NEW YORK TIMES | ELISE ANNISS
Where it once was mostly about logos and iconic hardware, these days luxury labels — accessories, in particular — are increasingly enveloping their pieces in house checks, patterns and prints that gently signify, rather than shout, their origins.
It is a shift that Robert Burke, head of the New York-based luxury consulting firm Robert Burke Associates, believes is at least partly due to the developing sophistication of consumers in the BRIC market — Brazil, Russia, India and China.
“In China and in Russia, customers are starting to mature and don’t want to be known as the people that carry around bags with logos on them anymore,” Mr. Burke explains. “In my experience, as the consumer becomes more sophisticated and educated, the less they are interested in overt logos.
“Patterns or prints are a bit of an insiders’ club, but if you are part of that ‘club,’ then the print as signifier is more than enough.”
Proenza Schouler, the label behind the design duo of Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, has one of the newest examples.
A repeating two-toned triangle pattern in primary color combinations, like black/white, red/black and electric blue/black, appeared on scarves, bags and shoes in the label’s spring 2013 collection.
The design, which started out as an architectural motif on the gate and back wall of the Madison Avenue flagship store that opened in July 2012, is going to be the lining pattern for all Proenza Schouler handbags. It also appeared on Precollection Winter 2013 items like small leather goods and ballet flats.
All but echoing Mr. Burke’s observations, the label’s chief executive, Shirley Cook, said, “The Proenza Schouler branding is quite subtle and discreet. But our signatures are recognizable to those who know them.”
In a brand’s early days, recognizable products can trigger brand awareness, says Jacques-Franck Dossin, former head of luxury goods research at Goldman Sachs and now the principal at Dossin Advisory.
As an alternative, a pattern “does not stick out of the product but instead is embedded in it,” he says, adding that it actually may retain the customers who would be lost to a more blatant effort.
A number of French luxury labels have turned to such less obvious branding.
Pierre Hardy is a case in point. Since using a cube motif to introduce small leather goods in 2010, the pattern has been used on man bags and high-heeled espadrilles and is echoed in jewelry, including a gold-plated cuff.
“The response has been very balanced in all our global markets and from both women’s and men’s retailers,” Mr. Hardy says, adding that he never set out to look for a pattern. “If we were to highlight a couple markets that enthusiastically embraced the print from the first season, it would be Europe, particularly France, Italy and England, and with our clients in Asian capitals such as Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo.”
Today, his best-selling piece is Pouch L in a classic black and white cube print with a black leather trim that retails for €170, or $223.
Even houses whose prints helped make them famous are revisiting, reworking and celebrating their patterns.
Take Louis Vuitton, whose women’s spring 2013 collection was influenced by the conceptual artist Daniel Buren and the house’s heritage Damier print, first created in 1888.
Interestingly, it was not Marc Jacobs but Kim Jones, Louis Vuitton’s men’s style director, who first turned to Damier, for the spring 2012 collection. “It is easy and perfect to work with,” Mr. Jones says, “a universal language that could be used in so many ways on ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes or textiles.”
At Roger Vivier, there is Prismick, a pattern based on a prism with its edges deftly stitched together. It was introduced in spring 2012 and can now be seen on a collection of handbags, shoes, accessories and jewelry.
“I never stop doing new designs with this pattern,” enthuses Bruno Frisoni, the brand’s creative director, explaining how Prismick grew out of a single couture 3-D clutch, called Navette, which first appeared in 2008. “Every season there was a reinterpretation, so we realized that there was something here that could become a signature.”
The latest Prismick incarnations are from the limited edition Rendez-Vous collection: a vivid pink mink bag (€3,900) with matching shoes sporting the brand’s comma heel (€3,500) that is to arrive in stores by September 2013.
The French heritage brand Goyard is known for its handcrafted Goyard canvas, a repeated chevron pattern with a hand-painted quality. Its Saint Louis tote now is available in 11 colors — but the house’s owner, Jean-Michel Signoles, says that increasing the canvas’s color range was driven by a desire to celebrate Goyard’s handcraft, not an exercise in branding.
“When I bought Goyard in 1998, I wished to resuscitate this iconic canvas,” he says, noting that its production had ceased shortly after World War II.
“But it wasn’t my agenda at all to try and capitalize upon a trend, or come up with an easily identifiable signature,” he continues. “I simply wished to be faithful to Goyard’s history and identity, recapture its glorious past and ensure its continuity.”