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This essay will
use semiotic analysis to critically evaluate the Suistudio’s ‘Not Dressing Men’
Fall 2017 advertising champion (Source 1). Suistudio is an Amsterdam brand
designing menswear-inspired clothing for women. The syntagmatic and
paradigmatic structures will be applied to analyse the semiotic codes in the
advert. The syntagmatic relations explore signifiers intra textually, whilst
paradigmatic relations refer to compare and contrast the absence of signifiers intertextually
(Saussure, 1983). Chandler (2007) argues that they cannot be used isolated
because they both work to make sense of signs, and organised signs into codes.
The semiotic analysis will focus on Gill’s (2015) work in terms of gender
power, gender objectification and sexualisation to explore how the advert
construct their brand image and communicate culture to their consumers.


As to the spatial
ordering and body position in the advert. The centre/margin spatial dimension
could be used. The spatial relationships are not neutral, and it indicates cultural
metaphors (Chandler, 2007). It is obviously that the female model locates in a
very centre position in this frame which suggests that she is active, dominant
and “presents as the nucleus of the information” (Kress and Leeuwen, 1996, p.
206). Whereas the male model is in a subservient periphery. The female model
leans on the sofa with a comfortable stretched pose, while the male model lies
down on the furry rug under the sofa with his knee bent. This clear contrast of
top/down spatial dimension also enforces the castration and passiveness of

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As to the facial
express and dressing. The female model challenging stares at the camera which
makes the viewers feel like they are being looked at. It shows the democracy of
“gaze” – the traditional “male gaze” inverts to “female gaze” which empowers
the female model. The male model’s face is cut out of the frame which could
link to “cropping”theory
(Dyer, 1982; Coward, 1984). It refers to the fragmented part of the body, and
it “dents male’s humanity to present them not as whole people but as
fetishized, dismembered ‘bits'” (Gill, 2015, p. 83). The faceless male model
could be a strategy to lead consumers concentrate more on the female model, who
dresses Suistudio’s product on. However, the male’s nudity and six-pack are excessively,
and make the inattention impossible. They objectify the male model, as well as
create a sense of sexual experience and appeal. There is always the illusion of
sex in advert (Williamson, 1978). It could argue that the male model aims at
homosexual male and heterosexual female consumers. However, the use of the
tagline “Not Dressing Men” anchors the preferred reading that their target
audiences are female. The homoerotic signified could be drawn on the female
model because she shows some “masculinity”, such as the belted beige suit and
expressionlessness. Her high heels step across male’s ankle which is “a symbol
of women’s power and sexual dominance, with the effect of threatening a man”
(Gill, 2015, p. 109).


The gender
reversal is quite different from the previous gender stereotyped in adverts.
This could be a postfeminist way to satirise the culture myth which
over-objectified female body. Goldman (1992) calls it “sign saturation”, and it
is likely to cause “sign fatigue”. Therefore, the shocking stunt in advert is
necessary to differentiate itself as it breaches social norms to get attention
and then influence consumers’ behaviours (Dahl et al., 2003). The urban
landscape background and cool colours in this advert indicates a sense of
high-end. In most high fashion advertising, the identities of social positive
side are absent (Rhodes and Zuloago, 2003). The naked male and clothed female
in this advert could cause the contradictions of identity: the masculine female
and the feminine male. Though it might be social negatively, it is does induce
the brand image strengthened and intensified.


However, there are
some critical reading. The brand merely changes the assessed judgements on
female, and “a new form of tyranny is on offer” (Gill, 2015, p. 89). This
advert selecting the glamorous female and perfect-shaped male still conforms
the social aesthetic standards. Female customers may feel that if they purchase
the particular look, they will gain their power (Goldman, 1992). It is possible
with the increased female economic independence. The “tyranny” in this advert
is that female could take control and avoid objectification if they purchase
the clothing of Suistudio. However, it is likely to cause fetishisation which
is “arguably more pernicious” (Gill, 2015, p. 89). To be more specific, as a
female, it is not your fault of being objectification, but if you do not
persuade the subjectification through consumption, then you are culpable. “New
stereotypes have not necessarily displaced older ones but may coexist alongside
these, or perhaps merely influence their style” (Gill, 2015, p. 113). The social
“tyranny” may become that both male and female are objectified now. It is also
worth mentioning that discourse is historical and contextual. Jameson (1984)
describes this unstability as “cannibalisation” which refers to that discourse
and myth will wear a disguised mask as long as it can help improve the sales


As to paradigmatic
structure, which refers to the substitution of signs, it is notable the female
is “black”. Black women are often signified as “animalistic sexuality, exotic
‘otherness’ or ‘soul'” in stereotypes (Gill, 2015, p.79). It could be a
development of postfeminism because the second-wave feminism was critiqued to
be too “white”. Meanwhile, the use of black female may be a strategy to reach
global market. The black is “Othering” to Western culture, but by blending the
binary, it could create a “globalised consumer sisterhood” through purchase of
particular products (Gill, 2015, p.79). “This marks a new chapter in a long
history of advertising’s relationship with colonisation, in which the rest of
the world is offer up in (often sexualised) commodity form” (cited in Gill,
2015, p, 79; Williamson, 1986).


In conclusion, the
semiotic codes are controversially constructed through the syntagmatic and
paradigmatic structures. The centre/margin spatial ordering and models’ body
position indicate the gender power imbalance. The “female gaze”, male
“cropping” and nudity show the gender objectification. The male’s six-pack, female’s
“masculinity” and high heels shed light on both heterosexual and homosexual
arouse. The use of black female caters the trend of globalisation, and develops
the global market. Though this advert may not change the social criteria of
female, it is successful overall, because it builds a memorable brand image and
may raise the awareness of female subjectification and liberty in consumers.


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