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As Carrie and Samantha perused an Hermes window display in the classic revolutionary TV show Sex and the City, millions of women the world over were getting their first taste of “Holy Grail of Handbags” - The Birkin Bag
Nothing else can better illustrate how luxury products have social and psychological meanings relevant in identity construction. This TV scene illustrates the impact and significance of fashion communication. Are you interested in learning more about the inner dynamics at work? Are you interested in communicating through fashion? But first, what is Fashion Communication and why is it important?
In the fashion and lifestyle industry, Fashion Communication is the art and skill of communicating a brand’s or a designer’s creations and message to the prospective customers and creating a positive image in their minds. If managing a fashion business is the back-end, Fashion Communication is the front-end (i.e. there is direct interaction and engagement with the customers)
"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan that simply means the form of the message greatly determines how that message will be perceived. This classic phrase from 1964 exemplifies the need of Fashion Communication even in 2022. .
In the highly competitive fashion industry, it becomes imperative for a fashion brand to cut through the noise and put its best foot forward. Items sold by several brands are more or less the same - the difference lies in how each brand is perceived.Therefore, not only the product but also the message that a brand wants to communicate is equally, if not more, important. In other words, a brand has to build an emotional connection with its customers. The importance of Fashion Communication in the global fashion industry cannot be overemphasized.
First of all, a fashion brand has to think how it can differentiate itself from the others - that is, a brand has to have a strong brand identity to sustain itself. Then, it has to engage with the consumers. According to W. Park (University of Southern California), the strength of consumer-brand attachment depends on the extent to which consumers believe the brand reflects themselves. This cannot happen if you first don’t understand the need of fashion communication.
Storytelling is another way to communicate. Humanity has been telling stories for ages. According to Dykes (2020), ‘As human beings, our brains are inescapably hardwired for stories, thus the human audience will be innately receptive to storytelling’. That is also the reason why stories are much more memorable and persuasive than facts. A brand can tell the story of its humble origins and its evolution through its merchandise.
Thirdly, by offering consumers opportunities to make cause-based purchases for making positive changes (for social issues) other than personal benefits, a brand can build an emotional connection (Kim and Johnson, 2011). By appealing to the moral collective consciousness and staying relevant a brand can make a niche for itself in the highly competitive marketplace.
The importance of fashion communication can be better understood by looking into a few real-life examples.
AERIE (AMERICAN EAGLE)
Aerie: Fashion companies have infamously marketed to customers that their products will increase their attractiveness, helping them achieve their “ideal selves” (the ideal self refers to the individual’s aspirational self and impossible beauty standards). As a rebuttal to this practice, Aerie (literally, a large nest of an eagle built high on a cliff), a sub-brand of American Eagle Outfitters, has centered its marketing theme on “actual self” - loving yourself the way you are.
The brand identity of Aerie is centered on body positivity (Body Positivity is a social movement focused on the acceptance of all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities) and inclusion.
How does it communicate its brand identity? Its online media and social platform campaigns feature unretouched models and use the hashtag “#AerieReal” to emphasize authenticity. Their efforts embolden their consumers to be true to themselves and confident.
When a brand addresses relevant social issues, it can build emotional bonds with its customers. The importance of communication in the fashion industry can be more deeply understood if one sees how the same brand Aerie is celebrating the Pride Month of June this year.
In honor of Pride Month Aerie has supported the ‘It Gets Better Project’ with a donation of $50,000. Founded by journalist Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, in 2010, the ‘It Gets Better Project’ provides hope to millions of young LGBTQ+ people worldwide, promising that no matter how challenging their current situation, there is love, community connection and freedom in the near future. Aerie has gone way beyond rainbowing its logo and rolling out rainbow-flavoured merchandise (a common practice by many international brands in the month of June every year, sometimes referred to as pink-washing, a marketing gimmick).
How does it communicate its solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community? Aerie will donate a certain amount to the ‘It Gets Better Project’ from every customer purchase.
In this way, Aerie forms an emotional bond with its customers by giving them a moral incentive to purchase its merchandise and making them and their shopping feel more meaningful.
Chanel is a luxury fashion brand established in 1910 in France by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. At the age of 12, after her mother died, Gabriel and her 2 sisters were sent to the orphanage by her father who worked as a peddler. In the orphanage she got the black and white taste and the sense of austerity that highly influenced her future work and her sense of style.
How does Chanel communicate its life story? Its brand logo is formed by two interlocked and opposing letters “C” on a white. The double C logo was created in 1921 by Coco Chanel herself using her nickname Coco. According to the fashion designer Angelini, the logotype ‘CHANEL’ is a plain, unadorned Sans Serif (“Serif” refers to a slight projection finishing off a stroke of a letter. Sans Serif means without serifs), absolutely minimal and pure. It is an example of simplicity, austerity and rigour.
Importance of Communication in the Fashion Industry and the Role played by Celebrities
According to Angela Carroll (2009), “celebrity endorsement is recognised as a potentially potent tool in communications, with celebrities viewed as more powerful than anonymous models and campaigns.” A prevalent form of celebrity advertising is using stars in product and service commercials. However, this may come across as a marketing gimmick and may be off-putting to some consumers.
A more subtle, nuanced type of celebrity endorsement is Product Placement (Product placement, also known as “embedded” marketing, is a marketing technique where references to specific brands are incorporated into another work, such as a film or television program). In the context of fashion communication, product placement simply means the practice of placing branded fashion products in the content of mass media programming like TV shows. To put it simply, seeing your lovable character using a particular product makes you love that product.
Product Placement highlights the importance of communication in the fashion industry as it is known to ramp up sales. According to a Jan 2021 article published in The Guardian, fashion labels vied for a role in Sex and the City Revival Series. The TV show's return offers a lucrative opportunity for any designs lucky enough to be featured.
I hope now you can better understand the inner dynamics at work behind the iconic Samantha Jones (from Sex and the City) eyeing the red Birkin Bag at the Hermes window display. Well, this is just the beginning.
There is a great need of Fashion Communication in India but not enough awareness. In fact, working in the fashion industry is still not a mainstream career choice, let alone fashion communication. But statistics show how the industry is expanding but there are not enough colleges that offer the right training. Whenever there is a vacuum between demand and supply, a lot of job opportunities come to the fore.
The scope of FC is immense. If this article piques your curiosity, then you can be a Brand Manager, Visual Merchandiser, Event Designer, Stylist, Copywriter and what not!
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