Havva Halaceli

Cukurova University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Textile Design,
Adana, Turkey

This is a digital age, dominated by information, communication and technology-based entertainment. This age is a result of rapid visual information-sharing. In this age, technology enables video sharing, saving every moment as visual data, and it is a result of rapid visual and information sharing. Today, artists use digital technologies as a means of expressing concepts. Woven textiles are also affected by the technological advances. Textiles have been essential for people from ancient times to now, for covering and protecting themselves from heat and cold. Weaving is a fine art form and a product of labor, including Coptic textiles and European tapestries; it can also utilize the speed, selection and color options of digital technologies that result from the mechanization and technological advances in the 20th century. Computerized Jacquard looms are one of the benefits of digital technologies that enable the weaving of complex imagery by allowing individual warp threads to be lifted.

Today, working with digital cameras, scanners and jacquard looms the textile artist becomes a designer and technology becomes a medium serving the artist’s creativity. In this study, the works of textile artists will be examined in view of time, technology and communication.
Keywords: Weaving, digital technology, jacquard loom

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ELECTRONIC TEXTILES: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion and Soft computation

Electronic textiles, also referred to as smart fabrics, are quite fashionable right now. Their close relationship with the field of computer wearable‘s gives us many diverging research directions and possible definitions. On one end of the spectrum, there are pragmatic applications such as military research into interactive camouflage or textiles that can heal wounded soldiers. On the other end of the spectrum, work is being done by artists and designers in the area of reactive clothes: “second skins” that can adapt to the environment and to the individual. Fashion, health, and telecommunication industries are also pursuing the vision of clothing that can express aspects of people’s personalities,social dynamics through the use and display of aggregate social information.

In my current production-based research, I develop enabling technology for electronic textiles based upon my theoretical evaluation of the historical and cultural modalities of textiles as they relate to future computational forms. My work involves the use of conductive yarns and fibers for power delivery, communication, and networking, as well as new materials for display that use electronic ink, nitinol, and thermochromic pigments. The textiles are created using traditional textile manufacturing techniques: spinning conductive yarns, weaving, knitting, embroidering, sewing, and printing with inks.


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The technologies embedded in wearables influence the comfort, wearability and aesthetics. According to Tao (2005) (Figure 1) a typical system configuration of a wearables includes several basic functions such as: interface, communication, data management, energy management and integrated circuits. This classification is based on general purpose wearable computers.

A similar classification is presented by Seymour (2009) with focus on fashionable wearables, a combination of aesthetic as well as functional pieces . Thus most common technological components used to develop fashionable wearables are: interfaces (connectors, wires, and antennas), microcontrollers, inputs (sensors), outputs (actuators), software, energy (batteries, solar panels), and materials (interactive or reactive materials, enhanced textiles).

Both classifications are overlapping each other, but for the purpose of this thesis they will be combined and all the concepts explained, with emphases on e-textiles. The project examples used in this section, supporting the theory are related to wearable textile technology already available on the market or projects currently being developed in research labs around the world showing promising results in becoming future technologies. The diversification of the project concepts goes from being very functional and practical towards more expressive and artistic.


To obtain information for wearable devices components such as sensors are often used, for instance, environmental sensors, antennas, global positioning system receivers, sound sensors and cameras. Such sensors can be divided on active and passive(Langenhove & Hertleer, 2004)(Seymour, 2009). Active inputs are controlled by a user via a tactile or acoustic feedback system, which provides an intuitive interaction with the garment. Passive inputs collect biometric data from the human body as well as environmental data collected via wireless transmission system. The data is captured and further processed usually using a microprocessor. The table below provides suggestions for the type of inputs wearable systems can collect from a person or the environment.

Input Interfaces

The most common way for a user to interact with a device these days, involves the use of buttons, keyboards and screens, as they are proven to be easy to learn, implement and use with few mistakes. Fabric- based interfaces using keyboards and buttons are most common for wearables. They are usually designed from either multilayered woven circuits or polymer systems (Tao, 2005). At the dawn of ubiquitous computing environments, people will need to engage with many different devices with built-in microprocessors and sensors. As wearable devices become more complex, a need for more complex interfaces arises. People want more options on their devices, they want everything, but they also want them with the maximum of easy, freedom and comfort. This requires new ways of interaction, such as user engagement through voice, touch and gestures. The devices of the future will have no faces(Saffer, 2007). They will implement more intuitive ways of interaction.

