As Graphic Designer and Art Director Paul Rand once said, “It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes.” His words of wisdom resonate especially as we as a society delve further into a DIY-aesthetic where every single person with a dream and an Internet connection is poised to develop the next big thing in a variety of mediums. Simply put, everyday we’re inundated with more and more “companies” that aren’t necessarily promising anything other than the fact that the “owner” himself/herself is fulfilling a dream.
To explore the world of luxury logos and their inspirations is to unearth a rich history unified by the notion of excellence. To endure is one thing. To flourish through the years is something quite different. These are the inspirations that came to define the logos of 20 of the most well-known luxury brands.
Versace’s Medusa Head
While we traditionally think of Medusa’s head as something unappealing, it is in fact her transformation into a beast by Athena that was at the heart of Gianni Versace’s intentions when he created the logo in 1978. The Medusa emblem picked up by Versace became an iconic motif in fashion as it evoked sheer authority, attractiveness and fatal fascination; three basic attributes of Medusa. “When I asked Gianni why he chose Medusa’s head,” Donatella Versace later said, “he told me he thought that whoever falls in love with Medusa can’t flee from her.”
Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron or simply Cassandre – a Ukrainian-French painter, commercial poster artist and typeface designer – created the YSL logo in December 1961 only a few years before his suicide. As some have put it, “The challenge [was] in how Cassandre dared to break the unwritten rule of not mixing – in the same word – two typeface features that are, in principle, incompatible.
Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy
The Spirit of Ecstasy – also referred to as “Emily,” “Silver Lady” or “Flying Lady – was designed by English sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes and meant to discreetly tell the story of the secret passion held between John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, (second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and automotive pioneer) and his love for Eleanor Velasco Thornton who served as the model.
The Hermés Carriage
Hermès began as a small harness workshop in Paris, which was dedicated to serving European noblemen and creating luxury harnesses and bridles for horse-drawn carriages. The Hermès logo is a royal carriage and a horse – and uses a slightly modified form of the Memphis typeface which was originally designed by Dr. Rudolf Wolf in 1929.
Chanel’s Interlocking C’s
The Chanel logo was designed by Coco Chanel herself in 1925 and remains unchanged to this day. A popular story suggests that it was inspired by the stained glass windows in an Aubazine chapel which featured interlaced curves and also housed an orphanage where Chanel spent the latter half of her childhood.
Another legend says that Coco Chanel saw the interlocking Cs at Château Crémat, a château in Nice that Irène Bretz – a friend of Chanel – had purchased. As the story goes, “One summer night Coco Chanel looked up at a vaulted arch at one of Irène’s famous parties and found inspiration in a Renaissance medallion: two interlocking Cs.”
A final anecdote focuses on Boy Capel – the love of Chanel’s life and the source of funding for her business and her first boutiques. As writer Justine Picardie insinuates following Capel’s death, “There was no business contract to bind them together, just as there was no marriage certificate, but it nonetheless joined them, as the double C logo seems to suggest; Chanel and Capel; overlapping, but also facing away from each other.”
The Maserati Trident
The Maserati Brothers took inspiration from the statue of Neptune that sat in the square in Bologna, Italy where Maserati was originally headquartered. While Mario Maserati, an artist, was responsible for the original logo, he would never work on any designs relating to engineering or automobiles.
Prada’s Rope Emblem
While Prada chooses to solely use their name for most branding, they do in fact have an emblem with a rich history. The classic rope design that aligns the periphery comes from when the Italian house were appointed as the official suppliers to the Italian Royal Household in 1919 – thus allowing them to use the House of Savoy’s coat of arms.
Louis Vuitton’s Monogram
The Louis Vuitton monogram was first introduced in 1896 and created by Louis’ son, Georges Vuitton. Described as a “Japanese-inspired flower motif,” the monogram’s original purpose was to thwart the counterfeiting of the Parisian company’s designer luggage and is one of the earliest examples of fashion branding. The pattern of alternating brown and beige squares was known as Damier (French for checkerboard).
The Ferrari Horse
Enzo Ferrari told the story of the prancing horse logo just once. “The horse was painted on the fuselage of the fighter plane of Francesco Baracca — a heroic airman of the First World War. In ’23, I met count Enrico Baracca, the hero’s father, and then his mother, countess Paulina, who said to me one day, ‘Ferrari, put my son’s prancing horse on your cars. It will bring you good luck.’ The horse was, and still is, black, and I added the canary yellow background which is the color of Modena.”
Maison Martin Margiela’s White Stitches
The white stitches used to affix Martin Margiela’s label – often visible at the back of the garment – have become an internationally recognized badge of cool. Margiela states that they are, “A proclamation of anonymity, the desire to not to distract from the garment with a name brand, a response to the tyranny of logos. The four white pick stitches were first conceived to hold the labels in place and to be easily undone, thus rendering the item unidentifiable.”
Paul Smith’s Signature
The ubiquitous signature is in fact, not Paul Smith’s own signature. Rather, it was drawn by Zena Marsh, a friend of Smith’s who created it in the early ’70s while working at his hometown shop on Nottingham Byard Lane. The signature logo “was never intended to be anything other than a mark,” says Alan Aboud, principal, creative director of Aboud Creative. “It’s a tremendously tricky device to use. It works small and discreet, or massive; any kind of middle ground just looks a bit awkward. It’s only with experience that you know how big it should be or how small it should be.” The hand-drawn logo was tightened up a little in the early 1980s when Smith opened his ﬁrst shop in London.
