In the 1880’s Louis Vuitton began covering its luggage with monogram prints, many of which are still in use today. From the outset, the Paris-based company was targeted by counterfeiters, who wanted to profit from the established appeal of the luggage-maker for their own profit. So, Louis Vuitton, the man and the brand, began exploring ways to legally protect the house’s coveted creations.
The brand's approach to anti-counterfeiting is, in hindsight, completely obvious: It adopted new monogram canvas designs from which the brand would make its various bags and other travel items. The prints, themselves, could be protected by law and thus, give rise to a legal cause of action if they were copied. At the time, the idea was wildly novel.
Interestingly, Louis Vuitton attempt to ward off copycats, by covering its luggage with its distinct logo, would go on to serve another purpose entirely. It would help the brand to ensure that consumers were doing their part in advertising on its behalf ... for free.
Fast forward to the 1960's and 70's and a whole slew of other brands we eager to jump on board. Fendi, for instance, the Italian design house now under the LVMH umbrella, adopted its "FF" logo, initially using it to line the inside of its own travel trunks, using the logo in much the same way as Louis Vuitton: As an indicator of source and a way to distinguish its wares from those of others.
Skip ahead again, this time to 2018, and the rate at which consumers are using their own bodies, bags, and social media accounts to advertise on behalf of brands – without being paid to do so – is unprecedented. There is nary a fashion figure or fashion fan whose Instagram account is not rife with others’ branding (i.e., trademarks) – whether it be imagery of Gucci t-shirts, Glossier lip balms, Chanel bags, or Supreme hoodies.
Fendi has gone using its logo to line its trunks to covering everything from crop tops and t-shirts to footwear and bags with its "FF" symbol, while Louis Vuitton has trotted out logo-laden trench coats and a heavily trademark-tagged wares as part of its recent collaboration with cult streetwear/skatewear brand Supreme. That is in addition to its use of its logo on no small number of bags, small leather goods, and other accessories at any given time.
The Cult of the Logo
The specific reasons for why we are collectively willing to adorn our bodies or our bags with branded content varies, of course. Most centrally, however, is the status element. As we once noted in connection with Vetements, for instance (although Vetements was recently deemed to be dead): “At its core, the brand is tapping into fashion fans’ desires to show that they are worthy, that they are in the know, that they have something exclusive, that they are cool. These individuals are essentially taking the coveted ‘it’ bag of the season and wearing it as a sweatshirt.”
Those Vetements-wielding consumers – and more generally, nearly all consumers – were buying to keep up with appearances. They were buying to cement themselves into the zeitgeist. Shoppers now – just like shoppers in the past – aim to maintain the appearance of status, and a Vetements sweatshirt, or a "bootleg" Gucci t-shirt (which was creative director Alessandro Michele's cheeky take on the rampant counterfeiting of Gucci branding), Louis Vuitton monogram bag, etc. will give them that for a few seasons.
Yes, no shortage of consumers purchase logo or other trademark-identifying products to show others that they are rich or cool or important or whatever. But even more than that, there is the cult element. Consumers buy to fit in – even if, in some cases, that means standing out to an extent.
This is not a new practice. As Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a consumer psychologist at the University College London, told Vice: “In the past, tribes would decorate themselves with feathers or precious stones to set them apart from other tribe members and attract potential mates.” In the same way, says Tsivrikos, “collecting Supreme [merch] really allows people to build their identities with rare objects."
According to Tsivrikos, "Millennials in particular are very aware of different consumer tribes; they look to inspire or impress peers who share the same kind of interests as them, who will recognize that particular t-shirt.” So, really, he says, we make our views, values, desired persona apparent by way of our clothing and/or accessories “for a very small group of people.”
And while such wares give a consumer the ability to signify his/her desired status, lifestyle, or mood at any given time without ever having to utter word, it is more so for the benefit of brands, which are able to not only profit from our purchases of their branded products but it also enables them to create a tribe of devoted fans who become brand ambassadors everywhere they go.
At a time when consumers are immune to traditional advertising methods and driven more by “authenticity”-driven marketing, such as word-of-mouth endorsements or native advertising, this is a powerful – and remarkably affordable – marketing opportunity for brands. So, keep posting Instagram images of yourself in that Gucci t-shirt or with that Glossier lip balm or Louis Vuitton-logo covered Old Masters bag.