Mechanism Of Fashion Communication Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

"Bright colours reveal our youth spirit; classic style armchairs show our classical taste to 'others'. Our red Ferrari describes the fastness and richness of us, on the other hand our trekking shoes reflect our sporting lifestyle. With the products we use, our dreamy lifestyles could come closer to us even if we never climb mountains. We could be seen to people as our imaginary person we wish to be. We always seek our desires and dreamy lifestyles at the colourful mobile phone covers, at the brilliants that reflect our femininity or at the coffee cups that reveal our spiritual side" (Tanglay, 2003).

In few decades dramatic changes occurred in lifestyles, and, it seems it will carry on so for the time to come. Mass production and consumption are the conditions to continue on the growth path. However, the functional attractiveness of products that make life easier and more comfortable has no longer been enough in which everyone owns a least one of these products already. Even those consumers are ready to pay more for products that would carry the same function but look more attractive and are able to create more meaningful emotional and/or symbolic bond. That is to say, functional values has been replaced by aspiring ones and lifestyle propositions are any more attracting the new generation of consumers. In other words, industrial products have become the current actors of our lives. (Marzano, 2002)

Fashion communication is based on creating image for products and for their likely owners. It is an organized process which involves lifestyle and trend researches, forecasting and concept generation, design and communication of the products. Any more, it has become a useful tool for that of the product companies for achieving better designs and brand images that are in harmony with the desires and needs of the people they target. (McCracken, 1990)

Aims and objective

Aim of this study concerns:

1. Searching the mechanism of fashion communication is the primary aim of this study in order to understand how image communication effects to the design and perception of the industrial products. With this aim, it is targeted to put a mile stone to industrial product design process regarding contemporary direction towards meaning movement in product area similar to the mode of the fashion.

2. Exploring the fashion concept with its context, dynamics and functions for determining the commonalities between fashion and industrial product design. This will be an advantage for better understanding the place of fashion in today's' industrial product environment with its stylistic, functional, expressive outcomes and temporary nature.

3. Explaining social experience of industrial products in a symbolic and lifestyle oriented way for revealing the image related attitudes in the same direction with the fashion behaviour. This will be very helpful to comprehend new social manner towards product designs in which it is concerned the stylistic and self-expressive features much more than functional ones.

4. Investigating the research methods that the fashion uses for exploring the culture and for figuring out the meanings as a basis in means of concept to the design processes. These methods will be an advantage to show how the meaning is constituted through world and transferred to the design of a product as a first step of fashion communication in a frame of industrial design field.


"The etymology of the word fashion relates it back via the Latin 'factio', which means making or doing (and from which we get our word 'faction' with its political sense), to 'facere', which means to make or to do. The original senses of fashion, then, referred to activities; fashion was something that one did, unlike now, perhaps when fashion is something that one wears. The original sense of fashion also refers to the idea of fetish objects, 'facere' also being the root of the word 'fetish'. And it may be that items of fashion and clothing are the most fetish commodities produced and consumed within capitalist society" (Barnard 1996, p.7). 'Fetish' is defined as obsession in Webster's Thesaurus. On the other hand, from the view of fashion, objects are become obsessed between masses.

Cambridge dictionary defines fashion as: 'A style that is popular at a particular time'.

There are many faces of fashion and cannot be thought as only a common style for the time. It is rather a process that involves various fields. For example, "Tickner mentioned that fashion is a rich and multidisciplinary subject, and a point at which history, economics, anthropology, sociology and psychology could be said to meet" (Barnard, 1996, p.21). "Psychologists speak of fashion as the seeking of individuality; sociologists see class competition and social conformity; economists see a pursuit of the scarce; aestheticians view the artistic components and ideals of beauty; historians offer evolutionary explanations for changes in designs" (Solomon, 1987, p.55).

A consumer always explores latest things that could add innovative meanings to their lives. They do not only develop attitudes according to objective and rational qualities of the products, rather they develop attitudes towards the products convey meanings for them.(Odaba_ı and Barı_, 2003, p. 165) So, neither only the functional nor the aesthetical characteristics of the products are sufficient features for consumption. As a result, there is a psychological need for new and original values. Further, in the phenomenon of fashion, two features are observed: (Bianchi,

2001, p.13)

fashion involves novelty-new songs, new movies, new hairstyles periodically gain social attention and are adopted

but this novelty often has a short life.

