December 21, 2012

Instruments of Communication

Author: Marcarena San Martin

Topic: Fashion

A series of elements allow for a dialogue between the brand and the consumer—the so-called "instruments of communication." These instruments can be divided into two types: institutional instruments of communication, used to transmit the values of the brand, and temporal instruments of communication, the aim of which is to promote the product.


The brand

More than a name or a logo, a brand is the story that one wishes to tell, the objective of which is to stimulate desire in the consumer. It communicates the mission and vision of the company regarding desired positioning through coherent and permanent communication, recognized beyond the mutability of the products.

It is increasingly difficult for brands or fashion designers to distinguish themselves from peers, as products tend to be similar in price and quality. It is for this reason that branding has become such an important instrument: it tells stories about the brand that help stimulate desire and emotions among consumers, primary motors of consumption in society today. In other words, it represents the power of the brand as an element of differentiation.

Branding is a part of the species of marketing that was born in the mid-eighties, when brands began to assume the central importance that they enjoy today. As a result, advertising does not announce the simple existence of products but must create an image and tell a story about a brand. As the French semiologist Roland Barthes stated in The Fashion System (1967), "It is not the object but the name that creates desire."Every brand comes into being with the desire to triumph and gain recognition. It should not be forgotten that fashion, above all, is a business. Moreover, in today's so-called "liquid society," analyzed by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Life (2005), brands have become the access points to our identity. Their objective is to establish connections between individuals in order to create a brand community, gathered around certain aesthetic values, preferences, and specific tastes, thus creating a cultural idea or certain identity toward which they aspire. As individuals, our primary desire is to be recognized as part of a community. It is for this reason that humans imitate, though not randomly; they always choose their models. When buying they define themselves through their relationship with the objects and the meaning society attributes to them (the materialization of values that the brand provides) and as such, with the purchase of certain products, one will feel part of the community created by the brand.Branding includes elements that help in the overall construction of the brand. These are divided into tangible and intangible characteristics:

  • Tangibles: the graphic identity or image of the brand, such as the logo, name, color, slogan, or packaging.
  • Intangibles: the personality or idea of the brand, consisting of values, promises, cultural references, stories, myths, etc.


These are one of the tangible elements of the brand that offer the most information about the designer and the product. Some indicate the name of the designer or brand and explain the characteristics of the fabric and how to care for it, as well as the "made in" information. As for the first type of labels, it is necessary to pay attention to the design because in a boutique along with other garments it will represent the first contact with the buyer. In fact, not only are they important because of the technical information they offer to the consumer, but also because of the need to care for the image of the brand. These labels can change their design each season, reflecting the spirit of the collection.

The second group of labels ensures that the consumer can take care of the garments properly as the provider customarily includes directions about how to care for the fabric with specific symbols. Included are the place of manufacturing and a reference to the manufacturer or designer, someone to contact in case there is a problem.

Point of sale

Nowadays this space is of capital importance within the sphere of communication, as it is the meeting point between the brand and end consumer. It is the place where the strategy of the brand takes physical shape, creating and transmitting the desired atmosphere so that the client can have the kind of buying experience that makes him willing to pay a surcharge. It is for this reason that single-brand stores are increasingly more important from a strategic point of view, some having become genuine brand temples (for example, Prada with its "Epicenters") where what matters is not so much selling but generating an experience intricate to the idea of the brand as a lifestyle.

Patronage and sponsorship

The relationship between fashion and other sectors often materializes in these two forms. A brand utilizes patronage—providing financial support to others so that they can do their work, without asking for anything in exchange—to improve its image, becoming involved in an activ166 ity of general interest and making clear its commitment to social participation, as Prada does with its Foundation and Benetton with Factory. With sponsorship a brand provides a loan, essentially economic, to a team, individual, program, or communication medium for advertising purposes. It should be noted that this is not a disinterested loan, because the entity or person being sponsored will be held to certain obligations to the benefactor, such as wearing the logo of the brand in a visible way.

