Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Love & Seduction in Fashion

Sexuality is a common fashion subject. The term however is very general and can be seen more specifically in messages of both love & seduction.

Steven Meisel, Ferre SS 2009

1. What do we observe in reality & media that communicates the message? Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or class, people express love and seduction through clothing. This is not only by gender expression but in aiming to attract others.

Desirability is subjective. Love and seduction as are normally associated with showing off the body as in the images above through arms, chest and legs. There are however sophisticated strategies of seduction as in the mother figure above which can also be seen as loving. Below, the androgynous form can be found and among men the dominant seduction codes are the expression of their power through suits, power uniforms (pilots or professional athletes) or simply showing the athletic chest.

Media is dominated by images of love, seduction and sexuality.

Two public figures that communicate love and seduction through their clothing are Kate Moss, who shows skin and sexual poses in her personal life candid shots above, and Matthew McConaughey who is often seen either in unbuttoned suits or shirtless.

2. How can we describe the message? Communicating sexuality is a desire to connect with others by love and a process of seduction.






Honesty, openness

Between all people


Heterosexual, Homosexual

Femininity, Masculine


Skin, touching


The bedroom, hotel

"Love & Seduction" is a blended allegory of capitalism. The codes are sometimes soft and romantic resembling love, and sometimes more sexually charged and they are often combined.

3. What writing also expresses this message? In the posts below there are two important texts. A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes analyzes the signs of love. Seduction by Jean Baudrillard explains the process of seducing as does Neil Stauss' The Game.

4. What clothing forms communicate this message? The historic corset has transited its way into outward clothing. This along with any visible presentation of under clothes are seen as seductive, inviting others in to one's privacy. Anything that clings to the body or reveals the body's form is also seductive.

In general any clothing forms that elicit touch as considered to seek love and practice seduction.
Wedding clothes are expressions of love but when designed to expose the body or modify gender expression they communicate seduction.

5. What images communicate this message? There is no shortage of fashion photography that communicates love and seduction.

Tim Walker
Guy Bourdin above and Mert & Marcus below. The bedroom and hotel room are common settings for scenes of love and seduction.

The mystery man, Louis Vuitton 2000 and Derek Lam 2010
A 3 image sequence advertorial by Prada, 2000 shows a couple meeting, confronting one another and embracing

6. What brands communication this message? There are many brands that sell sex but a few that are precise in their communication.

The Kooples brand image is built on the love of real world couples.

Gaultier has spent decades establishing a brand that communicates a provocative form of seduction seen online and in the print campaign below.

Versace is a fashion house that is associated with Italian glamour and power but it's online brand strategy and print campaigns communicate a very feminine form of seduction.

Calvin Klein is well known for a seductive strategy. The famous 1981 Brooke Shields commercial set a precedent for brand values that continue. The Eternity commercial focused on romantic love using real life lovers Christy Turlington and husband Ed Burns.

Eva Mendes, 2009

Chloe presents an online brand that emphasizes love and using print campaigns that show woman intimately connecting and showing a sisterly love for one another.

7. What is a binary message? An opposing message to love and seduction is refusal and resistance. For example the faith based modesty of the Amish of Eastern sects use full coverage clothing to communicate a refusal of open sexuality. While the man on the right shows family love for his child, seduction is not being communicated to the outward world by his clothing.

The Bennetton ad below, showing barbed wire from war zones around the world communicates the hatred that exists in the world.


by Katherine Wang

Jean Baudrillard’s 1979 text Seduction defines seduction not as a form of sexuality, but as a play of signs. The French sociologist and post-modern theorist writes

“It is a power of attraction, of absorption and fascination, a power that cause the collapse of not just sex, but the real in general - a power of defiance.” (p.81)

Seduction is an evergoing cycle of seducing and being seduced. One cannot seduce others, if one has not oneself been seduced. Because it is psychological, it has no boundaries and no limits as it plays with the neverending imagination using fantasies. If the secret to seduction were to be solved, the solution would be sex. However, the difference between seduction and sexuality is biological reality and femininity as a principle of uncertainty.

