The Hermès Birkin bag is one of the most coveted luxury handbags over recent decades. Aesthetic qualities that come to mind are the luxe equestrian heritage influence, the superior quality of the smooth leather, the tasteful hardware, and its elegant & timeless look. Never in your face, the logo takes up a minuscule amount of the available space on the precious, grained and smooth leather. The bag exudes a true “if you know, you know” aesthetic.
Like many products in the luxury segment, the Birkin bag uses a specific language that defines its market position. Designs of high-end brands like Hermès use a clean, minimalist, uncluttered style to position their brand. Such traits, better known as ‘visual cues’, are sometimes hard to describe, but often utilised.
When dealing with abstracts like perception, it’s difficult and unwise to ascribe hard and fast rules. That said, a little guidance is helpful. Here, I’m going to explain how you can use visual cues as a framework to capture that upmarket aesthetic for your brand, using existing fashion brands for context.
Use: Simple fonts, familiar type, minimal embellishments, serif or sans-serif fonts
Aesthetic: Initial reactions to Riccardo Tisci and Peter Saville’s Burberry logo rebrand were mixed. But by doing so, they had repositioned the heritage London brand, digging them out of a period of stagnation and into a new era that resonates with the younger crowd. At first glance, these logos may seem bland, but the simplicity gives the logo a modern utility—looking like it’s been there forever, but still contemporary.
Takeaway: Luxury isn’t connoted with fussy extras; no-nonsense boldness is the rule and the power is in the name, not the design.
Use: Limited colour palettes, neutral shades, muted tones as opposed to bright vivid pops of colour, contrasting darker colours with lighter shades
Aesthetic: Apart from the photography, you’ll find no more than 2 colours across the A.P.C. website. Too many colours and things can start looking like a mess. Limited colour palettes, especially when sticking to neutral tones, evokes a powerful, sophisticated, and modern feeling.
Takeaway: Conveying a succinct message without too much colourful noise changes the way we interpret a brand.
Use: High-quality materials, thick paper stock, textured stock, special print finishes
Aesthetic: Saint Laurent has an uber-luxe feel to their packaging, with its tasteful thickness, raised lettering and debossed border. Texture, form and layers create interest in unique and delightful ways that is tangible to us. By using heavier materials and finishes such as embossing, the print communicates the quality of a product. This is especially important for luxury brands, as the unboxing of a product becomes part of the brand experience.
Takeaway: Investing in print helps to convey a premium feel that runs through every touchpoint of the brand.
Use: Negative space, hierarchy, necessary elements only
Aesthetic: Keep the design simple. Avoid or minimise the use of graphic embellishments. They only serve to clutter the design and lessen its effectiveness as a communication tool. A layout free from distraction implies luxury. Busy, crowded layouts imply cheap.
Takeaway: Less is more.
Keep in mind that the above examples are a broad generalisation of what high-end looks like. Diversity and creativity, especially in fashion, means you’ll always find examples that run counterintuitive to these semiotics.
Whichever way you decide to use them, visual cues are important in shaping the perception of your brand. They provide subconscious signals to your customers on how much your product might cost, and whether your brand is worth its asking price.