Sep 292016
 
woman's torso from behind with the word "journalist" over her jeans clothed "bum"

Still from Wrangler’s “more than a bum” ad

One of our Arts and Technology PhD students, James Martin, forwarded me this story in which the author, Maggie Parker, asks “Is this denim ad accidentally sexist?” In the email, the student asked me, “how do companies keep making the same mistakes?” The mistake in question is that Wrangler made an ad that attempts to position women as “more than a bum.” Instead of liberating women from the male gaze, however, they end up reinscribing the very thing they suggest that they are resisting.  From the opening shot that is focused on Kimbra from behind, to the series of shots like the one that I included above, to the lack of older or disabled bodies, to the normative depiction of femininity, I agree with Parker that it’s a #FAIL. They do deserve some credit for a few things: a racially diverse cast; not just including cis-gendered women; and including a few curvier bodies, even if they never show those bodies in jeans or from behind.1 For more analysis of the contradictions in the ad, check out Parker’s piece linked above. The rest of this post takes for granted that the ad is sexist and focuses on the question, “how do companies keep making the same mistakes?” James, the student who sent me the story, suggested in exasperated disbelief that perhaps Wrangler knew what they were doing and this is a misguided effort to get people talking, in keeping with the old adage, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

 

As entertaining as a good conspiracy theory might be, there is probably a more straightforward answer.

 

Let’s start with Wrangler. The company has a long history of cultivating a “cowboy” aesthetic. And though there are plenty of fierce cowgirls out there, many of whom I suspect love their Wranglers, normative masculinity is fundamental to the company’s identity. Wrangler does little to help themselves court serious cowgirls (let alone other women or gender non-conforming consumers). Women are not even mentioned in the company’s own history timeline until 2004 (http://www.wrangler.com/about/history.html).  The image slideshow that takes up the top 1/3 of their website heavily features men in active poses and out in natural settings. The only woman is not even shown wearing jeans. She is posed against a wooden backdrop, which possibly suggests a barn, but is definitely not the rugged outdoor setting of the other photos. She is pictured from the waist up, directly facing the camera. The images featuring men suggest that the camera is spying upon some moment in which the actors are caught unaware. In contrast, she is clearly smiling at the camera. Posed for a picture, she exists for the camera. Most puzzling of all is that instead of showcasing her in jeans, the slider image prominently features a pair of earrings and the text, “Go On, Accessorize,” with a link to “shop jewelry.”

Continue reading »

May 022012
 

Not really fashion – but playing off Tameeka’s earlier entry about the underwear vending machine – I thought this was also pretty creative and definitely attention grabbing (even if it is old news and just now hitting the social media sites).

I’d like to teach the world to sing …in perfect harmony.  Remember these lyrics?  The official title is “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” but either way – this tune definitely has had a LONG lasting connection with the public. The commercial has consistently been voted as one of the best of all time!

The US release in July 1971of the hit immediately had an impact with its listeners and viewers.  Coke and its bottlers received more than a 100,000 letters about the commercials.  From the listeners – they called radio stations pleading for them to play it.

Well, they are at it again. As part of Coca Cola’s regional initiative; “Open Happiness” campaign, they have machines dispenses free cans in exchange for hugs.  It’s the latest ploy for social media and it looks like Coke has hit it big again.  Check out these links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A-7H4aOhq0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5CZh45IBMw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38Wn-tMeqUs

What is coke trying to accomplish?  Coke wants to form and strengthen the “bond” between customers and the brand.

Everything the customer experiences and observes merges in their minds into a single image, a brand.  It creates an emotional bond between Coke and the customer.  A strong brand builds confidence, improves loyalty and makes Coke stand out from the others.

What does one feel when hugged and why do we hug?  As humans we view a hug as a form of nonverbal communication that hopefully makes you happy and is some sort of bond sharing.  Hugs have also been known as a way of releasing tension.  A hug is pretty much known around the world as a form of physical intimacy (not necessarily sexual intimacy).

So – we now witness Coke machines dispensing free coke and vending machines available with underwear – what’s next?

If you are in the US dont run out looking for the HUG machine….unfortunately you will not get to experience the “bond” between yourself and Coke.  See this video – this will be you!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUrNzNH7-r8

WHO doesn’t like hugs -life’s simple pleasure?  Brilliant campaign!

Mar 262012
 

Mantyhose?  Guylons?  He-tards?

Sound ridiculous yet familiar?

