The legendary graphic designer discusses brand folklore and disturbing the status quo
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to spend an hour with Peter Saville, you’ll quickly realise that he rarely accepts things as they are. Throughout his career – from his seminal Factory Records poster for a night at the Haçienda (which arrived the day after the event), to his cult collaboration with Raf Simons – he’s been disturbing and challenging the notion of brand identify. I mean it’s all part of the charm and where’s the fun in limitations?
For Saville, “fashion is the most evident demonstration of the idea of a zeitgeist,” and it’s always been a space where he resides. His latest intersection comes in the form of a collaboration with Lacoste. In an age where brands produce 100-page rulebooks on the strict usage of their logo, Saville has pushed the brand to its limit. The Lacoste crocodile has been distorted, contorted and vanished to a green blur in a collection of 80 individual hand-drawn variations. Essentially reducing their design, but without any loss of identity – a rare fête.
During a visit to his London studio, and over a few cigarettes, the graphic designer shares his thoughts on brand territory, folklore and tribalism in his own words.
"There was an idea to disrupt this notion of the brand territory. It’s supposed to be an intelligent question about brand law and obsession. It’s not about what you want; it’s a disturbance in the status quo. It’s not providing any answers and in commodity and commercial culture, everything is providing an answer. Everything’s telling you that they have the thing for you. But this actually asks the question, “What does Lacoste mean? What does the brand mean? What does the ritual of this logo mean?”
"Brand has become folklore; culture, new tribalism, people belonging to different brands"
It was an experiment within the perimeters of visual identity and communication. How far could I go and it still be Lacoste? I called it ‘experimental croc’, because the wire stayed strictly within the core Lacoste tennis shirt and the inclusion of the logo. When I first went to Lacoste, I presented two ideas. One played with the identity but in a very respectful way, and the other one broke it. I said, 'There is another idea which I would like you to see', and we put these disturbed crocodiles on the table. They all looked at each other and it was interesting because no one said it, but you could see it in their look, they liked it. We had the idea that we could do 80 designs – fitting with the 80th anniversary – but could Lacoste truly make them limited edition? That is, a collectable edition that is actually collectable. So, anybody who actually gets one of these has a Lacoste shirt that no one else in the world has.
The problem with these projects is that there’s a lot of them. The first time Stephen Sprouse messed with a Louis Vuitton bag that was like, “Wow!” Now it’s happening every week. Brands used to be good medicines, shoes that your mother told you to wear, certain types of cars – practical, pragmatic things – the authenticity of them underlined the value of the product. Now brand has become folklore; culture, new tribalism, people belonging to different brands and an unhealthy amount of exploitation of brand loyalty.
I think that business will continue to exploit any market that is exploitable. There is not going to be a world-wide moral consensus. There will be odd companies, but they’ll be the exception. The beloved Apple crossed the line. It was an icon, it was the epitome of the triumph of the creative. But the last couple of years it’s different, they have lost the loyalty, and if not loyalty, they’ve lost the admiration. After admiration, if you’re not careful, you can lose loyalty.
What will change it, is the socio-economic circumstances in which they exist. The socio-economic conditions of the market, and particularly the younger market; 35 and under. They’re not the same people that they have been for the last 50 years. They’re not seeing their wealth expectation go up. They’re not seeing their opportunities being better than their parents on an upward scale, quite the opposite. That market’s usefulness to business is declining, in the new society – there won’t be a market."