An effective logo uses mere imagery to evoke certain emotions that undoubtedly unlock feelings of “reliability, trust, and innovation.” While many of these abstractions have become popular culture mainstays, their origins tell the story of the companies prior to their lifestyle boom. From Nike’s iconic Swoosh which was a $35 dollar favor of sorts for founder Phil Knight by Carolyn Davidson, to Polish artist Filip Pagowski’s work on the contemporary logo for COMME des GARCONS Play, their work is an important reminder that one grand idea warrants millions of second looks. Here’s how some of the most well-known logos in streetwear were created.
The Nike Swoosh
In 1971 company founder Phil Knight was supplementing his modest income from his fledgling Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc., by teaching an accounting class at Portland State University. Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student there who was working on a drawing assignment in the hallway was offered a modest fee to design work for his small company. “Representatives from Japan were coming for a presentation and Phil wanted some charts and graphs to show them,” recalls Davidson. “I did some design work for him, and then one day he asked me if I wanted to work on a shoe stripe. He said he needed more inventory control.” According to Davidson, Knight wanted a design that suggested movement. She let flow the creative juices and came back to him with numerous designs. None captivated his imagination, but with time running low he grabbed the Swoosh, although at the time Knight said, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”
It should be noted that Davidson earned $35 USD for her original designs – but received considerate stock options in the company once the brand was more established.
jeffstaple’s Pigeon Logo
“I felt like every brand needs an icon, right. So you have Nike and you have the Swoosh. You have adidas and you have the trefoil. And I felt like Staple at the time was written out and it was hard sometimes [due to placement] to have an execution,” said jeffstaple. “It got too small. Especially if it was on a button. And I wanted an icon, and I always admired brands that had an animal – that were able to own an animal. So we started to adapt a pigeon as a real icon for what to me represented New York and represented the New York hustle. That street mentality of getting it by any means necessary. That’s what a pigeon does if you look at the way it survives. It succeeds in the city. It manages a way to win.”
The Supreme Box Logo
American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s work served as the inspiration for the Supreme Box Logo – famously crafting mottos like “I shop therefore I am,” “we don’t need another hero,” and “not ugly enough” in Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed. Shepard Fairey has gone on record as saying his OBEY imprint is also based on her work.
COMME des GARCONS Play Logo
In speaking with Edwin Himself, Polish artist Filip Pagowski explains the origins of the iconic symbol as such: “PLAY heart image happened simultaneously with, but independently of the creation of the PLAY line. It’s as if we both were affected subliminally by each other’s work. I submitted it for another CdG project, for which it never made it, but eventually it resurfaced; making bigger waves as a logo for the PLAY line. By then I’ve been already working for CdG, on and off for about 2 and a half years. Of course I was familiar with Rei’s work. I discovered CdG in the early ’80s and was a fan ever since.” He continues, “I got this idea of a red heart with a set of eyes. I drew it instantaneously and the first draft was it. The rest is history.”
Michael Jordan’s Jumpman
The Air Jordan III, released in 1988, was the first Air Jordan shoe to feature the Jumpman logo, replacing the “Wings” logo which had been a feature of the Air Jordans I and II. The actual image was created by using a still photograph of Michael Jordan that was originally inspired by a LIFE Magazine photoshoot for the 1984 Olympics. Jordan recalled in HOOP Magazine from April 1997, “I wasn’t even dunking on that one. People think that I was. I just stood on the floor, jumped up and spread my legs and they took the picture. I wasn’t even running. Everyone thought I did that by running and taking off. Actually, it was a ballet move where I jumped up and spread my legs. And I was holding the ball in my left hand.” The resulting photograph was actually used on the hang tags for the original Air Jordan.
The actual Jumpman silhouette can be attributed to then head designer Peter Moore who supposedly was attempting to lure Jordan away from the Swoosh to another venture he had called Van Grack. After departing, Tinker Hatfield stumbled upon his sketches and the rest is history.
As Levi’s explains, “In 1873, Jacob Davis and company founder Levi Strauss invented the first blue jeans using their patented process of securing clothing at ‘points of strain’ with rivets. The result: strong jeans that could stand up to the hard work thrown at them by miners and other hard-working individuals of the time. Levi Strauss & Co. knew the patent would expire in 1890, so we needed to quickly make sure consumers understood how good – and strong – the company’s jeans were. But how do you tell that story in a way that consumers could quickly grasp? Well, one of the answers was the image of two horses – each pulling in the opposite direction on the same pair of jeans, trying in vain to tear them apart.”
But that wasn’t the only reason they first used the Two Horse logo. “We understood that not all of our consumers spoke English as their first language,” they continued. “We also knew that not everyone in the remote West was literate. With a memorable image to guide them, our early consumers could walk into their local general store and ask for ‘those pants with the two horses’ and they would get a pair of Levi’s jeans. In fact, the product was called ‘The Two Horse Brand’ until 1928, when the company adopted its Levi’s trademark. We’ve used this design – in our marketing and on our product – continuously since the idea was first used in 1886. It’s a great concept. And it conveys a simple and important message just as well now as it did 125 years ago.”
