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    Feb 03, 2014

    No horse-ing around with logos

    HOW is this for a piece of incontrovertible logic? According to at least one fortune-telling expert, the Horse is the strongest Fire animal of the 12 zodiac signs.

    And since we now enter the Year of the Wood Horse, Wood helps Fire to burn, and so Fire can last longer.

    The immediate implications of a longer-burning fire are lost on us - but perhaps the harbingers of a fiery year have been present all along, what with the tragic fire at the Marina Bay Suites in the middle of last month and the one at SingTel's Bukit Panjang exchange last October.

    Of all the attributes to envy about a horse, it turns out men have been wrong all along.

    To be sure, equine attributes have carried a premium long before the Internet existed.

    When man moved from horseback to steering wheel, he brought with him his previous associations with the animal, which is why we have brake horsepower, Ferrari's prancing horse and the Ford Mustang.

    With the last two brands, however, their origins take a brief detour through the sky. Ferrari's emblem comes from the insignia of Italian World War I pilot Francesco Baracca.

    World War II then brought us the inspiration for the Ford Mustang brand, which is named after the P51 Mustang fighter plane from that war.

    A Mustang horse is charitably referred to as a "wild horse", and less charitably called "feral".

    According to Ford lore, when its pony car debuted at the New York World's Fair in 1964, dealers took in 22,000 orders in a day.

    Just for the sake of perspective, 22,000 is almost three times the total Certificate of Entitlement quota in Singapore - 9,127 - from February to April this year.

    If this does not invoke enough moroseness, consider the sale price of the Ford Mustang that year: US$2,368, which makes it US$17,859.55 (S$22,800) in today's dollars.

    Over at Ferrari, so desirable is the cache of "Cavallino Rampante" that, last year, it became possibly the only car company to yank the reins on car sales, capping volume at fewer than 7,000 vehicles to maintain exclusivity.

    Where there are horses, there will inevitably be jockeying for intellectual property, it seems.

    In 2012, luxury brand Coach won a US$257 million judgment against website owners selling counterfeit Coach merchandise, most of which undoubtedly bore some variation of the distinctive horse-and-carriage logo.

    In its press release, Coach essentially did a Liam Neeson-esque speech from when his character's daughter was abducted in the movie Taken.

    "This judgment should serve as a warning to everyone involved...that Coach will find you and will seek to impose the harshest penalties available against you," one of its executives said.

    Even so, given the amount of hay at stake, it is easy to see how there is plenty to protect. Popular lore has it that an Hermes scarf is sold every 25 seconds.

    This means that in the time taken to reach this point of the article - assuming 10 minutes for fast readers and the price of US$410 for a typical scarf - some US$9,840 was collectively spent on pieces of cloth from yet another horse-and-carriage fashion house.

    While Hermes scarves might be designed to be sneezed into, they most certainly are not to be sneezed at.

    A scarf design takes 18 months to create, and the screens for printing the designs take 750 hours on average to engrave. The average number of colours in an Hermes scarf is 27.

    The brand has come a long way from the time it plopped the colour orange onto its boxes simply because no other colour was available during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

    Where territory protection is concerned, however, no other horse brand has been as fanatical as the preppy clothier formerly known as Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation (now simply called Ralph Lauren Corporation).

    Its war on pretenders has been waged since at least 1984, during which it went full tilt against the United States Polo Association (USPA) in court.

    The outcome of that legal dust-up was that the USPA was ordered to "stay away from Polo Ralph Lauren's logos, stay away from the horseman, stay away from the name Polo", in the words of a Polo Ralph Lauren lawyer in 2001.

    Essentially, the apparel giant had done a, but instead of controlling the use of the word "candy", it had done it with the word "Polo", curtailing its use by the association that governs the very sport.

    In 2011, the USPA was stopped from using its double-horsemen logo on its own line of fragrances, because this would cause "customer confusion" when used with the word "Polo".

    The Polo Ralph Lauren logo has a single horseman instead, which makes you wonder how high the average brand-wearer is able to count.

    Contrast this degree of fervour to the attitude held by the people behind Singapore's family-run Horse Brand Bird's Nest.

    Now in the hands of the third-generation scion, Mr Benny Low, the brand took its logo from the simple fact that Mr Low's grandfather and founder of the firm, Mr Low Tong San, was born in the Year of the Horse. Was there any other significance to the use of the horse?

    "No, what was important was that we got a logo," the younger Mr Low said.

    While some brands stamp on an identifying mark and are done with it, others are constantly tinkering.

    The Singapore Turf Club's three-horses-abreast logo was redesigned three years ago. Purple (for "a touch of majestic power") and turquoise (for a "fresh and ever-progressive organisation") were the new colours of choice.

    Pressed by BT for an interesting factoid about horses, the turf club's spokesman said: "Acupuncture treatment for horses is very common and effective. Unlike drugs, which are often a short-term solution, acupuncture can be a permanent cure!"

    As we stare into the gaping maw of the Year of the Horse, our questions fall into two broad categories.

    Will the Horse carry us forth through a glorious year? Or will it rear up and kick us in the groin (even if we don't stick a needle in its behind and call it acupuncture)?

    We will have to saddle up for either outcome.