Origin Inputs
Person Voice, visuals, pressure, bend, motion, biometric data, proximity, orientation, displacement, smell, acceleration
Environment Temperature, light, sound, visuals, humidity, smoke, micro particles

Figure 1 – Suggestions types of inputs that a wearable system can collect

Voice recognition – Voice-controlled interfaces are currently most common on phones. However there are few drawbacks in the technology. It is difficult to create voice-controlled interfaces in public spaces, from both technical and design perspective, when the system should always listen for a command. In this case, incorrect processing of information is possible due to large influence of background noise. How will the system know to differentiate between a command and a background noise is a design challenge that yet needs to be answered. Furthermore, the current voice recognition technology has a problem distinguishing between different people’s voice and additionally, it requires more processing power then previous technologies. Leading researchers believe these obstacles will be overcome as technology advances, predicting that in a very near future we will interact with voice – controlled devices and environments.

Gesture recognition – As devices gain better awareness of the movement of the human body through technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors and sudden – motion sensors (SMSs), gesture recognition as a way of human interaction with devices is becoming even more achievable. Indeed, there are devices such as mobile phones equipped with tilt motion sensors, so that users can, for example, “pour” media data from their phone to another device (Dachselt & Buchholz, 2009). Donneaud (2007) created a large textile interface for playing electronic music. Figure 2 illustrates the textile interface that is constructed of two conductive fabrics which are fixed on a frame each one weaved with conductive threads in a different direction.


Figure 2: Textile XY: interface for playing music

When the performer presses any point of this textile, the two fabrics connect and the current electrical value is sent to the computer. This textile interface is flexibility and transparency, involving the whole body through choreographic movements in the musical interpretation, thus allowing the performer to explore the textile interface by look, touch and gesture.

Presence recognition – Person’s presence is another way of interaction with a system. Present- activated systems are one of the central research points for ambient intelligent environments. The main design and technical challenge here is what determines if the system should react to the presence of a person, how it should react and how fast this reaction should be after a change has been detected.


There are a variety of output devices or materials which activate in wearables as a result of computation triggered by input data. Many outputs can stimulate any of the five the senses of the wearer or his audience. For example, shape memory alloy can change the silhouette of a fabric presenting a visual experience for an audience and a tactile experience for the wearer. The table below provides an overview of possible outputs to address specific senses.

Senses Outputs
Visual LEDs, EL wires, displays, photochromic ink, thermocromic ink, E-ink
Sound Speakers, buzzers
Touch Shape memory wires, conductive yarns, conductive fabric, motors/actuators
Smell and Taste Scent capsules

Figure 3 – Overview of possible outputs that address specific senses

Communication Technology

For electronic components to truly become part of bigger interactive systems they need to be connected in order to exchange information. Wires, cables, antennas and connectors are most common physical components used to connect electronics together. Wired connections are secure and practical in many cases, but they can cause inflexibility and add to the weight of the system. On the other hand, wireless connections increase flexibility and the lightness of the system, but increase its complexity.

The advances in wireless technologies have played a significant role in the development of wearables and e-textiles, reducing the number of devices attached to a system, simplifying its construction as well as minimizing the size. According to Seymour(2009) some of the most common wireless communication and location based systems are: UMTS (Universal Mobil Telecommunication System), GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication), GPS (Global Positioning System), Cell Triangulation, WIFI, Bluetooth, IR (Infrared) and PAN (Personal Area Network). These communication systems can be further subdivided to long- range or short range communications(Tao, 2005), if the transfer of information is between two or more users via the internet or a network protocol or between two or more wearable devices worn by a user, respectfully.

Long-range communications

The long-range communication technologies advanced during the mobile revolution. All portable devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, MP3 players use radio frequencies to enable communication. From the list above the following communication systems: UMTS, GPRS, GSM, GPS, cell triangulation, WIFI are long-range. GSM is the communication system currently most suitable for voice transmission, as well as for data and files transmission at 9.6 kbps. For transfer of pictures and video a third-generation (3G) wireless system is also available, with the capacity of 384 kbps. GPS and cell triangulation is suitable for navigation purposes. The variety of communication systems opens many possibilities for wearable devices and the exchange of information.

Short-range communications

Short-range communication for wearables is a research area that still needs to be developed. Some of the approaches considered for implementation in wearables are wiring, infrared, Bluetooth technology, WIFI, Personal Area Network (PAN) and Fabric Area Network (FAN). Even though they have some disadvantages, they show promising results as future technologies embedded in devices and textiles.

