Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Language of Fashion Photography

by Djinane Alsuwayeh

Mario Testino, V magazine, 2006

See the history of fashion photography here
See recent fashion photography here.

Fashion and (the) Image
Fashion and the Image concerns fashion theory as it’s articulated via graphic design and photography. There are two senses of image and how fashion relates to those senses.

The first sense, in which image means likeness or picture. Photography and drawing are two techniques where likenesses and pictures can be reproduced. The second sense, in which image means identity or meaning. Where personal identity is the unique character of someone and brand identity is the visible image of a product. For example, someone’s image means a sense of identity and fashion and clothing are central.

Chanel Look Book, FW 2009

Companies since the 1980’s recognized that what they were producing and selling were not products but brands. What is consumed in post modernity is not commodity but the sign; the image or sign is what’s consumed. Images or identities may be constructed and communicated by wearing fashion, in photography, graphic design and illustration. The brand image is the core meaning of a company. Advertising is what is used to convey that meaning of the world. The image is linked to marketing and advertising and constructed in fashion photography to sell the cloths. The role of fashion photography is to sell cloths through seduction. It is used to create a likeness or picture, which in turn is used to construct an image. The image then is used to sell fashion cloths.

The brand visions above are entirely different as are the images to sell the brands. Below the photos of the Missoni family for the Missoni campaign, by Juergen Teller who has created a similar brand aesthetic for Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood and YSL.

Photography, Semiology, and graphic design are disciplines that use these two senses. Photography provides likeness and pictures and also contributes to the identity or brand meaning of the fashion designer and companies. Semiology deals with both senses. And Graphic design uses photography to provide illustrations of fashion items as well as a more significant function in producing and communicating identities and meaning.

There is no definition of fashion though there is an implicit theory of fashion; it’s not about cut and cloth but about graphic design, packaging, and communication. The product itself takes a back seat in fashion and graphic designers play the role. For example the two white t-shirts one from CDG which attracts the architect and the Hugo Boss which attracts the businessman because the shirts no matter how similar or different, each shirt are constructed and communicated by graphic design.

Most of the things written about photography and graphic design have no relation to theory. It’s neither anecdotal nor technical. What is purely a technical concern with the equipment of photography like the film, lighting and the effects actually mask a wealth of cultural variables and thus a range of ways in which meanings can be created and manipulated. There is a cultural theory and a theory of meaning hidden in or behind the technical language used by these photographers.

Most photo analysis discusses technical differences such as the use of lighting below rather than the message communicated by the photos. Akris, 2010 & Opium, 2010.

Fashion Photography, Roland Barthes
Photographing the fashion signifier (garments) poses problems of method that where set aside. Yet fashion photographs, its signifiers and signified, are drawn from the world.

In fashion photography, the world is photographed as a theater. It is always an idea; a word, that varies through a series of examples. The theater of meaning suggests two things; poetic in association of ideas of substances for example knitwear. The signified here is autumn, and the country. But is diffused as a substance consisting of wool. With the associations of ideas become wordplay, which is the second idea that is humorous; where we find the main opposition in fashion between the serious winter/autumn and the gay spring/summer.

Guy Bourdin, 1978. In his essay on fashion photography, Roland Barthes explains that the world is a backdrop. The world can also be transformed into a particular stage for specific theater themes. The theater of meaning in fashion walks the line between serious and whimsical.

There are three different styles of experienced scenes, the objective, romantic and mockery. They are to make fashion’s signifieds unreal. By putting the signifieds in quotation marks fashion keeps its distance with regard to its own language, and by making the signified unreal fashion makes the signifier real. This is done by shifting the viewer from the signifying background towards the reality of the model.

Objective - Romantic - Mockery

Fashion affects that sort of shock to consciousness, which suddenly gives the reader signs of the mystery it deciphers. It also dissolves the myth of innocent signifieds at the same time it produces them, it attempts to substitute its artifice for example its culture. Fashion does not suppress meaning, it points to it with its finger.

Barthes describes fashion photography as an exorcism in which everything in the photo is made “outrageous” so that the garment alone seems real and convincing.

Only the shoes in this photo can be understood. Guy Bourdin for Charles Jourdan, 1978.

