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THE BIZ : What's in a Logo?

September 12, 1993|Michael Walker

It's morning in America. The millennium approaches. Barry Diller is into home shopping. Clearly, we are on the cusp of a New Beginning. Which explains why corporate image-makers are marching resolutely into . . . the past. Last month, Life magazine joined Columbia Pictures, Capitol Records, Esquire, Coca-Cola and other companies that have dusted off antique trademarks. Even Elsie the Cow is back. What gives?

"There's something about the iconic quality of the old Life logo I thought was worth trying to recapture," says Tom Bentkowski, director of design for the recently shrunken and redesigned magazine. The new-old Life logo, a composite of Life trademarks dating to the '30s, is not, however, "nostalgia for nostalgia's sake," he says. "There were certain design qualities I felt were worth refining and keeping."

At Columbia, the company's venerable torch-bearing lady, with a face-lift and a swankier 'do, has been joined by "Columbia" rendered in the gigantic chiseled letters reminiscent of Three Stooges intros. The idea, according to Sid Ganis, executive vice president of Columbia Pictures, was "to take a well-known symbol and push it into the '90s. The '90s are about richness, depth and, yes, the grandeur of Hollywood, but also about emotion and communication--a new era, a new government, a new personal sensibility among people."

Esquire, which cannibalized characteristics from about 14 of its old logos for its present retro-look, is a bit more practical. "The one we had was really clunky," art director Rhonda Rubinstein says with a shrug.

But they're choking up at Capitol Records; the rotunda-and-script trademark reinstated for the company's 50th anniversary last year will remain. "The logo is so innocent," says Tommy Steele, vice president of art and design. "There's something wonderful about that. Those are the times we're all trying to get back to." And here we thought they were just trying to sell CDs.

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