Embedding wires in garments is cumbersome and constrictive, and therefore not adequate. For infrared to be effective it requires direct lines of sight, which is not practical and difficult to implement on different devices worn on the body. Bluetooth technology is widely used, with an open wireless communication protocol which ensures connection between several devices within a short communication range (10 m), overcoming problems of synchronization. This technology is embedded in a range of products (such as smart phones, headsets, mouse, keyboards, printers and game consoles) and has many applications in situations where low-bandwidth communication is required. Bluetooth devices can interact independently of the user, as well as advertise services they provide, thus making this network more secure than other types, as more of the security, network address and permission configuration can be automated. This also provides an easier access to services for the users. WIFI (also called “wireless Ethernet”) uses the same radio frequency as the Bluetooth, but with higher power, resulting with a stronger connection. The users have the advantage to move around within a broad coverage area and still be connected to the network, through a variety of WIFI enabled devices such as laptops, smart phones, PDAs.

From a collaboration research project in 1996 between MIT Media Lab and IBM Almaden Research Center a new wireless technology emerged called the Personal Area Network (PAN) also referred to it as Body Area Network. The technology is considered the backbone of wearable technology, allowing exchange of digital information, power and control signals within the user’s personal space. PAN takes advantage of the natural electrical conductivity of the human body combined with a transmitter embedded with a microchip, to create an external electric field that passes an incredibly tiny current (1 billionth of an amp- 1 nanoamp) through the body, used to transmit data (IBM, 1996). As a comparison, the electrical field created by running a comb through hair is more than 1000 times greater than the current required for PAN technology to be functional. The technology is still being refined but researchers see great potential in PAN, as an effective and cost-efficient communication network. Passing of simple data between electronic devices carried by two people would be easier than ever, such as exchanging business cards via a handshake. This scenario as fascinating as it sounds also imposes many security issues, because touching a person with a PAN is like tapping a phone line (Tao, 2005).

In 2001 Hum proposed a wireless communication infrastructure to enable networking and sensing on clothing called the Fabric Area Network (FAN). The technology promises to solve some of the problems Bluetooth and GSM are facing, regarding the public concern of health hazards from the increased amount of emissions in the body from these sources of radiation. The new and innovative method, in which the technology architecture is designed, uses radio frequency (RF) fields for data communication and powering, restricted only to the surface of the clothing thus eliminating radiation into the body. More specifically, the technology uses multiple radio frequency identification FRID links, which have been used in the industry for years for tagging and tracking products. Even though the technology is being promoted as emission-save, low-cost and easy to maintain, it still has much more development it needs to undergo before such networking and sensing clothing can be considered for mass production.

The technologies described above such as GSM, GPS, WIFI and Bluetooth are already widely used as part of wearable devices. Since, they have been proven to be stable communicational systems and well developed; attempts have been made in the research community for their implementation in computational and smart textiles. However, these technologies were not initially designed for integration in clothing and accessories and thus researchers are modifying and perfecting these wireless networks to meet the requirements that currently established communication systems, cannot fulfill. For that reason, wireless networks such as PAN and FAN were originally designed and are still investigated.

Data management technologies and integrated circuits

The storing and processing of data in wearables is carried out in integrated circuits (IC), microprocessors or microcontroller. Integrated circuits are miniaturized electronic circuits which are mostly manufactured from silicon because of its superior semi conductive properties. However silicon is not flexible and therefore ICs are not very suitable for incorporating them on clothing. Developing ICs from conductive or semi-conductive polymeric Having the properties of a polymermaterials can be of great importance for wearable electronics since these materials are flexible, lightweight, and strong and of low production cost (Rossi, Capri, Lorussi, Scilingo, Tognetti, & Paradiso, 2005). Their down side is that they are not as efficient as silicon, and thus scientists are looking into developing electronics in the near future that will be a combination of both silicon and conductive polymers which will be complimenting each other.

Among the most advanced integrated circuits there are the microprocessors which are the heart of any normal computer. Also known as the CPUs (Central Processing Units), they present complete computation engines fabricated on single chips. The microprocessor performs many functions some of which are executing a stored set of instructions carrying out user defined tasks as well as carrying the ability to access external memory chips to both read and write data from and to the memory. From the architecture of the microprocessors, more specialized processing devices were developed, such as microcontrollers.

A microcontroller is a single-chip computer, which is embedded in many everyday products and therefore it is also called “embedded controller”. If a product has buttons and a digital display, most likely it also has a programmable microcontroller that provides a real-time response to events in the embedded system they are controlling. Such automatically controlled devices, often consumer products, are remote controls, cell phones, office machines, appliances, toys and many more.

Even though microcontrollers are “small computers”, they still have many things in common to desktop computers or large mainframe computers. All computers have a CPU which executes many different programs. In the case of microcontrollers the CPU executes a single program and thus they are known as “single purpose computers”. Also microcontrollers have a hard disk, a RAM (random-access memory) and inputs and outputs, which are all combined on a single microchip. Other characteristics common for a majority of microcontrollers, besides being embedded inside other devices dedicated to run specific single task programs, are that they come as low-power devices, small and at low cost, which is of great importance for wearable e-textiles. While some embedded systems are very sophisticated, many of those implemented in wearable e-textiles have minimal requirements for memory and program length, with no operating system and low software complexity. The actual processor used in the microcontrollers can vary widely, where ones choice when designing interactive applications depends on the context in which the embedded system will be used. The programs running on the microcontrollers can be stand-alone or can communicate with the software running on other external devices, preferably through a wireless network.

