Why This Logo Was Named The Most Iconic T-Shirt Of All Time

23 October 2018, 19:35

The Rolling Stones logo on t-shirts
The Rolling Stones logo on t-shirts. Picture: South West News Service Ltd

The legendary Rolling Stones lips and tongue logo is Britain’s favourite tee design - but what does it ACTUALLY mean?

Take a look at the Rolling Stones logo. As far as corporate branding for a rock band goes, it’s unbeatable. For over 45 years, the gaping mouth and tongue has symbolised the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world. Now, it's been named as the most iconic t-shirt design of all time.

In a poll held by Day2, a dry shampoo for clothes, 2,000 UK adults were polled and named the classic 1970s logo as their favourite t-shirt design.

The Stones logo beat competition from the Superman symbol, the 1980s “Frankie Says Relax” design popularised by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the classic ‘I Heart NY’ print.

The classic "Frankie Says" t-shirt
The classic "Frankie Says" t-shirt. Picture: South West News Service Ltd

Other popular t-shirts include the triangle refracting light, also seen on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and the Batman logo.

The yellow smiley face beloved in rave culture, and Nirvana’s ironic version of the logo also appeared in the Top 50, alongside designs for Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie and The Ramones.

So why did The Rolling Stones triumph over these other iconic designs?

When you see it, you know you’re in for riffs, rock and something a little bit risque. The Stones logo has appeared on everything from t-shirts to silk ties, baseball caps to underpants.

Stones pants at the Isle Of Wight Festival 2007
Stones pants at the Isle Of Wight Festival 2007. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The tongue-and-lips logo is obviously - obviously - based on the unmistakable face of Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Isn’t it? Well… not exactly.

eith Richards lies on a prop bed as Mick Jagger laughs during the production of the music video for Rolling Stones' 'Respectable' in New York, 1978
eith Richards lies on a prop bed as Mick Jagger laughs during the production of the music video for Rolling Stones' 'Respectable' in New York, 1978. Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images

In April 1970, Jon Pasche was a 25-year-old student at the Royal College Of Art, when a call came through looking for a young artist to work on a poster for a forthcoming Rolling Stones tour. Jagger had seen Pasche’s designs at his final degree show that year, and he got the gig.

Pleased with his work, Jagger commissioned Pasche to come up with a logo for the brand new company Rolling Stones Records, which was being prepared to release the band’s material after they’d left their original company Decca.

The Iconic Rolling Stones 'Tongue' logo, original artwork created by John Pasche in the early 1970s.
The Iconic Rolling Stones 'Tongue' logo, original artwork created by John Pasche in the early 1970s. Picture: Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage/Getty

Originally, the commission was for “a logo or symbol which may be used on note paper, as a programme cover and as a cover for the press book”.

Jagger’s inspiration was a newspaper cutting that he’d seen that showed the Indian goddess Kali, with a pointed tongue, hanging down. In Hindu mythology, Kali symbolises death and time, but is also a powerful feminine figure.

The Goddess Kali
The Goddess Kali. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pasche told the V&A: “A lot of people ask me if it was based on Mick Jagger’s lips - and I have to say it wasn’t, initially. But it might have been something that was unconscious and also really dovetailed into the basic idea of the design. It was a number of things.”

The logo took Pasche about two weeks to finalise - working every evening - and he was paid the princely sum of £50.

Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones pose after arriving in front of a blimp with a Rolling Stones logo, at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx section of New York City, May 2002.
Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones pose after arriving in front of a blimp with a Rolling Stones logo, at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx section of New York City, May 2002. Picture: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

The design first appeared on the album Sticky Fingers in April 1971, and has been used ever since.

Pasche thinks the design has stood the test of time because, “It’s universal statement, I mean sticking out your tongue at something is very ant-authority, a protest really… various generations have picked that up.”

And he admits, “When I’m out and about on holiday, it’s always a bit of a surprise when someone comes round the corner wearing a t-shirt or whatever!”

The Rolling Stones at the 2006 Super Bowl
The Rolling Stones at the 2006 Super Bowl. Picture: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images