Fashion has a cycle; born, lives, dies and starts again with different concepts. In addition, originality and innovation are two of the sources that feed this mechanism.

In vast amount of product choices of millennium, people anymore become searchers for the new things in order to emphasize their individuality and to be renewed while escaping from the routine boredoms. This is one of the fashion attitudes called individualism that is related to people's tendencies about the wish of being special. (Sheilds, 1992)

However, there is one more tendency about fashion except 'individualism'; 'conformism'. Both are two contradictory sides of fashion attitudes identified with the social experience.

Individualism defines personal creativity, originality, abnormality, adaptation, guiltiness, and complicated side of peoples. On the other hand, conformism defines acquisition of identity, faithfulness, adaptation, solidarity, monotony and stability values (Kipöz, 1993, p.8).

Simmel mentions about conformism and individualism as two tendencies essential for establishment of fashion. The first of these tendencies is need for union and the second is the need for isolation: individuals must possess the desire to be part of a larger whole, society, and they must also possess the desire to be, and to be considered as, apart from larger whole. Should one of these forces absent, there will be no fashion (Barnard, 1996, pp.10-11).

People feel that they should live in harmony with the social surroundings for not being rejected by others. On the other hand, there is a common sense that they want to be different in order to become attractive and outstanding. In other words, anyone adapt fashion cycles for not to be strange and ridiculous as compared to masses around.

Although this conformist behaviour causes dissemination through public, at the end of fashion cycle's people get bored because of so much resemblance and the wish of being individual is come out. As a result, new cycle begins with new alternatives. And this two conflicting manners serve as tools for continuity of fashion. (Michman, 1997)

In addition, in case of the fashion product, it also attracts and appeals people aesthetically. Further, attractiveness plays an important role during the diffusion of that of the product. In sum, aesthetical desirability is the most striking point of fashion mechanism so that it triggers the unprejudiced interest about new products via catching people emotionally as to impress and activate them. Famous fashion designer Gianfranco Ferre sees fashion as: (Kipöz, 1993, p.7) "A changeable lifestyle accepted through masses with an associate pleasure as a result of an aesthetic and image related determinations constructed by one person".

On the other hand, fashion also has a symbolic feature. It enables nonverbal communication through masses. 'The Symbolic Communication Theory' was triggered by George Herbert Mead and he mentioned that: (Kipöz, 1993, p.8) "People live in symbolic environment as much as live in physical one and they are stimulated by symbols as much as stimulated by physical movements".

Further, fashion is the most obvious vehicle of this symbolic communication. An individual's position in social order is become to experienced and communicated through fashion. But, the communication does not only occur between individuals, it occurs between social groups, too.

That is to say, fashion has become a communication by itself. Anymore, meanings are produced and transferred to the culture by an invisible hand in every fashion cycle dynamically. Wilson points out that: (Barnard, 1996, p.10) "It may well be true that fashion is like a cultural phenomena, especially of a symbolic or mythic kind, [which] are curiously resistant to being imprisoned in one meaning".

Roland Barthes discusses about this artificial communication with a semi-logical approach while concerning mass-culture as 'the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying' in mythical sense. Further, he concerns contemporary myth in methodical fashion. He mentions the new Citroen (D.S.) in a humorous manner as the best messenger of the world as a superlative object:

It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears as a superlative object. We must not forget that an object is the best messenger of a world above nature: one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter is much magical than life), and in a world of silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales. The D.S. -- the Goddess-- has all the features (or at least the public is unanimous in attributing them to it at first sight) of one of those objects from another universe which have supplied fuel for the neomania of the eighteenth century and that of our own science-fiction: the Déesse is first and foremost a new Nautilus. (Barthes, 1972, p. 88)

Regarding meaning production, objects are covered with tulle which is constructed through images and emotions, and so obsolescence. Fashion has a dynamic structure, even that symbols, emotions and styles are changed in every fashion cycle.

This transformation is man-made and called as an artificial obsolescence. Obsolescence time of the products is converted into controlled and symbolic one. Fashion movements are come true in determined rhythms as can be seen in fashion history. Any longer, the parallelism between purchasing and using graphics of goods is also become artefact because of fashion mechanism rather following the gone time of things.

