andy warhol

PHOTO: MCV PHOTO.

Whether you’re talking about high-end splurges like Chanel bags, or mass-retail staples (think the Nike swoosh), the designer logo has long been considered a status symbol. But, as anyone who’s clicked through pics of the Fashion Week collections — or even breezed through the mall recently — knows, the role of the ubiquitous fashion logo has been moving in the opposite direction.

Some brands have embraced minimalism. Louis Vuitton made news back in 2013 when it pulled back on the use of its iconic LVs in accessories. And, logo-less purses, such as the understated Mansur Gavriel bucket bags, have usurped the popularity of branded carryalls. Now, there’s a noticeable change happening on the other end of the fashion spectrum: Major fashion labels are flaunting the logos of brands other than their own.

Call it the Jeremy Scott effect. For his debut fall 2014 Moschino show, the designer sent models down the runway decked out in McDonald’s and SpongeBob SquarePants motifs. Scott’s throwback vibes continued for spring 2015, with a Barbie-inspired Moschino collection that was almost exclusively pink and plastered with the Mattel doll’s logos. Scott has been repurposing logos — both commercial and indie — for his eponymous line for years, and he’s not the first to do so, but following the financial success of his Moschino collections, others in the industry are rushing to get in on the business.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOYRICH.

The trend picked up more steam this season with additional designers hopping onboard: Opening Ceremony showed tops printed with old-school Kodak branding, NYFW newcomer Bobby Abley debuted a collection featuring characters from The Jungle Book, and Joyrich referenced retro Coca-Cola logos in its pieces. David Melgar, creative director of Joyrich, explained the inspiration behind the logo-centric design: “Being that we are heavily influenced by ‘80s and ‘90s pop [and] street culture, I wanted to do something that reflected this time. I liked how the logo had a nostalgic, vintage feel to it and I felt that with the combination of the fabrications that we used, it would bring life to a whole new story.”

Inspiration aside, tapping into these instantly recognizable images is also a strategic move. Jeremy Scott is consistently one of the top-ranked brands on social media for both Scott’s eponymous line (its spring 2015 collection earned 650,000 likes, posts, and tweets), as well as Moschino, which essentially won the Internet last season with 1.5 million total interactions.

It’s smart for designers to capitalize on our nostalgia for other brands, but we have to wonder: How is this even legal? Turns out, there’s a line between nodding to another company’s logo and infringing on its intellectual property rights, and it all boils down to the message the design sends to consumers.

According to Christopher Sprigman, a professor at NYU School of Law, brands that evoke other brands’ logos must first negotiate licensing deals. “I had seen a report that there was a deal made between Kodak and Opening Ceremony,” he said. “If there hadn’t been one, it would raise questions in the consumers’ minds about whether the product was sponsored.” Not having a deal could have spelled major trouble for OC.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF OPENING CEREMONY.
Kodak, on Opening Ceremony.

In this case, the partnership with Kodak was part of a collaboration between OC cofounders/designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim and the photo company. As the duo said in an interview with Kodak, “We’ve always loved Kodak’s logos and trademarks, and admired Kodak’s dedication to continuity. We think the capsule celebrates all [the] Kodak values we appreciate.”

Unsurprisingly, this type of licensing deal usually entails a financial transaction. “It’s a situation in which a brand like Opening Ceremony would say, ‘We want to use T-shirts with your logo,’ and Kodak would say, ‘Okay. Pay us money.’ The fashion industry is notoriously for-profit, so this would be typically a deal that exchanges a license for money,” said Sprigman. The goal is to define the relationship between the parties, and if a designer incorporates a logo in a way that might cause confusion about whether it was sponsored, he or she runs the risk of being sued.

The exception? When logos are used in a way in which there’s no risk of misleading consumers into thinking they’re endorsements. One example is using multiple logos. Sprigman cites the streetwear designer Heron Preston. Hissignature tees feature 17 logos splashed all over them, including Google, Nascar, Home Depot, and M&Ms. But, despite all the branding, Sprigman says the message remains clear: “If I had looked at this shirt, I wouldn’t necessarily think that any of these companies were sponsoring the shirt,” he said. “I don’t think the trademark law would require this to be licensed, because I think consumers would conclude that this is a commentary about brands as opposed to a T-shirt sponsorship.”

