Understanding the psychology of fashion is the marketing genius that defines success —

You don't buy clothes, you buy an identity.

The model struts towards the battery of cameras, profile held slightly aloft, walking with the curious avian gait that has evolved to flatter the lines of the dress. She does not spare a glance for us mere mortals in the wings; her attention is actually focused on the arsenal of lenses at the end of the catwalk which will click the image into the media an instant after she has turned away.


For most of us, the model’s short stroll is the first image that springs to mind with the mention of the word fashion. The runway show, with its combination of creativity, glamour and artifice, is one of the elements that drive us, again and again, to buy clothes we don't really need. It's difficult to think of an industry that does not have recourse to marketing, in one form or another, but only fashion has such an overbearing reliance on it.

When clothes leave the factories where they are made, they are merely garments or apparel. Only when the market has got hold of them do they magically become fashion. Even when you say you're not interested in fashion, you've been forced to confront it. Fashion is everywhere. What you choose to wear, or not to wear, has become a political statement. You don't buy clothes; you buy an identity. This identity is inherently linked to the brand's values. These values are communicated via marketing; are you flighty, debonair, streetwise, intellectual, sexy….? One thing is certain; fashion, even at the top of the scale, is increasingly about business.

Designers are admirably creative people, but they work for an ever-shrinking number of global conglomerates. There cannot be many creative professions in which you are expected to prove your talent with a large body of work at least every six months. For those outside the industry, it's probably easier to be cynical about fashion than it is to be admiring. The words of fashion and marketing are virtually interchangeable. Yet a fashion brand cannot expect to thrive on marketing alone.

Consumers, happily, just aren't that dumb. Marketing can persuade a customer to push open the door of the shop, but if the clothes they find inside are ugly, they will leave.

Today, the product and any level of service must achieve the correct balance between price, quality, creativity and wearability. Fashion consumers, we would argue, are the most sophisticated of all shoppers. Fashion already relies on a complex array of barely perceptible signs and symbols - the width of the lapel, the height of a boot - so the imagery behind it cannot afford to be primitive. Today’s best fashion advertising barely resembles advertising at all. The most effective marketing campaigns are carried out under the radar; the target is unaware of the ruse until it is too late, or is so appreciative of its shrewdness that they agree to accept the come-on.

Every shopper has become a professional. They are beginning to resemble those who work in the industry. When you meet people from the fashion industry, and you work with them, one thing strikes you: none of them are particularly fashionable themselves. They are more often stylish, but there is never the slightest hint of the victim about them. It seems they understand the system so perfectly that they refuse to get caught up in it. Increasingly the customers are beginning to think the same way.

The days when consumers were loyal to brands are long gone. Nobody wants to be decked from head to toe in clothes from the same source, especially if they are smothered in logos. Small “curated” stores selling unusual but multiple brands, along with other lifestyle accoutrements, will become much more common in the future. Consumers don't just buy designer, or chain stores or vintage. They buy all three and throw them together in a style that is uniquely personal. As stylists themselves, consumers are pushing for more choice in the faster turnover of products. Fabrics and designers are becoming more innovative, even at the low end of the market.

The quest for originality is also prompting the return of couture and personal tailoring, but in a more democratic form. Women want to participate in the creation of an ensemble with the sales assistant. They like being part of the creative process. Fashion is all about the alter ego; who do I want to be today, without the why. It is that instant 30 seconds in front of the wardrobe, the mental picture of the occasion and mood, which makes a woman, reach into her heart and choose the garment that will define her person for that day.

Understanding the psychology of fashion is the marketing genius that defines success.