On the other hand, the style is related with the appearance of the product, whereas it becomes fashion when it diffuses through masses. Fashion renews itself via different scenarios in order to survive. Although, it creates its own styles, sometimes makes use of certain style familiar to people, as sources of alteration. Hence, styles go in and out of fashion.

In sum, fashion is a dynamic process that produces temporary aesthetical, emotional and symbolic appeals within an artificial cycle. And fashion launches product oriented communication between masses.

Communication through fashion

Communication can be two-way. If an individual carries a strong personal message to the people outside what is the result on their part? The reaction is the response of the observer to the clothing the person is wearing. Maybe someone will be receptive to their look or they may leave themselves to be perceived as a total outcast or be open to misinterpretation. This is particularly true of extremes in clothing styles (an extremely significant individual identity) or when a clear lack of taste and impropriety can be observed. Malcolm Barnard in his book "Fashion as communication" highlights cultural roles, rules, rituals, as well as responsibilities that are preserved and constructed by fashion (Barnard 13, 34). Fashion is contrasted to art. It is similar to an architect that gives his design any form he wishes and simultaneously is the signal of the architect's belonging to various social groups, his various psychological states of mind and so on. One of the questions regarding communication through fashion is whether the communication showed by the wearer's fashion is the sign of the interior or exterior identity. There are arguments that support both sides; consequently it goes without saying that fashion is a "polyhedral being" that intersects several interior and exterior aspects of any individuality. The message that clothes convey is essentially a form of nonverbal communication reflecting gender and ethical as well as power aspects. (Marzano, 2000)


The study focuses on to the general understanding of fashion concept and its place among industrial design with an overall outlook. It starts with the definition of fashion and continues with the content of fashion. Then, referring to Barnard, the functions of fashion which contains protection, attraction, and communication are explained in order. The Branding identity is explored with a sense of fashion according to analysis applied above and the commonalities are figured out. During this comparison, the general image examples are used from brand identity area.

The effect of social surroundings on self-concept (ideal or real) decisions and its reflection on the choosing of the products (image congruency) are discussed for revealing the fact that 'culture is shaping the image of industrial products any more'. Further the study continues on research methods with a trend analysis which is most widely used by fashion mechanism. Different branding images have been discussed, their meaning and their message to their potential customers


Brand identity/image

There could be various brands in a corporate as totality of them refers to corporate image. Sometimes corporate image is pushed forward rather impressing brand image sometimes vice versa. But both refer to each other and created according to the philosophy, tendency and concept of the designs of that of the company. Such that, "Some corporate constitutes an image through their brands and products, whereas some of them put their corporate image to the most important place" (Okay, 2002, p.246). In other words, if it is the product that is to be concerned, the same thing is valid both for corporate and brand image.

"In 50s, as David Ogly described brand as a consumer thought about a product, he actually defined the brand image as well. Brand image can be defined as the brand's totalitarian picture that takes a part in consumers'' mind" (Uztu_ 2003, p.39). Brand image symbolises the meaning and value of the products of that brand for the various target groups. It designates the philosophy, tendency and the aim of a brand within a descriptive frame. Within this point of view brand image is in a close relationship with the meaning movement of fashion communication.

In the same way, brand identity is owned to the source (company as fashion system) and brand image is in control of the consumers. Messages are sent through the source to constitute brand image in the consumers' memories. Kapferer states about identity-image relation as:

"Identity necessarily precedes image. Before portraying an idea in the mind of the public, one should establish exactly what is to be portrayed. The customer forms an image through a synthesis of all the signals emitted by the brand (brand name, visual signs, products, advertising, sponsoring, patronage, press releases, etc.). The image results from a decoding, an extraction of the meaning, an interpretation of the signals."(Kapreferer 1992, p. 37)

Brand image has three components; corporate image, user image and product image.

On the other hand, there are two kinds of values that a brand promises; one is functional and the other is symbolic. Aaker mentions that: A brand's value proposition is a statement of the functional, emotional, and self expressive benefits delivered by the brand that provides value to the customer.

