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“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” — Diana Vreeland
We live in a fast paced world where “progress” is currency. However what defines this progress is also changing in post-postmodern, post-millennial, post-pandemic, India. With the advent of body positivity, mental health and near transhumanist technological interventions galore, fashion and its experience has pulled and has been pulled into an alternate reality.
Fashion communication has always been a visual process. Over the years, it has evolved from more print based, photo-journalistic media to cinematography, blogging, animation, UX writing, identity design, PR management, influencer styling, systems & strategic thinking, set and art direction, and virtual concept design of apps, runway and retail environments.
Fashion communication today is both virtual and physical: effervescent yet bold. Enlightened consumers of fashion (and these numbers are growing thanks to social media) are expecting concrete change alongside new values that come hand in hand with “woke” consumption like sustainability, ethical and vegan sourcing, supply chain optimization, agile conservation, smart budgeting,capsule wardrobes full of style hacks, product lifecycle management and, equal, sensitized & celebrated representation of bodies and identities.
The once “non-obvious” trends like brandstand and phygital experience have become mainstream and have melded together to build better, more efficient guerilla marketing strategies that can be backed with product optimization. The language used to convey these changing values is now user driven, with writers and product designers conveying an omni-channel presence of “brand-as-persona” in their brand communication design. The more innovative, relatable, glocal, human and reflective the communication design and/or its medium, the higher the ROI.
“Fashion is instant language.” – Miuccia Prada
Fashion has often been referred to as a metalanguage, one that converses with the audience about reigning (or passing) trends, tropes, symbols and rituals. But the advent of UX writing and UX driven communication content design has proven that fashion is not simply a pioneering inspiration for fashion communication, but that there is an ongoing exchange between the two.
Impactful or not, effective or ineffective, critical, banal or enthusiastic, fashion communication establishes both standards and commentary on what fashion was, is and could (or should) be. (Take the innumerable avatars of “slow fashion” for example. These translations will only increase as we get more sensitized to the contextual interplays of not just business, production or consumption but traditional processes and heritage as a living legacy as well.).
In this case, what are the meta languages that actually market, communicate or represent fashion and are these always posited as a quest for an ideal? Well, when a sign of one system signifies another system, as Roland Barthes put it, we see the meta language at work. So the fashion content conveyed through various forms of print, from magazines to the digital twins we see today (according to Barthes) are being “sourced” from the instant language of fashion.
I reiterate however that fashion & its communication is more and more, a two way street or even a fluctuation that has begun to take place simultaneously. Think of the Oscars that took place this year with post-COVID’s Zoom-like screens showing presenters talking about the night ahead whilst celebrities who were pirouetting elsewhere in their chic attire were being screened next to them. The way we talk about fashion, interpret trends, own and personalize
them through reels and TikTox, the contexts in which we not just use but document it, on portals like Instagram and Pinterest as well as the language, the words we use to describe the fashion we see on the runway, capture the rebellion at the heart of the language of fashion and promote our aspirations as much as they idealize and are inspired by it.
Changing narratives, values and ethos of society drive fashion communication narratives as well as ways of seeing and thus promoting. Thus a classic outfit like a little black dress may unfortunately still be seen from the point of view of objectification by the male gaze. However simultaneously, empowering narratives of body positivity and feminism voice and indeed, more sustainable and life-affirming value and need to be sustained and amplified.
What is driving the next stage of evolution in fashion communication is the metaverse. Digital communication and digital avatars blur into each other and a virtual fashion communication revolution is at hand with fashion weeks being broadcast in immersive digital environments and customers becoming mascots for further marketing of fashion brands in lived-in virtual habitats like games (RTFKT). This too speaks to humanity’s aspirations of being in more than one place at once, of achieving (and showcasing!) longevity, immortality and of exploring and connecting beyond the scope of their physical and earth bound realities.
Burberry has been a frontrunner in the digitalizing space from the very beginning of this shift. In 2021, even amidst the COVID19 pandemic, it launched a digital twin of its famous Ginza store in Japan through a collaboration with Elle Digital Japan (Halliday, 2021). The store allows customers to pick items digitally, has e-location mirrors across the space and even showcases numerous styling films starring celebrities sporting their latest offerings.
While it does seem to be true that luxury brands like Balenciaga, Gucci and LV are leading the charge into the metaverse, the gaming industry is a wild card that may be able to make the metaverse more accessible across brands from other tiers. Sports brands are already capitalizing on this niche by selling limited edition products that can only be accessed on certain games as part of certain skins acquired at specific levels.
