Discussions of fashion and the fashion industry today are often dominated by discussion of brands. While some houses are still headed by their eponymous designers, the originators of many brands, including Chanel, Lanvin, and Versace, have been dead for decades. Even so, garments with those names attached still have considerable cache.
Those of us used to garments from the modern era are accustomed to having brand signifiers, primarily sewn labels, on our cloths. We use them as an indicator of quality, price, and stylishness when shopping. At the Goldstein we store most garments made after the 1940s by brand. Earlier garments are stored by date. One of the reasons for this is that most of our older garments don’t have any label in them at all. When present, with few exceptions, they can be found printed on a ribbon at the waist of the garment. This ribbon is not just decorative. Called a “waist stay,” its purpose is to keep the bodice in place.
Left: c1895 dress, 1981.065.017a-b. Gift of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Right: Detail of label on the waist stay of the bodice.
Today most garments have the designer or company logo at the back neck or in the side seam. The three garments below were designed by Oscar de la Renta, however they have different logos on their tags.
Three garments by Oscar de la Renta. Left: C1970 dress, 1983.059.014a-b. Gift of Barbara Flanagan Sanford. Middle: C1990 jacket, 2007.008.033. Gift of Elizabeth G. Weymouth. Right: 2006 dress, 2014.031.012. Gift of Elizabeth (Lolly) Weymouth.
Interior detail of three garments by Oscar de la Renta. Left: C1970 dress, 1983.059.014a-b. Gift of Barbara Flanagan Sanford. Middle: C1990 jacket, 2007.008.033. Gift of Elizabeth G. Weymouth. Right: 2006 dress, 2014.031.012. Gift of Elizabeth (Lolly) Weymouth.
The tag on the c1970 dress uses a formal serif font, which is quite different from the naturalistic style of the signature used in the later garments. Some of this stylistic change can be attributed to the fact that the first garment is from the “boutique” brand, not the main namesake collection. However, while the c1990 and 2006 versions are similar, they aren’t identical. The later version has the bottom edges of all the letters aligned along the same horizontal plane and reduces the amount of white space surrounding the text. The shape of individual letters had also been tweaked slightly. The difference is most apparent if you look at the “O” and “R” that have been capitalized.
1992 two piece Moschino suit, 1997.008.001a-b. Gift of Shari L. Applebaum.
This Moschino skirt suit takes the idea of branding ever further. The middle image above shows the back lining of the jacket. In addition to a small label near the neck, the lining has been custom printed with the brand's tag line “Cheap & Chic” and the collection number. While this makes a big impact, this branding is still only visible on the inside.
C1995 Vivienne Westwood suit, 2003.081.001a-b. Museum purchase.
Brand signifiers show up on the outside of garments in several ways. Hardware and notions are popular ways to display logos. The Vivienne Westwood outfit above has the designer’s logo stamped onto buttons. The Bogner ski suit below uses the large center front buckle to show off the brands logo. Both of these examples are interesting in that they are subtle enough that only those who are looking would notice the branding.
Another example of subtle branding can be seen in the Pucci ensemble below. The designer was well known for brightly colored prints. To show that this is an original, and not just an imitation, the designer's signature is hidden within the print. This identifies the outfit as the real deal, not an imitation, but only if you are looking very closely.
1967 Emilio Pucci ensemble, 1980.098.112a-b. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miles (Shirley) Fiterman.
Less subtle is the well known Louis Vuitton logo print. While people have many different opinions regarding this pattern and brand, it certainly isn’t subtle about its origins. Carrying a bag like this, one can’t help but be associated with the company that made it, for better or for worse.
C1995 Louis Vuitton purse, 1998.060.010. Gift of Margot Siegel.
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