An effective value proposition should lead to a brand-customer relationship and drive purchase (Aaker, 1996, p.95). Functional values are related with the product-image refers to the functions performed by the product for the customer. Volvo promises functional values, for example, because of its safety and durability caused through its weight and design whereas symbolic elements compromise the emotional and self-expressive benefits. They are associated with the user-image in a same manner with the fashion communication. And this is a very common direction that is applied by contemporary product brands, any more. Even the fashion models have started to be seen in industrial product advertisements, any longer. Jumbo, as an example used fashion models wearing kitchen wares in its recent ads that are for revealing its products stylish features through presenting them as fashion accessories worn by models for their fashion conscious consumers. The image of brand refers to its chic and modern users.

Jumbo ad with a fashion model Source: Maison Française No: 107, p.67

Jumbo expresses its brand concept or image as modish kitchenware with that of the advertisements. Its past advertisements were also carry the same marks since 2000 in which Jumbo started to design its fashion series.

On the other hand, although, its slogan, 'Jumbo creates fashion', is in accordance with the communication, it couldn't be said that Jumbo is in the same direction with the fashion mechanism. Because it only uses the name of the fashion as a slogan and just does styling, but it couldn't be observed cultural or social influences in its communication both with its product designs and communications. Rather, the images are put on to products apart from the fashion in which images are created. It seems that the meaning transfer of world-to-goods remains missing there for completing the cycle of fashion communication.

However, there are readily product brands that are carrying out their image presentation processes just as the fashion does. Further, a brand can be defined in varying personal and lifestyle features to masses as in the case of Nokia mobile phones.

On the other hand, it should be mentioned that their images only exists through communication vehicles. Kapferer states that: "The brand has a voice and it only exists through communication. Since the brand is the expression of the products or services, it is only right that it should have the final word". (Kapferer 1992, p.66)

In other words, products become alive with communication, otherwise their meanings regard to culture have no value by itself. Even that the lifecycle of fashion product starts with communication. Further, advertisement is the most effective communication tool, for transmitting the brand images to the individuals.

Brand Image Representation and Advertisement

"The brand image is launched in two ways by advertising; informational and transformational" (Uztu, 2003, p. 200) Informational advertising focuses on product rather than consumer image. The product features, functions and qualities are mentioned in this kind of advertising. On the other hand, transformational advertising focuses on to consumer image as user personality and lifestyle. It is in relationship with the brand personality and image because there is a conversion motivated communication.

As an example, the functional properties of Fiat Multipla as its additional seat features is presented in one of its informational advertisement; 'In the new Multipla everyone enjoys the same, identical feeling of comfort and well-being '.

Informational ad of Fiat Multipla

Source: bin/pbrand.dll/FIAT_COM/home.jsp?BV_


On the other hand, because fashion is an image based phenomenon, for communication of fashion products transformational advertisement is used in order to represent their self-expressive values. They are concerned as image and/or prestige advertisements, too.

Whereas, any more, advertising has passed from information loaded dimension to image based and meaningful one because of the transition of the product companies to the approach of fashion communication. Larry Light states that (Uztu_ 2003, p.179), "Nowadays advertising is in the aim of creating a unique brand image not a selling suggestion". "If we exclude the world of commodities, advertising is increasingly focusing on depicting small life-stories and on linking attitudes and ways of living to a product, or a brand" (Traldi, 2001).

It is most obvious, nowadays, there is a common direction towards to lifestyle oriented fashion communication in current product companies. This could be observed in their likely communications in which design and advertisement are come together in such a way that, ads act as vehicles for describing the concept as lifestyle, personality of the designs while presenting their visual appearances in sort of a scenario. In other words, advertisement is become a tool for the presentation of a design with its both conceptual and formal characteristics.

There is a general manner among car companies about designing mini models. Such that designs are related to likely users' lifestyles with stylistic and communicative features. 'Smart', for example, promises an outer directed and excited lifestyle to its youthful target.

Smart image ad

Source: Trendsetter June 2004, No: 2 Volume: 3

The image of the user is defined through ad shown in above figure, by mentioning various sides of the Smart user; she is seductive, loves animals, Tai-box and shoes. Further, it is seen that there is a personalization in Smart's design features as red colour matches with the attractive female nature or that of the girl with red skirt in the figure. With it's another ad, Smart again mentions the dynamic lifestyle of Smart owner integrating with the Nike image as well.