Fashion creates a disappointment of meaning because in its establishment of the mystery it has no resolution. It produces meaningful signs but does not rest on explanation.

Chris Von Wangenheim, Vogue, 1979

Gender and hegemony in Fashion Magazines; Woman’s interpretation of fashion Photographs By Diana Crane.
Fashion has been conceived as a form of hegemonic oppression exerting an obligation to conform that’s heavy on the female population. Fashion photographs generate dissatisfaction amounts women because they feed upon the unreal, which sets high expectations that, most woman cannot meet.

Mario Testino, V 59. The author points to a conflicted hegemony. Different images send different messages especially about women.

The effects of images on woman in the media; advertising, have been the subject of studies and debates for many years. Understanding these impacts requires the consideration of two things. The first being the concept of hegemony as it applies to texts created for woman. The second are theories of media reception and their conceptualization of women as the interpreters of media materials. Feminists argue that’s media images of woman are directed at men and those women are encouraged to look at themselves and other woman as men do. Gender advertisements identifies characteristic poses in advertisements that present woman as inferior to men, in the manner stereotypical images of the woman correspond to the ways woman’s roles are understood in American culture.

Mario Testino, V 59

Gender is primary in determining how individuals relate to one another in social interaction. Gender ambiguity is disturbing for many people and is argued that gender identification should be unambiguous.

Fashion as a form of media culture can also be interpreted in terms of conflicted hegemony. A fashion advertisement indicates an internally contradictory hegemonic process- an on going dialectic between dominant and oppositional forces. Advertisers have been forces to incorporate oppositional elements in order to attract the attention of sophisticated consumers. Fashion is described as a form of culture characterized by opposition between two countervailing historically established cultural discourses. One romanticizes fashion and the other trivializes it.

The conflicted hegemony also concerns the role that women play as desirable figure versus wife and mother.

Miles Aldrige, Vogue, Sep 2007

It is argued that postmodernist elements in contemporary fashion contribute to a conflicted hegemony. Women’s responses cannot be characterized entirely by either acceptance of or resistance to hegemonic values. There is a variation depending of the nature of text, age, social class, and ethnicity of the reader or viewer. Women from different social class and ethnic groups respond either negatively or positively to different aspects of material, depending upon its relevance and significance for their lives.

Fashionable clothing is meaningful to the consumer because it expresses ambivalences surrounding social identities for example young/age, work/play. Fashion continually redefines the tensions and embodies them in new styles, thus fashion photographs are subject to different interpretations because they present diverse and crosscutting identities.

JCrew 2009 and Terry Richardson 2009

Postmodernism in fashion is seen as liberating for woman. Because a variety of styles are fashionable at the same period of time, woman are able to construct personal styles that are meaningful to them, using specific elements of fashionable styles rather than merely following a new and well defined style. Women are expected to respond to fashion photographs and clothing advertisements that are likely to be postmodernist stylistically and conflicted in terms of their interpretations of woman’s roles.

Postmodernism, feminism and fashion magazines-
Fashion in fashion magazines has diverse contradictory social agendas. Fashion magazines please both advertisers and consumers. Fashion photographers have synchronized their themes and images with those that show youth cultures and that are circulated by the media.

Fashion photography has incorporated sexual poses as one showing woman in low status in animal like poses. And the other are woman are portrayed as empowered and androgynous capable of achieving goal and managing others by wearing business suits and other costumes derived from masculine attire.

Terry Richardson, Jimmy Choo, Cruise, 2009

Selection of photographs and questions for research-
The study was to examine responses and representations of gender in fashion photographs and clothing advertisements among young and middle aged women, about categories such as the frontal gaze and eye contact, androgyny and gender ambiguity, lesbianism, ritualization of subordination, withdrawal, sexuality and nudity.

Authority of fashion-
Based on the research and questionnaires there are several reliance’s on different types of sources of information about fashion. Those included their social milieu, media including fashion magazines, TV, and clothes worn by popular singers, and final local stores. The information suggested that the authority to transmit information about fashion today is widely diffused.

Some of the responses were; that fashion standards set in the magazines were impossible to achieve, that fashion photographs should be viewed as art and fantasy rather than representations of fashion, and African Americas did not attempt to follow fashion because to them fashionable styles were created for white woman.