Art and music are two of the most common sectors used by brands for communicating in this form, always when the figure being sponsored has already achieved prominence in the public's mind.

Corporate magazines

These are less common communication tools used mostly by large consumer brands to create customer loyalty and are distributed in their stores, as is the case with H&M. They include information and images from the collection as well as news and reports related to the brand or the world of fashion in general.

The website

Today the Internet is an indispensable tool for communication. It is the way to introduce oneself to the world, not just to clients but anyone interested in a brand or designer. The website should be true to the image of the brand and constitute a perfect instrument for deepening advertising discourse and creating interactivity, offering the possibility of entering into direct communication with the brand. It is important to remember that the clients of a designer can come in two forms: the retailer and the end consumer. Both are interested in image and in seeing the collection, though the former is more concerned with obtaining information about the professional trajectory of the designer and mode of contact, while the latter wants primarily to know where to buy the collection. Despite this, many brands still use the website only as a showcase for reproducing the images of campaigns and/or collections and not for generating an exchange of information with consumers and potential clients. This is because two of the most important aspects of having a website are making sure the content is specific to the online medium—that is, it should be conceived with the Internet in mind—and be updated continual


These instruments are devoted exclusively to promoting the product, and involve elements that have a short duration and whose appearance and content vary with each season.

The lookbook

The lookbook consists of a series of images from the collection whose objective is to transmit the image of the brand and evidence to the public that identifies emotionally with the company. Thus, the garments are shown by models or at least atmospherically (for this reason a clothing stylist in charge of looks and props, when these are used, takes part) and are delivered to clients, buyers and stylists.

The catalog

The catalog is one of the most traditional avenues of communications for showing the collection in the world of fashion, although today, especially thanks to the Internet, it has lost some of its importance, being replaced by different digital supports. In contrast to the lookbook, it is done with flatter photographs as opposed to production images, offering more information and characteristics about the product.

The press dossier

Generally, it is a CD destined for the press that contains a series of images (high resolution for printing and low resolution for posting online) and accompanying text in different languages. The text consists of a brief commercial description, written in paragraphs, that can be read together or separate. Due to these characteristics, it is a tool utilized very often when composing notes, writing reports, or making reference to a brand.

Fashion shows

These are the medial jewels of communication in fashion. By nature they effectively combine business practices with the art of entertainment. The deep interest of the media in fashion models, celebrities, and star designers gives fashion shows undeniable appeal. While fashion shows began as a simple means of presenting collections to clients, nowadays they are a great tool for communication, capable of producing a visual declaration of the principles of a brand.

The wide coverage granted to fashion shows by the media in the form of television reports, magazines, newspapers, and on the Internet has replaced a strictly professional public—professional buyers, journalists, and private clients in the case of haute couture—with a global consumer who, fascinated by the pageant of glamour on fashion runways, has become the reason for this mode of promotion.

Given the tremendous media display involved and the resources they consume, questioning the actual necessity of fashion shows is not unwarranted. Is such excess truly necessary? Are so many famous faces needed in the front rows? Must one have a fashion show in order to survive in the world of fashion? Still, it must not be forgotten that the primary objective of a fashion show is to sell. And what better platform for this than an authentic media show, a unique spectacle broadcast to and for a global audience.

The fashion show has the advantage of showing products through direct presentation, which allows the audience to react to the latest styles instantaneously, thus contributing to a sense of privilege among the attending public of knowing beforehand the latest trends in the world of fashion.

The process of planning and presenting a fashion show demands knowledge of the organizational steps needed for making it a success. The investment in material and human resources is high, and thus it is extremely important to obtain an attractive return, whether in the form of sales or media impact. It is for this reason that the fashion show must be coherent with the spirit and image of the brand, taking into consideration all the elements that contribute to best comprehending the collection.

One of the first planning decisions that needs to be made is deciding in what international context the brand will be situated, as the prêt-à-porter fashion weeks have particular characteristics, ones that can have either a positive or negative impact on the perception of a designer.

