Unraveling The Woolmark Logo Mystery
One Brilliant Logo (With a Plot Twist)
The Woolmark — that famous knot-like flourish that debuted in 1963 and has now garnered enough fame to earn its own name — is the praised symbol of the International Wool Secretariat. It first launched in Australia before debuting in Britain, Japan, Germany, Belgium, and the US and Netherlands the following year. But its origin story contains a plot twist reminiscent of language scholars contesting the authorship of a Shakespearean manuscript.
For years, credit for the Woolmark went to a Milanese designer named Francesco Saroglia. He won yet another one of those auspicious design contests engineered to tease out the next landmark brand logo.
Like prospectors panning for gold, the Secretariat needed an international symbol for their products, and the Woolmark remerged as the perfect breathtaking visual.
But later investigations questioned why this Saroglia had seemingly contributed no other design work of any consequence. Was the Woolmark actually a creation of designer Franco Grignani who, in a clear conflict of interest, also served on the international jury assigned to select the logo?
As it turns out, Grignani entered the Woolmark under a different name with no desire to actually win, and instead served on the jury as more of a networking incentive. Nobody was more surprised by how the logo rocketed, and it wasn’t until years later that the designer broke his “elegant silence” and confirmed in the 1980s that, yes, he Grignani was the creator of the iconic trademark that has emblazoned 5 billion products across the world.
He took full and unapologetic credit in the 1990s by allowing a closer look into his design process and presenting the diary pages that contained early drafts of the Woolmark and included sketches of his other similar entries to the IWS competition.
Now, looking at the larger scope of the creative work he delivered in his lifetime, nobody seriously questions Grignani’s creation of the logo. Images like the Linea Grafica share graphic similarity with the Woolmark, along with the book cover for Design aus Italien and posters such as Tipolitozincografia in Milano for the Milanese printing, engraving and lithographic firm Alfieri and Lacroix. Grignani’s fascination with black and white curving lines is ubiquitous in his body of work.
Though skeptics may still exist in some corners, Grignani’s fellow Italian designer, Massimo Vignelli needed no convincing. In a 2011 interview Vignelli laid out the obvious. “It is typical of his visual language. The fact that Grignani was on the jury justifies that he had no official entry in the competition. ‘Saroglia’ may very well have been a pseudonym, or just a body, but not a real designer. If he really existed, his name would be associated [with] other outstanding works in a similar language. No works; no person.”
Grignani’s daughter Manuela confirmed that her father never made any money from the Woolmark, but that “for him it would be a great posthumous joy to see the acknowledgement of his generous talent.”
The Woolmark continues to appear around the world — most people unaware of its cryptic history and the highly unusual circumstances that birthed it.