Smart ad

Source: Trendsetter, March 2004, No: 11 Volume: 2, pp.70-71

In this ad shown in figure above, the image of Smart is bind with the Nike image by showing casual young boys with Smart like they all jumping together. Hence, it can be said that Smart user has a young and energetic soul. Smart seems that it is well suited to this dynamism, and spirit with its light, mini design characteristics and colourful models.

Furthermore, Nissan Micra can also be given as sample to lifestyle representation of the product designs.

Micra ad


It is introduced with a slogan of Micraism which is defined as Micra attitude in the ads. Such a boy washing his car through the splash of a whale or a teen girl inviting a huge man to an arm wrestle for a parking area, are represented in its television ads. In sum, it is a lifestyle that questions the customs in a funny way with an unconventional manner. In the same way, its design is seem to be cute and funny with its curvy lines and humorously looking headlights.

On the other hand, individuals are exploring the self expression ways through consumer preferences directed by ads and lifestyle packages. "Davis states that prodded by social and technological change, the biological decrements of the life cycle, and visions of utopia and occasions of disaster, our identities are forever in ferment giving rise to numerous strains, paradoxes, ambivalences, and contradictions within ourselves. It is upon these collectively experienced, sometimes historically recurrent identity instabilities that fashion feeds." (Solomon 1994, p.24)

Further, because fashion as the same as brand manner, observes society and figures out meanings from culture, it has an excellent ability to find out what the people are seeking even before they haven't been realized yet. Hence, the ideal-lifestyles of the targets are represented in ads which are activated by fashion communication. Marshall McLuhan says, "Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities" (Traldi, 2001). That is to say, ads are very effective for attracting attention to products such that, an ordinary product could be become a fashion object through image advertisements.

Consequently, fashion and today's' industrial product companies both focus on image while creating the powerful fashion consumers, any more. They all do this in an organized way from design to communication of the product. Anymore, it is not only the products that are being seen in advertisings, it is rather the soul, the concept of that of the brand or corporate regards to a product. In addition, fashion shows are started be used even in a little number, by some of the product companies for revealing their images, any longer.


In the last few years, the socio-cultural arena has dramatically changed with new paradigms and lifestyles. This transition activated the image concerns about industrial products; become a new manner towards a product cosmos as it has been relevant for clothes since decades.

Fashion alone represents uniqueness. Fashion through all its representation and characteristics structures an outstanding foundation for personal and cultural recognition. Uniqueness is an essential process leading to a healthy individuality and it is a part of a person's self-realization essential for helping him find his niche in society. Fashion has turned out to be a tool for attaining concord with the internal world and a system of enlightening or concealing eccentricities. Fashion gives us meaning and the more varied the culture around us is, the more fashion-trends will emerge and shock us. So long as it does not upset people, fashion representations are accepted since they represent uniqueness. (Storey, 1999)

How the images are created through fashion in means of transformational communication is that product firms are exploring the culture which is a source for their concept decisions and hence, for their designs and for their communications as a whole as it is in the fashion communication.

The fashion process starts with lifestyle and trend analysis for revealing cultural tendencies as a basis for concept generations. Trend forecasts are divided into two categories; short-term and long-term forecasts. Short-term forecast explores the cultural and aesthetical tendencies whereas long-term forecast explores the social changes. The selection of the category is dependent on the product range, design philosophy, design concept and tendency of the company. Generally, public oriented industrial products are mostly influenced from the short-term analysis and domestic products are mostly nourished from the long-term analysis. In sum, industrial products are being designed according to socio-cultural tendencies as it is done in the fashion movement. Such that, products are reflecting lifestyle patterns with their design characteristics, any more.

Cultural dynamics have also a prominent impact in the design communications. That is to say, the identities that are constituted in the kitchen of fashion up to cultural directions are reflected via image communications. In the same way, the product identities are being activated through the industrial product firms' design centers according to trend researches and the outcomes of them as generated concepts for designs. This shows that product design has entered into the fashion communication system any more. (Levy, 1999)

Effective brand names build a connection between the brand personalities as it is perceived by the target audience and the actual product/service. The brand name should be conceptually on target with the product/service (what the company stands for). Furthermore, the brand name should be on target with the brand demographic. Typically, sustainable brand names are easy to remember, transcend trends and have positive connotations. Brand identity is fundamental to consumer recognition and symbolizes the brand's differentiation from competitors. (Woodword, 1997)