The prêt-à-porter fashion-show calendar is very compressed, and it is difficult to obtain a slot on days with as many as twenty shows. As a result, great effort is expended each year on obtaining a spot.

The presentation of women's fashion lasts for two months: February and March for fall-winter collections and September and October for spring-summer collections beginning in New York and then followed by London, Milan, and Paris. Meanwhile, men's prêt-à-porter collections appear in January and July in Paris and Milan, immediately after the haute-couture fashion shows. In addition to these "official" fashion weeks, many others are celebrated in countries such as Spain, Brazil, Japan, Australia, Portugal, India, and Russia, which each year contest for a place on the calendar and have the capacity to attract buyers and gain press in the international sphere.

In addition to deciding where the collection will be shown, it is important to be aware that there are different kinds of fashion shows that can help define the brand being presented:

  • The classic fashion show usually has a spatial arrangement consisting of a central catwalk, with the audience on both sides, and photographers and a backstage at both extremes. These shows are usually presented by brands with a "genetic code," such as Giorgio Armani, Prada, and Ralph Lauren, which reassert their position season after season.
  • The entertainment fashion show allows for better representation of the product thanks to a more "showy" production. Big-name brandsin the luxury market, such as Dior or Chanel, with the resources and the desire for maximum visibility for their collections normally opt for this type of show.
  • The conceptual fashion show is more reserved and concentrated. Its main focus is the message of the collection, transmitted with maximum efficiency and a minimum of resources. It is often the choice of designers interested in a production format much removed from the glamour of entertainment fashion shows, as is the case of Belgian designers Martin Margiela and Walter Van Beirendonck or Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons.

Alternative modes of discourse to the fashion show exist, used by small brands interested in finding a niche for themselves within the fashion landscape. Used by the likes of Bruno Pieters, Marcel Marongui and Bernhard Wilhelm, these can include presentations of collections at art galleries—digital or virtual—or executed via any support medium that permits the appropriate exhibition of a designer's work. Also important to keep in mind when conceiving a fashion show is proper development of the message of a collection in order to strengthen the key concepts one wants to transmit, adapting them to the language they require and the audience they are intended for. Toward this end, in the planning stages of a fashion show, one of the most important steps is the formation of a team consisting of:

  • The events or art director who decides on the positioning, message, and language of the presentation, as well as handling coordination of different activities and teams.
  • The production manager in charge of the location, stage management, music and lighting technical teams, security, backstage, and post-production.
  • The stylist or product manager responsible for selecting and providing garments and complements.
  • The casting director who selects the fashion models according to their type and the attitude they project.
  • The director of communications responsible for communication planning, invitations, press releas178 es and press kits, seating (how to arrange the public in the front rows), media relations, and maintenance.

A fashion show supposes a significant investment in communication for a brand that must take into account factors such as proportion, impact, and returns. How the budget is allocated among production, casting, communication, protocol staff, hair dressing and makeup, stage manager stylist, prop manager, set designer, DJ, etc. should therefore always be kept in mind. For calculating the return, an evaluation system must be established in which each element needs to be reviewed: calendar placement, location, theme, audience, team, scenography, design, lighting, music, casting, and, of course, the collection. The evaluation process ranges from the amount of sales to buyers to media impact. The latter is measured not simply by the quality of media opinion about the fashion show but the length of the news item and the positioning of the designer within it.

All of these factors make the fashion show a strategic tool with a double impact: one, in the long term, through the establishment of the image of the brand and, the other, in the short term, as a point of reference in the construction of the commercial aspect of the collection. It is for this reason that a fashion show, as appealing as one may be, must be considered as a whole as a coherent strategy in the general context of a brand or designer.


Fairs or shows, discussed earlier, represent a meeting point between different actors in the sector, and for this reason they have become an instrument of communication for companies nowadays.

Source: Field Guide: How to be a Fashion Designer