The Vans Sidestripe
What started as a random doodle by co-founder Paul Van Doren and originally referred to as the “jazz stripe,” it’s best described as a wavy line from the beginning in the front of the shoe below the eyestay lace area and ending at the back counter area of the Style 36 (Old Skool). Over the years the simple motif has evolved into an iconic symbol of the brand’s heritage.
Pat Tenore said, “The name RVCA is an ambiguous word, created to support the meaning behind the chevrons (VA). The chevrons are the icon that represent the balance of opposites – man/woman; industrialization/nature – basically how everything co-exists.”
The Hundreds Adam Bomb
“The bomb logo is representative of our brand, and how we’ve structured everything in a way where we truly never explode,” says Bobby Hundreds. “We never blow out, go way mainstream, and just always keep right under the surface. We’re, like, right about to get there, but we never actually do…”
Co-Creative Director Carol Lim says, “ It goes back to community. There’s a feeling that if you wear it, you like this brand, you’re into this music or into that kind of dancing. It’s a symbol and you want to go up to that person and befriend them.” Humberto Leon continues, “When we came to Kenzo and said we weren’t going to do flowers anymore, people were aghast. But we said, ‘We’re going to give you new codes and new DNA that are actually part of a brand that you guys might not have touched.’ This was our delivery. As we’re building the brand, we have new codes that the house will incorporate. The tiger is part of the foundation.”
The Playboy Bunny
While the Playboy Bunny is connected to the world of editorial, there’s no denying its reappropriations and homages in the world of fashion. According to designboom, the Playboy Bunny was designed by Art Paul, the magazine’s first art director – with the rabbit head has appearing on the cover of every issue of the magazine since the second. Hugh Hefner, the legendary creator of the magazine explained, “I selected a rabbit as the symbol for the magazine because of the humorous sexual connotation, and because he offered an image that was frisky and playful. I put him in a tuxedo to add the idea of sophistication. There was another editorial consideration, too. Since both The New Yorker and Esquire use men as their symbols, I felt the rabbit would be distinctive; and the notion of a rabbit dressed up in formal evening attire struck me as charming, amusing and right.” Art Paul went on to say, “If I had any idea how important that little rabbit was going to be, I probably would have redrawn him a dozen times to make certain I was doing him justice, and I suppose none of those versions would have turned out as well as the original. As it was, I did one drawing and that was it. I probably spent all of half an hour on it.”
Le Coq Sportif’s Rooster
In its over 130-year history, the French imprint has undergone 10 different logos – all united with the common “rooster” theme. The Gallic rooster, colloquially named Chanteclair, has been a national emblem ever since the French Revolution. In 1948, for the brand’s first logo, Emile Camuset’s grandson Roland drew the rooster that adorned the label. As it stands now, the new logo – by designer Ron Arad – evokes dynamism and style.
The original three-stripes mark was created by founder Adi Dassler and first used on footwear in 1949 and born out of Dassler’s attempt to paint his endeavor as “the three stripe company.” Over the years it has seen two additional shifts. In August 1971 the adidas Trefoil was born out of the company’s expanded reach into the apparel and leisure field whose geometric execution with a triple intersection symbolized the diversity of the adidas brand. In 1997, then Creative Director Peter Moore (who created the Jumpman) introduced a three-bar shape shape that also represents a mountain – indicating the challenge to be faced and the goals to be achieved.
The Lacoste Crocodile
Frenchman René Lacoste was a superstar tennis player – earning himself the number one ranking in the world in 1926 and 1927 – and a nickname from the American press, “The Alligator” after placing a wager with the French Davis Cup captain for an alligator skin suitcase. When he returned to France, alligator became crocodile, and Lacoste was known forever after as “the Crocodile.” When a friend drew a crocodile for him, Lacoste had it embroidered on the blazer he wore on the court. As Smithsonian Magazine put it, “He found the attire associated with the sport restrictive. Tennis whites, as they were called, consisted of a white, long-sleeved button-down shirt, long pants and a tie. It was a lot of clothing to wear when racing to the net to make an overhead shot.” Thus, we now have the crocodile polo shirt.
The ASICS Stripe
The modern ASICS stripe was used for the first time with the LIMBER KAWA BK velour leather training shoes at the 5th Asian Games held in Bangkok in December 1966 and has its roots in the stripes seen on a tiger. Of course, they were known originally as “Onitsuka Tiger” – with “Onitsuka” being a reference to Kihachiro Onitsuka, the man who founded the company in Kobe, Japan in 1949. Interestingly enough, the idea to start a shoe company struck him when he was eating lunch and saw that a piece of octopus was stuck to the bottom of the bowl and thought to himself, “Why not apply this technology to shoes?”