A fast track to conspicuously signalling luxury or more an expression of shared values and a sense of community? Either way, there’s big business in monogramming right now, and designers have set their sights on what makes a product instantly recognisable.
When Gabrielle Chanel first placed her iconic double-C insignia on a design in 1925, she sparked a new movement for fashion followers. Like that of an artist’s signature on a painting, it was intended to symbolise the designer’s hand in the creative process, while also nodding to her affinity for aristocratic codes (the motif was invented by Charlemagne in 800 AD and continued on as a signifier for ruling families).
In the near-century that’s followed, the monogram has yo-yoed from a trademark of quality design to ostentatious status symbol, and arguably, back again, with many labels rehashing heritage branding for autumn-winter ’21, and some even dreaming them up
for the first time.
For those who witnessed the ‘logomania’ of the early aughts that saw Burberry’s check plastered across ready-to-wear with abandon, flashy Louis Vuitton Alma bags in multicoloured hues and chunky silver heart tag necklaces boldly stamped with Tiffany & Co., this revisiting of such overt showiness might seem at odds with today’s cultural climate, where the virtues of
democratic appeal and accessibility are trumpeted.
However, the corporate parents of luxury brands see monograms, almost tribal symbols of belonging in fashion, as an easy win post-pandemic business strategy, undoubtedly wanting to cash in on the current hunger for the sartorially unsubtle amongst Millennials and Gen Z.
It’s a rationale that likely pushed Versace to replace its long-associated Medusa head symbol with a newly- launched monogram named La Greca this season, celebrating its arrival via models walking the runway wearing monogram clothes, carrying monogram bags, and accessorising with
monogram jewellery. It’s hoped the modern take on the brand’s Greek key pattern will fill a gap that has slowed the Italian label in competing with the cult accessories produced by other fashion powerhouses.
Staying true to the haughty origins of the monogram, Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain aw21 collection – shot in a cavernous hangar at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport – served as an antidote to our collectively pent-up cabin fever. The printed head-to-toe looks, with matching luxury trunks, were inspired by founder Pierre Balmain’s postwar travels and were patterned with the reintroduced archival motif which references the French couturier’s interlocking initials.
Building on his message that this indeed was a new dawn at Givenchy, Matthew M. Williams’ second collection was full of pieces of an esoteric nature: shoes, bags, and clothes that were a little awkward and ugly-cool. Yet, despite his insistence on marking his arrival at the helm, the designer touched on the brand’s legacy by including Givenchy’s four Gs on sheer second-skin separates, chain necklaces and handbag clasps.
In his inaugural ready-to-wear collection for Fendi, Kim Jones linked two chapters in the brand’s storied history by dotting silk linings, satin slips and stockings with the ‘Karligraphy’ monogram. Created by Karl Lagerfeld in 1981 during his lengthy reign at the house, the calligraphic version of the double Fs featured in Jones’ couture debut and Lagerfeld’s final, posthumously presented collection in AW'19.
While the demand for branded accessories shows no sign of abating, this season’s updates have come full circle to be executed with subtlety and sophistication. The most successful example? Hedi Slimane’s resurrection of Celine’s Triomphe monogram, a pattern that took its design cues from the chains encircling Paris’ famous arch. Despite being dropped by Phoebe Philo when she ushered in her era of discretion at the label, it’s just understated enough for those who prefer to trade in quiet luxury.