Add to this digital showrooms that are allowing 360 degree views of products, and pulling customers into virtual experiences to satisfy their fashion needs. It is now aspirational for an average customer to have a fashionable “Superhuman” avatar even if they have a “Clark Kent” kind of life, in fact having the alternate reality to escape into means it's no longer underground like a Tumblr profile under a pseudonym, but a parallel universe. This aspiration is what is now making innovation a necessary strategy for even the smallest retailer.
Think now of the newest player on the block, for Visual Merchandising in India, the NMACC or Nita and Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre, which is now being touted as India’s own Metropolitan Museum mostly because its celebrity studded opening was reminiscent of the Met Gala. It has positioned itself as a “sensory journey of India’s rich cultural history through costume, performing and visual arts”. With its opening as well as its first show, “India in Fashion”, it feels like universal ideals like the American Dream have something else to contend with now: the Indian reality. A pot-pourri of existents that are both suspended and apprehended in Indian fashion and its historical legacy. What is exciting is seeing how our (future) heritage will be translated into digital spaces next.
While the virtual world can encapsulate our minds with the use of AR and VR, tactility and smell are more aspects where things have been taken to the next step through guerilla marketing and design. Where once brands were experimenting with sensory marketing, they are now owning the space with unexpectedly experiential branding—brands offering a 360 degree immersion for the consumer’s senses that isn’t just switched off when one walks out of a store. Brands experimenting with this type of branding, are unafraid to develop product lines and campaigns in previously unexplored areas of merchandising, like bagvertising. As long as the product can be identified with the brand, it doesn’t really matter anymore what the product is, the means and the style of delivery and also how bespoke it is, are key markers of brand identity.
When it comes to fashion in India in particular, the post-colonial runway is increasingly owning the slow fashion approach, now coloured with the resilience that COVID19 elicited from the the Indian fashion and craft sector and delving deeper into a more articulate, experiential and contemplative celebration of Indian heritage in couture. Revisiting and reinterpreting these sites is as much a promotion of fashion as it is a recognition of one’s identity.
Image making and visual communication have spilled safely into the realm of social media. Gen Xers are increasingly comfortable shopping online and so fashion has a sure–shot medium for showing off its wares to an available and always online audience.
As of July 2022, Meta had launched an all new Avatars Store which would work to support the customer Avatars across its sister apps, like Instagram and Facebook. While the Avatars are currently cheap and quite accessible, it remains to be seen how long they are able to hook users with the bare minimum aspects of this feature that still leave a lot to be done in terms of personalization and self-expression.
So while social media is quite accessible for producers and consumers alike, the marketplace comes to the consumer and puts the average consumer with endless alternatives in the seat of power. Because everyone is on the internet, the internet must be for everyone.
Thus trends like the delicate strappy outfits of 2022 celebrate the human body in maximalist silhouettes acquired through minimalist means. It's all about making basic look easy, luxurious and even opulent as influencers take ownership of their values as part of their visual identity.
The trends themselves have grown to be more inclusive of body types and budgets
Documentary and videos (Youtube) which help in establishing the brands philosophy and also use it as a storytelling medium.
As per a Drift report in 2018, 2 needs were identified for the transitions in fashion to aim toward in order to identify it as good: power (encapsulating accountability and connection) and value (approaching internalization at community level and being treated as a resource). It also identified several “transition pathways”, namely:
It propounded that a sustainable fashion ecosystem would have to successfully internalize the negative impacts of its production cycles from one product into the next. In this light, the fashion industry has moved from the linear, to the recycled to the circular models of product planning. A product’s value is thus no longer simply assessed by its newness. Thrift is in and imperfection is being exhibited with pride by TikTokers and the like.
“Whenever the intensity of looking reaches a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinizing.”
― John Berger
The newest runway, or arguably the newest nostalgia that fashion is revisiting is the gaming playground.
Fashion communication and communication design as well our development of it is a historical and technological conversation. Fashion and its representative mediums or carriers have the ability now more than ever to inhabit multiple spaces, timelines, cultural ameliorations and socio-ethical considerations. This begets an ongoing and imaginative dialogue with translations of the future and revisitations of the past.
The following questions consumers have reflect the thought process about fashion today and is a result of decades of change in the way we perceive, value, identify, traditionalize, interpret, personalize and communicate fashion as consumers, producers and ambassadors of a collective human value as it steadily integrates sustainability as a life-serving part of the industrial concept.
–The Honest Consumer
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