Evolution and History of Fashion Communications

Introduction

This project will set out to look back at the evolution and development of communication technologies in the fashion industry and explore the changing face of fashion communication and its role in creating fashion ideas and promoting trends.  I will talk about the effect of the printing technologies and its effect on the growth of fashion journalism; cable television and how it has revolutionized the dissemination of fashion information to a mass audience; the revolutionary impact of the internet and social media on fashion reporting and how the digital evolution has disrupted fashion reporting.  In the meantime, I will talk about what media trends we can expect to see in the fashion world, and what sort of brand/customer engagement I am hoping to see in 5 years.

In this first paper, I will start from the fashion plate back in the late sixteenth century, which can be considered the first fashion magazine by providing a pictorial record and fine details of the current trend.  Also, I will discuss the effect of the printed word, starting with The Mercure Galant, which was the first gazette to report on the fashion world, and ending with the fashion photography which is most often conducted for advertisements or fashion magazines such as Vogue.

Clothing fashion communications is a development of western civilization.  Back in the late 1300s, initially a feature of court life, fashion had little effect on the dress of the common people.  Back in the late 16th century and the early 17th century, fashion became an indicator of class status, and monopolized by the aristocracy. In the meantime, as lower-status groups sought to acquire status by adopting the clothing of the higher-status, fashion became interesting to a larger number of people.

The first attempts were made to spread information about current styles from one place to another.  The fashion plate, which is defined as a fashion drawing, engraving, or illustration that depicts the newest clothes, shoes, hairstyles, and accessories of a particular period of time, was first used in England and France during the late sixteenth century and was a wonderful way to promote fashion workshops in countries throughout Western Europe. (Steele, 2005)  Fashion plates can be considered the first fashion magazine because they were drawings that showed the exact detail of a dress.  The earliest fashion magazines also printed descriptions of fashion drawings which are invaluable to the costume historian, providing not only an accurate pictorial record but also very fine details of construction, fabrics, colors, and trim.

In the history of fashion plates, Nevinson suggested that the beginnings of fashion illustration may be observed in portraiture, especially in the portraits of royalty. (J.L.Nevinson, 1967)  Such portraits were sometimes sent from one court to another for the purpose of displaying marriageable royal offspring by messengers on horse and carriage or by boat.   Although the fashion information conveyed by such portraits was not the major purpose, these portraits did facilitate the communication of fashion information.  The printing and sale of fashion plates and their descriptions became widespread, and in Europe the popularity of these drawings led some of the publishers of magazines for women to add fashion plates to the current literary content of women’s magazines. (Holland, 1955)

One of the major figures in the history of fashion plates was Wenceslas Hollar who was born in Prague in 1670 and was appointed “His Majesties’ designer” on the accession of Charles II and had been the prince’s drawing master in 1639 or 1640. (Barnard, 2001)  Holland stated, in the introduction to his study of hand-colored fashion plates, “Hollar may be the inventor of fashion plates, or at least its most important ancestor”, and the popularity of his work implies considerable public interest in contemporary costume. (Holland, 1955)

At this period of time, fashion can be treated as a form of social regulation, a hierarchy, a social custom as well as social process.  The hiearchial characteristics of fashion was indicted by diffusion of fashion plates.  As the indicator, fashion plates determines what the legitimate aesthetic taste is.  The royalists initiate a fashion in dress and, with the distribution of fashion plates, the mass imitates it in an effort to obliterate

Since shortly after the invention of the printing press, the printed page began to be used to convey fashion information.  Gutenberg’s press was transformed by the technology of the time to now be able to print fashion plates.  European history in the seventeenth century was dominated on the one hand by the rise of France as the greatest power in the region, and on the other hand by the great fight for political power that occurred between the monarch and the governing body of Parliament in England.  These were the great social issues of the age, and they had a great influence on the way people lived and dressed.  More subtle historical changes, such as the growth of the middle class and the growing differences between a luxurious Catholic and a plain Protestant sense of style also had an enduring influence on European culture and costume.  In the late seventeenth century that the  presentation of fashion information within the pages of magazines was found.  The French publication Mercure Galant was credited as the earliest fashion magazine that was addressed to ladies with the combination of illustrations and magazines.  The Mercure Galant began publication in 1672, and historically enough, the Mercure Galant was a significant development in the history of journalism because it was considered the first gazette to report on the fashion world. (DeJean, 2005)  It played a pivotal role in the dissemination of news about stories, anecdotes, madrigals, court news, reviews of the latest comedies, and text about fashions to the provinces and the rest of the world.  In the 1670s, articles on the new season’s fashions were also accompanied with engravings. (DeJean, 2005)

