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October 19, 2017
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Tom Carnase created the iconic ITC Avant Garde Gothic typeface

A fashion logo has the herculean task of distilling the values and ethos of a brand while remaining alluringly distinct and easily identifiable. The fashion industry is particularly skilful with its utilisation of typography and, as such, has crafted it into an art form that has since helped define the latest trends.

the typography of trends

Look 34 from the Fall 2010 ready-to-wear
Balenciaga collection. Source: style.com. 

Although the names' Georgia, Forte, Batang, Lucida Console or Verdana may sound like a gang of high-class public schoolgirls, they are in fact all members of a highly stylised group of fonts available to computer users on a daily basis with little more effort than a simple mouse click.Typography is a constant in the continuous flow of modern life, displayed on a host of platforms in order to transfer a variety of information to the populace at large. From the font chosen by fashion magazines to present on their cover page to the letters on the back of footballer's shirts, different types are chosen to relay a particular set of values to those who are observing.

Typography elicits a subtle emotional response in the viewer, who in the main does not consciously recognise the abstract connection between a typeface used and their favourable feeling towards it. Unless you are a typographic nerd then you are not going to see the linear link between the exquisite flourish of a serif font and the cultural references determined by your visual experiences and internal aesthetic leanings. Whether gothic, retro, modern, futuristic or avant-garde, everyone has a preference; as such, brands spend an inordinate amount of their marketing research budget on understanding these preferences and choosing a typeface and logo that fits their niche demographic.

Before taking a closer look at how letterforms have become such an intrinsic element in the branding of fashion, it is important to understand the history of this symbiotic relationship. According to Abbott Miller, J. Abbott Miller and Charles Deberney in their 2007 article for Eye Magazine titled 'Through Thick and Thin, Fashion and Type', today's fashion typography must be viewed in the context of the 'modern' typefaces known as Didot and Bodoni.

Typography condenses and articulates the complexity of language into an understandable discourse, a kind of aesthetic psychology.

The word 'modern' when describing these two fonts is a misnomer as both originate from the late 18th- and early 19th-century. However, they are termed in this way because they introduced a geometric precise combination of thin and thick lines, elongated lines and decadent asymmetry that gave a newfound architectural quality to the letterforms. In the words of Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni, the 'modern' style offered "conformity without ambiguity, variety without dissonance, and equality and symmetry without confusion."

Related: It is Loewe Over Louis Vuitton for the Spanish. 

The 'modern' sensibility was imported into the popular consciousness of America via two champions of the modernist style: European emigres Dr Mehemed Fehmy Agha and Alexey Brodovitch. As the Graphic Design Archive Online highlights, Agha is widely credited with defining the role of the magazine art director during his time at Vogue (1929-1942), Vanity Fair and House & Garden, during which he introduced European avant-garde experimentation to their pages. Meanwhile Brodovitch's manipulation of white space, cropped photographs and iconic typography elicited a cinematic quality and a transformation of Harper's Bazaar under his art direction (1934-1958). Through the work of these two, the influence of Bodoni and Didot still remains pervasive in the creative triumvirate of design, photography and layout, providing the basis from which many fashion-based derivatives - in the form of logos - spring. For example, the emblems of Calvin Klein, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton all evoke the spirit of classical asymmetry that exude luxury and pedigree.

While the 'Didot' and 'Bodoni' typeface moulded the world of fashion with their 'high art' flourishes, Coco Chanel's counter-intuitive use of a sans-serif type logo in 1921 on her No. 5 perfume bottle offered up a radical alternative to the romantic and feminised fonts associated with the marketing of luxury goods at the time. The black capital letters stamped on a stark white background provided a 'clean line' simplicity and a masculine strength of purpose. It introduced the ambiguity of the avant-garde to the presentation of fashion.

While fashion brands use typography as an abstract expression of what they represent, it has increasingly been commandeered as a fashion statement in itself. From Katharine Hamnett's oversized white Ts with their block letter slogans - "Choose Life"- in the 1980s, to Balenciaga's Autumn/Winter 2010 collection featuring random typeface print on their designs, the art of typography is already out of the shadows and becoming centre stage on the high fashion catwalks.

The Typography of Trends

The Autumn/Winter 2013-14 collection by Mint
Designs showcased typography trends at
Japan Fashion Week. Source: herworldplus.com.

Related: Menu Whispers: The Power of Design.

While typography is often used as inspiration for producing diverting lettering on clothing prints, thus adding to the aesthetic attraction of designs, it can also provide an extra layer of content to a dress for instance. An Autumn/Winter 2013 ready-to-wear collection by Mint Designs' Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi was showcased at Tokyo Fashion Week and presented a fusion of typography and fashion. In this (upper) case, letter motifs adorned grey, white and black dresses and coats infused with touches of electric blue and green. Even if the letters are merely decorative, the use of a particular typography spoke of the geometric abstractions and a reference to the avant-garde sensibility.

As an article by Alix on Dencreative.com explains, "Having a double purpose means clarity on different levels of communicating information. Like stated before, it should portray a message that connects with its theme or genre, but it also should have clarity of written meaning. The metaphorical and literal meanings can have a nice balance and relationship in typography! The beauty of typography means it does not always have to be straightforward or direct, as long as its design and usage, affects its audience in the desired way."

The art of typography has come into its own in the digital age, with the rise of the internet leading to an explosion of new typefaces – from digitally bastardised replicas of sacred fonts to the truly original – used to frame the content of a fast changing world. Even in fashion, the most sacred cows need to be rebranded, best seen with the iconic interlocking YSL logo being 'overlapped' by the simple 'ready-to-wear' Helvetica minimalism of the reborn 'Saint Laurent'.

Typography condenses and articulates the complexity of language into an understandable discourse, a kind of aesthetic psychology. A psychology that fashion, in particular, couldn't live without it.

Related: Channeling Chanel at the Little Black Jacket Exhibition.

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