Legacy brands need to reset for a relevant future

by Marie Lena Tupot and Tim Stock

So many legacy brands are having the most difficult time finding their place in today’s fast-paced world. They’re either looking to other brands to jump in on the relevance of the other brand, or they are looking inward in the worst way and retreating. Missteps are obscured by relatively diverse image campaigns that keep the brand afloat for a fleeting span of time. But take away the latest campaign…and what have you got? A brand still stuck in the mud with no path forward. Think Tiffany’s & Nike.

Old souls are good, but successful old souls are required to be wise and show us a way forward.

Consider Burberry. “Prorsum” paired with a charging equestrian knight is not the way forward for the times we are in, nor should it be the way forward for Burberry. In 2022, not happy with the direction its brand was going, Burberry returned its creative director role to a Brit, Daniel Lee. The choice of Lee makes perfect sense. At Bottega Veneta, Lee “found his own language making industrially-inspired garments in unexpected and even confounding fabrics.” This is the kind of reinvention Burberry needs to take the brand back, beyond the Chav style that rose during the realm of Christopher Bailey and past the influencer IG-inspired design of Riccardo Tisci, back to its original pre-20th century legacy of a draper toying with gabardine, of explorer culture.

What does not make sense is the return of the 1901 logo. We can look at that through a Culture Mapping lens in which we look at the language of the logo in relation to how society is expressing itself through time. If we apply this Culture Mapping lens to the equestrian knight, the equestrian knight falls squarely into a residual social construct. A “ruler” brand at a time when the tradition of rulers seems to be playing itself out. Understood, that Lee’s intent was to bring the brand closer to its Britishness. However, one must ask what is Britishness today? The beauty of Britishness is not in the eyes of “The Ruler.” The beauty of Britishness is in the evolving diaspora making its impact.

That said, deconstructing a brand calls for meaningful purpose, not the in-group bias of a designer profoundly returning home. Nor, should deconstruction fall into the quick Monday morning quarterbacking of an analyst — but we can attempt to begin to see what’s going on here.

Consider, the cool, calm, collected – effortless and empowered – performance by Rihanna at last night’s Superbowl. It was coordinated, well-crafted and real.

Rihanna knows who she is, and chooses what she relates to.

For her 13-minute Super Bowl LVII performance, Rihanna chose Loewe, Alaïa, Margiela and Salomon.

Jonathan Anderson of Loewe crafted the molded leather breastplate Rihanna wore under coveralls meant to symbolize flight. Craft is the essence of Madrid’s Loewe, founded in 1846. Inviting discovery, it lives in an emergent, innovative space. 

Pieter Mulier for Alaïa custom-made the leather coats, padded red leather bolero and red leather robe. Azzedine Alaïa, himself, refused the honor of being named a Knight in France’s Legion of Honour. He did not value decorations. To date, Alaïa remains a celebration of womanhood. It was never about Alaïa. This too is emergent behavioral code. 

Rihanna’s sneakers were a collab by MM6 Maison Margiela and Salomon. Margiela, founded on ideas of nonconformity and the subversion of norms, is also about process. Salomon is a French sports collective dating back to 1947. They’re all about establishing new vocabularies. Again, emergent traits. 

Authenticity is emotional and can be experienced. And, those narratives can be mapped through the linguistics of culture, mapping natural language discourse.