After 1679 the Mercure ceased printing pictures, although it continued to run occasional articles about fashions.  Nevinson attributed this to two factors; first, fashion changes were relatively slow, and frequent sources of information were unnecessary; and second, the need for such information was more readily met by production of individual prints and almanacs, both of which were being made by prominent artists of the period. (J.L.Nevinson, 1967)

The invention of the printing press in the mid fifteenth century simplified the process of providing fashion information, and one begins to find copies of books on fashion that are dated from the middle of the sixteenth century. (J.L.Nevinson, 1967)  The real revolution in print production began in the nineteenth century when Friedrich Koenig developed a steam-powered press on which a revolving impression cylinder substituted for the hand press’s flat platen, delivering 1,100 sheets per hour.  This press was first used in regular production by the London Times in 1814.  Use of additional cylinders could multiply a press’s capacity.  This principle was harnessed in 1828 when a four-cylinder press, developed by Augustus Applegath and Edward Cowper for the Times, quadrupled the speed of Koenig’s earlier steam press. (S H Steinberg, John Trevitt, 2006)

Presses with revolving impression cylinders were used by American publishers beginning in the early 1800’s.  Although fashion plates were well established as a part of European women’s magazines in the eighteen century, it was not until 1830 that fashion drawings had become a regular feature of the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, one of the first American fashion magazines. (J.L.Nevinson, 1967)  Established by Louis A. Godey in 1830 (with Sarah J. Hale as its literary editor after 1837), Godey’s Lady’s Book quickly became one of the largest circulating magazines in the country, and the Collins brothers became Godey’s printers in 1840.  Later on, in the middle of the nineteenth century the rotary printing press, which was invented in 1833 in the United States by Richard M. Hoe allowed millions of copies of a page to be printed in a single day.  Mass production of printed works flourished after the transition to rolled paper, as continuous feed allowed the presses to run at a much faster pace.  Also, in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a separate development of jobbing presses, small presses capable of printing small-format pieces such as billheads, letterheads, business cards, and envelopes.  Jobbing presses were capable of quick set-up and quick production.  Job printing emerged as a reasonably cost-effective duplicating solution for commerce at this time.  In addition, a significant invention that took place early in the industrial era was the invention of lithography in 1798 by Alois Senefelder.  Lithography enabled designers to print their artwork, illustration, or text on paper or any smooth surface.  It became one of the prime ways of printing artworks on books and magazines in the nineteenth century.

During the nineteenth century, industrial capacity grew exponentially in every category of manufacturing, and print production was very much a part of this expansion.  One printing historian said that both printing technology and the demand for reading material took “a sudden leap forward” in the 19th century.  (S H Steinberg, John Trevitt, 2006)  The modernization of print technology in the nineteenth century was essential to the rapid and inexpensive production of large print runs of Godey’s in particular.  In July of 1849, Godey claimed a circulation of 40,000; by the end of 1850, he also claimed that “We have published 70,000 of the November and December numbers. The next year we presume our edition will be 100,000.”

Looking back at the mid-nineteenth century from the perspective of the 1930s, Ruth Finley emphasized the primitive, artisanal mode of Godey’s production in the 1850s, noting that the type was set by hand, from hand-written copy-texts; that it was printed on flat-bed presses, one sheet at a time; that the magazine pages were folded by hand, sewn and bound by hand, and wrapped, addressed, and mailed by hand. (Finley, 1931)

In a brief sketch of “Our Printers” in the Lady’s Book for December 1850, Godey points out that when the Collins brothers first learned their business, “printing was done in the plain, old-fashioned way—before stereotyping, steam-presses, and composition rollers were known.”  Two years later, according to Hinckley, the Collins Brothers seem to have added one more power-press and still used seven hand presses.  His account details the operations of the flatbed steam presses, which, he notes, “are capable of throwing off seven hundred and fifty printed sheets in an hour.” (Hickley, 2006)  Adding more power presses could increase circulation so that more people had access the fashion information.  Compared to hand presses, this was an astonishing number, and certainly this made possible the printing of large-circulating monthly magazines.  The fact the Collins establishment at mid-century had hand-presses, flatbed steam-presses, and a cylinder press all in operation is an index of how quickly print technology was changing at this moment in history.  Interestingly enough, steam presses not only dramatically increased the rate at which printing could be done; they also dramatically transformed the workplace itself because steam presses required less physical exertion, and Hinckley’s essay makes particular note (in both its illustrations and narration) of the twenty-five women employed in the Collins’ press-room.

Another major innovation in illustration took place in the 1830s when the technique of photography was developed.  The fact that the early 1890s was the period during which most of the magazines in the United State began using extensive photographic material is apparently related to the development of improved technology for reproduction of these illustrations.  Although photographic techniques had been gradually improving since the early work of Talbot and Daguerre in the 1840s (Britannica, 1969), it was not until the half-tone process for reproduction of photographs in printing was developed that newspapers or magazines could make use of this medium for illustration.

