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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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I carried out research on the definition of Fashion Communication by looking at universities descriptions of their fashion communication courses, I looked at the University of Arts London (UAL) and Northumbria University's Fashion Communication course descriptions. I also googled 'what is fashion communication', and read articles about fashion communication on the Career India website and a Quora thread which was answered by various industry teachers and professionals. We discussed in class within our discipline group that Fashion Communication was a very broad term that includes branding, styling, trend forecasting, graphic design, new digital platforms, social media, film, photography, print, installations, events, visual merchandising, advertising, PR, marketing and creative writing. My interpretation of what the definition of Fashion Communication is, based on my research and our class discussion, is that it is the means of creatively and visually communicating an aspirational lifestyle/symbol of status/aesthetic/item, with the intention for the consumer to buy into an association with or inclusion into an exclusive tribe or movement in art, fashion, beauty or culture. It is all that surrounds a designer and their work and connects the intended audience to the world of fashion, as well as a peer to peer connection via social media and blogging.

I listened to to podcast Dressed: The History of Fashion by April Calahan and Cassidy Zachary. In the episode titled, Founding Father of Haute Couture Charles Frederick Worth, it was explained that before the fashion designer and clothing industry and manufacture as we know it today, garments were made to measure. They were made at home by a family member or by a dressmaker. A dressmaker was a woman's profession and was not held in high regard. A dressmaker did not earn very much money, seeing some turn to prostitution to make ends meet. Mercers or drapers were shops and department stores that sold dressmaking materials for people to buy and provide their dressmakers with for the construction of their clothing.

Callahan and Zachary explain in this episode and the episode titled, The King of Fashion Paul Poiret, that first ideas and invention of fashion communications can be traced back some pivotal points and figures in history, in Paris and England and this is where I gathered the following information;

Frederick Charles Worth is regarded as the first fashion designer. His father was a mercer. After moving from England to Paris and working at dressmaking department store Gagelin-Opigez & Cie, Worth pitched to the store owner that they should supply ready to wear garments, made in-house and designed by Worth. -The first example of off the rack clothing becoming available. These designs were talked about in fashion press at the time but the designer's name was never mentioned, as the idea of a fashion designer did not yet exist.  By 1851, Worth was regarded as a trusted tastemaker with women valuing his opinion on what was fashionable. During 1853 Charles and wife; model, Marie Augustine Vernet, employed inventive tactics to sell these garments to difficult customers. -Something I think that could be regarded as the beginning of styling and marketing tactics. After questioning whether or not the client could even afford to shop at the store, Worth would 'discover' a garment from the pile of dresses that that customer had already tried on and have the customer try it on again, as if it was a brand new dress. Charles would readjust the way the dress was being worn, the customer would be amazed by the new find, and buy it.

In 1858 Worth launched his own fashion house with Otto Bobergh called Worth and Bobergh.  Eventually becoming House of Worth in 1870, 1200 people were employed by the fashion house. -The beginnings of mass produced garments, specialised ateliers with specific elements of dress making (production line) and the use of sewing machines in fashion houses are found here. "For the first time the opinion of the designer carried more weight than that of the client and Worth considered himself an artist". The world's richest women would wait in line to gain entry to the store, including royalty. -Something that I think could be seen as a publicity stunt for promotion of the shop. Worth was opposed to advertising but recognised the power of high profile women being seen wearing his clothes. Marie Worth suggested they should take his designs to Princess de Metternich, knowing that this would catch the eye of Empress Eugenie of France. The plan worked. The demand, and the price of Worth's dresses rose and Worth's reputation as a fashion Designer was secured. The podcast says that Worth's son described his mother as a 'Social Celebrity' and I think that these ideas of having high profile people be seen wearing a designer's clothes to increase awareness and popularity are just as prevalent today. Especially the connection to royalty, for example Princess Diana's or (mentioned by the podcast,) Kate Middleton's wedding dress designer's fame and also the famous red carpet question, "who are you wearing?'. Worth was the first designer to sew his label into his garments, beginning the branding of a designer or the 'designer label'.

Worth began selling his patterns to department stores in England and America, recognising that his designs would be copied. This also increased awareness of his brand and further bolstered the ideas of mass producing a designer's dresses for a larger audience. The shoppers' in store experience was considered by Worth too, the lighting in the store could be changed to depict soft indoor lighting or colder outdoor lighting to give the shopper a view of how the dress would look on all occasions. A visual merchandising technique which was formerly used by H&M in their changing rooms. House of Worth had branches in Paris and London which of course we see chains of clothing stores everywhere today.

