When former Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci became Burberry’s chief creative officer this past year, few expected that one of his first moves would see him paired with art director Peter Saville to relaunch the British heritage label’s 1908 Thomas Burberry monogram. Both a conduit to the brand’s roots and the symbol of a new era, the red-and-honey print is a testament to the longevity of such a brand signifier in an industry where change only seems to come faster and trends seem to become more fleeting with each passing season.
Indeed—perhaps because of—the art form’s inherently ephemeral nature, icons have become essential in fashion’s always-evolving vernacular. It seems like a good monogram can reach across those fleeting trends and decades, maintaining its cachet even as the brand it represents fades in and out of popularity.
For the consumer side, some of the monogram’s allure stems from a kind of sartorial tribalism. Recent unfortunate incidents, from blackface to insensitive keychains to runway nooses, have introduced a values element into the style equation. One might choose to rock—or not to rock—a logo based on questions of politics or culture, and not just taste. Or maybe for the shopper it’s a subconscious way of connecting with bygone eras such as the Belle Époque, when Georges Vuitton launched Louis Vuitton’s signature monogram, featuring his father’s initials, quatrefoils, and rounded florals in 1896. Of that motif, the rest—from wealthy Indian maharajas’ emblem-covered trunks, to reimaginations by artists and designers such as Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Rei Kawakubo, and new Louis Vuitton menswear director Virgil Abloh, nearly a century later—is history.
Thanks in part to the international success of that French malletier, true monogram mania began to set in during the 1960s, when the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis flaunted and popularized Gucci’s “GG” logo (an homage to the Florentine luggage maker’s founder Guccio Gucci). His son, Aldo Gucci, would later apply it to the brand’s signature “Diamante” pattern. When Karl Lagerfeld took the helm at Fendi, in 1965, he was intent on replacing the company’s stodgy, status-symbol furs of yore with vibrant, playful pieces designed for a younger clientele. The momentous transition was marked with a double-F logo—an acronym for “fun fur” he said—stylized in a tobacco-and-black insignia.
By the time Christian Dior’s longest reigning artistic director, Marc Bohan, introduced the house’s steel-gray-and-blue “Oblique” monogram on Flemish jacquard canvas in 1970, Valentino Garavani was hot on his heels, releasing a series of artistic monograms which included inverted columns of V’s, a leaflike Arabesque motif, and a scalloped art deco pattern on colorful foulards. Still beloved, the house’s current creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli reissued those designs in the label’s spring 2019 menswear collection.
Through decades of reproduction and reinterpretation, such monograms have only grown in reach and influence. Before modern, fully official collaborations such as Louis Vuitton’s with Yayoi Kusama, Gucci’s with snowboarder-turned-artist Trevor Andrew, and Fendi’s with Instagram artist Hey Reilly, Dapper Dan’s unauthorized appropriation of luxury monograms shook those respective brands. His clever one-off ensembles for Olympic runner Diane Dixon, boxer Mike Tyson, rapper Big Daddy Kane, and others introduced those rarified labels to new audiences. Counterculture bootlegging only bolstered their desirability—and accessibility. While Dap’s first above-board collaboration with Gucci just came out in late 2018, his long history of interpretations have indelibly influenced the interaction of hip hop and fashion since his Harlem atelier first opened in 1982.
It’s this careful mix of plasticity and permanence, this combination of rich cachet and superficial streamlining for easy trade in the marketplace of symbols and ideas that’s allowed monograms—and their power—endure the fickle whims of fashion and economics. Rooted firmly in the past, they always beckon for new reimaginings and repurposings no matter the future.
[Photos courtesy of Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry]