Becoming an Icon

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London is always full of interesting and educational exhibits. This summer I was lucky enough to happen upon an exhibit at the Somerset House called Masters of Style: Celebrating the Stories behind Italian Fashion. Because I work in logo design and branding, I am always interested in what makes a business or design iconic in nature. Whatever the type of logo I am working on, creating an iconic design is certainly one of the goals.

This exhibit was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification into a single country. Since it was united, Italy has certainly led the pack when it comes to producing iconic fashion brands. In fact, this one factor may be the single thing for which the country is best known. When I think of iconic fashion brands, I think of Prada, Armani, Gucci, Ferragamo, and Dolce & Gabbana. There are iconic UK designers as well, but Italian names dominate my mental list.

The exhibit featured advertisements, designs and other images that the fashion brands felt represented them. I began to notice a few similarities that can be extended to any type of brand, in any region of the world. Here are the factors that the iconic Italian brands shared:

  • History. Each brand has a founder, who has lent their sense of style and in most cases their actual name to the company. This gives the brand a personality, but also a sense of history.
  • High aspirations. Most of the fashion houses never intended to stay small. They aimed to be an icon from the very beginning, and created designs and brands that were appropriate for a global audience.
  • Creativity. Armani is best known for his re-interpretation of the men’s suit. He gave it new, softer lines and created a sophisticated silhouette that had been lacking before. Missoni, on the other hand, has reinvented the way that we see knits—a style once relegated to grandmothers. Iconic designers see the ordinary in a new and exciting way, a gift that can be best described as creativity.
  • Reinvention. While the logo designs for these iconic brands remain the same or at least similar, their products change regularly. They reinvent themselves every six months. This is a must for fashion brands, but it certainly can be adopted as a practice into other businesses.
  • Controversy. The best brands are not afraid to make a few waves; in some cases, they seem to even court it. This may create negative press, but it creates press. In many situations, it has created a loyal fan base as well, because people buy into the brand by siding with it.

Fashion design is not the only field in which a brand can become iconic. Consider Apple, for instance. It has all of the above qualities and a long-time following that certainly considers it an icon. The same can be said for Google. If you want to be an icon in your own industry, it is definitely possible. The formula can be applied to almost any type of business.