ALL of the terms above are alternative names with the same basic meaning.  Yes – men are beginning to wear the same fashions as women.  For years, women have been able to wear men’s fashion – so why not the reverse?  You might think that most men don’t know much about fashion but they are definitely interested and learning.

Some may find that some women’s clothing is more comfortable than men’s and for some the exact opposite might also be the case.  For instance some women might often buy men’s clothes because of style, fit and cost.  Others buy socks and shoes, because their feet are larger than what typical women’s fashion dictates.

Yet others find quite functional reasons for “cross dressing”.  Army men have been known to wear pantyhose (socks) inside their combat boots for long distances.  They wear them inside of their socks next to their skin – as they are great for preventing blisters!  Above is just one of the practical reasons that men wear women’s fashion.   It is only later when they discover that they are actually comfortable and don’t look all that bad that they start wearing more often.

This brings us to the term mantyhose.  Mantyhose is a term that was brought about 3 plus years ago.  Some might say that “shapewear” is inherently unmanly. That’s only because society’s minds are trained to pair tights with women’s wear.  Some believe it would only be accepted if you were competing in a sport that would enhance your performance.  Recently though, it has been noticed that it is possible to have a very masculine look when mantyhose are paired with other regular clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a quote by Loop 21 Staff , Sep 27th, 2011.

Lil Wayne jumped around in skinny women’s pants during his performance at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Kanye West wore a multiprint shirt designed for women at the Coachella music festival. Kid Cudi has been seen in a plaid skirt, Snoop Dogg often wears jewelry designed for women, and Pharrell Williams is a fan of the Hermes-made Birkin bag, the ultra-expensive purse favored by Hollywood’s top actresses.

Over the last 50 to 100 plus years, women have fought for equal opportunities in the workplace.  Now we see men fighting for equal rights on the style side.  For a long time, women have had the physical benefits of such things such as make-up and spanx  (the best thing since sliced bread in my personal opinion) while men have had to face the reality of what you have is what you got.   They have no way to cover a blemish.  That old saying of a “beer gut” is the excuse for having a gut… but what are your options if you are SHORT?  What do you do?  Well believe it or not, heels are becoming an option.  Yes – men in heels!  The picture below shows Lenny Kravitz even wore platform wedge boots to Fashion Week in New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to clothing at least, women can do pretty much anything and can be accepted. Do men have the same equal rights as women when it comes to choice of clothing or do they fear mockery if stepping outside of who society says can wear what?

 

Mar 122012
 

M Saraswathy’s brief BusinessWorld article (Tech Couture: Fashion keeps a date with augmented reality) outlines some recent uses of AR in advertising, including uses at Lakme Fashion Week. The article ends with a tempered approach suggesting that so far, advertisers have not been able to tell if AR translates into more sales.

Even so, the possibilites for augmented reality with fashion advertising seem endless. Because clothing is a visual communicator, AR offers many interesting possibilities for layering visuals over bodies, environments, etc. The “Fashionista” tool below allows shoppers to try on clothing wherever they may be, using augmented reality.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnBcqV9POkY[/youtube]

But AR offers other tantalizing prospects for causing disjunction in the public spaces in which clothing is sold and worn.

So far the most interesting uses of AR that I have seen have been for aesthetic or critical purposes. I can envision AR being used for purposes like overlaying images of the workers who produce clothing items or the workshops in which they are produced. Or statistics about ethically sourced material. Or overlaying images of real women over advertisements or mannequins. Or, or, or…

A few links to interesting AR projects:

Feb 142012
 

A lovely young woman sits with her purse in her lap and her phone in her hands. She coyly smiles, looks around, and yawns as she waits in a department store. If a stranger begins to pester her, she ignores him. This scenario is fairly ordinary. However, this is no ordinary young woman: this is an android mannequin responding to curious shoppers from the inside of a window display.

As part of a Valentine’s Day promotion, Tokyo department store Takashimaya will be displaying Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Geminoid-F android mannequin in its store window. The life-like mannequin has a set of 60 different facial expressions at its disposal to lure in and interact with passing shoppers. The robot is connected to a Kinect sensor complete with facial recognition software that allows for it to have a unique response to each person who passes by.  Continue reading »

Dec 152011
 

H&M Computer Generated Models

Retailer H&M has received some decidedly negative scrutiny recently for using computer generated models on their website. As reported on mashable.com the retailer came under fire for superimposing real models heads onto computer generated bodies to showcase a range of collections on it’s retail site. To the unsuspecting viewer nothing is amiss, however if one looks closely it becomes evident that all of the models have perfectly identical body types.  Key word being: “perfect.” The retailer has incurred the ire of many who view the casting of virtual models as setting an unrealistic standard for women to live up to.

