ISHE: Visual Research Journal

Fashion as Commodity

tw1975 (2012) John Berger / Ways of Seeing, Episode 4 (1972). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jTUebm73IY (Accessed: 11 October 2015)
 
This episode from documentary series by John Berger questions the role of advertisement and its consumers. The video mainly deals with fashion images and how they functions as advertisement for fashion as commodity. Advertisement represents the 'perfect' state of the society by portraying 'glamour' or the way of life that the public aspire to achieve. 'The state of being envied' as John Berger explains, is the idea of wanting to be accepted by the society and the idea of us fearing of being 'undesirable' and 'unenviable'.
 
Advertisement portrays fashion as a lifestyle/attitude, which is something we can't really buy with money, but the publicity makes us think that if we buy that certain product, we would at least gain popularity or be closer to living that specific lifestyle we hope for. In other words, 'the publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product'. 
 
To put this attitude of high fashion brands into public eyes is like selling products on catalogue. It's the need to be envied that drives people into believing in all the brand campaigns and eventually buy the products (in this case, fashion garment) to become 'cooler' or to be more accepted.
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Forbes, (2015). Inside Chinese star Angelababy’s $31 Million Wedding in Shianghai. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristintablang/2015/10/19/inside-chinese-star-angelababy-huang-xiaoming-31-million-wedding-shanghai/ (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

"‘Authenticity’ and ‘customisation’ are not just factors that spur consumption, but allow the experience of a special distinction in which the actual brand fades into the background (Calefato, 2006)."

The quotation above explains the images I've chosen of a pre-wedding photoshoot of a Chinese model/actress, Angelababy and also an image of her customized wedding dress from Dior. She wore "a custom Dior gown that required almost five months to create. Crafted out of 115 feet of ivory satin organza and 165 feet of tulle, the intricate piece features a 10-foot-long train and nearly a hundred hand-cut rose bouquets made of Chantilly lace (Tablang, 2015)." 

Because a wedding is one of the most important days in a woman's life, to feel special, and to be the only one wearing that special dress, Angelababy is willing to purchase a very exclusive customized gown. There's probably no other occasion for her to wear this dress again, but because the experience of getting the measurement done, selecting the styles, and actually wearing it on her wedding, makes the dress worth the price. Fashion is not just about buying clothes, wear it, and throw it away when it's old, but rather it's about the experience of wearing it; how other people react to you when you wear it and how you feel, how confident you are when wearing that garment, etc. Therefore, creating that memorable experience is one of the strategies, fashion brands have in their mind when they're designing or producing something.

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COS at Westfield taken by me on 20 Oct. 2015
 
Carbondale. (2011). Louis Vuitton, Nagoya, by Carbondale. Available at: http://luxurysociety.com/articles/2011/03/13-must-know-luxury-boutique-designers (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).
 
Herzog& de Meuron. (2015). Miu Miu Store in Aoyama. Available at: http://www.dezeen.com/2015/03/26/herzog-de-meuron-miu-miu-store-aoyama-tokyo/ (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).
 
This is another example of how fashion houses create their identities. The flagship stores are designed to reflect the aesthetic of the brand whether it's minimal, grand, or victorian inspired interiors. The architecture helps the costumers to distinguish each brand from one another easily and for the costumers to understand what they sort of style they're purchasing from each brand. Moreover, the decorative interior is another way of putting the value into the clothes more. Personal experience at the store can be added to the actual value of each garment creating a whole package for the customers to feel special.
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Victoria’s Secret, (2014). Invitations. http://nypost.com/2014/10/31/victorias-secret-perfect-body-campaign-sparks-backlash/ (Accessed 24 Oct. 2015).

Victoria's Secret sells lingeries. For the ad campaign, their 'angel' models are posing like they're having fun in lingeries with the caption, 'the perfect body'. The brand is trying to communicate to the audience that these models have the ideal body because they are wearing VS products. How the models interact with each other is very casual like they're comfortable showing off their bodies to each other. How the message is has come across to the public can cause many girls, who are bigger, to feel insecure about their own bodies and can even lead to a more concerned problems like anorexia. In the 21st Centuries, media doesn't present reality, but stimulates it. This is why, there was a controversy regarding this campaign because everybody's perception of a 'perfect' body is different. 

Fashion products are being sold and bought, and in order to do so, the media plays a big role into getting the message the companies are trying to get across to their audience. They have to stimulate the reality, creating a setting, for the public to turn attention to them. Therefore, what is representing in the screen, is being made for the purpose of advertisement, which may or may not always be true.

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Photographs taken by me (20 Oct. 2015)

Big posters and LED screens could be found almost everywhere in Westfield whether in the front of the store with poster and window display or fashion images inside the store itself. The constant visual bombarding sometimes made all of them become invisible to me because I see too many of them that I didn't even care to pay attention to them anymore. Unless, it's something that I'm interested in. For example, I thought about going into Pink Victoria's Secret Store when I saw the poster on display at the side of the store and the mannequin in displayed because I thought I haven't been to the store for so long and I wanted to check out the items inside. 