Energy management technologies

One of the biggest problems in wearable and integrated electronic technology is power and the quest for alternative energy sources is essential. Today batteries in the form of AA batteries or lithium batteries are the most common source of energy utilized for running embedded systems and processing of captured data through a microcontroller. However their life span is limited and designers of wearables will have to find new and improved solutions to acquire the needed energy, either making it long lasting or easy to recharge on the move. At the same time the energy source must become light and discreet, which currently is the heaviest part of wearables.

The need for alternative sources of power is rising as the demand for greater design freedom in creating light, flexible and reliable wearable e-textile is increasing. Researchers see a potential in an alternative source of power based on the miniaturization of fuel cell technology. The way fuel cells generate electrical power is similar to batteries, as they convert the chemical energy of a given type of fuel (e.g. hydrogen and oxygen) into electrical energy. They have longer lives than batteries of similar size since oxygen does not need to be stored, only hydrogen in metal hydrides (Larminie & Dicks, 2003). Before 2010 Toshiba is planning to launch the first commercial direct methanol fuel cell-based (DMFC) batteries for cell phones and laptops.

In the beginning of 2009 researchers from the University of Illinois claimed they have developed the smallest working fuel cell, with dimensions 3 mm x 3 mm x 1 mm and it is made from four layers: a water reservoir, a thin membrane, a chamber of metal hydride, and an assembly of electrodes (Heine, 2009). Scientists claim that with the capacity of 0.7 volts and a 0.1 milliamp current for about 30 hours the mini battery can be used to run simple electronics. Researches see a great potential in fuel cell technology as it is considered to be a clean, efficient and silent technology, nevertheless the main hurdles preventing commercial introduction is high cost, lack of durability, high system complexity and lack of fuel infrastructure (Bruijn, 2005).

Another interesting alternative energy source for intelligent clothing is to harvest the kinetic energy from the human movement or the fluctuations in body temperature. Even though this energy is very minimal to drive wearable technology and can only be measured in microwatts, it is still a research field that attracts attention. Some research has been done in piezoelectric materials, which creates charge when mechanically stressed, thus inserting them on shoes, walking power can be harnessed (Tao, 2005).

Other forms of power supply are utilizing photovoltaic cells which are gathering the energy of the sun, allowing a sustainable approach to wearable technology. There are many examples of products that are incorporating solar panels onto the surface of wearable e-textiles, using thin film printed on flexible surfaces such as plastics; however the efficiency of this alternative energy source still needs to be improved.

Responsive Materials

Responsive materials represent a new generation of fibers, fabrics and articles, which are able to react in a predetermined way when exposed to stimuli, such as mechanical, electrical, chemical, thermal, magnetic and optical. They are reactive and dynamic and they have the ability to change color, shape and size in response to their environment. For many years researchers have devoted their work in developing responsive materials such as shape memory materials, chromic materials, micro and nanomaterial and piezoelectric materials.

By constantly improving and incorporating responsive materials in the development of light and flexible electronic components, conductive and semi-conductive materials, such as conductive polymers, conductive threads, yarns, coatings and inks, are receiving widespread attention. They are less dynamic then smart textiles but equally important in realizing fashionable, desirable, lightweight, soft and wireless computational textiles.

The following section gives an overview of conductive and responsive materials that are currently most used in wearable computational textiles.

Conductive fabrics and textiles are plated or woven with metallic elements such as silver, nickel, tin, copper, and aluminum. There are many different fabrics with various textures, looks and conductivity and few samples are illustrated in Figure 4 (left), those are: electronylon, electronylon nickel, clearmesh, softmesh, electrolycra and steelcloth. All these textiles show amazing electrical properties, with low surface resistance15, which can be used for making flexible and soft electrical circuits within garments or other products, pressure and position-sensing systems. They are lightweight, flexible, durable, soft and washable (some) and can be sewn like traditional textiles, which makes them a great replacement for wires in computational garments.


Figure 4 : conductive fabrics (left) and Different types of conductive threads (Middle and right)

Conductive threads and yarns have a similar purpose to wires and that is to create conductive paths from one point to another. However, unlike wires they are flexible and can be sewn, woven or embroidered onto textile, allowing for soft circuits to be created. They contain metallic elements such as stainless steel or silver, with nylon or polyester as base fiber. Commercially available conductive threads usually vary in the resistance and the thickness of the thread. Figure 5 (middle and right) illustrates few commercially available threads. Since they are conductive when working with them, one has to take all the precautions as when using uncoated electric wire or a metallic surface without insulation. Conductive threads and yarns offer alternative ways of connecting electronics on soft and flexible textiles medium as well offering traditional textile manufacturing techniques for creating computational garments.