The emergence of many more elite Parisian designers began a need for a professional governing body to regulate trade. In 1868 Jean vs Decale legitimised the role of Haute Couture houses (a title that was introduced in 1945) and their designers even further.

Dressed: podcast episode, The King of Fashion Paul Poiret, details how Paul Poiret was the son textile business owner in Paris. An apprentice at an umbrella manufacturer, he took home scraps of silk and made with them miniature versions of clothes. He began to illustrate his designs and shop them around to boutique owners in Paris. This afforded him the role of head of the tailoring department in one Paris' most prestigious design houses owned by Jacques Doucet. Poiret's reputation was established after an actress made an appearance wearing a cape he had designed and received rave reviews for.  He had a reputation for being impeccably dressed and owning impressive art, furniture and book collections. Poiret saw an importance in how the projection of his image personally, impacts on the image of his business and how a beautiful woman was a walking advert for his work. -Another example of celebrity styling and the connection of lifestyle and clothing we know today. He then was employed at the House of Worth which was by then being run by Worth's sons, before setting up his own shop in Paris. Pointe married his wife Denise Poiret in 1905 and she became his model, inspiration and muse. She would appear in his designs, some of which were now corset-less and stocking-less, which was at the time unheard of. He used her as a model to showcase new his ideas. (-But,  I wonder whether was this really his idea? Or was it an uncredited suggestion by his probably restricted and uncomfortable wife, sick of shallow breathing, indentation marks and crotch seams? ..Just me wondering..)

Instead of traditional publicity, Poiret would host grand fetes which became well known and reputed as grand spectacles, showing off immense wealth and entertaining guests with performers, musicians. Guests would be dressed in costume designed by Poiret, showcasing his work across the entire event. -I think this shows the beginning of the exclusive fashion events and fashion shows that we have now, as well as increasing visibility and using celebrity and aspiration to promote a business. He also travelled with his collections. The events are depicted in illustrations and photographs, documentation which I think could well have evolved into the 'who's who' of society being photographed appearing at events published in magazines now, like Harper's Bazar and Tatler. He prided himself on being an artist who did not advertise and he believed that like an artist, clients should come to him to create work, not the other way around. He also had an art gallery and was associated with Matisse and Picasso. He was one of the first to make a connection between fashion and art and in 1908 and 1911 he would collaborate on books with artists. These books are perceived to be at the beginning of modern fashion illustration, or the modern look books. They contained very little text and the depictions of the clothes had more artistic licence than traditional fashion illustration. The fact that they were promotion tools was hidden by the artistic nature of the illustrations and the quality in which they were printed. This was a new way of advertising fashion and also validated the fashion illustrator as a profession. It began a new generation of fashion illustrators. In 1911 Poiret's designs were the focus of one of the first fashion photoshoots. With photographer Edward Steichen, Poiret also became art director of this shoot and it was featured in Art et Decoration magazine. These photographs also gave the viewer a rare and exclusive glimpse into Poiret's home, I think that this is another facet of lifestyle culture we see now in magazines like OK and Hello .

He was the first designer to branch out into cosmetics, fragrance and interior design. Becoming the first person to incorporate all of these business elements into a lifestyle brand. Something that is now common place in the fashion industry. Department stores' stock today are comprised of all of these items. In 1912 Vogue wrote that his creative genius had created a new genre. He created travel sized versions of his cosmetics and fragrances, ensuring his products could be used anywhere. He founded interior design business, Martine, where he employed mainly 12 year old girls. Recognising that they are creatively free and original in thought, they were taken to parks and zoos for inspiration and taught rug making and embroidery. They decorated commercial spaces and homes throughout Europe. Martine boutiques were also found in London and Berlin, and so like Charles Worth, Poiret had multiple shop locations. In addition to this was the Martine design school and his workshops in print and other arts. During WW1 Poiret was called for army service but continued to produce, couture designs, exhibitions and ready to wear catalogues during that time.

The designers mentioned above were key figures in culminating what I would define as fashion communication today such as branding, styling, trend forecasting, photography, print, installations, events and creative approaches to visual merchandising, advertising, PR and marketing. They also created some of the defining moments for the discipline such as Worth becoming the first ever fashion designer, inventing ready to wear garments, using high profile figures as means of advertisement and with Poiret doing away with the old corset and stockings protocol. Poiret also was inspired by middle eastern and asian cultures, incorporating them into his designs. Poiret was said to have hated hair and he may have been the first person to invent short hair for women. Because of this hatred he even recreated turbans he once saw on display at the V&A. Could one argue that this was an early instance of cultural appropriation, something that we see as problematic in society today? He also took the means of support of a garment from the waist to the shoulders, experimented with different silhouettes and designed the culotte. -I'm imagining the freedom and relief of a culotte after his stride restricting, Hobble Skirt was "over", must have been pretty key moment for some women.

