The new edition of What’s left of the media by Gianfranco Bettetini and Armando Fumagalli (Quel che resta dei media; Franco Angeli, Milan) has recently hit bookstores. It has been over ten years since the publication of the first edition (in 1998) and the authors have now issued an updated synthesis of the evolution of the media panorama, from the reality show boom to the rise of the new form of digital and interactive entertainment.
A chapter of the book (which can be found in the Document section of our web site) is dedicated in particular to the communication in the fashion world, a topic examined by Paolo Braga and Armando Fumagalli.
Initially, the authors retrace the steps of the evolution of fashion as a popular commercial phenomenon that exploded in Milan, Italy in the late Seventies. They analyze the beginnings of this surge and its first expansion in the United States. The work then explains how fashion reached the international market in the Nineties, thanks to a strong cooperation among designers and heavy industrial investments in advertising campaigns. It covers the various difficulties during the start of the third millennium, the economic crises, and the competition of French luxury groups and retail chains such as Zara and H&M.
From the industrial perspective, we witness a total transformation of the business model, also in light of the new challenges and the advanced demands of countries such as China and Russia. The media on the other hand, exalt fashion to a mass phenomenon. In fact, nobody like designers has achieved such a significant cultural impact in the recent decades, influencing cinema, theater, architecture, and literature with their tendencies. Their influence extends to the point of achieving their own real artistic legitimacy and clutch on opinion leaders.
But how is such a phenomenon possible? The authors identify the main cause to be the widespread use of advertising and publicity leverage, which has contributed in a decisive way to the explosion of brands. But advertising, contrary to other fields, is flattened more and more by images of models in a glamorous sensual atmosphere, and not by real competitive advantages of products. In this way, fashion greatly loses its originality and diversity. All brands use the strategy of elevating the figure of the model to a unique and prominent element of communication, specifically through a certain slender ideal.
The negative implications of this communication trend, above all on the social and psychological level, are rather evident, and many studies confirm the data. The communication of fashion offers a canon of standards for beauty by which to evaluate oneself and project changes. It does not aim to offer purely aesthetic ideals, rather it suggests absolutely achievable short-term goals that are based in a world of unsatisfied desires, aspirations and frustrations. In other words, it advertises an unhealthy model of the body that teaches young girls that this type of body is the ticket to security, success, and even relating with others. Consequently, a genuine problem of gender identity really exists.
At this point of the chapter, the authors’ criticism is quite tough. The lack of public reaction in the face of such problems is greatly due to the absence of critical voices capable of influencing the insiders; in other words, the substantial silence of journalists and opinion leaders who theoretically ought to examine the excesses. The authors propose various ideas to consider, among which they ask if it will ever be possible for fashion to continue its role in creativity, color, enhancement in style and fabric, the beauty of the body; rejecting, however, the exasperation of sensuality and the forms of degradation which- more or less consciously- give rise to attractions that are harmful to health and personal identity.