The Language of Fashion

by Stratton Craig

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Throughout the autumn and winter fashion shows of 2012 a pattern began to emerge. Designers were using the cornerstone of language, the alphabet, to inspire their work.

The use of actual words on clothing is commonplace. If a brand wants clothing to promote a message, the simplest way is to spell it out, and if you visit Oxford Street you’ll be swamped by t-shirts with phrases like ‘C’est la vie’ plastered across them. But on fashion’s bigger stages, where the reception of a brand’s flagship garment can make or break its reputation, this hasty assertion of values is usually avoided.

Instead, it seems, the designers have taken to using arrangements of letters to provide less gimmicky, subtler patterns with their own associations. Versace’s minidresses feature ornamental block capitals surrounded by religious symbols, whilst a remarkable dress designed by Mary Katrantzou is structured like the frame of a typewriter and includes lines of letters on the waist.

Katrantzou reveals her intended message in an interview with the Guardian, where she claims that she wants to make everyday objects seem “less everyday”, so her nostalgia for the writing machines of old, and her desire to make the ordinary appear extraordinary, is expressed through the tools of language that saturate her designs.  

Similarities might be drawn between this subtle deployment of literature in fashion, and the gentle stylistic transitions that a copywriter undergoes to alter tone of voice. As the fashion designer uses the basics of language to transform the meaning of his work, the copywriter uses the basics of style to alter the impact of his words. As Katrantzou’s designs celebrate the ordinary as special, so the copywriter’s role is to arrange ordinary words into unique patterns that resonate, and that elevate a product to its fullest potential.

A writer produces copy that reflects the essence of a brand, encapsulating the associations that distinguish it from its competitors, so where language can 'add an intellectual touch to your wardrobe', alterations to the nuances of a style can charge written copy with the brand’s own desired message.

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