far will it go? Trends can change faster than ever in the age of social media, and already menswear is beginning to pivot away from heavily branded streetwear to more tailored, brandless clothing. With new trends comes new transitions, and brands run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle. As they throw their own branding away, will we eventually be able to tell them apart? It’s a slippery slope to every brand just reflecting its current designer. It happened to Celine and it can happen again.
Only time will tell if conformity will beat out originality. As we step into a new era of fashion with these logos, we are encouraged to forget the past. And with the way things are going, we might actually succeed.