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One of the most prevalent shopping trends over the past few years is undoubtedly the reissuing of legacy logos. Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, and even Fila have all leaned into the nostalgic revival of 1990s logo culture through collaborations with millennial-focused retailers like Urban Outfitters and celebrities like A$AP Rocky.
Those might be the most recognizable of the bunch, but they don’t feel nearly as distinct as Esprit. The bold logo, pastel colors, and exuberant advertising campaigns were all hallmarks of the brand in the ’80s and ’90s, and those elements are largely what come to mind when you think about the brand now. Sure, you can spot a vintage Calvin Klein logo a mile away, but you can really feel Esprit when you see it.
Esprit hasn’t been sold in the US for a few years. The brand, which currently has headquarters in Hong Kong and Germany, made the decision to leave North America in 2011, after profits fell by 98 percent. But it came back last year via a nostalgic collaboration with Opening Ceremony, and now it’s doing it again.
The latest collection debuted this week, and it’s very much what you’d expect from round two: more pastels, logo sweatshirts and tees and hats, and a few pieces that embody the Esprit vibe without being overtly branded (think floral-print button-down dresses and striped poplin shirts).
In many ways, Esprit was ahead of its time when it launched in the late ’60s, hitting its prime in the ’80s and ’90s. Founders Doug and Susie Thompkins were committed to using sustainable fabrics and casting a diverse group of “real people” as models before it was considered cool to do so. The label celebrated being young and happy and carefree and socially conscious, with celebrity-backed initiatives (starring a very young Gwyneth Paltrow!) targeting HIV prevention in the ’90s. All of this now is just par for the course for any modern-day “cool” brand worth its salt.
At this week’s preview, we spoke with Opening Ceremony co-founder Carol Lim about why the retailer teamed up with Esprit for a second round, and what makes this collection feel particularly relevant right now.
What made you want to collaborate with Esprit to begin with, and then to do it again for a second collection?
We've always been attracted to the philosophy and ethos of the original Esprit when it was started by Doug and Susie, and it's been something that's been hugely inspirational to us. When we opened in 2002 and we started this idea of working with different brands, Esprit was always at the top of our list.
Once we finally got connected to them, we had said to the marketing director: We love the brand, we are the epitome of it, and it's a shame that you guys aren't in the US and we should storytell.
There are so many brands out there that don't have that rich history. Not only the clothing, but a movement and a cultural experience. They were the first big brand that was working with the Memphis Design Group in architecture and store design. Everything from the way their stores looked to the bags, even the hang tags — everything was so considered. It's really kind of the approach that Humberto and I have taken in Opening Ceremony. We just feel an affinity to how they started. It was great to be able to tap into that, because it felt really natural.
Do you feel that, at this particular moment in time and in this political climate, that ethos — in particular, celebrating youth culture and diversity — is an important thing to highlight?
For us, we've always felt that it was important. We both come from immigrant families, and all the topics that I think we've talked about now — me being a woman, Humberto being gay — we didn’t think about it, it’s just always been infused in our approach. It just so happens that now there's a lot to have to take a stand on, and I think it's important.
Even with Esprit, they just did what felt right, and they were really influenced by travel and being global citizens and having a conscience. We had an opportunity to speak with Suzie and she was like, "We didn't know these were things to do. I just went to my factories and I got to meet them. I met their children. We grew up together. That’s my commitment.”
Some of the best pieces here are the logo tees. Why do you think that fervor for a logo is so strong — is it just that ’80s and ’90s nostalgia, or maybe a mix of other things?
I think it's a mix. When I was growing up in the early ’80s, logo was often the first time you could enter into a brand for some people, especially when I think of European brands. But more than anything now, I think it's about identifying. When brands are able to articulate what they stand for and be their communities, it becomes a natural thing to be able to say "I want to be part of that."
And so I personally think Esprit has the best logo — this is really around the logo. I think it's something to celebrate. I think there is nostalgia, but, we wanted to make sure that this collection also felt like, even if you don't know the history, you're gonna gravitate toward it because on a design level, it’s just good product.
Was it important for you to keep the price point relatively affordable? The bags start at $50.
Definitely. I mean, back then, Esprit clothing was really democratic. I mean, it wasn’t super super cheap. And yes, could we have priced higher because of the collaboration? We definitely could have, but we don't believe in that. We think if this is what it should be, and this is what the brand stands for, then this is how we price it.