Emotions and the meaning of fashion

By Gabriel Baradee

(with editorial notes)

Emotions are at the core of the meaning of fashion. From the feelings conveyed by the fabrics with an almost infinite array of colors and textures —  and the ways in which the two combine to create unique pleasures of the eyes and the hands — to the creative imagination of patterns in dialogue with the body in motion, fashion plays on the most sensitive chords of our inner self. So much for fashion as a sensuous art form, but fashion is also a trade that primarily deals in emotions rather than plain goods and services. Let us listen to Gabriel Baradee, a Viennese designer whose passion is fashion. The mission of SemiotiX is inclusive and comprehensive. Candid and creative voices from the meaning-making  arts and crafts are welcome.

The fashion week in Vienna is coming soon (September 9-15, 2019). As a designer, this is the busiest and most vibrant week of my professional year. I am not only looking forward to exciting moments but I also feel overpowered by emotions. Why is fashion such an important field for emotional moments and how central is it to this industry? To proceed with this reflexive piece on my art, I looked up for definitions of emotion. I read that emotion is defined as a mental or psychological state that is evoked by a conscious or unconscious perception of an experience or a situation. For a creative mind like me, that sounded at first awfully abstract, but, upon reflection, it made sense. 

Let us be concrete and turn to practical examples. Each season, major brands as well as  small labels present runway catwalk shows meant to be mind-blowing for their audience and potential customers. Everything is carefully planned long ahead of time: music, hair and makeup designs, casting (finding the right model for the right outfit), to name only a few important choices to be made. Every brand attempts to transform a straightforward marketing presentation into an impressive spectacle, a kind of performance that will stir as many positive emotions as possible to stand out in the mass. Indeed, the more emotions a label or brand will trigger through the media, the more likely the customers will eventually recognize the product in the stores.  

The representation of fashion in the media has long been  a topic of interest for semiotics, at least since Roland Barthes’s early research on the system of fashion in the 1960s. Our website https://semioticontest.local  has regularly featured reports and articles relevant to this meaning-making discourse, notably in two issues of Design, Style, and Fashion, and the lectures by Alexandra Verschueren in the Semiotics Institute Online. Naturally, the visual, performative, multimodal, and pragmatic aspects of the fashion institution is eminently relevant to the study of signs and communication through the prism of socio-semiotics.

The culture of emotions in fashion presentations can be considered a major marketing strategy for the brands. Not only the show itself but also the whole construction of the context of the performance is driven by the need to arouse strong emotions. The most important concern is the seating of the guests: the “front row” is a coveted position that enables the person both to see well and to be seen. When we plan the seating order, we must make sure that celebrities, important clients, and influential journalists are seated on the first row to convey the message that these people are intimately associated with the event. They must feel that they are a part of it, so close that they are virtually able to touch the models and the garments. The experience of “being in” is a powerful emotion.     

However, marketing does not stop at the catwalk event. Fashion stores are designed to play dramatically with the potential customers’ emotions. The visual displays in the shop’s window is composed as a symphony of signs designed to arouse desires. Resistance to cross over the threshold and enter the magic cave is thus lowered. Once inside, all the senses are stimulated to create euphoria. The “right” music has been chosen so that it fits the particular design and style offered by the store. Major brands tend to ban natural daylight and construct a stage-like presentation in which every details of light and shadow are contrived to convey an sense of theatricality. Smaller boutiques like mine, for instance, lack such means but instead play on the concept of accessibility and project toward the outside world of the street a harmonious atmosphere of unpretentious intimacy. Smells can create emotions faster than any other sense. This is why I use a discreet, yet noticeable scent to create a relax, friendly environment that has become the hallmark of my brand.

My personal commitment to ecological care has prompted me to foreground sustainability in my art and craft. I  strive to convey to my customers this essential part of the brand I created. The fabrics I use are environment-friendly and most of them are produced locally. The materials and designs of my clothes are mindful of the environment in which they are meant to be used, in the wider context of ecological concerns. This affords my customers with the fulfilling emotion of feeling good and right, or, more precisely, guilt-free.    


Gabriel Baradee graduated from Japanese Studies at the University of Vienna and received a diploma from ESMOD in Berlin (Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode).  He gained international experience in London and Tokyo. Since founding his own label, SHAKKEI, he lives and works in his home town Vienna. His dedication to European and Japanese art inspirations allows him to constantly realize projects at the interface of fashion and art. Highlights of his career are the “Best Newcomer Award 2012” of the Vienna Awards fot Fashion and Lifestyle, and an invitation to show his work at the Lavera show floor during the Berlin Fashion Week in January 2013. Since 2011 he annually presents his label Shakkei at the MQ Vienna Fashion Week in Vienna. In 2014, he was appointed women’s  wear designer at Gössl in Salzburg. Since 2015, he solely focuses on his own label and the Shakkei store in Vienna’s design district.  

All photo credits are Shakkei



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