Within hundreds of images seen, there must be some that make the people stop and pay attention to them long enough that they would like go to into the stores and check the items out. 

Aspect of fashion

It's undeniable that fashion is made to sell at Westfield. Every interior design, every image or display that are put out into the public eyes are for the shoppers, for them to feel the urge to go in and shop whether the products are cheap or expensive.  Fashion photography is a tool to bring people buy fashion products, which is the whole point of Westfield, a business to sell fashion.

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Schouler, P. (2015). Proenza Schouler Pins Debut. Available at: http://fashionista.com/2015/10/proenza-schouler-pins (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

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Papaioannou, N. (2015). Personalized Bag Charms. Available at: http://trendsurvivor.com/best-fashion-week-street-style-trend-personalized-bag-charms/ (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

The idea of making something into one's own identity or something that tells other people about yourself is always intriguing. To own a bag that's 'customized' for you means that nobody else is going to carry the same thing. Anya Hindmarsh incorporates this customization into her stickers collection, which she's earned over $18 million dollars from the stickers alone since SS15 collections. The sticker itself has nothing special. They are just alphabets and cartoon characters for the customers to add their own creativity into the bag, as if they have a part in designing the bag itself because these stickers are permanent. Likewise, because Hindmarch's stickers are so successful, now, Proenza Schouler is starting the similar customization scheme to boost its sale but changing from stickers into pins where the customers can change the location of the pins whenever they want, giving them from a room for creativity, while the price of the pins are more a little bit more expensive then Hindmarch's stickers.

People are willing to spend more of these accessories even though they don't add anything to the bags in terms of the function. The customers feel like they have a contribution to the product they is using on top of the well-known design that's already there. The experience of being special among other people who buy the same thing is truly a business strategy to boost sales.

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Moschino. (2014). Scott’s Fashion Takeaway. Available at: http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2014/02/21/jeremy-scott-capsule-collection/gallery/1131248 (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).
 
(n.d.). Fake products. Available at: http://healthygirlfashion.com/tag/shopping/
 (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

Why are people willing to buy the same white t-shirt in a much higher price when the only thing added is the label? Whether it's a plain t-shirt from T by Alexandr Wang or from Uniqlo, why are we willing to pay for the more expensive brand even though the quality are the same, if not, less. 

It's a statement one's trying to make. The feeling of wearing a 'brand' t-shirt is what the business is aiming for. The brands are making clothes that's wearable for everyday life, but because they're brand names, they are able to sell the normal t-shirts in high prices. The brand identity is so strong that the customers know that if they wear Moschino t-shirts, they are going to be viewed as stylish and financially doing well person. "What counts above all is communicative value, the sign function, the philosophy, the ‘lifestyle’ conveyed by a given item (Calefato, 2006)" For example, the above image shows Moschino by Jeremy Scott T-shirt. A white tee with screen printed statement about the brand. The person, who chooses to buy or wear it, is probably making a statement that "look at me! I'm wearing a Moschino tee". The idea of brand identity is the key that indicates fashion is indeed a commodity. It could be compared to art and design, but at the end of the day, somebody is making the money. 

In contrary, for people who aren't that well of, to be purchasing a Chanel bag from the boutiques, they could buy a similar Chanel bag in the fake market. They could feel confident by carrying a brand name bag without having to spend as much although it's obvious when somebody is using fake product. The existence of fake market comes from fashion as commodity that not everybody can afford and therefore, the smaller business feels the need to match the idea of being 'stylish' and being 'well off' lifestyle everybody is seeking to communicate.

 

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 Roversi, P. (1994). Jean Paul Gaultier. Paris: Musee des Beaux-Arts Montreal, P.270
 
These fashion images are from an exhibition collection book of a fashion design, Jean Paul Gaultier. When a garment stands on its own, it's just an object, purely a commodity, but when it's worn by someone, the story each garment tells is different based on how it's being portrayed. When I look at these editorial, I feel like these garments have lives of their own. For the top image, the glowing shadow makes it seems as if the dress itself is moving like a butterfly on the model's body. The butterfly dress is not just a Halloween costume but rather is a work of art reflecting the texture of the flies beautifully. Likewise, the tube dress on its own is probably for a halloween or some nostalgia party look. When it's worn on a guy, who's holding a cigarette in his hand, the dress is suddenly not made for a woman but for a man. He looks very classy despite the fact that he's wearing a dress with weird pointy breasts coming out. Fashion image in this case is probably best described as artwork because it tells a story, but it can also be seen as artistic advertisement, which creates a consumer desire of these garments.
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TheCoveteur, (n.d.). Kelly Framel - The Coveteur. Available at: http://www.thecoveteur.com/kelly-framel/ (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

This photo shows the wardrobe of Kelly Framel, a fashion blogger, Thegalmourai.com. If I were to see this image alone without knowing whose wardrobe it is, I would for sure say that this person owns too many clothing. There are so many similar heels sitting beside each other on the upper part and so do the bags, which are all expensive brand names, I believe. Even the clothing itself, there seems to be a couple of similar things like black dresses on the right section. 

