Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hel­vetica is not always the answer

Fifty years after the Yves Saint Lau­rent and his part­ner Pierre Bergé founded one of the most pres­ti­gious fash­ion houses on the left bank of Paris, and four years after the pass­ing of its founder and name­sake, its ready to wear line is being rebranded. This line will no longer bear the name of its founder, but will bear an updated, mod­ern look, to go with its new, Amer­i­can design stu­dio and its new cre­ative direc­tor, Hedi Silmane.

The his­tory of YSL is an inte­gral part of its brand — its inno­va­tions have helped shape ele­gance and style in ways no other fash­ion house has. YSL was the first fash­ion house to use black mod­els, pop­u­lar­ized sil­hou­ettes inspired by the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and helped glam­or­ize women’s cloth­ing items taken from menswear like pants suits, tuxe­dos, safari style, and leather jack­ets. The French painter Adolph Mouron Cas­san­dre cre­ated the inter­lock­ing “YSL” and word­mark, and it has been the logo for the com­pany since its incep­tion. The cus­tom let­ter­ing is sim­ple, strong, and dis­tinc­tive, veer­ing nei­ther to the fem­i­nine nor mas­cu­line, with an ele­gance that fit its place in fashion’s history.

Hedi Sil­mane has made quite a few waves as the company’s cre­ative direc­tor. For one, he has moved the com­pany away from Paris and to Los Ange­les, a move that shocked the indus­try. The brand’s French roots are part of its her­itage and appeal, so it’s not dif­fi­cult to under­stand why the move elicited such a reac­tion. The new rebrand­ing fur­ther divorces the brand from its French foun­da­tion and story, mov­ing away from both “Yves Saint Lau­rent” and “Saint Lau­rent Rive Gauche” with its new name. The two-​​word, stark, white-​​on-​​black, mod­i­fied Hel­vetica word­mark resem­bles the logos of very Amer­i­can brands such as Alexan­der Wang, Marc Jacobs, or Proenza Schouler. No longer does it evoke the pres­tige of its ground-​​breaking founder, nor does it carry the heft of its sto­ried successes.

Per­haps leav­ing that weighty rep­u­ta­tion behind will allow Sil­mane to cre­ate firsts of his own for the brand, but I’m not sure that this rebrand­ing will be able to reach the same iconic level as the inter­lock­ing YSL. With its easy-​​to-​​read for­mat, inof­fen­sive lines, its busi­nesslike air, its function-​​over-​​form, Hel­vetica was just not the right font for the inno­va­tions and cutting-​​edge fash­ion we hope to see from Sil­mane. It’s also too omnipresent in this time and place, draw­ing more on acces­si­bil­ity (which its fel­low users of Hel­vetica such as Tar­get, Amer­i­can Apparel, and JCPenny have made a part of their brand) than the aspi­ra­tional qual­ity we’ve come to asso­ciate with fash­ion houses like YSL, Dior, Chanel. The full details of the rebrand­ing will be revealed this fall, but I will con­sider it a mis­take if Sil­mane makes so much of this brand­ing new that it loses its ties to YSL’s history.

What do you think of the new logo? In what direc­tion do you think YSL is headed?

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