In his introduction to The Fashion System Barthes asks ‘Can clothing signify without recourse to the speech which describes it, comments upon it, and provides it with a system of signifieds and signifiers abundant enough toconstitute a system of meaning? Man is doomed to articulated language, and no semiological undertaking can ignore this fact’.28 Perhaps so for a semiotician, but as a designer I am inclined to believe that ‘real garments’, as opposed to the ‘image garments’ or ‘word garments’ in which Barthes was interested can evoke responses without the mediation of words, if thoughts are not to be counted as words.
On Saturday afternoons when people go shopping, they try something on and buy if it ‘appeals’ to them in some way, or in other words, has a ‘meaning’ for them, and as a person who is susceptible to clothes, I am aware that the ‘meaning’ is partly an emotional one, or one that often eludes articulation. If I as a designer wish to communicate an idea, I usually, in common with most designers, find it most convenient to produce a sketch or a series of sketches. Sometimes, at MaxMara I am asked to clarify my idea.
A technical description of the garment is usually fairly easy, but when I am asked to describe what the garment or collection is for, how it is intended to appeal, words are less useful. We find ourselves describing completely different sets of clothes using different permutations of the same frequently used words. So, one theme might be baptized ‘sport-elegante-citá’ whilst another might be ‘sport-chic’ and another ‘elegante-giorno’.
It would be quite impossible to recreate the clothes simply from the words used to describe them; the words we use act as an aid, but ultimately the meaning resides in the garments themselves, or at this stage the drawings.