Conductive coatings are used to convert traditional textiles into electrically conductive materials. The coatings can be applied to different types of traditional fibers, yarns and fabrics, without changing their flexibility, density and handling.

Conductive ink is an ink that conducts electricity, providing new ways of printing or drawing circuits. This special ink can be applied to textile and other substrates. Since wearable e–textiles require great flexibility, conductive inks are become more interesting for designers and developers in this area. Conductive inks contain powdered metals such as carbon, copper or silver mixed with traditional inks.

Shape memory alloys (SMA or muscle wire) are composed of two or more metals usually nickel and titanium, combination also known as Nitinol. These wires, usually of very small diameter, have the capacity to actuate when heated and to return to their original shape when cooled. Their capacity to flex or contract is up to 5% and it is a result of dynamic changes in their internal structure generated by an electric current. Some SMA wires can be “programmed” (heated at a transition temperature) into a particular shape for ex. zigzag or coiled. They can remember the form, to which they return when cooled. SMAs are used for triggering movement, have been woven in textiles or can make fabrics shrink or curl in wearable e-textiles applications. Long before SMAs were introduced to wearable e-textile projects, they have been used in many different areas, like electronics, robotics, medicine, automotive industry and appliances. SMAs are more and more becoming an interesting material for designers working on interdisciplinary projects across the fields of computation, technology, science, design and art. They explore how new ways of combining SMAs with computation can aid the design of responsive garments, objects and spaces and provide more meaningful interfaces.

Piezoelectric materials have the ability to generate electrical charge when exposed to mechanical stress (sound, vibration, force or motion). Piezoelectric materials exhibit reversible effect because they can produce electrical charge when subjected to stress and also they can generate stress when an electrical field is applied. Therefore the materials can be used both as sensors and actuators. Piezoelectric materials can serve as excellent environmental sensors, but the number of interesting applications in wearable e-textiles is even greater if they are coupled with other sensors, for ex. solar cells where they can be used to convert light to sound, motion or vibration.

Chromic materials are those that radiate, erase or just change the color based on the induction caused by external stimuli. They are also known as non- emissive “active materials” (Berzowska & Bromley, Soft computation through conductive materials , 2007). The classification of chromic materials depends on the stimuli affecting them. Some of the most know are photochromic and thermochromic materials. Most of the color changing phenomena (photochromism, thermochromism, electrochromism, piezochromism etc.) are reversible.

Photochromic (inks and dyes) are materials that react to light as an external stimulus. They are typically available in powdered crystals of ultraviolet (UV) sensitive pigments that need to be dissolved in an ink for application. Once the material is exposed to sunlight, blacklight or other UV source it will change from clear to colored state. When the UV source is removed they revert to their original state. They can be applied on various media, including textile, paper, plastic, wood and glass and can be used to create dynamic patterns that change in accordance to light variations in their surroundings.

Thermochromic inks are heat sensitive materials. They are made from various compounds that need to dissolve in the appropriate ink type for application. When exposed to a specific temperature they change from one color to another of from color to translucent. Thermochromic inks can be classified to three types, low – react to cold, body – react to body heat, touch and breath and high – react to hot liquids and air. They have the ability to infinitely shift color and with that create dynamic patterns on various substrates, including textiles.

Nanomaterials and microfibers have been the subject of enormous interest, over the past decades. They are materials fabricated on a molecular level. The technology is aimed at manipulating the structure of materials on atomic, molecular and nano16 level in a precise and controlled manner to create products or byproducts with specially engineered characteristics. Scientists use the prefix nano to denote a factor of 10-9 or one-billionth. One nanometer is one-billionth meter which is about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair (Qian & Hinestroza, 2004).

Many believe that the future development of many areas of our lives lie in nanotechnology, which fundamentals are based on the fact that properties of substances can change when their size is reduces to the nanometer range. The technology will be used in fabricating nanomachies, nanelectronics and other nanodevices to improve existing products and to create many new ones. Nanotechnology will also

have a great impact on textiles, being able to transform the molecular structure of the fibers and create fabrics that offer unsurpassed performance and comfort. The technology is likely to revolutionize wearable e-textiles, by not only developing very small and flexible electronic devices embedded in textile substrates, but it will go even further, ultimately having the electronic devices and system becoming the fabric itself. Researchers have already started to develop transistors in yarn form and to make conductive, carbon nanotube.