The Fashion Magazine and its social agendas-
Several photographs present the woman in highly sexualized poses suggesting that woman’s roles are that of a sex object.

Terry Richardson, Jimmy Choo, Cruise, 2009

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Postmodern: Bricolage & Intertextuality

by Ece Oney

The idea of the Postmodern condition is associated with Jean François Lyotard. He was born in 1924 in Versailles, France. He was a French Philosopher and literary theorist. In the 1970's he was hired by the Canadian government to study society. He wrote the La condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir ( The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge). He stated that we are now aware of differences, diversity, beliefs and desires, and the incompatibility of our aspirations. He talks about how reason and imagination work differently.

Malcolm Barnard explains the differences between Modernity & Postmodernity. Modernity was considered the era of the industrial revolution, when people's lives were influenced by machinery and mass production.

Postmodernity, was the era after modernism, when excess and individualization began. Modernity conceived of the object in terms of production, postmodernity conceives of it in terms of consumption. There wasn’t one set meaning to an object or a garment anymore. Both postmodernity and its fashion were based on new and different ideas. This created desire for new things and for the latest model. So there was a cycle of desire for endless difference. Now in most cases our needs are met and the mystical value of some thing is more important than the use value.

The postmodern era emphasizes difference so there is no metanarrative, meaning no real right or wrong. This creates a lot of subjective confusion and creates what is known as the "postmodern crisis of meaning" in which people are overwhelmed by options and no longer know what to do with their lives.

Modern mass production created excess that resulted in the current postmodernity of style. With excess production of clothing, people combined the variety of forms.

Combining and assembling things to form something new is called bricolage. The idea of adaptability is also postmodern.

Pastiche is a playful reference to a master work. Pastiche happens when a design directly references another, as in YSL's reference to artist Mondrian's work below. Bricolage, as described above and seen below right, involves combing sometimes anonymous things that have already been used, and also giving them new purposes and meanings. Bricolage is able to create new meaning from the old while pastiche is just referencing the old for what it means.

With excess there is also cultural referencing between signs. It is similar to pastiche but it involves more than one media and is called intertextuality. With excess signs in media, designers and artists can play with the signs that only mean something within media. This is the practice of a dj, mixing samples that represent the songs themselves without having to play the whole track.

Signs are meaningless if there are no other ones to compare them with. Intertextuality is relating something to a well known reference from the past. For example Madonna wearing a crucifix doesn’t show her Christian nature but is a rebellious, misappropriation of something with a traditional significance.

Ambiguity is also a part of postmodernism in that the excess of similar forms creates confusion.

Postmodernity also plays with established structures. Designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, are most known for transforming the runway show. The theatrical way of presenting their garments gives them added value, with a change in context the garment gains a different feel to it.

Since postmodernism no longer has a single authority, the media becomes the only thing that can legitimize fashion.

A Tale of Inscription Fashion Statements
There are a lot of ideologies that can be related to fashion. Is what a designer showing a pure aesthetic or a statement with a deeper meaning? Fashion is a very ambiguous subject. One thing can be related to others really easily. For example in the time of the feminist rebellion, women dressed more plain and masculine. The author associates the body and power with fashion and is concerned with eras of colonialism in which mostly women were subject to fashion changes.

Above an Anti-American campaign and on the right an Hermes campaign that featured an Indian women in Western clothing. Below "The Hampton Project" by Carrie Mae Weems showed former slaves who were dressed in more formal clothing as part of a school training.

At any specific historical time, fashion is located in a discourse on health, beauty and sexuality, the nation and the economy and location. In Freuds Interpretations of Dreams the techniques he uses to analyse the dreams can be related to fashion. First of all symbolic; a relic from a older indentity, secondly, decoding; the signs translated in to meaning and third, deciphering. There is however no fixed meaning to fashion. Any person, any object, any relationship can mean something totally different. While modernism valued the essential, the real, the substantial over the ephemeral, the imaginary, the formal, postmodernism has been engaged in questioning these divisions, and these transcendental positions.

Japanese teens as producers of street fashion

This article talks about the subculture of Japanese teenagers ( mostly girls) from districts of Tokyo, Harajuku and Shibuya. In this subculture the creators of fashion is not the well-known designer but the teenagers themselves. Even though there are Japan inspirations in fashion such as Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and Kenzo, Japanese street fashion is led by these unique postmodern styled teenagers.

