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Logo Face Lift For Saks Fifth Avenue. A Bold and Beautiful Move by Pentagram.

Above: The new updated version, Bierut's chopping up of the well known 'signature' logo

Venturing into San Francisco from Marin County on weekends to shop at Saks (or SFA) with my family as a youngster was always a special occasion. As one of three girls, this was a family excursion for which my mother would demand we 'dress' to go into the city. This meant pantyhose, nice coats and no jeans.

We'd visit the now defunct I.Magnin along with SFA to shop for dresses for upcoming bar mitzvahs and birthdays. It was always exciting and fun and my sweet dedicated father never complained about the four women dragging him into these department stores.

I remember the imposing building off of Union Square and how we'd always park in the Sutter Stockton garage. And, I remember the Saks Fifth Avenue logo. Thick script with its swirls and flourishes, it always made the experience seem 'fancy'.

Above: SFA on Union Square in San Francisco

Well, hardly anyone 'dresses' to go into the city anymore. And venturing into a department store is no longer a 'special experience'. Just as this has changed, so has Saks. And rightly so. I commend them with staying current and hope this encourages Neiman's and Nordy's to update their logos as well.

Below is the article about the new and refreshing logo for SFA reprinted from the New York Times along with additional images and commentary.
Why would a graphic designer ask a Yale theoretical physicist to calculate how many possible combinations there could be of 64 squares?

It’s because the designer, Michael Bierut, planned to chop up the new logo for Saks Fifth Avenue into 64 squares and to rearrange them in different combinations on bags, boxes, ads and signage. The results have peppered the streets of New York and every other city where Saks has a store since Bierut’s new campaign was unveiled in January. And, in case you’re wondering, the physicist’s answer was lots and lots of combinations — or, to be precise, 98.14 googols (that’s a 1 with 100 zeros after it).

Above: Some of the final box designs

Saks’s chopped-up logo is the latest and most visible example of what graphic designers call a dynamic visual identity. That’s design-speak for a logo that looks different each time you see it — like MTV’s graffiti-esque initials or the customized symbols with which Google celebrates Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day — as opposed to the old-fashioned corporate ones, which always look the same. The traditionalists believe that the more times you see the same logo, the likelier you are to remember it, while the iconoclasts argue that you become inured to the same image over and over and are more apt to notice ones that change or, as Bierut puts it, are “consistently inconsistent.”

When Saks asked Bierut to reinvent its identity, what it wanted was something as memorable — and as marketable — as Tiffany’s classic blue and Burberry’s plaid. Bierut jumped at the chance. A chipper 49-year-old, he’s a graphic designer’s graphic designer who describes the 99 percent of the population who can’t tell Arial from Helvetica as “civilians” with a self-deprecating chuckle. After 10 years of working for Massimo Vignelli, the graphic mastermind of New York’s iconic 1970s subway map, he became a partner at the design firm Pentagram in 1990.

above: Massimo Vignelli's famous NYC subway map from 1972 (please click to enlarge and see clearly)

above: Some of the many logo designs used by Saks over the past few decades

“One of the things Massimo taught me about designing identities is that it’s often easier if you find something that has some history,” Bierut says, “because it still might have a purchase on people’s imagination.” Sifting through the 40-odd logos that Saks had used over the decades, he kept returning to the 1973 signature logo drawn by Tom Carnese for his old boss, Vignelli.

Above & Below: the 1973 signature logo drawn by Tom Carnese for Vignelli in two different versions, both used for many years.

“It was the one that stood out,” he recalls. “Some people thought it was still Saks’s identity, even though it hadn’t been used for years. We asked Joe Finocchiaro to refine it, mostly by making it a little slimmer.” Having created the new logo, Bierut hit upon the idea of chopping it up to usher in the changes to Saks’s packaging, in the same way that Rudolph de Harak designed bright shopping bags with white type for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978 and Bloomingdale’s celebrated the holidays with different theme bags during the 1980s.

“We wanted something that would be immediately identifiable across the street or through the windows of a moving subway car, and that no one would throw away,” he says. “Blowing up the logo and rearranging the fragments in a million different ways on a grid made the identity much more dramatic.”

Regardless of whether it’s on Fifth Avenue or in the Houston Galleria Mall, Saks is a definitive New York store; the grid refers to the city’s street plan, and the fragments represent the frenzy of its street life. “It’s a metaphor for the larger-than-life experiences you can find on block after block in New York City,” Bierut says. “Though I really don’t expect anyone to notice that. If a Saks customer spontaneously spots the subtext, I’ll send them a gift voucher.”

click here to visit the Saks Fifth Avenue website.


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