The Lamborghini Bull
The Lamborgini Bull reflects the zodiac sign (Taurus) of company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini who purposefully copied the Ferrari shield to irk Enzo Ferrari. The first two Lamborghini models were badged alphanumerically, the 350GT and its successor, the 400GT. After that, all subsequent models would be named after notorious Spanish fighting bulls like the ferocious Miura bulls of Andalusia, the Murciélago which survived 28 sword strokes in a 1879 bullfight, and the understated Islero which was named after the bull which killed the legendary Manolete.
The Rolex Crown
The Rolex emblem is an extension of the company’s slogan of “A Crown for Every Achievement” which has been used since the brand’s inception in 1903. For founders Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis, the crown represented prestige, victory and perfectionism.
Burberry Prosum Knight
While the mention of “Burberry” invokes thoughts of their eponymous check pattern and their invention of gabardine, it was 1901 when the Burberry Equestrian Knight Logo was developed. Containing the Latin word “Prorsum,” meaning forward, many speculate that the knight’s armor reflects the companies innovation in the realm of outerwear.
The Porsche Horse
As Porsche puts it, “At the start of the 1950s, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, his son Ferry, and their trusted circle set about developing a company emblem that they intended both to refer to their location in Stuttgart and to have a dynamic, powerful image. After numerous drafts were produced, including several from the pen of Porsche engineer Franz Xaver Reimspiess, a crest was agreed upon that included elements from the history of Württemberg-Baden, as the political region was still called at that time: Stylized antlers and the state colors of red and black. This was intended as a clear commitment to Swabia, the Porsche family’s second home. The center of the crest shows a black horse rampant, an expression both of forward thrusting power and a derivation of the city seal. For Stuttgart, established in 950 as the stud farm of ‘stuotgarten,’ it has had horses in its coat of arms in varying designs since the 14th century.” They go on to say, “And thus in 1952, the 356 bore the characteristic shield for the first time. It appeared on the horn in the middle of the steering wheel – something, however, that Professor Ferdinand Porsche, who died on 30th January 1951, was not to witness. By the end of 1955, the crest was also to be seen on the bonnet of the 356, integrated into the handle. And while the handle no longer exists, the crest on the bonnet has remained. From 1959, the wheel-caps also featured the horse, the antlers and the unique wording – maybe because this enabled passers-by to recognize the sports car from the side as well! And the company has kept to this limited but well-placed distribution of the crest to this day. There has never been any reason to contemplate changing the Porsche crest’s symbolic and powerful design and thus to risk modernizing it to death. Although the lettering has been slightly trimmed and the horse’s contours smoothed over time for printed versions, brochures and correspondence, for Porsche fans, however, in Germany and around the world, who associate the sports car in iconic fashion with this image, nothing has changed for 50 years.”
The Gucci Double G’s
The instantly recognizable logo for Gucci represents the initials of the founder, Guccio Gucci, and was created by his son, Aldo, in 1933. While undoubtedly similar to that of Coco Chanel, there has never been any public litigation regarding their likenesses.
Created by Minale Tattersfield in 1967 – a partnership between Marcello Minale and Brian Tattersfield – the Harrods logotype’s aim was to unite a variety of over 300 products while both expressing the individuality of each product via the pack design and unified by a common style of typography under the Harrods brand. The gold and green color palette was fine-tuned, developed from a range of preexisting but inconsistent shades, and exact specifications produced from which no deviations were permitted. Minale Tattersfield updated the Harrods brand identity in the 1980s, adding the store’s four royal warrants and Knightsbridge location underneath the logotype, as well as a personalized Harrods typeface mimicking the signature script.
The Bugatti Oval
Founder Ettore Bugatti’s father was a professional jewelry designer and artist who viewed his son’s automobiles like they were precious jewels. From an engineering standpoint, there were no gaskets used in the cars so the safety wires just appeared like lace patterns – hence the red dots in the logo to accompany Ettore’s initials.
Ralph Lauren’s Polo Player
Ralph Lauren released a line of women’s suit that were tailored in a classic men’s style in 1970 and was the first instance where the Polo emblem was seen (a full two years before the classic men’s polo would make an appearance). To understand the emblem is to know why Ralph Lifshitz chose the name “Polo” in the first place. For him, he was interested in promoting a lifestyle and the sport of Polo which embodied a world of elegance and style.
The McLaren’s Various Marques
The first McLaren crest was designed in 1964 by Michael Turner – famous motorsport artist and close friend of Bruce McLaren – for the fledgling Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Team. It centered on a Kiwi, the national symbol of Bruce’s homeland, New Zealand. The more dynamic “Speedy Kiwi” was introduced in 1967, once again designed by Michael Turner to emphasize the higher speeds at which Bruce’s cars were racing. It also took on a striking papaya orange color which familiarly became known as “McLaren Orange.” In 1997 the logo was once again changed to a version we recognize today which is a streamlined speedmark, which bares similarities to the vortices created by the car’s rear wing.