A Semiotic Analysis of High Fashion Advertising

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A SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF HIGH FASHION ADVERTISING by Alan Rhodes and Rodrigo Zuloago 12/5/03

Fashion advertising is an excellent example of identity-image producing media. The nature of the product is tied directly to identity—those objects with which we encase our bodies for public display—and fashion is acknowledged as a cultural language of “style”. In the realm of High Fashion advertising—those products and identity-image advertisements at the top of the socio-economic spectrum: products such as Dolce Gabanna, Gucci, Prada, media such as runway shows, W Magazine, Zoom, Allure—the goal of producing an attractive identity product is pursued with an affluence of money and artistic talents drawn internationally to create the most emotive and entrancing imagery possible within their media outlets. Taken as a whole, High Fashion media and advertising describe a spectrum of identity, unified in general types of signifiers—young women, high status, high sexuality—and through the constant repetition and variation of images on these themes serve to create this identity spectrum. This conglomeration of imagery, created by some of the most highly paid artists, designers, models, and photographers, pursues two inter-related ends: to advertise those products on the basis of a manufactured, image-based identity, and to promote these image identities to the general public. This can be seen clearly in High Fashion, where the products are marketed to a select few because of their cost, but the identity images connected to those products are promoted to a wide audience through magazines and product placement. In this way, High Fashion media provides a service to the consumers of their products by promoting to the public the cultural and socio-economic significance of their clothing: who is stylish, who is not, who is rich and powerful, who is not. This provides predictability and control of the moment of encounter for their “clients” who can afford a service that promotes the appearance of a select few; the product—the clothing, makeup, and accessories—act as both the point of consumption of the advertised identities, and as the point of identification with those identities within the public sphere.

Though High Fashion brands are motivated to compete with each other in advertisement of similar products, they are unified in the goal of promoting the set of values and life-style connected with High Fashion. In this way, analyzing High Fashion advertising as a whole, one can deconstruct an identity spectrum that is being promoted. W magazine is a print manifestation of this unified promotional effort. Within the boundaries of its pages, there is a consistency to the imagery and 11

products that outlines an alter-reality of beautiful young women, expensive things, and art. The abundant advertising and scarce editorial content flow together. To take, as an example, the September issue of W magazine, 279 of the 544 pages are direct, logoed advertisement; of the remaining pages, more than half are devoted to “spreads”: a series of fashion photographs featuring products from multiple designers, unified by theme, by photographer, or by model (these themes, designers, photographers, and models basically identical to those in the advertisements). These spreads include in inset the name of the brands featured, and frequently their prices, seeming more like advertisements than the advertising spreads by Prada where you have to search the image to find the logo. This is to say that the images produced for advertisement are the content of the magazine, brought together into a physically unified (bound) image universe. W magazine’s distribution model seems, by the numbers, to be based in both advertisement and promotion. According to a promotional website, W magazine targets “those in high society or… readers interested in those in high society ,” meaning the consumers of High Fashion products or their audience [Fusich]. The remaining content of...
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