Fashion shows have become less about fashion and more about theatrical performance. That is the statement this post will look to discuss.
In March 2012 Louis Vuitton opened their Paris show with models arriving on a spectacular industrial steam train. (http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2012/mar/07/louis-vuitton-train-paris-fashion-week).
Of course the stunt was designed to be eye catching and media worthy but is a spectacle like this symptomatic of an industry that is intrinsically self-centred.
Fashion shows bring together three basic groups the vendors; the buyers; and the media. The interactions between these groups are fascinating as each relies equally on one another (Munuera and Ruiz, 1999). But is that really the case? The acclaimed sociologist Harrison White (1981) claimed that fashion is unlike any other industry because producers respond to one another rather than the demands of the consumer. It is true none of the high-end garments on display at Paris fashion week are a reflection of what the consumer wants or needs. Fashion is prescribed to the consumer through a delicate balance of media projections and branding.
If you agree with the premise thus far then you can begin to understand why fashion shows such as the Louis Vuitton one exist in the form they do. Fashion shows are less about the clothes and more about the spectacle. In that sense we must understand that fashion shows aim to frame certain brands in a specific light (see Goffman, 1974). The fashion show is about creating a certain ambiance which both differentiates one brand from the next while always raising the bar in terms of sceptical and excitement. It’s the oldest trick in the marketing handbook; frame the product in a light that makes the product irresistible. Car adverts are a good example; they show a car driving through mountains on wide-open roads with the sun in the sky. Of course this type of performance tells you little to nothing about the car but it appeals to the aspirations and dreams of the consumer.
By understanding the consumer psychology and role of the fashion show in promoting brands we can learn more about fashion as an industry. The fashion industry will never be occupied by one main brand as the market for baked beans can be. Baked beans are seen as a functional good, we just eat them nothing more. Fashion is much more than that, as mentioned in the Paul Smith blog fashion involves consumers buying into a story, into a way of living. Fashion is also different from other markets because it is always evolving, fashion can never be complete rather it is always becoming.
This post poses an interesting paradox to the neo-liberal understanding of markets. The geography of the fashion show demonstrates that unlike many other markets the fashion industry relies on large-scale performances and the framing of brands in particular settings in order to succeed.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press
Munuera, J. L., & Ruiz, S. (1999). Trade fairs as services: a look at visitors’ objectives in Spain. Journal of Business Research, 44(1), 17-24.
White, H. C. (1981). Where do markets come from?. American journal of sociology, 517-547.