I’m reading the Harvard Business School case study, “Vogue: Defining the Culture of Fashion” as part of our assignment this week, and it’s been a great read so far. Since I’m in the media industry, and have spent time in editorial/publishing environments, there wasn’t a lot in the case that I didn’t already know, aside from the specificities around Vogue and Conde Nast strategy, history, revenue, and current masthead.
Nonetheless, the fashion industry is a fascinating one for me. Like many other women, I’m drawn to fashion. But my proclivity to it may be slightly different than most – fashion is appealing not for its presentation of status or beauty, but because of its role as a catalyst for self-expression. Expression of oneself first start with appearance; as human beings, the first things we notice in another are the visual elements. This is not to say that we are purely superficial creatures (which truthfully, we are to an extent) but because of heuristics – we perceive others based on how they present themselves because it’s the most convenient means we have, initially. This is why many believe that the first impression is the most important thing.
Beyond the expression of oneself, fashion informs culture. I used to think of fashion as frivolous, a non-consequential matter, a waste of time. I was very much like Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada. Honestly, after reading the book and watching the movie, I didn’t immediately understand how the fashion industry really affected me. There was a scene in the movie when Miranda Priestly was explaining to Andy Sachs the distinct and critical roles of each hue of blue, and that not all kinds of blues are alike.. which was made in response to her shoulder-shrugging, eye-rolling remark about blues are all the same and it’s not worth discussing the nuances of each color blend in blue.
Now I think I understand why everyone in that scene was aghast when Andy Sachs made that remark. The fashion industry is huge, and it is led by people like Miranda Priestly. It mobilizes the whole consumption industry, which includes the media, advertisers, retailers and such. Anything that is seen on an issue of Vogue is talked about in both positive and negative terms, sought for business opportunities, and sold for mass consumption. A style presented on Vogue may appear on window displays, blogs, maybe even part of marketing campaigns. We don’t naturally think the fashion industry affects us, because its influence is usually subtle en masse. We think that Vogue is relevant only to our fashionista friends, our chic coworkers or celebrities that we see on TV, but it affects us all. What we see in Vogue translates to what choices are available to us in the department store. What we see in Vogue is social currency that we exchange with people around us. What we see in Vogue may spark inspiration that goes beyond the surface and motivates us to reach our own aspirations for ourselves. Fashion inspires, provokes, angers, connects us in more ways than one.