“If femininity is a principle of uncertainty, it is where it is itself uncertain that this uncertainty will be greatest: in the play of femininity.” (p.12)

Transvestism likes to play with the indistinctness of the sexes. As they are not legitimized by their gender, transvestites become more obsessed and spend more time integrating seductive signs into their lives to please themselves, and possibly others. For example, by taking femininity to the extreme, drag queens are able to draw fascination from a crowd by showing off their ability to simulate superficial sexual signs. The passion that comes with transvestism and being able to seduce does not come from substance but purely from the pride in being able to trick and play with people’s minds.

The transvestite Lady Bunny shows the exaggerated play with gendered fashion codes that heterosexuals take more seriously.

Baudrillard also defines seduction as a challenge in which one must appear weak and render the opponent weak. It is unavoidable and inevitable because it is essentially playing with vulnerability. Unlike production, which has it’s limits, seduction does not accumulate. It is about perfecting an absence, which seduces presence, and making it desirable.

“The seductress turn desire itself into an illusion or trap...Love itself, or the sex act, can become moments in a seduction if given the ecliptic form of appearance/disappearance” (p.85-86)

Cabaret is the performance of seduction

While seducing, the seductress may show flashes of intimacy and amorous or sexual affection as long as it does not become a relationship. In order to continue being the superior subject of desire, one must be able to handle a certain mental cruelty towards herself as well as others. To be the superior character in a game of seduction, the objective is to provoke and deceive desire. The subject must be led to think that he is the object of desire without getting caught in the trap. However, since desire is only a hypothetical prize, it is disappointment of being caught that ends seduction.

The seductress does not attach any meaning to what she does, nor suffer the weight of desire...Her power lies in the irony and elusiveness of her presence.” (p.87)

Animal seduction is the most purest form since it is seemingly based solely on instinct. It is also ritualistic and the most naive form. Lacking in complicity and perfection, animalistic seduction is actually quite primitive compared to that of humans. The more simpler societies may also be seen as being underdeveloped in the game seduction.

Animal prints express the primal desire, Cavalli for H&M

Highly developed societies look to incorporate chance into their games and do not tend to have as strict of an obedience to ritual. Having no functional objective, mastering seduction is simply mastering a cycle of meaningless signs.

The presence of the seductress is immortal. As desire can go on and on, she continues to tease the mind. Every woman and man has the power to seduce and either uses it or not. There are numerous ways to master the game of seduction depending on who their subject is.

Scarlet Johansson for Dolce & Gabbana, 2009

The Language of Love

What is the language of love? How do we communicate love verbally and non-verbally? These were questions asked by Roland Barthes. Barthes developed the theory of semiotics and wrote the book A Lover's Discourse. In this book he analyzed the signs of love from literature and love stories.

There are many contexts and expressions of love from familial to romantic. The main focus for Barthes was unrequited love that is not returned. He concentrated on Goethe's 18th century novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther."

Goethe's novel was the tale a young man longing for the love of a woman who rejects him. The book was a historical phenomenon because it was one of the first books to be an international success and was believed to have encouraged several teenage suicides.

In his analysis of the language of love, Barthes suggests that all love-speak is a "language of solitude," that even when in mutually loving relationships, we still talk love as something happening within the self. We communicate love with the "I," in a self-reflective manner.

What is to be done?: Unrequited romantic love is paralyzing but full of meaning. Barthes suggests that to the lover "everything is a sign...everything signifies." It seems as though all things are more loaded and potent with meaning, every second counts and means something to the greater love story.

“I always ask the same question (will I be loved?), and this question is an alternative: all or nothing.” Barthes wrote that this is always the case, in familial or romantic love we are always seeking total acceptance that continues forever.

Show me whom to desire: “Mass culture is a machine for showing desire.” We hear of love, see it and learn of its archetypes through media. Fashion specifically presents to us the forms of desirability, revealing what an ideal lover look like and what a lover wears.

The lovers’ dialogue, between two is “never you without me,” using private communication. The pair of heterosexual lovers is a biological state of gender that is also the dialogue for men's and women's clothing which is separated into different fashion weeks and magazines that connect through sexual advertising.

