The impact of fashion’s ‘lifestyle marketing’
For the vast majority of us, fashion lies at the heart of our identities, whether we are conscious of it or not. However, if this identity is pre-determined for us by the fashion industry’s intense world of ‘lifestyle marketing’, can we ever truly know who we are?
Expanding way beyond the simple world of clothes and accessories, the fashion industry’s marketing style means that, rather than selling just garments to consumers, brands also thrust an array of aspirational lifestyles upon us – lifestyles of which we have a chance to be a part of, if we simply purchase a handbag, or a pair of shoes, or a dress… or maybe all three. It’s something that the fashion industry has been doing for a long time, but advances in technology have meant that the world of lifestyle marketing is vast and much more intense. In his book Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara (2005), Mark Tungate explains, “It’s not enough to wear the clothes; you have to don the lifestyle, too.’ However, by making an effort to ‘don the lifestyle”, consumers often, consciously and sub-consciously, make alterations to their own identities, defining themselves by a set of brand ideals – ‘ideal’ being the key word here. Thomas Lenthal, co-founder of French fashion magazine Numéro,comments, “Fashion is all about idealizing, and there’s inevitably something appealing about an imagined better world.”
If these marketing-made lifestyles that consumers are being encouraged to aspire to, and resultantly, define themselves by, are indeed ‘imagined’, I can’t help but wonder if there are repercussions of creating such unrealistic aspirations. Fashion consultant Jean Jacques Picart offers his own explanation of consumers’ psychology when buying into the world of fashion and brand identities, ‘It’s a sort of drug… I believe it’s because [consumers] equate exterior change with interior change. They feel that if they’ve changed their ‘look’, they’ve also evolved emotionally.’ It’s a strong statement to make, but one that is probably not far wrong. I am both within and without; I feel faintly transparent, to some extent, as I can see this psychology within myself (I can more than relate to the over-riding thrill that comes with a brand new pair of shoes), but I can also see the transience of it. Although buying into a brand may supply us with the feeling of becoming part of its magical lifestyle, that feeling is ephemeral.No matter how many handbags we may buy, the temporality of it sets in and we once again embark on a mission to become that model in the picture – an unrealistic, and in fact fictional, expectation of oneself. Mark Tungate comments, ‘You don’t buy clothes – you buy an identity.’ Thus, as fashion consumers, perhaps we are unfamiliar with our true identities, existing instead as snippets of a fictional lifestyle, whose identity only lasts as long as the gratification of a new handbag does. This would help to explain the insecurity that Picart suggests comes with being extremely preoccupied with fashion, ‘The most extreme fashionistas have a vulnerable quality about them. It’s as if they are worried about being judged. They live in a state of perpetual anxiety about their appearance.’
Although the fashion industry’s lifestyle marketing can’t be condemned as the sole reason for social issues surrounding identity, it seems to be at least a contributing factor. It therefore follows, and makes sense, that it’s an issue the industry could address. The difficulty lies in the fact that, however damaging lifestyle marketing may be, it is highly successful and something that has been evolving within the industry for a long time. I therefore doubt that brands would be willing to simply give it up – for many it is engrained within their own identity. There’s also the question of how much we as consumers actually rely on it. Even if it does result in a loss of our true identities, it fulfils a need for escapism – a chance to temporarily forget about our own lives and lose ourselves in our favourite brand’s more glamorous and exciting one. I’m therefore left not only questioning the morals of the industry, but also the depth of our own need for an escape – do we want to face up to the realities of identity, or would we have a better time hiding away in an imagined, superior world of glitz and glamour?
This article was written and submitted by Chloe Murphy for 18 -21 Round 1 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Chloe was invited to take part in Round 2. Read all the published submissions.