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Browsing the virtual boutique with Baudrillard: The new realities of online, device-based, luxury fashion design and consumption

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Contemporary engagement with fashion is with slick simulacra, daydreams and digital fantasies ‐ an impossible promise of a beautiful, de-corporealized perfection. The virtualizing of fashion consumption has in turn dematerialized garments completely. Although late to the party, the consumer engagement with online luxury fashion has grown exponentially. Extremely expensive items are now purchased before they are engaged with physically. Therefore, within the new realities of device-based fashion design and consumption, the ‘wow’ factor and virtual considerations are paramount. There should be no surprise though that these garments align so closely with our taste, our consumption habits and our life patterns; they have been designed to do just that. In this research, through observation of a garment that was virtual before it became physical, the ascendant contemporary structure of modern fashion retail is analysed. This research explores how physical aspects of clothing have been devalued by the technology of modern capitalism, even as the importance of the ‘look’ has ascended. Another important aspect of the research is the seductive aspects of the marketing of fashion goods. The methods of procurement, in addition to the physical characteristics of the object itself, undergo a close analysis ‐ how we as consumers are shaped by our methods of consumption as much as by our goods now. This research uses an object-based method, a process wherein both intrinsic and extrinsic information can be gleaned from a close examination of a garment, as well as an interview with a fashion journalist who witnessed the reorganization of a leading fashion website into a retail portal. This data is then combined with relevant theoretical frameworks to form ‘grounded theory’. The dematerialization of the modern ‘boutique’ that has now migrated online, the incipient forms of marketing to engage consumers and, ultimately, the recontextualization of the body and understanding of the self, all catalysed by online consumption are considered. As garments are now as ephemeral and placeless as the mechanism for the acquisition, an examination of the manufacture and dissemination of fashion product is warranted, and this in turn provides a more nuanced understanding of the ontology of luxury garments as well as their consumption in the modern fashion retail agora.
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Keywords: Jean Baudrillard; consumer surveillance; luxury fashion; online retail; social media; virtual reality (VR)

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000096729285School of Fashion, Seneca College

Publication date: March 1, 2021

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  • The Journal of Design, Business & Society is a peer-reviewed scholarly publication for business leaders, managers, policy-makers, service-providers and design experts. It examines the complex nature of design and design thinking in relation to its effective application to solving real-world problems across commercial and broader societal contexts. It aims to promote cross-disciplinary design research which engages specialist and generalist stakeholders via qualitative, quantitative, visual or applied research methodologies, ultimately leading to tangible implications for current practice or clear direction for future work.
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