Discourse of fashion diffusion and national fashion identities in luxury fashion firms´ webpage communications

Malin Anna Caroline Tjäder

Student thesis: Master thesis


The luxury fashion industry, originally founded on ancient Western traditions rich in symbolic, historic and social capital, has grown with globalization and societal advances to end up entangled in an identity crisis. It has reached a point in development where the conventional foundation stones and management rules no longer apply in their original version. Luxury fashion strategy is therefore currently challenged for several reasons: by increasingly complex diffusion patterns, network societies, extensive market expansion, technological developments and mass commercial interests, just to mention a few. This study aims to make a contribution to luxury marketing’s operational challenges by linking cultural theory of fashion to strategic brand communication online. The theoretical framework builds on conventional interpretative positions of fashion diffusion represented in three paradigms: the top-down, bottom-up and trickle across models. These models were developed during the early and mid 20th century by scholars within different fields of social science, and are still today considered the most recognized approaches to fashion theory. Furthermore, acknowledging the Western prevalence in the global luxury fashion sphere, theories of national fashion identities, shaped by the diffusion paradigms, add to the theoretical field. Among these identities, four cities are particularly prominent: Paris, London, Milan and New York. Both kinds of theory add important insights for communication as they stimulate buying motivation and consumer choices. Twelve luxury fashion firms’ webpage-based brand presentations are analyzed through discourse analysis and put in relation to fashion diffusion models, national identities and prevailing global industrial reality. The discursive analysis takes its stand in social constructivism and is a qualitative analysis consisting of three so-called “building tasks”, essential building blocks for creating interpretations of reality expressed in language. These cover: 1) Semiotic Building (the role of text, image, color and layout), 2) World Building (the role of the diffusion paradigms and the international identities), and 3) Political Building (the role of status, power, gender etc.). In essence, these three blocks investigate the mediating role of the cultural theory in text and surrounding context, communicated in the brand messages. The webpage media is the chosen object of study, as it constitutes a completely accessible resource where the brand is in charge of the communication without consumer influence or commentaries. The Internet-based media further represents one of the main interruptions for business strategy, as it clearly puts the traditional “personal” approach to consumer communication, firmly tied to the luxury fashion shopping experience, at stake by communicating to the great mass. There are two main findings regarding the strategic applicability of cultural theory on webpage communication to draw from the study. These have implications for the academic fields in question, as well as for the business environment at large. Firstly, elements of all three cultural paradigms of fashion diffusion are simultaneously applied and mixed in the brand presentations without causing conflict. The brands of the sample create their individual brand image by extracting elements from all models and mixing them into a cocktail where variables such as age, gender and status, are key characteristics. Secondly, among the distinguishing features, the national virtues play a crucial role for determining partly national, but more importantly global affiliation. The main implication is that both the diffusion paradigms and the national identities are freely and creatively mixed and are not in competition at any level. This brings new knowledge to the study of luxury marketing and diffusion: the models and identities are not only applied for creating individual brand identities by adhering to specific consumer groups or luxury traditions. Rather, they are combined and contrasted for targeting the new industrial challenges by simultaneously communicating across consumer categories, national geography, and luxury categories by acquiring a new versatile strategic position shaped by the modern society. Consumers cannot be categorized, but belong to different combinations of the variables offered by the cultural theory. Furthermore, the emphasis put on global affiliation is still limited to Western attributes, which means that the industry, even though applying extended market strategies, still is firmly attached to the Western luxury fashion origin.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2013
Number of pages100