These teenagers mix and maches different patterns, fabrics and accessories together and create an uncommon look. They wanted to make a statement and show that they are different than the stereotypical Japanese person and they are not like their parents who wear more conservative and cultural clothing.

They have different catagories within the culture for example the Kogal which were young girls wearing clothes that look like school uniforms. And even within this there were created subcultures called Ganguro (bleached haired, tanned school girls), Amazoness, Yamamba etc. and even though they look really similar the members of the groups were able to identify themselves from the others. There were also groups who were inspired by mangas, Japanese cartoons which wore more costume like clothes and call this CosPlay (costume play) also there were another group called gothic lollitas.

These girls don’t look up to celebrities, their fashion icons are themselves. Mostly it is not a nice job to work in a department store, but in Tokyo it’s different it is prestigious to work Shibuya 109 because it means you are fashionable. The sales girls in this stores are the trendsetters within their society. Even in the magazines you cant see the celebrities but there are photos of ordinary people from their groups.

It was better to explore a store, a new designer then go to a well known brand. Even the designers they used to shop become famous they lose interest. The garments they buy should be unique so stores create limited numbers. These girls doesn’t spend much money on what they buy because they have to keep up with the newest fashion trends which changes in 2 or 3 weeks. We can see that fashion is not always controlled by the famous designers but there are people who create their own fashion and trends.

Postmodern clothing

Bernard Wilhelm references the Japanese war flag

Jean Charles de Castelbajac re-contextualizes American culture

Postmodern images

David LaChapelle creates absurd photos that suggest the excess of postmodernity and the crisis of meaning

Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs emphasize celebrities, in postmodernity there is no single authority so media and fame become a form of legitimization

Postmodern brands

Jeremy Scott uses bricolage, combing elements of Mickey Mouse with the American dollar bill and his own portrait to create new meaning

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deconstructing Bally

The Swiss shoe manufacturer Bally has built associations with design and the jet set. The brand built recognition through its illustrated campaigns which were used through the 1980's. The recent strategy by Scott Fellows was looking back to the historic brand essence to inspire the brand direction.

Bally began Carl Bally shoe manufacturing in the 1850’s. They supply military shoes during WWI. In 1942 they begin the Bally shoes museum, the largest to this day. 1951 Bally begins luxury production with the “Scribe” shoe after the hotel in Paris. The flagship in Zurich is re-launched in the 1960’s. In 1976, the add ready to wear and accessories.

Most of Bally's illustrations were created by Bernard Villemot, also of Air France.

Below the illustrated image was inspiration for the shot by Toby Pond in 2003

The photographs below were shot in part in Brasilia in 1980.


The brand has gained increased contemporary recognition of its travel and luxury associations. It communicates these values and a European sensibility that is opposed by American and Asian brands at accessible prices. The brand rests on quality of shoe construction as the fundamental essence and the accessories and clothing are added value.

F 2005


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Brand Strategy

by Stephanie Wu

The Burberry Business Model: Creating an International Luxury Fashion Brand
Creating an International luxury brand starts with the right decisions made by those who manage the company. Thomas Burberry, who sold men’s outerwear in England, founded Burberry in 1856. The break through for the company was upon the development of “gabardine” fabrics which resisted tearing and was weatherproof as well as breathable. Associated with the military because of the material, the “trench coat” was developed and Burberry evolved into a retail and wholesale business. Working its way through, the first store in London opened in 1891 gradually expanding then in to the foreign market until we now know as the present day ‘Burberry’.

Decline and Survival
With that being said, Burberry entered a state of shock in 1997 as their annual profits dropped. Their problems read: heavy reliance upon a small base of core products company-owned retail network based in non-strategic locations inconsistent Burberry products sold in wide range of retail environments of varying quality inconsistencies in price, design, quality control across markets under-investment (refusing to make low-risk investments but projects may not perform as expected resulting in bankruptcy) in corporate organization in relation to marketing, merchandising, product development and other support functions. A new appointed chief executive, Rose Marie Bravo, managed to change Burberry for the better and re organized it.

