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The Soft Power of Fashion

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

"Soft power" is a term initially used in a diplomatic context when a country uses its cultural (industry) to highlight the desirability of its art of living and thus influence other countries in cultural and/or scientific fields - the aim is to increase its influence, particularly economic.

Without necessarily naming it as such, the "soft power" dimension has been integrated in my analysis and discourse on Fashion for a significant period of time ... The notion of "soft power" characterized by terms such as "persuade", "convince" or "influence" undoubtedly describes a reality of the power of fashion... This dimension of Fashion is widely instrumentalized at present as it has been throughout our clothing history, especially in the 17th century under the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who envisioned and implemented a strategy to make France the undisputed European center for craftsmanship and know-how excellency. Thus, Luxury became not only highly desirable but very successful in terms of commerce.

“ Fashion is undoubtedly a field that touches the imagination, desire, pleasure... The image of oneself and the world. ”

Hence, Fashion arouses the desire to adhere to and belong to an image projected by "those who know"... those located at the top of the pyramidal structure of the Fashion system and who exercise "soft power" under a "trickle down" effect, i.e. the creative artists, the (young) fashion designers, the Couturiers but also the personalities who embody and/or influence it... Interestingly, this "soft power" Fashion system is also lead by a "bubble up" effect through the action and power of "street" culture with its' modes of expression and consumption patterns that are embodied and conveyed by the youth generation of the moment.

Fashion and the prism of soft power

There are those who have the imperative need to express their vision of the world as a source of inspiration and/or reaction, using clothing as an artistic medium... entering into a kind of dialogue with the "air of du temps/Sign of the Times" and in turn with the fashion system which aims specifically to reach its' market, influence it and create consumer desire. A certain form of latent mechanism is activated (assimilable to soft power) entering thus in resonance with a collective unconscious taste which results from the ambient zeitgeist. "Soft power" is reached as Fashion is increasingly manipulated to influence the ever evolving consumption of Fashion, Art, Luxury and Creation.

“ This complex system of fashion incorporates multiple postures embodied by Haute Couture with its unique custom-made models, the contemporary creation of Fashion and Luxury... to mass production for a fashion made very accessible ... ”

To summarize... the notion of soft power is linked to several major themes, the first of which is the art of influence. French fashion has been based on a system of influence since at least Louis XIV, contributing to France's cultural and aesthetic influence throughout Europe. At the time, we do not use the terminology of "Fashion" because clothing is not "signed" and commercialized by a specific designer or House of Fashion. However, the will to use clothing as "soft power" is clear. This dynamic is later found with Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman based in Paris who created the first "Haute Couture" House. By setting up the fashion system that still exists today, he also contributed to this influence. I also think of Christian Dior who, after the Second World War, brought femininity, glamour and luxury back into fashion. Although his approach was very shocking for the post-year times, his influence was significantly relevant as evidenced by the fact that, for 15 years, women wore clothes very close to what was called the "New Look" created by Mr. Dior.

Fashion is thus driven by singular personalities whose specific creative signatures are recognizable and desirable; echoing the zeitgeist such as Marine Serre, Jacquemus or Demna Gvasalia in 2022... their fashion creations inspire accessible fashion brands such as Zara or H&M... they popularize and disseminate them, mixing them with the zeitgeist and guaranteeing their embodiment in the system of fashion trends.



Estève Curé

Professor, Consultant and Trainer, Jayne acts to help reveal their unique creative identity in the service of brand development strategy located at the confluence of know-how, innovation, creativity, art and business in an approach of commitment to a cause greater than oneself.

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