Refrance : E-textiles: The intersection of computation and traditional textiles (Interactive Sample Book by Marija Andonovska)


Professional actors and actresses have long fascinated their audiences, but until the twentieth century, they were often associated with licentious sexual behavior, making them problematic role models. Perhaps the first true stage professionals, in the modern sense, were the men and women who made up the repertory companies of the Italian commedia dell’arte in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The stock characters they impersonated, such as Harlequin, Columbine, and Pierrot, left their mark on fashion. Shirts for women in the twentieth century have sported an extravagantly ruffled collar like that of Pierrot, while the diamond-patterned fabric of Harlequin’s costume is now part of the fashion lexicon.

In England, theaters were established in London during the Elizabethan Age, but the first thing the Puritans did upon taking control of the city of London in 1620 was to close them. After the Royalist defeat in the English Civil imageWar, Charles II, the future king of England, had to flee to Paris. He remained in exile there for a decade at the court of Louis XIV, where he saw actresses, whose costumes reflected current trends in fashion, on stage both at court and in the fashionable playhouses. When he returned to London in 1660, theater
flourished; his most famous mistress was the actress Nell Gwyn. It was during his reign that the “first night” of a new play became both a social event and a dress parade, as it has remained ever since.

In the eighteenth century, the English actress Mrs.Sheridan (1754–1792), wife of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Other actresses sat for fashionable portraitists, and their dress and hairstyles were widely copied. Caroline Abington, who married into the aristocracy, was perhaps the first fashion consultant; she was driven around London to advise her wealthy, titled friends on sartorial matters, particularly if a ball or marriage was imminent. Many French actresses also had an influence on fashion. Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), in particular, was famed for her stylish clothes. She toured the world and was the first actress to be dressed for the screens of the new cinema by a couturier. In 1913, when her play Elizabeth I was filmed, she asked Paul Poiret to create her wardrobe, setting a trend that other couturiers would follow, from Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy to the more recent long-term collaboration on- and off-screen between Yves St. Laurent and Catherine Deneuve.

The actor, writer, and director Noel Coward (1899–1973) made a polka-dotted silk Sulka dressinggown part of every well-dressed man’s wardrobe. His favored actress, Gertrude Lawrence, wore a backless dress on stage in Private Lives in 1930 and the style instantly became fashionable. Jean Harlow set trends in hair and makeup—the “silver screen” succeeded where the stage had always failed: it made the wearing of makeup not only respectable but a fashionable necessity. In the early twenty-first century, the stage has less
impact than film in fashion terms. The fashionable theatrical couples of the 1930s and 1940s—the Oliviers and the Lunts, for example—were eclipsed by the cinematic duos of the second half of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century. However, the stage door still has its appeal: its glittering first nights, its gala evenings, and its award ceremonies—all of which, like the Academy Awards, demand “occasion dressing,” and act as yet another showcase for designers and stylists canny enough to offer up their services.


  • Bruzzi, Stella. Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Hartnoll, Phyllis. The Theatre: A Concise History. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1985.
  • Laver, James. Costume in the Theatre. New York: Hill and Wang, 1965.
  • Pointon, Marcia. Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.
  • Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France, 1750 to 1820. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,1995.

Pamela Church Gibson

Who said fashion is not serious business?

‘The secret of successful fashion management is a complete blend of Creative Genius and Business Management acumen, skill and resourcefulness.’

Daniele de Winter, CEO, Daniele de Winter Cosmetics, Monaco

Anyone who thinks fashion is inconsequential and doesn’t deserve serious attention must think again. Fashion is a strong force that has always played a significant role in the evolution of mankind’s society. As far back as the Egyptian, Greek and Roman Empires, fashion was a key social element that reflected the society through apparel, accessories and cosmetics. Fashion also had an influence on decisions regarding politics, economy, education and art. In the ancient Roman Empire, the visual representation of fashion was so ingrained within the society that the ruling government decreed the models and colours of shoes worn by the members of each social class. Also during the early years of industrialization, wealthy Americans and Asians travelled to Europe to acquire luxury goods, boosting international trade and the expansion of the global economy. In addition, the Grand Nobles of the Renaissance period and the aristocrats of the past centuries all stamped their significance and contribution to society’s evolution through fashion. The fashion tradition remains prevalent today, albeit in a modern way.

