Sunday, March 14, 2010

Forms > Values = Messages

In everyday life, we can easily understand non-verbal messages communicated by clothing. A suit communicates a professional message. The same suit also communicates a number of other values such as masculine, formal, power etc.

The form is the thing itself, the denotations are what it is.

If we take this basic form and think of the connotations or associations, we get to the values.

Jean Baudrillard suggested that "values destruct forms," that in fact the values of the suit - masculine, serious etc - are more powerful than its form. When we see a suit, the values are what come across. Forms may be created first but they are over-determined by the associated values they express. Those values have been built through both lived and media associations. Look to forms to get to the values which are the messages.

A fashion message then is not "suit" but what the suit communicates. One form communicates many messages but for this class you should focus on one message with many forms.

Importantly when you learn to see values you realize that fashion messages are not tied to only one form. "Professional" for example includes a suit but also heels on women. "Nightlife" may also include heels. The heel then is a medium that communicates many messages, just as a television is a medium that communicates different shows. Your job then is not to study the medium as much as what the medium communicates. Thus we are not reading forms like heels but we are reading messages. If you can understand the message then you will see it communicated by various clothing forms, images and brands.

These are examples where the same message is communicated by different forms. Here it is the shared value of a progressed future that molded forms, organic fabrics and solar all communicate.

Here a dark distorted reality is communicated by different forms.

Here a similar American casual, sports message is communicated by different forms.

Our goal is understanding fashion as communication. We can easily spot consistent forms like trends but the goal is to find consistent messages, thus revealing our cultural values.

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