Strategically showing the mix of Burberry consumers by Mario Testino 2001

Brand Management
The Management team understanding the importance of brand strategy takes the original name “Burberry’s” and changes it to “Burberry”. Along with that change, they created a new brand logo as well as a contemporary packaging. In order for them to slightly change the perceptions of Burberry, they, incorporating with that strategy, used models such as Kate moss and renowned fashion photographers to promote their British theme in advertisements. They also repositioned their locations as a flagship store (retailers designed to serve mainstream customers placing them in upscale areas) near Gucci, Versace, Prada, Chanel, YSL, and Bulgari on New Bond Street in London as an act of attracting international fashion press and other media attention.

Product Design and Sourcing
Christopher Bailey, whom had extensive knowledge of fashion houses such as Gucci and Donna Karan launched Burberry Prorsum with a design team where Burberry would be able to compete in high fashion with its counterparts. They also reduced its reliance on licensees for product design and manufacture.

The Burberry old garde and the new together in 2002 by Mario Testino

Defining the Burberry Business Model
Burberry has established a multi-level brand strategy:
Burberry Prorsum, which is the couture fashion range that merely, serves to attract mass media. Quantities are limited and are exclusive for well-off customers. The range is in prestigious departments such as Barneys in New York and Harvey Nichols in London. Burberry London Line is the prête-à-porté range in collections of spring/summer and autumn/winter both men and women’s wear. Spanish and Japanese have two separate lines from Burberry due to the fact that Burberry has established a relationship with them in the past. Both the Spanish and Japanese market has the more tailored Burberry London range for strong classical elements. The Thomas Burberry range in Spain that is targeted at a younger age range from 15-25 years. The Burberry Blue and Burberry Black brands sold only in Japan include the former a casual collection and the latter tailored clothing with sportswear. Burberry along with clothes produce Fragrance, accessories, and children’s wear.

Retail Distribution
Burberry has retail chain stores in important locations in London, New York, Barcelona, and Tokyo with full stocks of Burberry prorsum and Burberry London ranges with accessory collections.
Department stores creates a cost-efficient manner in order to avoid risks and costs with operating a large number of company owned stores. Outlets sell surplus stock at retail stores and wholesale.

Burberry's ads no longer feature the older generation by 2008 above and 2009 below

Brand strategy is combined with brand positioning to increase brand equity or value in both the eyes of the consumer and the bottom line.

International Luxury Goods Merchant: Arthur Cooke
Responsible for Henry Cotton’s and Linen company Frette, for image merchandising, product development, store visuals, and advertising)
“Our plan is to make the brands collective images synonymous with fashion and luxury”
Dawn Mello of Bergdorf Goodman discovered Cooke. He worked at Bergdorf and liked to choose accessories and shaped looks for seasons. Eventually in a few years working at Bergdorf, he was promoted to vice president and eventually came to his position at Henry Cotton’s and Frette in which he oversees showrooms for the sportswear company.

Frette travel

Fashion’s Foremost Empire Builder: Bernard Arnault
Chairman of LVMH- Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton
“The strongest factor in luxury brand building is the boutique.”
Arnault resurrected the Dior label as one of the bankrupt companies in Bossac 1984. He owns over fifty luxury brands including Dior and Fendi. He believes that the boutique is where the brand is alive.

Brand Builder for Famous Names: Jean-Marc Loubier
CEO of Escada
For 16 years, he worked at LVMH under Arnault. He revolutionized the Louis Vuitton image by using the company’s old history to turn what lacked freshness into a fashion and innovative product with the signature monogramming.

Fashion and Media Matchmakers: Karine and Ariel Ohana
Managing Partners in Ohana & Co., a boutique mergers-and-acquisitions firms. The Brother and sister formed their company in 1994 that focused on merging technology, and luxury. They work to bring smaller companies together with larger enterprises that have the nessessary alignment of finaltion assets for fashion. An example as such is how Emanuel Ungaro became part of Ferragamo.

Repositioner of Global Brand: Scott Fellows
Former Creative Director of Bally
“We will combine traditional Swiss precision and old-world craftsmanship with modern shapes and designs.”
Has a business degree from Harvard and had attempted to steer Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, and Fendi however, settled with Bally with its alpine-style roots. He refocused the company’s strategy and downsized the retail network of Bally due to its problematic turn around and made it successful in changing the image but also to retained the Swiss feel.