Fantasy vs. Reality: Images and Marketing in the Fashion Industry

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Anna Wintour says in the documentary The September Issue that “there is something about fashion that can make people very nervous.” The fashion industry is known as the coolest industry, the mythological, mean, secretive, and obsessive-compulsive industry, but what is there beneath all its marketing layers?

Does it truly come down to “this is now in, that is now out”? Is it, in its essence, disappointingly minuscule and insignificant compared to the blown up farce? Let’s play fashion without the curtains and see if it is still worth the ticket.

The Act

A recurring scene in movies and TV shows: Person A lifts the sheet off of some corpse in a morgue; person B looks at it with this look of shock and terror, then person A covers it back up. This is the point of maximum potential in mystery writing. The later reveal is always beneath the audience’s expectations. Three hearts and fours kidneys? Extraterrestrial? Oh, well, whatever, never mind. The fashion industry knows this trick better than any other.

The key word in fashion marketing: distance. When you think about the coolest person you know, it is never your best friend. He/she may be an awesome person, but once you get close enough we are all so human. The “coolest” person in the book is never the protagonist, because we are inside his/her head and no one thinks “cool” thoughts all the time. It’s always the sarcastic sidekick, the favorite character of the audience. “Coolness” means distance and fashion tries to be oh-so-cool.

Vogue us mjcolss14 mar dps

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The spokespeople of the fashion world are models and they don’t speak. Models don’t make eye contact or smile. They look “out of this world,” surrounded by weird aesthetics like empty humid hotels or huge golden insects. The way they look is not about sexual attraction, so don’t blame patriarchy for the standards of thin. It is the exclusivity of the look, the distance from the audience.

Many models are "ugly," but “interestingly” so. They look like it would be fascinating to hear their story, as they are so different from us, but then again, models don’t speak. They also look appropriately miserable, as it is commonly acknowledged by the likes of Williamsburg inhabitants and poets that depression has infinitely more depth than joy. Evidently, the corpse is there and the reaction is there, but we never get to see what’s up with it.

The fashion industry thrives off of exclusivity, weird rumors, and half-kept secrets. It knows the opium of the masses is just forbidden stories about lives they aren’t living.

The Audience

Whenever you buy a fashion magazine, it is a request for a fantasy to make real life bearable. The audience is more than willing to participate in the deception. Most of us can’t look life or ourselves straight in the eye, so we revert the gaze to make-believe.

When you’re paying for a dress à la Audrey Hepburn in that movie Lunch at Marguerite’s or whatever, you aren’t just paying for the dress. It comes with a baggage of character, plot, and transformation. So, the satisfaction is not simply wearing the dress, it is a game of pretend, all Miss Golightly and “people don’t belong to people.”

Audrey Hepburn

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Brands are stories, too. Oh, Alexander McQueen committed suicide, such great advertising. Did you know Monroe only wore Chanel #5 to bed? People form alliances with brands and personal relationships with items of clothing. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: my Anthropologie dress and I are like Zooey Deschanel in New Girl or my worn out leather jacket and I reference The Runaways. Different forms of media thrive off each other to infect more and more people. Movies start trends, trends start movies, movies start music, music starts memes, memes start trends, etc., etc.

We are indeed the society of the spectacle, defined by Guy Debord. We don’t live our lives for ourselves, as autonomy can be scary. We turn to images and sources to form opinions. We Google if it is “okay” to wear asymmetrical dresses this season or to kiss on the 17th date. Maybe we should forget the question “is it weird to” or “do people even wear that” and own up to our lives, experiences, and choices. It’s fine. We’re all lost. It’s fine.

So, what is up with fashion?

The answer is: “Quite frankly, nothing much.” There is no corpse: the rumors of the person’s death were greatly exaggerated. Is it polka dots or patterns of huge pineapples today, ‘cause I forget? Can I wear a skeleton onesie to class now, if it’s ironic?

Imagine the colorful frenzy if we burned all the guides: Victorian costumes, futuristic hats, and mathematical formulas on tights. People would find inspiration on their own and pay tribute to whomever/whatever they liked, whether it was Picasso’s blue period or Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, instead of turning over and over to the girl with the wonderful ginger cat just to be safe.

Lou Reed Gemma Ward

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Fashion magazines help to cultivate taste, but they shouldn’t pretend to be the arbiters of elegance. There are so many Others, and Others are, of course, where the party really is. Fashion loves big words (and big hair): revolution, The Look, The This, The That, bold, chic, She.

It should try and come up with bigger ideas and stronger characters, instead of just referencing cultures and turning art capitalistic while taking itself too seriously, too. If it were actually fascinating, it wouldn’t need the distance to seem.

Tulip fields; your strange dreams; how the clothes make you feel; the geometry of the dress; the texture; the mood; the memories you live with the bag; color; patterns; flirting; changing; exploring. All infinitely more inspiring than any of the current trends.


What is your opinion on fashion magazines and the fantasy they create? Is “cool” overrated? Tell us in the comments.

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