With London, Milan, and Paris still left in Fashion Month, these clearly aren’t the last of the logos we’ll be seeing on the runway. So, designers, take note: Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but don’t forget to ask permission first.

Moschino show, Autumn Winter 2014, Milan Fashion Week, Italy - 20 Feb 2014

 Warhol’s 1962 work Campbell’s Soup Cans

Warhol’s 1962 work Campbell’s Soup Cans (Credit: Andy Warhol Foundation/ARS, NY/Licensed by Campbell’s Soup Co. All rights reserved)

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans was mocked when first exhibited – but the work went on to have a lasting impact not only on the history of art, but on the way we dress, writes Sara McCorquodale.

However, this unpopularity didn’t last. Irving Blum, owner of the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles where the work was first shown, realised the 32 paintings of the piece had to be kept together rather than sold off individually as intended. This made it different; it made it a statement. The work seemed to speak of the spirit of a new America, one that thoroughly embraced the consumer culture of the new decade. Before the end of the year Campbell’s Soup Cans was so on-trend that Manhattan socialites were wearing soup can-printed dresses to high-society events.

These days the piece influences collections by fashion houses in Paris, London, Milan and New York every season: from the Pop art palette of Chanel’s spring/summer 2014 show to Prada’s graphic prints the same year, to everything Jeremy Scott has sent down the catwalk since becoming creative director of Moschino in 2013. As far as the fashion industry is concerned, referencing this particular Warhol is a sartorial statement worth making.

Now, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is exhibiting the Campbell’s Soup Cans in a manner that confirms its ongoing relevance. It is being displayed exactly as it was for its debut show: in a continuous line across five walls, as opposed to the grid-like structure in which it has often been shown. This has only happened four times previously – and never before at MoMA. In addition, the frames and Perspex surrounding each piece have been removed to allow visitors even closer scrutiny.

“It’s kind of amazing to see it like this – you realise how major it is,” says the curator of the exhibition, Starr Figura. “The paintings are all exactly the same except for the name of the soup. You realise how methodical Warhol must have been to work in such a mechanical, repetitive way.”

Campbell’s Soup Cans was the breakout piece that gained Warhol widespread fame after spending most of the 1950s working as a graphic artist in advertising.

“It was about produce being plentiful and industrial fabrication; great prosperity and convenience,” says Figura. “He figured out what American culture in the 1960s was before anyone else.”

Supermarket sweep

In 1962 Warhol became one of the first Pop artists to turn his work into fashion items when he began printing this design onto dresses. “These weren’t sold commercially,” says Alistair O’Neill, a Senior Research Fellow at London art school Central St Martin’s, “but were made as one-offs for New York society women who wore them to gallery openings.” Wearing one of Warhol’s very first Campbell’s can dresses, which were printed on paper, was a sign you were part of a very exclusive club – an ironic inversion of the mass-produced consumer item.

Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage the popularity of Warhol’s work

 

Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage of the popularity of Warhol’s work and created the Souper Dress, a paper garment featuring the iconic print (Credit: Andy Warhol Foundation)

 

This exclusivity was short-lived: in 1965 Campbell’s took advantage of its new cult fashion status and produced the Souper Dress. It was made from paper and could be bought by anyone who sent $1 and two Campbell’s soup can labels to the company. These days, a ‘Souper dress’ fetches approximately £5,000 ($7,500).

The impact of doing fashion the Warhol – and later the Campbell’s – way had a ripple effect on the rest of the industry. Dr Hazel Clark, head of fashion and design at Parsons Design School in New York, says: “The Souper Dress certainly led the way in mainstream fashion for cheap Pop art printed dresses.” After wartime austerity, when clothes were sturdy luxuries created to endure, the dress also changed how women thought about shopping.

“It tapped into progressive design ideas about the disposability of consumer products,” says O’Neill. “That you could literally wear the dress and then throw it away.”