H&M Under Fire for Using Fake, Computer-Generated Models

This H&M boondoggle puts me in mind of the 2002 film Simone. Simone tells the story of a beleaguered film producer, played superbly with frazzled panache by Al Pacino, who, fed up with the antics of spoiled Hollywood starlets, creates a computer generated actress who proves to be a little too good at her job – and in short order takes over his entire life. The story is a funny, albeit slightly disturbing, modern day, emerging media Frankenstein – and a cautionary tale for brands. However, we’ll touch on that later. Here’s a clip:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkQAIHcpWfI&feature=related[/youtube]

H&M asserts that the fake models make it easier for their customers to focus on the clothes rather than on the models wearing the clothes. Per H&M spokesperson Hacan Andersson, “The result is strange to look at, but the message is clear: buy our clothes, not our models.”

Though the retailer’s strategy was particularly ill advised I’m not sure I read any deliberately dubious intentions. Frankly it strikes me as a rather sophomoric attempt at cost cutting. I am concerned however, with the side effects of this practice. Does the use of fake models set up an unrealistic expectation of perfection among women? Or does it legitimize an expectation that already exists? Contemporary human fashion models most often do not present a realistic representation of the average female body.  Not even close. However the employment of computer generated models, whereby an advertiser can literally code whatever model body measurements they like, literally says to ordinary humans, model or otherwise, “You’re not good enough.” I find this particularly troubling and more than a little misogynistic.

More H&M Computer Generated Models

Indeed, what does this say for the company’s regard for women, it’s primary customer base? Not only is the company legitimizing an unrealistic aesthetic, they are literally dehumanizing half of the world’s population. Placing a real model’s disembodied head onto a fake, computer generated body, a body that is exactly identical to several other fake bodies sporting real heads, is just…offensive.  Terribly so.

Additionally, I find the practice of designing all women’s bodies identical immensely troublesome in itself. If the idealized collective male fantasy is a world where women are literally interchangeable then we as a society are in trouble indeed. Real women’s bodies aren’t identical. Even supermodels figures have variations. While I do suppose it would make it easier on clothing manufacturers if they only had to make clothing in one size, the idea of a world populated with bodily identical women is frankly disturbing.

It is time for retailers and advertisers to realize that the images that they disseminate are more far more than just advertisements for goods. Indeed they are cultural artifacts in the truest sense of the term.  Contemporary advertisements are inevitably informed with  the aesthetic sensibility of the context within which they appear. As much as they promote they also reflect. Perhaps unwittingly, they reflect cultural norms, mores, desires and expectations. They are imbued with meaning far beyond the intentions of the photographer or the commissioning brand. Accordingly they wield a tremendous power that extends far beyond just selling attire. Indeed I contend that images unconsciously promote the idealized self. Now it should be a little more evident why the employment of idealized computer generated, nay computer manipulated, models is a spectaularly bad idea.

Of course I am not suggesting that the masses of the ad viewing public are mindless drones literally powerless to defend our virgin eyes from the whims and caprice of evil brands. Far from it, in fact. The brands, though often misguided, aren’t evil, and the layer of cultural encoding that results from advertisements is complex and nuanced. No one can state with certainty that any advertisement has a direct effect on consumer behavior. It is the cumulative and collective effects, effects that indeed have nothing to do with short term consumer behavior, or merchandise sales, that I am referring to here.  The negative effects of cultural artifacts like the H&M fake model images are far more subtle – and ubiquitious – for both for the viewer and the producer. They make it ok to objectify women, they promote a literally unattainable (unless one day we really will all live in the Matrix) aesthetic ideal, and they legitimize and promulgate the Stepford fantasy…just to name a few.

Poor H&M. It seems the retailer has unwittingly created their own little army of long legged digital Frankensteins. While their computer generated models showed off their merchandise beautifully, and cheaply, they  also did a superb job of showcasing a contemporary ethos bent on misogyny. Good job, girls! Well done! Like the aforementioned movie producer in the film Simone, the brand may find it in their best interest to destroy their creation before they are able to wreak more havoc. However if that film taught us anything it’s that digital cultural artifacts have a way of taking on lives of their own.