The launch of Harpers Bazar magazine in 1867 (www.Historyengine.edu, America's First Fashion Magazine) is key moment for fashion communication. History Engine, It was focused towards high society women, or those who aspired to be high society women and contained articles on style, fashion, fragrance. It enforced consumer culture as a route to happiness and feminised it. It depicted images of women shopping, advice on how to please men while also offering fashion and consumerism as a vision of freedom and independence (Gershon, The Birth of Fashion Magazines).

I wanted to find out more about photography's role in fashion communication and when it began and found a lot of useful information in podcast, Dressed: The History of Fashion, episode Century of Fashion Photography and interview with Paul Martineau. The use of photography in fashion changed the landscape starting with Poiret's mentioned photoshoot in 1911, Vogue's use of lighting and mood in their shoots beginning in 1914 and their first colour front cover in 1932.                                                                                  The second world war greatly effected the landscape of fashion due to practicality of clothing when women were set to work and the rationing of fabric. Publications followed suit with this and photographers offered up a more stripped down version of their former photography. By the 1940's more photographs were featured in magazines than illustrated images and the photographs began to reflect what women were doing at this time allowing women to see themselves in the pictures.

The use of fashion in film as opposed to costume design has helped to launch designers, such as relatively unknown at the time, Hubert de Givenchy, and his designs in Sabrina (1954) starring Audrey Hepburn. There was then a rise in fashion's influence over film as well as the continuing rise in celebrity culture and a increasingly popular interest in movie stars, what they wear both on and off the screen (Film and Fashion, by Bruzzi).

Other key moments include the invention of "high street fashion" and fashion for teens in the 1960s (www.vam.ac.uk, An Introduction To 1960s Fashion and The Interesting Truth Behind High Street Shops and Their Names. The Telegraph). Teen magazines and TV shows such as The Clothes Show (1987-2000) bought catwalk fashion ideas into people's screens and showed how to recreate them on a budget (www.imdb.com The Clothes Show). Even TV characters have become fashion icons that people turned to for inspiration, such as Jennifer Anniston's "The Rachel" hairstyle featured in Friends, character Fran Fine's high fashion wardrobe in The Nanny and even character Sarah Lund's knitwear collection in The Killing.

The internet has changed fashion communication. It has changed the way we shop for clothes online and eliminated the need to set foot into a physical store. Selling and buying vintage, rare and designer items on eBay and depop has become the norm. With the immediacy and amount of free content found on fashion websites and blogs we have seen physical publications fold such as Teen Vogue and new online fashion websites lookbook.nu and refinery29.com emerge. Youtube has birthed the genre of vlogger (How the Internet Changed the Fashion Industry, by Brandes), and along with the traditional blogger, has become a new version of Worth's tastemaker and trusted opinion. Instagram and other social media has turned everyone into a model and photographer, documenting our lifestyles and individual styles for others to aspire to (whether those lifestyles real or not). Set designer Es Devlin says it has changed our viewpoint "from a rectangle to a square" (Abstract Design, Netflix), altering the way set designers and other designers approach their work, knowing it will be showcased to the masses in this format. This has also given the celebrity as influencer a platform to not only promote in this role but get paid for it with sponsored posts, akin to Poiret's hidden advertising and the Empress Eugenie. The internet and social media has allowed us a broader range of retrospective view and new appreciation for fashion trends past and their relevance today. Such as instagram's @thiswasfashion and @whatfranwore and even more surprisingly, Jason Alexander's character, George Constanza's wardrobe styling in Seinfeld and how what he wore on then show was regarded as unfashionable is now regarded as fashionable (www.gq.com, George Constanza ...Fashion Icon? by Chen).

I believe fashion communication came about when it did because after the industrial revolution, mercer and draper department stores such as Gagelin-Opigez & Cie, Debenhams and John Lewis, for example, needed to adapt to the changing way of life and the technology advances. Rather than to close up, downsize or lose business. It seems in my research that it was often the children of these store owners bringing their new and inventive ideas to the industry they grew up in, and changing it to suit the new ways of life and consumer culture that was emerging. New advances in technology and art also influenced this change by providing new means of showcasing fashion and art in exciting and relatable ways. Ward's atelier workers and Poiret's Martine school, along with others, then equipped many with the skills and knowledge to continue on with these practises and evolve with the advances to come.

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