2013 was its 50th anniversary!

We all know it well. The Woolmark logo – applied to more than five billion items worldwide – is frequently credited with being a concise and powerful symbol to the point that, in 2011, the British monthly magazine Creative Review even voted it the best logo ever, while in 2013 a survey conducted by USA graphic design journal GDUSA voted the logo as the 11th favourite logo from the past half-century.

But we know very little about how terribly tangled its story is…

The rise of synthetic fibres in the post-war period posed a major threat to the global wool industry, and so in 1963 the so-called IWS (International Wool Secretariat, a non-profit organization that gathers wool producers from over 30 countries) announced a design competition to create a global graphic identity for wool that would “hold consumer confidence and represent quality standards”.

Franco Grignani had been invited to join the international jury for the choice of the logo. Shortly before his departure to London (Franco did not speak English, so he asked his daughter Daniela to go with him), a Mr. Spiriti introduced himself as an appointee for the advertising agency who worked for the Italian Pure Wool Secretariat and who was in charge of collecting the graphic material to be exhibited at the competition, expressing his intention to submit him the projects collected up to then. Discouraged by the inadequacy of the proposals, Franco Grignani decided to withdraw from the jury and sent his resignation to London; Mr. Spiriti, worried by such reaction, insisted that he review his decision by suggesting, at least, something of his own, as time was running out. London was pressing for Grignani not to refuse to be part of the jury and Spiriti did the same for presenting something of an adequate level. Sure not to win in such a large international competition, Grignani began to study something that would represent the high-quality level of Italian design. It is said that one day at lunch on the white tablecloth, with the tines of his fork he drew a rotation with arches: that is the idea of the famous “wool ball”. At the time, my grandmother loved knitting and had at home always some balls of the famous “Lana Gatto“. The logo was originally created by assembling three copies of a single nine-striped band. He made several variations by experimenting with the different thicknesses of the lines. It was a stylized sign, an experiment in black and white graphics in the typical style of his visual language (see this ad).

But, to his disbelief, all the participants in the jury – immediately and unanimously – showed their favour to this logo among the eighty-six competitors, with the only exclusion of Grignani himself who, aware of being in such an embarrassing situation, voted against his own work till the end.

He did not want to embarrass the Italian Secretariat too, but everybody kept asking him why he was voting against something beautiful that could even have been done by him.

So, for a long time, the logo had been credited to a certain Francesco Saroglia (see, for example, “Trademarks & Symbols” volume 2, 1973, pages 123 & 173), since Grignani didn’t reveal his authorship except within his collaborators. It is assumed that the Italian Secretariat decided that they would find an employee from their graphics department who had to be considered as the official author of the logo. So the assumption is that Francesco Saroglia was, in fact, a real person, and not just an alias (you can see him on the web in a fake photo of the time trying to imagine how to draw the logo Möbius-strip like). However, how could this Francesco Saroglia have signed one of the most famous logos in the world, without there being any trace of his work elsewhere? No other known work nor publications or exhibits; he did not even appear on February 19, 1965, on the occasion of the presentation of the logo to the press at the IWS headquarters in Milan in front of 500 persons … quite mysterious!

The elegant logo “has helped reinvent the global perception of wool as a natural, contemporary and glamorous fiber”, commented Woolmark Company.

Woolmark Ad in London - Piccadilly Circus, 1969
Woolmark Ad in London – Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square side, an advertising area which had long been monopolised by Australian produce, 1969 [5]

In Italy, the first company that obtained the right to use the Woolmark certification was the “Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna”, for which Grignani developed a series of innovative ads in the years 1964-1966.

Years later, Grignani confessed how things had really gone. It was only in the 1980s that he officially declared that he was the designer of the logo. In 1995, at an exhibition on his works at Milan’s Aiap Gallery, Grignani displayed the nine solutions of his logo reproduced in his old Olivetti agenda of 1960, on the page of Monday the 4th of April:

Still in 2014, Australian Wool Innovation Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Rob Langtry declared that “The logo’s strength is in its simplicity: five black bands criss-crossing to form a skein of wool which perfectly represents the softness, elegance and modernity of the fibre. It is one of very few long-running logos that still feels contemporary despite not having been altered since its creation.”

Pure New Wool commercial – Nino Manfredi – The “trilemma”, 1968

[1] graphéine
[5] Veder bene, courtesy of Bonifacio Pontonio

[personal infos with adaptations from Museo del Marchio Italiano]