Luxury fashion played a prominent role in the social and economic order of previous centuries and continues to influence our modern societies, economies and governments. The global luxury fashion sector is estimated to be worth US$130 billion. The sector is one of the few industrial segments that have remained a constant world economy contributor with an annual growth rate of approximately 20 per cent. In addition, the industry has made noteworthy contributions to national economies. The luxury fashion sector is the fourth largest revenue generator in France; and one of the most prominent sectors in Italy, Spain, the USA and the emerging markets of China and India. The sector is currently one of the highest employers in France and Italy. In the USA, the fashion apparel industry is the fastest growing sector, while several Asian economies have witnessed a boom as a result of the entrance and expansion of luxury brands in the region. The clothing and accessories retail business is also among the fastest growing industries in several parts of the
world. Fashion has become so influential in the current global economy and world affairs that the United Nations recently launched a program of fashion shows, called ‘Catwalk the World’, as a platform for raising humanitarian aid. Fashion is now also directly linked with film, music, literature, arts, sports and lifestyle as never before. The contribution of fashion and its growing influence has also permeated into other aspects of the business sector as has never before been witnessed.

Despite the high influence of fashion in our society, its analysis from a business strategy viewpoint lacks consensus and structure. This is perhaps a result of the assumption that the intellectual analysis of fashion is an impossible challenge. Or because fashion creativity and business intellect have been viewed as two parallel lines with no meeting point. In luxury fashion, where there’s a heavy emphasis on design and creativity, this perspective is more underlined. Well, the days of these assumptions are gone because, today, the business of fashion requires sophisticated management techniques in addition to a high level of creativity and innovation. The rapid development of the business strategy aspect of fashion management and its balancing act with the creative world are some of the factors that prompted the writing of this book on luxury branding.

The marketplace would be colourless without luxury brands. Luxury fashion brands are unique, intriguing and special. This is not a biased statement from someone who has an innate affinity for fashion branding. It is rather a statement of the fact that luxury fashion provides a means to a lifestyle that is triggered by deep psychological and emotional needs, which is expressed through ingenious products.

A respected writer and branding expert recently told me that he believes that luxury brands deceive customers by selling over-priced branded goods that are produced at a fraction of their price tags. I disagree with this view (excuse me, Mark). I subscribe to the apparent fact that luxury brands provide a complete package of significant benefits to consumers, the social environment and the global economy. When people purchase a luxury fashion item, they don’t just buy the product but a complete parcel that comprises the product and a set of intangible benefits that appeal to the emotional, social and psychological levels of their being. It is quite challenging to find another sector apart from luxury goods, that can claim an emotional connection with their consumers to such an extent that the desire for a product increases as the price tag increases.

Our society thrives on fashion as a form of identity and expression and a source of progression. Fashion, especially luxury fashion, has seeped its way into the lives of consumers, whether they’re wealthy or not. Luxury brands have affected the way consumers think, act and live, both directly and indirectly. Take a moment to reflect on this. When you make a choice of clothes, shoes or other products related to your appearance and grooming, you are making a statement choice based on how you want to appear to yourself and to others. These choices may comprise of what makes you comfortable or what provides you with a means to other forms of satisfaction like belonging to a specific social group. Your choices might be based on brands or not, but the underlying fact is that your choices are influenced by fashion. One thing is certain, and that is the undisputable reality that fashion has become a permanent part of our lives, including the lives of those that consciously decide to distance themselves from fashion in order to avoid falling into the
‘victim’ bracket.

So why write about luxury fashion branding?

The luxury fashion industry is a global multi-billion dollar sector comprising of a multitude of brands with high relevance. Among these are brands like Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Gucci. They are also among the most valuable and influential brands in the world. Despite the large size and income generation of the global luxury fashion industry, the sector has witnessed a slow growth in its strategic business direction. This is because for a long time luxury brands were managed through traditional business methods where decisions were made based on intuition and sometimes on a trial basis. These traditional methods also featured a strong focus on product development and publicity generation through conventional advertising methods. However, the rapid development and complexity of the global business environment currently requires modern and sophisticated business practices in luxury goods management.

In a bid to find a synergy between its origins in tradition and the requirements of modern business, the global luxury goods sector is currently undergoing an important evolution and several management shifts. These changes range from the use of business concepts such as brand equity and brand asset valuation, to e-business; and the development of consolidations and private equity financing. Also, several factors have contributed to the lowering of the sector’s entry barrier, giving way to increased competition. In addition to these, other aspects of the luxury market are also changing. These include the expansion of the luxury consumer market to include a broader mass market; competition from mass fashion brands; the reinterpretation of the luxury concept by the consumer society; the emergence of new luxury markets like China, Russia and India with new opportunities and
outlook; and the increase in the number of the world’s wealthy and changing attitudes in their spending patterns.

