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I’ve been waiting to do this post for a while. My project was to investigate the relationship of ‘suede’ in the fashion industry. Unpacking the broader fashion industry, market levels and retail sectors. Looking at the cultural landscape in terms of historical and social context and deconstructing visual codes and images.
As with any report I began with a lot of research and sketch book work, working in a sketch book has always been my favourite way of moving through a project. Being able to work freely with ideas and no structure is far more creative than trying to gather word documents or piles of paper.
Task one involved taking two existing adverts from two different market level that featured my chosen trend and comparing them. In terms of where both of these brands stand in the market Gucci is high end or couture and Zara is at a mass market level. How these brands portray their products through magazine adverts must communicate a message to there target consumer. Although both labels have gone for something clearly inspired by the 1970’s, in terms of the use of suede and style of garment, the visual connotations differ immensely.
At first glance the image form the Zara campaign may seem simple, however it tells us a lot about the brand its self. Choosing a young looking model such as Dani Witt, immediately connects to the young audience around late teens. This particular advert was purposely designed to draw a younger audience as part of the new campaign and succeeds through the use of a fresh faced model. The effortless hair and minimal make up would appeal to the youth of today who aspire for the minimal, alternative and carefree lifestyle. The actual product itself denotes a suede jacket however the execution of the image connotes 70’s chic.
The composition of the advert, being a close up shot, is unusual for a clothes brand however works well in capturing the tone and message of Zara. (Minimalist yet cutting edge fashion). Although the location isn’t clear I feel there is a strong indication this is for autumn/winter through the thick jumper and warm colour pallet. Her red hair against the blue background could connote a hot fire against the cold air through the winter months.
Moving on to the Gucci (spring/ summer) campaign image, again there are 70’s undertones however the composition and location brings a different feel to the Zara campaign.Using a model that looks perhaps in her 20’s suggests slightly more sophistication, and establishment. Once again a naturally and stereotypically beautiful model connecting to people’s ego ideal, not only in the image on one’s self but also to be able to afford a high end brand. Styling is paired with a dress or skirt that sits just above the knee, implying a more conservative dress code. In addition, knee high boots that are well polished- once again confirming refined and sophisticated brand.
When evaluating the image as a whole, the model appears to be standing within an old stone building. The stone seems aged however quite grand expanding around into a balcony this suggests a large establishment connoting success and wealth- similar to how the brand would want to appear to consumers. The overall composition of the shot displays the brands personality however I feel it is a strange choice for spring summer, given the cold colour tones, neutral hues and pale model.
Both adverts do not display the brand name however perhaps this is unneeded in the tone and message the images put across. Both displaying key characteristics to the brands therefor perhaps labels are not needed?
Images showing two examples of my chosen trend within store, one window display and another showing visual merchandise on the actual shop floor. Examining the use of visual codes and messages that are relevant to the brand. And how they differ or overlap in terms of presentation and narrative.
A more in- depth look into the fashion trend through other sectors to provide full cultural context. Here I dissect suede and look at how it is received as a whole. In particular, street style, interiors and film.
As a trend that is associated with the 70’s, a lot of the garment surrounding the trend have 1970’s connotations, worn with key pieces originally form that time in history. Because of this, the material is known to be ‘vintage’ and worn by fashion conscious individuals. It is also very popular in accessories and has established success within footwear, in recent year’s fashion trainers and high knee boots.
In addition to this, sued being made from the fleshy side of leather and rubbed down, its incredibly soft therefor used for interiors. It’s a sign of luxury yet connotes a western vibe. Seen below in this example, the suede is used in the traditional brown (most popular) to craft and beautiful setting for someone’s living area. Of course here it is paired with a dead animal horns and a leather chair all indicators of a western America.
Ali MacGraw in The Getaway – a 1972 action crime thriller and popular film in its time. The film displays the fashion of the time perfectly, demonstrating authenticity and style through Ali’s character’s famous suede jacket. It reminds me of the Gucci coat that I discussed earlier and cements the concept of a 70’s origin. Throughout the movie the beautiful young actress displays classic style. The coat stands out connoting felinity and shape, not only does this prove the vintage implications of suede but the glamorous side of it too.