Warhol’s influence seeped into the mass-market fashion and not just in the US. British boutiques Biba and Mr Freedom began commissioning Pop art-printed dresses and t-shirts in the 1970s to sell to the style-conscious public and outfit icons such as Twiggy, Mick Jagger and Jean Shrimpton.

Then, the artist’s prints were made catwalk-worthy in the 1980s by his friend, designer Stephen Sprouse, while Jean Charles de Castelbajac included his own Campbell’s Soup Can dress for his 1984 Spring/Summer collection.

Warhol’s 1967 series Marilyn Monroe has also inspired fashion designers

 

Warhol’s series Marilyn Monroe has also inspired fashion designers such as Gianni Versace, who riffed on it in his 1991 Pop art collection (Credit: Andy Warhol Foundation/ARS)

 

However, it was Gianni Versace’s 1991 Pop art collection featuring a jewel-encrusted version of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe prints that truly made the artist synonymous with high fashion. Modeled by Linda Evangelista, it encapsulated the sexy, daring aesthetic that defined ’90s fashion and is seen as so important that it is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

More recently, Prada’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection was dominated by graphic faces in primary colours, and Céline abandoned its signature colour-blocking for a line of loud prints in the same season.

Pop goes the catwalk

So what is it about Campbell’s Soup Cans that continually inspires fashion? Designer Philip Colbert has a few ideas. Founder of label The Rodnik Band, he was anointed the “godson of Andy Warhol” by André Leon Talley – a high-profile editor for US Vogue – for his bold collections which heavily reference the artist’s work. “Fashion loves to dip into art and big fashion houses look for a new artistic theme every season,” he says. “However, referencing Warhol is about more than just the art itself – the art is symbolic of an incredibly glamorous era. Studio 54, New York, excess, style. It is a very powerful message.”

O’Neill believes we still want Warhol-influenced designs because Pop art communicates something we recognise and understand. It takes something traditionally consumerist and reassuringly familiar, but presents it compellingly in a high fashion context. Take Moschino’s Autumn/Winter 2014 show. Inspired by fast food restaurants, it was knowingly witty – no one wants to wear an actual McDonald’s uniform or logo but you’d consider Jeremy Scott’s better cut, distinctly similar versions.

Like Warhol, Jeremy Scott has celebrated symbols of consumer culture

 

Like Warhol, Jeremy Scott has celebrated symbols of consumer culture. His Autumn/Winter 2014 womenswear collection for Moschino took cues from fast food (Credit: Rex)

 

“One of the reasons the work of Jeremy Scott for Moschino is so popular in our age of digital fashion is because of the motifs it draws upon,” says O’Neill. “Barbie dolls, McDonalds and M&Ms are visual icons of popular culture with a high visual impact.” He adds that the use of these logos and motifs is readily informed by Warhol’s experiments made over 40 years ago.”

Figura thinks that Warhol’s soup cans are still representative of something essential about Western culture and therefore resonate with us decades after they were created. “Consumer goods are our culture and the idea of reproduction and repetition is even more prescient in this digital age – it’s like something a designer would do on Photoshop now,” she says.

So, if you have graphic prints in primary colours or fast fashion in your wardrobe, their inspiration is rooted in an artwork created 54 years ago. Does this make Warhol the most far-seeing, most referenced artist of consumerist culture ever? Not necessarily.

Figura believes Warhol’s background in advertising informed ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’. The piece was a canny move, not just a eureka moment. “He knew how to find the next thing that would grab people,” she says. “He had instinct and incredible talent, but he was also trained.”

Regardless of where his inspiration came from or what propelled him to paint the piece, one thing is certain – it’s influence remains strong and there is still an appetite for Pop art-style clothing. The latest evidence? Rita Ora’s selfie of her modeling Warhol-esque printed pieces by Au Jour Le Jour earlier this month. It was liked by 101,000 people.

“Campbell’s Soup Cans still speaks to us because it still says something about the world now,” says Figura. “Warhol had an eye for this – you can’t help but be compelled by it.”