The uncertainty of signs: “Signs are not proofs since anyone can produce false or ambiguous signs.” The wink for example is an unclear non-verbal sign and often misinterpreted.

Dressing the part: Werther was recognized as a character by his blue coat and yellow vest. When we love someone we can see their style of dressing as a constant form, as a fixture of their identity.

The ribbon: Werther obsessed about a ribbon of his desired lover. In love “each object is consecrated.” Love then creates a cult of objects. But the ultimate object is the “charming body” of the beloved, the only thing of worth, the only present to unwrap.

Dark glasses: Barthes writes that dark glasses help to obscure our feelings and hide our emotions. If you speak to someone wearing sunglasses, they appear shielded, checked out and generally uninterested in connecting or expressing feelings.

For more on the language of love see Le Love, dedicated to the stream of love consciousness.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Escapism in Fashion

David Sims, Vogue, March 2010

1. What do we observe in reality & media that communicates the message? Regardless of age, gender, race or class, people are mobile and express their leisure travel time through outward clothing. The travel theme is also advanced by media.

Various destinations above show the diversity of travel and climates. The joy of the child expresses the freedom associated with getting away. Urban travelers show bags, a common escapist accessory. Images the Satorialist.

Media provides complete packages for travel

Diane Von Furstenberg is an example of a designer who has focused on travel, stating that her wrap dress was "designed for the suitcase," and taking many of her pattern and color palette inspirations from travel destinations such as Madrid, in the studio image below.

2. How can we describe this message? While travel is a general term and may include work "escapism" implies willfully getting away from routine. Escapism is opposed to the idea of routine.

Values associated with escapism: seasonal variety, cultural diversity, getting away from regular life, free time, leisure, jet set, the primitive island, the countryside and forest, high expectations, recreation, adventure, nature, daydreams

Merriam Webster
Date: 1933:
1. habitual diversion of the mind, imaginative activity
2. entertainment as an escape from reality or routine

The above fashion photo by Blumenfeld suggests sailing but the term "escapism," is the general message, getting to a place away from everyday routine. This message is sent by a lot of different fashion photos and forms.

3. What writing also expresses this message? The texts below this post concern the separation of leisure from work, flight attendant fashion and the escape of the desert. Non Places by Marc Auge below suggests that we are a society of constant travel and escape.

4. What clothing forms communicate this message? Swimsuits and sporting attire, casual and loose fitting clothing for plane travel, in general natural fibers and seasonally variable colors and layers

Escapist clothing is normally different than the destination as in safari garb above. However experimenting or playing with specific regional clothing also indicates a traveler seeking to assimilate with the destination.

5. What images communicate this message? Editorials which directly name travel and voyages are common in fashion magazines.

V Magazine
Vogue, January 2010

Mert & Marcus with Grace Coddington, Vogue, September 2009

Arthur Elgort w/ Linda Evangelista, Vogue, 1991

6. What brands sell this message? Look to online website information, logotypes and look books or campaigns.

Louis Vuitton is the brand with most clear escapist brand image. The luggage company maintains an ongoing "Journeys" campaign.

Hermes is a double signifier for the company and the Roman god of travel. The winged god appears on the main page of the Hermes website and influences their travel themed campaigns.

Hermes, 2000

Missoni has a long history of associations with leisure and travel wear. Hotel Missoni in London.

Ryan McGinley, Road Trip, Missoni, F 2009

Michael Kors made a strategic brand move in 2003 toward lux travel and celebrity associations

Michael Kors F 2005

Michael Kors, 2006

Michael Kors inspires models to think jet set, S 2004

7. What is a binary message? An opposing message to escape is regimented routine, a fixed schedule and one location. A neutral palette with consistent conservative clothes are associated with the work ethic communication. This is however only the case in advanced Western societies. In any society a local clothing pattern marks the opposite of tourists. Banana Republic is a brand that originally began offering casual and some safari clothing but now emphasizes professional clothing.

S 2006
F 2006