(An earlier version of this story ran online.)
There’s something old-fashioned, even medieval, about being a king. But that doesn’t mean a 21st century royal—especially one who doesn’t insist on being called Your Highness and who sends his three kids to public school—can’t rule with a bit of contemporary style. On April 30, Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand of the House of Orange-Nassau became the Netherlands’ first king in 123 years when his mother, Queen Beatrix, abdicated the throne after a 33-year reign. The inauguration of the easygoing 46-year-old, Europe’s youngest monarch, lacked the over-the-top pomp and circumstance of a British royal debut—and it might have established a recognizable brand logo for the reign of Willem-Alexander.
In preparation for the ceremony, the City of Amsterdam hired Dutch design firm Koeweiden Postma to “dress the town” and create a festive and regal atmosphere. The city stipulated that the decorations could not feature crowns, text, nor any images of the new monarch. The look also had to incorporate the national colors—red, white, and blue—as well as orange, the color most closely associated with the country and its royal family.
To create a design based on more than just colors, Koeweiden Postma developed a logo derived from the ornate royal cipher given to Willem-Alexander years ago. The designers simply got rid of the crown, stripping the insignia down to the initials W and A, and modified the colors, angles, and lines. “It was a risk because the celebration is about the king and about protocol,” says Hugo van den Bos, partner and strategy director at Koeweiden Postma. “We took the risk because we thought it was the only way to go.”
The sleek insignia was approved by the country’s prime minister and the mayor of Amsterdam, according to van den Bos. On inauguration day, it appeared on 1,100 flags and banners, more than 500 bus shelter posters and billboards, 30 buildings, and 140,000 paper crowns handed out to revelers.
The royal brand overhaul is likely the first of its kind. “It seems we’ve bumped into a very interesting niche market,” van den Bos says. Sagi Haviv, a partner and designer at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv in New York, who has created several notable logos and brand identities, including those of the Library of Congress and A|X Armani Exchange, can’t think of another royal brand revamp. “But isn’t [the Dutch example] an interesting statement about the world we live in?” he says. “Nobody wants to look stodgy, especially when you’re royalty.”
Haviv considers the Willem-Alexander logo a success. “[The initials] evoke the image of a crown, not in an overt way, and not in a traditional way, but in a modern way,” he says. “What’s also nice is that it grows naturally out of the marque that was there previously.”
It’s unclear whether the new logo will be used in the future, though van den Bos hopes Willem-Alexander will permanently update his official cipher. “He wants to be a modern king,” says the designer, “and his [old] monogram is not a modern symbol.”