shakespeare as the new branded logo

From logomania to this week's Dolce & Gabbana show, what it means to see words on clothes.

by i-D Team and Austen Leah Rosenfeld
03 March 2015, 3:30pm

raf simons, spring/summer 97

The inspiration behind Dolce & Gabbana's fall/winter 15 runway show was written on the clothes, literally. Handwritten script that said "I love you mama" and childlike drawings were scrawled across dresses and skirts. It looked like the notes that kids bring home from school, that moms plaster onto the refrigerator or hang on the wall at work.

Weaving words into clothing is a move we've seen on the runway before. In Raf Simons' spring/summer 15 menswear collection, one of the more memorable looks was a white trench coat covered with notes and doodles. The inspiration came from a particular university hazing ritual in Belgium. At Valentino's haute couture show this year, lines from Dante and Shakespeare were stitched into layers of iridescent tulle.

Sure, this might be another indicator of fashion's obsession with nostalgia. As libraries close and the internet prevails, handwriting holds a certain romance. Will kids always bring drawings home to their moms, or will those become digital files too?

Wearable words are not new -- clothes have always had a relationship to language. The words text and textile come from the same Latin root, meaning to weave. "Magical spells were written on clothes to protect you from weapons in battle throughout European history," said Valerie Steele, fashion academic and museum curator at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "Words are somehow magical. They make things happen."

This is the best explanation I've heard. When we write words on our clothes, they become ritualistic, taking on more than their meaning. They are, in themselves, an action. And if clothes are the barrier between us and the world, those words shield us.

There's also the relationship words have with logos, which we're more accustomed to seeing on clothes. The logomania of the 2000s has since quieted down, but the movement has been creeping back into our collective sartorial consciousness over the past few years. Hood By Air, for example, has developed a massive following around its HBA-emblazoned clothes. "Words have a heraldic significance," Steele said. Are the lines of poetry we've seen a reincarnation of the logo?

And if brand logos grant you access to a certain tribe, words do too. But the tribe of Shakespeare has never been about capitalism or commodification. It's more authentic than that. Alexander McQueen had a line of Shakespeare tattooed on his arm, "love looks not with the eye." There's a history of designers appropriating Shakespeare for aesthetic purposes.

Remember in middle school when kids used to draw on their sneakers? It was a signature, a way of owning a mass-produced item that was purchased in a store alongside everyone else. I have an old leather jacket that I've accidentally marked with blue pen over the years. I love those marks. There isn't another jacket like it.


Text Austen Lean Rosenfeld
Photography Ronald Stoops

Hood By Air
Raf Simons
Dolce and Gabbana
Christopher Shannon