EYE-on-ography


This month, discover how the luxury universe has found a common global language, sans word and alphabets, called Iconography.

By: Salman Z. Bukhari

Posted on: August 10, 2011

This month, discover how the luxury universe has found a common global language, sans words and alphabets, called Iconography.

Recently, a French friend of mine was rather shocked at the liberal usage of the Swastika across Hindu households and temples during her visit. “How can an entire population ignore the evils attached to the sign which was the mark of Nazi Germany?” She honestly did not know any better because the Swastika’s mirror image used by Hitler was indeed a symbol of peace and spirituality in this side of the world. In Japan, Manji (Swastika), continues to be used on maps as a marker for place of worship for Buddhists. It is the same story in China, Korea and the list goes on. This icon which dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization, just like many symbols and icons, has different meanings the world over.

Although symbolism’s connotation may differ as you explore, one thing is constant. It is meant to communicate in a non-verbal fashion when words are not enough, making their point without even a sound or words written on paper. A skull with crossed bones is danger the world over, A crucifix is clearly something to do with Christian divinity, a dove is symbol of peace and the four-leaved clover is a good luck charm - so is a rabbit foot and a horse shoe. What are the origins of these, one might wonder. The answer is very simple. Man from his earliest days looked for ways to communicate to one another. Signs, symbols, designs and actions came much before words could be formed. So while a few formats of transmitting information were left behind in the Neanderthal times and other civilizations (eg Hieroglyphics) - symbols and icons, deemed the most trustworthy language, got embraced by even the modern world we live in today.

Luxury brands understood the importance of symbols and icons much before mass products and other categories did - the reason being that these bespoke, handcrafted makers of luggage, couture, timepieces, ornaments wanted to leave their mark on their hard work. That is true for every craftsman who insists on making a small marking as an indicator that he was the creator of the said craft. Luxury brands, which began as fine crafts makers, continued the markings and etchings of the goods they produced. However with the passage of time, these marks became more ornate, detailed and rather artistic.

At Louis Vuitton, the Japanese and oriental Victorian era designs comprising of flowers, stars and the LV monogram motif on the canvas was created to combat copy-cats as early as 1896. It is another story that the sign, which was used as a safeguard, has today turned into the most recognizable symbol of luxury leading to the maximum counterfeits for a luxury brand ever. Decades into the business, Vuitton’s customers complained how ‘in-your-face’ the monogram became, giving life to the Damier canvas in muted checks with the brand name is tiny fonts scattered across the design.

Dior, which now recovers from the recent Galliano controversy, was a late arrival on the
iconography conveyor belt - starting first with the ‘Pinched at the waist, full bloom figure’ New Look designed by Mr Dior post World War - making it an instant success. After many a years, it was only with Lady Dior handbags (made famous by Princess Diana) did the haute couture house finally realize what a great communication property waits to be embraced. The bag bore Cannage design which was the pattern on the chair covers of Christian Dior’s first show in Paris. Walk down 5th Avenue to the Dior store, check out the sunglasses in any duty free or leaf through Vogue and you will see a new Dior bag’s advertisement which will bear the humble Cannage design. As for Lady Dior itself, Dior is making sure that the bag gets to partake in its iconography wall of fame.

Italians are never far behind. Muccia Prada can very well be attributed to the resurrecting of the Milano brand Prada. Prada is synonymous with cutting edge, non-conformist fashion and style. Adding to this is the little bell boy animatedly walking with a Prada branded bag illustration. He is a celebrity in the luxury circles. This drawing in monotone is as precious as the ornate leafy oval design which holds the haloed Prada name.

Hermes has never shied away from is equestrian heritage. Instead the horses have to be credited for building this prima donna French luxury brand. They still continue to celebrate their past, and us, who may have never even mounted a pony, get stars in our eyes when we see anything orange with the iconic Duc saddle sporting horse and noble carriage design. The Birkin, Constance and Kelly bags have become fashion icons and celebrities in their own right.

In 1901, the Burberry Equestrian Knight Logo was developed containing the Latin word ‘Prorsum’, which means ‘Forward’. Despite its wartime imagery, Burberry would be incomplete without this solider. The same holds true for Burberry Trench which became a staple outfit during the World War. The coat has been reinvented so many times by so many, yet it is generic to the brand Burberry. Add to this the Burberry chequered design that is as Burberry as it gets.

Madame Jeanne Lanvin began her 50 year long career by designing couture for mothers and daughters. The house commissioned famous illustrator Paul Iribe to create a distinct identity for Lanvin. Iribe, inspired by a drawing by Jeanne of the bond between mother and daughter, created a remarkable design which till date stands for Lanvin’s art of high fashion.

Chanel’s interlocking C’s originally belonged to the Tony Chateau de Cremat, which gave the founder permission to use and trademark the image when the first Chanel store opened. The C’s are linked in a way that is reminiscent of jewellery chains, while the round shape and interlocking pattern hint at inclusiveness. More iconographies have been added along the way, enriching Chanel’s story, like the white Camellia, tweed fabric, shape of Chanel No 5 and the quilting pattern of the bags. Each of these has become an integral part in the cultural tapestry of our lives.

Luxury is stretched across categories and geographies. Brands which started off as family owned workshops are married to conglomerates which have taken them from Paris to Bahrain. Their diverse global consumer has perhaps the same love for luxury as the first royal connoisseur of the brand when it opened. Despite the language and time barrier, they manage to speak in a similar voice, thanks to iconography that has made pictures, symbols and signs a common medium of communication.

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