Munich perhaps isn’t the first place that springs to mind when imagining where one of the world’s most influential graphic designers might be based, but that’s where you’ll find Bureau Borsche. Founded in 2007 by German native Mirko Borsche, this award-winning atelier has crafted new visual identities and campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the fashion and publishing world — from Balenciaga, Givenchy, and RIMOWA to Nike and Slam Jam. And now Highsnobiety, too.
It was only fitting that, before unveiling our new logo, Highsnobiety headed down from our office in Berlin to Borsche’s minimal, Munich-based studio — complete with huge windows, floor-to-ceiling archive, and stunning light sculpture by Björn Dahlem hanging in its center — to discuss the inspiration and context behind the rebrand.
Enthusing about typography, symbolism, graphic identity, and what it’s like to work alongside such storied fashion houses, our conversation with Borsche jumped from topic to topic. But it wasn’t all just nerding-out over branding. Mirko also went into detail about how he got his start in graphic design, crafting his name as a teenager in the ’80s, immersing himself in Munich’s graffiti street culture, and pissing off the cops as a result.
It turns out Mirko and Highsnobiety have a lot in common, with both based in subcultures, aligned with luxury fashion houses, and possessing a rebellious attitude. “We needed a connector,” Mirko says about his design concept for the Highsnobiety rebrand. But as you can tell by our conversation and the finished product, Mirko and Highsnobiety connect perfectly.
How did you approach Highsnobiety’s rebranding? What were you reflecting?
The logo beforehand looked like a luxury brand, so we didn’t want to lose that. But the new logo is about more than the luxury brand itself, it’s about quality. It’s also a more timeless way of communicating Highsnobiety — a very up-to-date, very “now” brand, which looks for what is going to come next.
It’s also more classic. We worked with a typeface called Univers and then adjusted it a little bit to make it possible to stitch onto sneakers, hoodies, caps, or wherever.
Is there a story behind the specific typeface you used?
The Univers font is an Akzidenz-Grotesk typeface. It’s a really big family of types. This one is the cleanest. The cleanest you can get anywhere, actually, and the most perfect. That makes a difference when you see that Supreme uses Futura. It’s bold and it’s the typeface Nike used in the ’70s and ’80s. Supreme tried to find something that is very close to a sports brand. Instead, we tried to find something that is very neutral.
The line underneath the logo is a hyperlink. It’s a connector. At Highsnobiety, you’re in between brands — you stage a lot of products, you feature a lot of products, you’re doing collaborations. You underline and point out new things. You’re always connecting something. So we needed a connector.
Does your previous knowledge of a brand inform your design direction or is it completely based on the client’s brief?
With the RIMOWA [redesign], they said they wanted something fashionable, something new, something that they can use everywhere, and that wouldn’t work with the old logo. We used the Akzidenz-Grotesk, which was shown for the first time in Berlin in 1898. RIMOWA was founded in Cologne in 1898. Both are German products standing for that new era of modernism. It mostly looks very simple but it has a very deep impact.
It was the same for the Balenciaga logo. It’s an old typeface from Adrian Frutiger as well [Frutiger designed Univers in 1957], which he did for the French Metro. You don’t see it anymore, only in a few stations — but one of those stations is next to Balenciaga. We always try to find something totally connected to the brand, to the time, to the heritage, and to the zeitgeist — things happening at the same time.
It wasn’t as easy with Highsnobiety because you have a brand that is a lot younger than 1898, but still you have the heritage of streetwear, street culture, and I think it was the right move to make it a little bit more reduced, to make it a little more sporty, to make it a little more now.
Is there a specific point when a brand or platform needs a rebrand?
You always should rebrand when the whole brand works the best, because most brands wait until the numbers go down, and then they want to change everything. Then mostly it’s too late. It’s very easy — if you have a good football team like Barcelona, then you buy another good player. You don’t wait until everybody gets a bit old and then buy a new team. You always try to integrate new players to make the game faster, to change the game. That’s the same as what you should do with a brand design. You should always work on it.
When did brands like Balenciaga and Givenchy start approaching you?
It started when Demna [Gvasalia] left Margiela. He founded Vetements. [His] assistant was studying with a graphic designer here in my studio and asked her to do the new Vetements logo and the new website. That was the first entrance. Then he became creative director at Balenciaga, so they asked us again. Once we did the website — because he’s working a lot with logos and graphics — he had the feeling Balenciaga’s logo felt a bit too generic, so he was keen on having a new one.
You were quite involved in the graffiti scene in the ’80s and ’90s, can you tell us a little more about that time?
I started doing graffiti at 16. The graffiti scene in Munich was one of the first scenes in Europe, and at that time there wasn’t a lot of money [in the city]. There were a lot of abandoned places and massive walls, so everybody came here.
I knew all the people in the scene. It was really well connected — not by email obviously, but by writing letters. We already had these graffiti zines that would be black and white photocopies stapled together. Everybody was doing it. It was a letter friendship community. Every time you’d do a train, you’d take a picture and make 20 copies, send it around the world to all your friends, who’d copy it again and put it in their fanzine.
Once the border came down from the GDR [East Germany], all the police came to Munich with all [their night-vision glasses] and helicopters etc, and did everything they could to take the scene down. Almost every train was painted, every rooftop, we fucked up everything — it took them ages to get rid of that. I was not very popular with the police.
Did you feel a stronger affiliation with Highsnobiety because of your time immersed in that scene?
Yeah, of course. For us, it’s easy to translate. People in this office, or people in the graphic design industry generally, are coming from graffiti now because it started in the ’80s. All the generations have been influenced by that. And by street culture — we didn’t invent that, but it started at that time — so we totally are into that.
Does it still influence the work you do today?
Graffiti itself definitely does. The difference between being an artist or a graphic designer is that you never do something alone, you always work with other people. It’s always kind of networking, collaborating, and establishing ideas between people, and that’s the same with graffiti — you never do a big wall or a car alone. Everyone is doing their own stuff, but you try to connect it to each other.
Do you think it’s important to keep a wider worldview in mind when designing?
Of course. Politics is going to influence everything we have in here, our whole world. Just thinking about beautiful things wouldn’t bring you any further and makes design two-layered — a layer that doesn’t go very deep. You need some intellect and you really have to know what’s going on in order to have the right ideas, to have the right moment, maybe to be ironic at one point, to set the right tone.
You’ve been described as a “tastemaker.” Do you have any relationship with that term? How does it make you feel?
Not very comfortable. I think we influence a lot of graphic designers and graphics. A lot of the time we do stuff that people find super ugly at first, and then you see it three years later almost everywhere. But I don’t know if I make the taste or if time makes the taste.
Being a decision maker would be much better. Or bringing somebody to think about something. And I really like to entertain. I really like sitting on the airplane and seeing people reading [German newspaper] Die Zeit [where Borsche is creative and art director].
Any words of advice for budding graphic designers?
In my opinion, the younger generation tends to freelance too early. Or tries to find its own way too early. I didn’t freelance for 10 years or 15 years. I think working as an employee and not having the most creative projects, talking to people you don’t like, and doing products you don’t like brings you later into a position where you can admire a lot more what you can do. I think you have to go through that training.