The development of the half-tone printing process enabled photographs to be printed on the same page as text without affecting image clarity even when reproduced in large amounts.  This new technology marked the birth of the modern fashion magazine aesthetic.  Since its inception in the 1880s, fashion photograph has generated some of the most widely recognizable, provocative, and enduring imagery of our time.  For example, Vogue, one of the major fashion publications worldwide, had begun using photographs to show fashion toward the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, and in the decade of the thirties photographs had become more important than fashion drawings in most fashion magazines in the United State.  This trend was consolidated in the forties and by the fifties and sixties photographs were consistently running to between eighty and one-hundred percent of the fashion illustrations printed in the books.  (S H Steinberg, John Trevitt, 2006)

Each fashion magazine had its own group of star photographers whose work appeared regularly.  The increase in the quantity and quality of photographs was obviously related to improvements in the film and advances in camera and lighting techniques.  With these improvements photography not only offered greater flexibility in showing fashions, but also provided a clearer picture of precisely what a garment was like.  In Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar references to art have a long tradition.  Vogue’s art director Alexander Liberman (1943-61) traveled since 1947 to France every year in order to photograph European avant-garde artists in their studios.  Vogue regularly showed a selection of these photographs accompanied by short texts, which became well known in 1960, when the Museum of Modern Art dedicated to Liberman an extensive 10 Antje Krause-Wahl exhibition and he published the book The Artist in His Studio.  Also, Harper’s Bazaar with its art director Alexey Brodovitch (1934-58) featured artists of the European and later the American avant-garde. (Krause-Wahl, 2009)  In the 1980s and 1990s, advertising fashion became a highly important means to create and market a look and/or sell a lifestyle – and fashion houses sought the help of photographers to capture and project those images.  The work of photographers Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Irving Pee, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel just to name a few could be seen in editorial and advertising pages in magazines and in press kits.  New photographers continue to be discovered and have become as important to the hype of a launch as the clothes themselves.

Fashion photography has sometimes been called ephemeral, commercial, and frivolous, and its importance has been called into question.  That fashion photography has a commercial intent implies to some that it lacks photographic and artistic integrity.  In reality, it has produced some of the most creative, interesting, and socially revealing documents and revealed the attitudes, conventions, aspirations, and taste of the time.  It also reflects women’s image of themselves, including their dreams and desires, self-image, values, sexuality, and interests.

In conclusion, we see that the printed word and printed pictures greatly increased the amount of fashion information available to the public.

In the second part of this project, I will discuss the present and future of fashion communications in both the analog and digital world.

Reference

Barnard, J. (2001). London Publishing, 1640-1660: Crisis, Continuity, and Innovation. Book History. 4(1), 1-16. Retrieved from Project Muse, http://muse.jhu.edu.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/journals/book_history/v004/4.1barnard.html

Britannica, E. (1969). Photo Journalism.

DeJean, J. E. (2005). The essence of style : how the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafés, style, sophistication, and glamour. New York: Free Press.

Finley, R. E. (1931). The lady of Godey’s : Sarah Josepha Hale. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Hickley, C. (2006). From the periodical archives: “A remble through the mechanical department of the ‘Lady’s Book’” American Periodicals16(1), 103-114. Retrieved Feb.12, 2010 from Communication & Mass Media Complete,  http://web.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=8&sid=3ea3b733-a7ed-4d6f-84f7-c0c12a88e334@sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=ufh&AN=20081072 .

Holland, V. (1955). Hand coloured fashion plates 1770 to 1899. London: Batsford.

J.L.Nevinson. (1967). Origin and early history of the fashion plate. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian.

Krause-Wahl, A. (2009). Between Studio and Catwalk–Artists in Fashion Magazines. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture13(1), 7-27. Retrieved Feb.13, 2010 from Academic Search Complete http://web.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=13&sid=30a4210a-d27f-43bf-a119-e5a138a95fbd@sessionmgr13&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=37198659

S H Steinberg, John Trevitt. (2006). Five hundred years of printing. London: British Library.

Steele, V. (2005). Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Farmington Hills, MI: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

2 responses to “Evolution and History of Fashion Communications

  1. Renee Serrant

    Hi,

    I’m using some of the information form this article in an essay I’m doing for a course entitled Fashion Fundamentals: the Fashion Industry, at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. There’s no author or date for this information. Is it possible for you to email me this information so that I can cite my sources properly please. Thank you

    • Hi,

      Great information. I would love to reference some of this information in research essay I am currently completing. Is it possible for you to email me this information so that I can cite my sources properly please. Thank you

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