The different evolutionary stages of the luxury market in several parts of the world also create a challenge for luxury fashion brand management. For example, the European luxury scene is in its mature stage and consumers in this market approach luxury and fashion as concepts that can be adapted to their lifestyles. This contrasts with US consumers who view luxury as a means to a lifestyle because the US luxury market is still in its growth phase. In the Middle East, where luxury fashion is in its full-bloom growth phase, consumers acquire luxury goods to make a statement of their wealth and Western know-how. Japanese consumers also have a similar attitude to luxury fashion goods, albeit with a twist of affinity to specific French brands. In the rest of Asia, the luxury scene is in its introductory phase while in Africa the concept of luxury fashion is in its early introductory phase. Luxury brands face the challenge of finding a balance in the requirements of each of these markets through their products and service offerings and business strategies.

Changes in the luxury goods sector and the consumer market have also dispelled several old notions of luxury. The Internet has altered the way luxury products are accessed and contributes to the changing consumer psychology and perception of luxury. For example, the retail cliché that assumes that buyers buy and sellers sell, is no longer valid. Buyers now sell in addition to buying, through websites like Buyers can now also borrow luxury goods from several companies like and These possibilities are creating new attitudes to luxury and more challenges to managing luxury brands.

Further changes in the luxury fashion industry include rapid market expansion and competition as a result of easier entry into the industry. Brands can now be launched and achieve global awareness and credibility within a short timeline of only five years. Also the increase in wealth and mobility of luxury consumers and the emergence of new luxury markets is fuelling the sector’s expansion. This has led to a shift in the focus of the luxury market from ‘products’ to ‘consumers’ and the ‘competition’. The rife competitive business environment calls for a strong concentration on developing cuttingedge strategies through relentless innovation. The time has come for new brands to act like old brands; for consumers to be reached through new media like Internet Shopping and Mobile Shopping; and for luxury brands to represent something substantial and valuable to customers through their brands’ offerings.

The branding aspect of luxury goods management is integral to a luxury brand’s sustainability. The brand is the reason that consumers associate themselves with a luxury company. It is what creates and sustains the attraction and desire for products. The strong attachment that luxury consumers have to brands, which often defies logic, is the result of branding. Brands are not products and should not be managed like products. Brands are a complete package that provides a source of identity for products. This identity becomes a springboard for the associations and perceptions eventually developed in the minds of consumers. This is what draws consumers to luxury brands and remains their source of satisfaction.

Although Brand Management is the most influential business aspect, the concept remains in its introductory phase in the luxury goods sector, despite the fact that the ‘brand’ is the core competence of the industry. Luxury fashion brands are yet to absorb the full implication of branding and its management systems. In most cases, the brand is managed through the view of product development and the brand portfolio is seen as the same as the product portfolio. The sequence is often to first develop products and then make branding decisions afterwards. This is a wrong approach. There’s no easier way to say it. Branding decisions ought to be at the core of all the corporate decisions that a luxury brand makes, including product development. The journey of branding begins from crafting a clear brand concept and brand identity and projecting it to the public through an equally clear brand personality and brand image. What the public sees and interprets through the brand image leads to a positioning of the brand in their minds through perceptions and associations. This further leads to the allocation of a space for that brand in their minds according to their sentiments towards the brand. This is called the brand share and influences future purchase decisions and subsequently brand loyalty.

The total branding concept (and not just the brand image) is the source of a luxury fashion brand’s wealth. When the sum of all distinctive qualities of a brand results in the continuous demand and commitment to the brand by consumers, the brand is said to have high brand equity. The brand equity is what translates to brand value, which is the financial gain that a luxury company eventually accrues as a result of its brand strength. The brand equity ought to be painstakingly managed and nurtured to retain its value-creation ability. Brands are invaluable creators of wealth for companies and luxury brands that aim to attain competitive edge ought to be fanatic about their brand-strategy management. This is the most important tool the luxury fashion sector has.

Developing and effectively managing a luxury brand is a painstakingly long process. It requires a consistent integrated strategy, innovative techniques, rigorous management control and constant auditing. This is the reason that there are few existing brands that can claim true ‘luxury’ status. Although several brands aim towards attaining a ‘luxury and prestige’ rank and every talented designer aspires to creating their own luxury brand, only a few brands eventually succeed. The successful brands are those that understand the challenge of finding a balance between being timeless through a firm brand concept and heritage; being current and relevant for the moment through strong brand positioning; and being innovative in crafting a future, all at the same time.

The aim of this book is not to tell you what you already know about fashion branding and management, business strategy or the luxury goods market. It rather provides you with highly relevant analytical information about the luxury goods sector and, most importantly, a framework of business management techniques that can be applied to the sector and beyond. It also reviews strategies that can be used to interpret current and future market changes and ways that luxury brands can be alert to face competitive challenges. The information and business strategies presented in this book are the results of both sound research and confirmed practice. They are sources of new approaches towards the business of smartly bringing objects of desire into the marketplace.