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Fashion logos are cheesy
Even the “tasteful” ones. A landmark Spyplane Reckoning
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— Jonah & Erin
When I (Jonah) interviewed Oneohtrix Point Never a few weeks back, we talked about his careerlong interest in making chunes full of sonic “pollution,” and how this contrasted with his desire to wear clothes that embody “purity of design.” Ever since, I’ve been pondering what it might mean to try and rid a wardrobe of pollution.
You can follow the jawn-pollutant metaphor in all kinds of different directions. You might decide to avoid synthetics like nylons and polyesters, queasy about copping petroleum-based jawns, not to mention acrylics (produced using coal) or rayons (produced using toxic carbon disulfides, which cause severe physical and neurological damage in the workers who make them). You might forswear animal hides, or industrial dyes. You might come to see new clothes, period, as pollutants, and try to cop secondhand slappers only.
More philosophically, maybe you decide that variety is a kind of pollution and you lock in a daily uniform, monastic style. Maybe you don’t go that far but attempt to cut down on the visual clutter in your closet — excising garish colors, unsubtle sheens, excessive trim (why’s there so many zippers on that jacket, king??), loud graphics, cascades of text, and O.D. patterns…
Or you might draw a line against rocking logo jawns.
At Blackbird Spyplane — earth’s no. 1 anticonsumerist dope-jawns sletter — we endeavor to avoid simplistic, dusty & crusty mentalities, so our position on logos contains mad craggy-brained nuance. My personal relationship to logo jawns is knotty, to put it mildly … In certain cases I think they are up there with the illest things I’ve ever seen … At other times your boy feels like Julianne Moore in Safe except I’m being slowly poisoned by omnipresent logo-festooned trash !!
Our basic P.O.V. is that we live in a culture of visual hyberabundance. Some of it looks heinous, some of it looks insipid, some alluring, some brilliant, some haunting, some beautiful, and on & on. Much of this hyperabundance has been created to compel us to spend money. So it’s only natural that clothing designers — artistically inclined people whose craft is closely intertwined with the mechanics of both beauty and consumer desire — often make clothes that reflect, critique, resist, comment on, and/or participate enthusiastically in the visual mess. Sometimes they do this via cut-and-sewn bolts of fabric, but sometimes they do it more bluntly, by putting graphics, text, and logos on their clothes.
This could take the form of a ‘90s skatewear company doing a cheeky logo flip, or a Demna-type designer attempting a (clever but deeply cynical??) post-Warholian conceptual maneuver by placing a corporate logo unaltered on a $1200 sweatshirt. Or it could take the more-earnest form of a small label trying to devise a cool logo that projects their “mission” in some personal & punchy way.
Logo design can be its own kind of art, after all — and, across all categories, some logos objectively slap.
And yet… Perhaps because my parents tried to raise me in accordance with their unreconstructed oldhead ’60s-born bohemian values, I’ve always felt a nagging baseline skepticism, and even revulsion, toward logo jawns — even ones I simultaneously find alluring.
When I was in high school, DKNY Tech and Polo Sport logo tees were popular among my classmates, and I expressed an interest in rocking them to my parents. They told me, “hell no Young Plane,” not merely because they didn’t have the dough to waste but as part of a “you’re not a walking billboard”-type rationale…
Part of me resented this, because my dumb a** wanted to be popping. But I also got where they were coming from. At one point I confronted this tension head-on by taking a Sharpie to a couple white tees and crudely drawing “DKNY Tech” and “Polo Sport” logos on them, operating in a mode of something like satire mixed with something like tribute. I mentioned doing this in a previous sletter, and a couple readers wrote in saying they’d done the same thing as kids — an apparently common adolescent gesture of winking reverence for, and resistance to, the ‘80s and ‘90s-era rise of logo tyranny!
I’ve kind of oscillated between those poles since. Sometimes I’ve leaned into logo jawns, “accelerationist” style — splashing around in the pollution Toxic Avenger style, as OPN phrased it.
In particular, I’ve long been fascinated by the kinds of over-the-top logo jawns, with zero pretense of tastefulness, that seem to perform their own inadvertent self-critiques. When Ralph Lauren rolled out tennis shirts with the enormous pony logos on them, circa 2006, they struck me as stupider and funnier than the classic small-pony joints, but also as more honest about the core function of the pony logo itself. They at least had the conviction to say the quiet part — “psst, I’m wearing a Polo shirt, I have money and an aura of blueblood refinement” — loud. (The Lo Lifes’ legendary, shoplifting-abetted, all-Polo-logo-everything maximalist-overdrive approach was cool — but also inimitable, and specific to a bygone time, place, and set of friends.)
I’m suspicious of supposedly “refined” logo jawns, because to me they embody a fraudulent oxymoron. Loro Piana clothes are posited these days as the ultimate old-money shibboleth. The brand produces some objectively tremendous one-of-a-kind wools. But a tonal-stitch embroidered Loro Piana cashmere logo cap has some of the goofiest, nouveau-riche-energy s**t I can think of: It’s a sweaty, deeply tryhard jawn precisely because it’s trying to downplay its sweaty tryharditude but can’t fully commit.
