Milan Fashion Week and Fashion Law Trends − New brand identity in the fashion industry: is the “sans-serification” the right move? 

In recent months many fashion companies have been restyling their brands by simplifying and minimizing their visual impact: big fashion industries are dropping unique fonts, words and design features − which until now have significantly contributed to differentiate their brands from their competitors’ ­− in favor of most popular and common fonts, such as sans-serif.

“Less is more”, we may say.

But, talking about trademarks and distinctiveness, will this choice towards simplification be the right approach? In fact, in a few years’ time we will deal with logos that will all look remarkably alike.

In fashion industries this phenomenon is often promoted by newly-appointed artistic, creative and image directors, willing to refresh the image of the brand.

For example, the French luxury maison Céline announced in last September the brand’s new look: the company has dropped the accent on the “E” and shortened the space between the letters to create, as the company itself announced on its official social media page, a “simplified and more balanced proportion“.

According to the company’s new creative director, who encouraged and launched this change, this new version is inspired by the original designs from the 1960s.

Also, the French luxury company Saint Laurent − formerly known as Yves Saint Laurent − recently decided to re-introduce the 1960’s version of its famous logo, without including the word “Paris”, which will not appear on campaigns anymore. Moreover, the brand abandoned the former font in favor of a more classic sans-serif.

Along these lines moved also in last August the British heritage company Burberry, which revealed a new graphic identity refreshing its classic logo. The heritage brand hasn’t changed its logo for almost 20 years, except for its last update seeing the “S” wiped from its name.

Now the new logo is featured in a sans-serif font, which has been chosen also for the expression “London, England”.

Similarly, Balenciaga and Balmain have converged on the same sans-serif font.

Moving to cheaper brands, the most recent and also most criticized brand restyling concerned the Spanish retailer Zara, part of the group Inditex. At the end of January 2019, the company revealed a new brand identity, designed by a French agency, which is basically characterized by a significant decrease of spacing between letters. The previous logo featured more spacious lettering, which increased a sense of minimalism; instead in the new logo − apart from the new font − the letters slightly intersect each other.

So, this rapid sequence clearly reveals that we are facing a real phenomenon in the fashion industry. The choice to drastically simplify the brand image and logo can be in the short-term a successful marketing strategy that goes along the current trend, but in the long-term it might result to be a boomerang.

In fact, this simplification can seriously affect the brand value and protection, since − in a few years’ time − fashion industries will run the risk to have a brand which is less distinctive in the market and which is closer, in terms of graphic appearance, to the ones of major competitors.

Uniformity is dangerous.

Firstly, from a legal perspective, the more distinctive, unique and unusual the brand, the broader its scope of protection against copycats and competitors. A word mark without any color, special font, graphics or design element is much weaker in terms of distinctiveness and enjoys, consequently, a narrower protection.

As to the likelihood of confusion, the trend mentioned above might have an impact also on the equation which today counts a numbers of factors to be taken into account (such as the trade channels, similarities in the parties’ goods and services, the sophistication of the purchasers, etc.).

Meanwhile, those brands that are refreshing their visual identity through minimalism run the serious risk of losing rights in design and graphic elements that have become over time part of the brand’s heritage.

But trends change quickly. Whether this is the right move only time will tell.


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