Clearly, fashion is something that Framel consistently buys to update herself and to be 'stylish' as according to what job she's doing. The amount of clothes she owns is too much for it to be called necessity. 

Fashion is transience, and so this reality forces people who are working in this business having to update themselves accordingly to the trend in order to be 'in' fashion. Fashion business is a 'planned obsolescence (Lipovetsky, 2006)', which is the mechanism of the business; the idea of being out of style makes fashion a commodity because a style doesn't last forever. Fashion is commodity because once the old style dies, the new items, the new 'it' garment would keep coming out every now and then for the consumers to stay in fashion forever.

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Indigital. (2015). Mary Katrantzou S/S 16. Available at: http://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/spring-summer-2016/ready-to-wear/mary-katrantzou/close-up-photos/gallery/1477050 (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

Fashion is a commodity because it is a product. Although the value of the product doesn't some purely from the product itself, as there are so many other factors involve but mainly associated with the brand identity, the price still somewhat reflects the actual value. In the image above, Mary Katrantzou's SS 16 collection, there are so many details on the dress. There seems to be a lot of work behind this dress whether it's the cutting or the pattern design in each section. People who buy expensive clothes, they are not only purchasing on a nice dress to wear, but they're also paying for the craftsmanship and design behind the garment as well.

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H&M, (2014). Alexander Wang for H&M. Available at: http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2014/10/16/alexander-wang-hm-full-collection-pictures-launch-date/gallery/1275400 (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).

Mass produced clothing stores could be find almost everywhere in the world nowadays, so the idea of exclusivity and owning a limited edition is alluring. H&M constantly collaborates with famous designers to produce special collections that are still mass produced but are limited editions. Once they're sold out, they're gone. Therefore, for those people, who get to own those exclusive items, they're in the premier group because of the design's limitedness. Also, the way these special collaboration is advertised heavily in the media before it actually goes out, everybody would recognize some of the garments even though they may or may not care about fashion. The media helps boosting how special it is for people to be owning the collection. 

This is a business strategy that It is guaranteed that the collection would sold out in contrary to the normal seasonal collection in H&M. The price of the collaborative collection is also much higher than the usual collection as it is considered an 'affordable designer product'. So, people are willing to pay more and queue up overnight to be purchasing the designer's items that would surely be in trend and more affordable to them. 

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Medhurst, D. (2014). Romeo Beckham in Burberry. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2822546/As-Romeo-Beckham-stars-new-ad-Burberry-went-chic-chav-chic-again.html (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).
 
(n.d.). Chavs. Available at: http://raemcpherson.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/burberry-and-its-digital-success.html (Accessed 25 Oct. 2015).
 
Back in 2009, chavs were adopting the famous Burberry check into their own clothing that could be found anywhere in cheap prices. The association with chavs and Burberry caused bad reputation to Burberry itself because its identity has been compared to young, lower class people whereas the brand itself is an English heritage known to be worn by people who are well-off. 
 
There's no clear reason why chavs do what they do, but what's clear is that they're being rebellious. They are trying to tell the world that you don't need to be someone to wear Burberry check, anybody can wear the check pattern whether it's real or not. According to the Daily Mail, "luxury is exclusive or it isn’t luxury at all (Ostler, 2014)." When the exclusive pattern is being made available to everyone and is mass produced, the core value disappears as people no longer need to pay the same amount as they did before to the check scarf they could get for ten times cheaper.
 
This is why fashion is transience. It changes in order for the customers to be able to be distinctive from other people and for the business to keep going.


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Fashion as Commodity Creative Outcome

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Fashion is commodity because it's a product good that is bought and sold in the industry, while money is the factor that drives the industry in full circle. Fashion brands use media, photography, flagship stores' design, and packaging to portray their identity to the public, who aspire to share the same identity as the brand.

In my creative outcome, I wanted to portray the irony of fashion brand. Sometimes the collections being sold expensively in the store don't even have good quality. Bringing humor to this topic, I chose to create a strawberry store. A store that only sells strawberries like a luxury boutique. The interior is designed in the way that people might perceive the value of one strawberry differently than when it's in the supermarket. With the marble floor, the glass shelves, and the special service of carving the fruit itself with chosen alphabet, I've included the element of customization, advertisement, and brand identity into this outcome to project the fact that, by doing so, a strawberry is not just a strawberry anymore. It has become a commodity that it's value is more than it really is because of the external marketing factors. 

The same thing applies to fashion. We, as consumers, want to wear something that suits our own aesthetics or identities. Therefore, we seek the clothes we wear based on what we see in the public, which is what the brands put out in the media: advertisement, window display, the design of the store, customization service, and editorial. Within these, we would decide which is suitable for our lifestyles and therefore go to the shop to buy items we want.

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