It winds up giving up the whole game: If you’re really with the “stealth wealth” s**ts, just lose the logo!! At least some gaudy Versace silk eyesore covered in Medusas owns up to its purpose.
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When it comes to logo jawns these days, I’ve been feeling more revulsion and less allure than ever. Crucially, though, this revulsion isn’t directed toward all logos, but rather toward clothing-brand logos.
Today we’re issuing a new Spyplane Holy Decree about logos that rests on that distinction:
If a brand’s primary business is something other than the making of clothes, and they make a garment with their logo on it, then that garment can register as an artifact or souvenir — and it can be charming, unexpected, and fire.
But if a brand’s primary business is the making of clothes and they make a garment with their logo on it?? Then that garment is, in the majority of cases, cheesy — redundant, performing an obnoxious “marketing” function instead of a “beautiful garment” function, and often steeped in powerful “déclassé vibes” even as it purports to telegraph distinction.
The first of these categories — the potentially slapping one !! — is embodied by, e.g., the kinds of vintage gems Spyfriends at places like Intramural and Fantasy Explosion specialize in: JVC Jazz Festival logo tees, New York Times embroidered-logo mocknecks, Sony Vaio logo windbreakers, Cézanne Philadelphia Museum of Art embroidered-logo caps, etc. Another example is the bootleg jawns that Spyfriends like And After That whip up: fake movie merch and memorabilia, imaginary tees commemorating the Björk MoMA show, etc.
Some specimens might be more or less played out, but the genus isn’t lame by default. Whether it’s carmaker logo tees, old band tees, Big Sur inn logo caps, various “Pentium Chip Drip” computer-logo jawns, or even newsletter logo tote bags 😉, I have f**ked heavy with these kinds of logo jawns for ages. I still do, because, when rocked judiciously, they let me insert what feels like just the right note of autobiographical “pollutant frisson” into an otherwise graphics-free fit…
The second of these categories — the cheesy one!! — is embodied by the Gucci monogram; by CDG Play hearts; by Stone Island shoulder patches (props to them for at least letting you detach those, even if the buttons still perform a logo function on some “have your cake & eat it too” s**t); and a thousand other examples … including murdered-out Prada jawns with those chubby enamel triangle logos, sorry!! I’ve gone back and forth on these because Miuccia and Raf are geniuses and their clothes are sick, but they’re much sicker when they don’t have MF hood ornaments hanging off them.
So why is it that designer-logo jawns by and large feel “cringe?”
I think their terminal cheesiness comes down to this. To wear “nice” clothes is, on a basic level, to attempt to transform the way you look and feel for the better — an intrinsically aspirational act. And any gesture of aspiration contains within it a component of vulnerability, if not outright insecurity and vanity. In this case, you’re using a jawn to span the gap between how you want to look and feel and how you actually look and feel. But when this attempt takes the form of rocking a “nice” jawn with a logo on it, the aspiration~vulnerability~vanity is too naked, too bald — you’ve chosen to rock a thirst badge.
We’ve written before about how “getting dressed is like telling a joke.” Rocking a logo jawn strikes me as the equivalent of telling a joke and then immediately — inelegantly and unconfidently — explaining why it’s funny, instead of trusting that the joke, and your delivery of it, will get laughs on its own terms. Elbowing someone and asking, “Get it?” is embarrassing if you just told a bad joke, but it can undo the effect of a good joke, too. A designer logo relates to a garment in much the same way.
This particular Spyplane Holy Decree does come with some carve-outs and ambiguous cases to consider. Logos are conventional across sports apparel / jawns with “getting active” in their DNA — e.g., Adidas gym shorts, Stüssy hoodies, And Wander puffers, and essentially every non-designer running sneaker and hiking boot ever made — and so you might still want to avoid them but they tend not to land with the same cornball thud as their more purely “fashion”-apparel equivalents. (You could argue that, e.g., Lacoste and Polo Ralph Lauren tennis shirts and button-downs blur the line here, having ascended to a “staple” status that puts them beyond “fashion.”)
Bootleg logo jawns can occupy their own weird charming ontological nether-realm — Dapper Dan famously raised this dynamic to an art form. Vintage designer logo jawns can, in some cases, take on an archival aspect that helps neutralize the “thirst badge” quotient. And in much rarer cases, some new designer logo treatments can manage to transcend their inherent wackness by sheer force of charm, ingenuity, etc. I’m sure Spyfriends will weigh in — and make the case for other carve-outs — in the comments.
P☯️E☯️A☯️C☯️E till next time!
— J & E
Speaking of BBSP logo semiotics: Check out our all-timer interview with the graphic-design wizard and Elara-logo-creator Teddy Blanks, and our profound essayistic grapplings with, e.g., the shifting wackness and dopeness of the Oakley and Nike ACG logos or the Kia logo over the years.