As the Vietnam War came to a disastrous end in the 1970s and optimism was in a state of collapse, the smiley face emerged as a bit of comfort. People began printing the logo on pins, T-shirts and trash cans. “It was a weapon in the arsenal of the general cultural depression,” says Robert Thompson, trustee professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. And now, it’s thriving again.
In January, Justin Bieber launched his fashion label, Drew House, with a round of unisex hoodies, baggy shorts and tees emblazoned with a modified version of the smiley: two dots, a yellow circle and a mouth constructed from the word “Drew.” At Alexander Wang’s fall 2019 show, which celebrated the American hustle, there were topcoats with smileys by contemporary graffiti artist KATSU. During menswear week in Paris, diamond-encrusted smiley designs by Japanese fine jewelry brand EyeFunny were a surprise standout that J Balvin and Dior menswear creative director Kim Jones bought into. Meanwhile, Nirvana hit Marc Jacobs with a yet-to-be-resolved copyright infringement lawsuit for his reinterpretation of Kurt Cobain’s smiley, which Jacobs incorporated into his nostalgic Redux Grunge Collection.