Kate Hudson in Almost Famous- 2000 adventure comedy drama, and worthy example of not only 70’s style but suede in film. Set in California and 1970 Kate’s character is a rock and role hippy, the queen of shabby chic. The show-stopping shearling coat connotes represents the vintage hippy style that we in our fashion industry today. Once again the look of natural make up and effortless hair comes to play suggesting something casual about suede, you couldn’t wear it as a ball gown! As a material it is seen as being cool and hip, often linked to music (be it in film or store like Urban Outfitters.)
All through my examples the over arching theme links to this time in history. There is something about wearing vintage clothing and recycling fashion from the past that will never go and suede is an impeccable example of this.
Before becoming associated with youthful rebellion in the 1950’s, leather and denim, which appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, were associated with the taming of the wild west.’ Quilleriet (2004 p79)
Cowboys and the wild west evoke Hollywood movies of adventures and action, and were most popular in the 1970’s. They represent my parent’s childhood and anyone in that generation, a time before video games and mobile phones. Suede tassels, boots and jackets all express the evolution of fashion through society. From its original practical use ‘to protect themselves from ropes and lassos’ Quilleriet (2004 p79), to Hollywood film and finally filtering through to fashion today. Resulting in a material that induces a nostalgia that no other material does.
Furthermore, when thinking of the wild west its often portrayed in hot dry land. Unsurprisingly suede is used in a lot of spring/summer wear. As are many of the street style photos some of which were taken at the summer festival Cocella. As a material that too thick yet soft it is appropriate for both summer and winter seasons. Summer as its thin yet soft and is seen as skirts or small tops. Or winter where the knee high boot seems to be very popular through this season.
Trough my research into suede I came across the idea that homosexual men used suede shoes as a signifier to other homosexual men in the early 1930’s. ‘Men developed codes that were intelligible only to other men familiar with the subculture… Accessories, such as red ties or suede shoes, were used to allow these gay men to recognize one another with out drawing the attention of the the uninitiated’ Cole (2000 p62) This shows how culture and society was so different in the past for men to have to hide there sexuality. Its interesting how a new subculture was created in response to this. ‘Suede shoes are perhaps one of the better known signifiers of homosexuality, especially in Britain’ Cole (2000 p62)
When we look at todays suede shoes they could connote an array of different things however not to signify your sexuality- this shows the evolution of social change and acceptance over the last eighty years or so.
In terms of a broader culture the 1970’s was a point in history that is unforgettable. From music, to film, to science the fashion industry is influenced by it all. Through out my research the over arching theme of suede always resonates from the 70’s.
Fundamental values from my three examples within historical, social and cultural context, illustrated how fashion can be recycled. Suede as a trend represents history and our ability to reinvent fashion again and again. At first I thought about all the possible ideas that I had generated from my project so far. The narrative that stood out the most too me was 1970’s Hollywood wild west- nostalgic however vintage and hipster. The examples of suede and leather in VM thus far have been either dull or obvious.
When thinking of the denim section of, for example Topshop, the shop floor is sectioned off for specifically moto jeans. What if there was a section for suede, or vintage clothing and leather? I moved forward to thinking about how this could look in store then progressed into exploring the idea of a pop up shop promoting this idea. Above are two examples of pop up shops the first a German store, Walford, and the second Louis Vuitton. Both stood out to me in terms of design. Walford’s shop has been made so you can see inside anyway you walk, inviting more costumers to look at their products. Both look as though they are made of a metal frame- I began to think about what physical buildings I could recreate that related to my chosen example.
At the risk of looking cheesy USA I stayed clear of cow boy hats and though out, a subtler approach to capture my ideas. I moved forward by unpacking the physical items that are associated with suede. And began to think about the landscape of the wild west or what one might see on a 70’s road trip through the heat. Stag skulls I feel are eerily beautiful but with a juxtaposition of contemporary but from the past. I began to trace images of skulls and drew into them as if I was made from wire.
The idea developed to creating an enlarged skull out of a thick wire of metal, think enough and large enough to stay up and conceal a small pop up store. Of course referring back to the other pop up shops I saw the wire would allow consumers to peer inside and see an selecting of hanging suede’s and leathers. All evoking vintage 70’s wild west, perhaps a couple cacti to set the seen. Above is a rough mock up of how it could look, large enough for up to ten people inside and several clothing racks. The horns of the skull could be a distressed rose cold and the hangers inside all to be wooden, giving a stylish but vintage look.
Hope you’ve enjoyed having a read
-The Lanky Giraffe