Is having a design trademark a designer’s downfall?

Is having a design trademark a designer’s downfall?

by Robyn Pullen
5 min

Back in the ‘80s, when fashion designer Issey Miyake first started experimenting with new methods of pleating, do you think he knew that it would become the trademark of his designs? Over four decades on, Miyake’s pleats are now his collections’ most immediately identifiable feature, from at Pleats Please to Homme Plissé. But is that actually a good thing?

Issey Miyake is more than his pleats
Issey Miyake AW24©

Whilst there have always been the fashion enthusiasts who know Issey Miyake’s designs for their nuances, are able to distinguish between eras, and appreciate the evolution of his career, not everyone knows brands inside and out like that. So, when a designer or brand becomes known by the general public it’s often hard for them to escape being boxed into one easily identifiable trait. What we want to know is: is a brand being identified by one trademark design or style a good thing or a bad thing?

For Issey Miyake, who’s love of pleats dominated his career, appearing as a design feature in almost every brand he created (and there were plenty), we’d like to think that being associated with pleats was something he strived for. Not only has it made his designs immediately distinguishable, but it’s meant that his legacy is ingrained within fashion, present or future: any reference to pleats is an ode to Miyake. However, we’re not sure that every designer would feel the same way about being tied to one trademark.

The virality of the Tabi vs. the enigma of Margiela
@alexconsani ©

If you asked the majority of people to name something designed by Martin Margiela they’d say the Tabi, his infamous thong-toed style of shoe. Viral on social media and by far Maison Margiela’s most bought item, the Tabi has gained a cult-followed reputation on social media and in real life, but the truth is: this viral status kind of contrasts with the attitude of its maker.

Martin Margiela, the founder of Maison Margiela who’s been missing in action for the majority of his career, has become known for the fact that he refuses to do any face-to-face interviews or be photographed. Because of this we weren’t able to ask him his thoughts on the Tabi blowing up online in recent years, but what we really want to know is – despite the roster of memorable, political, and innovative designs on his roster – would Margiela be happy that social media knows his brand best for Tabis, when his brand is so much more?

Matthew Williams and his loyalty to buckles
1017 ALYX 9SM©

Back in the 2010s, Matthew Williams’ brand 1017 ALYX 9SM was big in the game, mainly for its utilitarian buckles and chest rigs. Williams had everyone including Ye obsessing over ALYX’s aesthetic, bringing in collaborations with Dior, Nike, Moncler, and more at its height. But in June 2020, Matthew Williams decided to take on Givenchy as its new Creative Director. By 2023, he was out.

What a lot of people said of Williams’ time at Givenchy is that he struggled to escape the niche he’d built at 1017 ALYX 9SM. As GQ put it at the time, “it was hard to deny that ALYX might have had more energy behind it [than Givenchy did].” Matthew Williams’ had become trapped by the niche he’d developed at ALYX, and no matter how great his designs were, he just couldn’t change up his aesthetic enough to make them work for Givenchy. He became boxed in by his trademark, and Givenchy wasn’t into it.

So is pleats, please and nothing else a good thing?
Di Petsa©

Whilst we tend to question whether a brand being known for one main viral trademark results in them being boxed into one aesthetic, that’s only the case if they don’t want to be defined by it; plenty of designers seek out a defining trademark. Just look at Di Petsa’s wet-look materials, Susan Fang’s tulle skirts, or Aaron Esh’s sleek tailoring; young designers are finding their own trademarks as we speak.

Featured image via Homme Plissé Issey Miyake AW24©

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