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Brand Bible by Debbie Millman

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BRAND BIBLE266
(Text)
around for a long time, and the Saks leadership likes
that. Thats a good thing. Because of that, they can
commission interior spaces that are progressive and
lively, but that are within the context of a brand that
has real history.
But we were told not to be restrained by that history.
We were invited to come up with anything we
wanted. We started by setting “Saks Fifth Avenue” in
a million dierent typefaces. In Gotham, Helvetica,
Bodoni. What happened—and this is the second
reason we ended up going in the direction we did—
was that these dierent versions all felt “sad” some-
how. It was like taking a name that had real power
and resetting it so that it was representing a store
that could have opened yesterday. It was dismaying
to look at these options. The brand felt denuded—
castrated, almost.
Third, its dicult to nd a legitimate new position
that you can own typographically. You take the words
Saks Fifth Avenue, you set it in Helvetica like JCPen-
ney, you set it in Bodoni like Giorgio Armani, you




In the case of Saks, there are three reasons: First, the
brand shepherds were simultaneously trying to capi-
talize on the authority of Saks’ heritage and express
a progressive, forward-looking fashion attitude.
The store on Fifth Avenue really feels like its been
26
How to Brand
a department Store

Michael Bierut
Pentagram
Design narratives
from a master storyteller
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267
Shopping bags for
Saks Fifth Avenue
set it in any number of options—you name it, and no
matter what neighborhood you’re trying to move into,
there’s always somebody living there already.


What Saks really wanted was something easily
identiable from across the street—like Tianys blue
or the Burberry plaid. Those visual iconographies
are well established, and the only reason they mean
anything is because they’ve been around for a while.
When we started the project, it didn’t seem that Saks
had anything like that.

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
I remember one meeting where we gathered together
some inspirational imagery. One set featured
examples of mid-century New York School Abstract
Expressionism, which included paintings by Barnett
Newman and Franz Kline that had huge, overscale,
very organic gestures on them. The clients really
liked those and said, “This looks modern, but it has
warmth to it.” At that point, we were still experi-
menting with the logo by setting it in Helvetica and
other variations. We’d revisited the script logo and
someone had magnied it very large on their screen. I
said, Wait a second; that could be something.
So then we did a quick cleanup of the existing Saks
script logo, divided it up into smaller squares, and
started shuing those around. We discovered that
some of these images had an abstract power—yet they
weren’t patterns that came from nowhere. They were
all derived from a way of writing the Saks name that
has a sixty-year history. And the designs we created
looked new, and startlingly so. We’d found the ideal
combination of both modernity and tradition, and
it was really thrilling to see that because once you
had these sixty-four squares, you could mix them up
any way you wanted, and the result would always be
compelling. When you do the math, it turns out that
there are more combinations possible than there are
particles in the known universe.



For Saks, we were considering its collection of
fty-plus packages. There are two dierent ways to
contend with a project like that: In one, you make all
the packages part of a monolithic system. Tianys
is monolithic, and Massimo’s plan for Saks was
monolithic. Massimo had a men’s and a women’s
package, two dierent colors, and the same hang tag
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