Book Review: Understanding Aesthetics
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Book Review:  Understanding Aesthetics

Fiore, Ann Marie. Understanding Aes-thetics for the Merchandising and De-sign Professional. 2nd edition. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010.

ISBN: 978-1-56367-809-7

In Understanding Aesthetics for the Merchandis-ing and Design Professional, Ann Marie Fiore has created a gorgeous, useful textbook for students of retailing, merchandising, and design. Fiore, a professor in the depart-ment of Apparel, Education Studies, and Hospitality Management at Iowa State Uni-versity, has produced a textbook which is clearly written, entertaining, and informa-tive. The book is divided into two parts. The first, entitled “A Primer on Aesthetics,” covers topics such as how consumers ex-perience aesthetics, branding, the “5Ps” (product, property, product presen-tation, promotional activities, and people) of branding and how value is derived from them, and what influences consumers’ aes-thetic choices. The second part is titled “The Elements and Principles of Design.” It breaks design into five principle parts (color, light, line and shape, texture, and space and movement) and devotes a chap-ter to each, exploring in detail the effect that these have on merchandising and de-sign, including the rationale behind store lighting choices, typography and logo de-sign, uses of texture in apparel design, and organizing space within stores to improve sales. Part two also covers auditory and olfactory elements of design and the use of complexity, order, and novelty in the crea-tion of merchandise and brands.
Each chapter includes objectives, activities, and suggested additional reading for both beginner and advanced level students, as well as a summary and a list of references for the chapter. Key terms and concepts are also highlighted and the book contains interviews with those who are responsible for key decisions surrounding the brands, the book covers the basics and history of fashion branding and explores what might be in store in the future as the market be-comes more competitive and marketers begin to present style in different ways, for example as a hyper-personalized mode of self-expression. Each chapter includes discussion questions meant to foster critical thinking and exercises to help students examine their professional plans and take what they’re learning out of the classroom and into the real world; the book is indexed and contains endnotes for each chapter with references cited. The publisher (Fairchild Books) also offers an Instructor’s Guide which includes branding-related news items and project suggestions. As an object, Brand/Story itself is very nice, printed on high-quality paper with a sturdy paperback binding.

This book brings a lot of critical thought to something which is supposed to be almost invisible; that is, the effect brands are sup-posed to have is primarily emotional, not intellectual, so it is fascinating to see the lens of academia turned on questions of why Abercrombie and Fitch chooses to have a shirtless male greeter alongside a fully-clothed female “chaperone” at their main store in New York or why Ralph Lau-ren might hire model Tyson Beckford to pose in his ads. At the same time, the lan-guage is accessible and clear; it never de-scends into opaque academic prose which obfuscates for the purpose of seeming more complex than it actually is.
If Brand/Story has one weakness, it’s that it could use more photos to illustrate some of the steps in brand evolution it discusses. For example, the chapter on Vera Wang notes that she broke into styling Holly-wood stars after Sharon Stone wore one of her dresses on the red carpet. It would be nice to have a picture of that dress to see what might have been so arresting about it.

This book would work well for students of retailing, design, and merchandising, espe-cially if used in conjunction with a more general introductory text, such as Under-standing Aesthetics for the Merchandising and Design Professional (Ann Marie Fiore, 2010). Powerpoint Presentations which offer help planning the course and using each chapter in class are available from the publisher. Large, up-to-date photos are a key part of teaching retailing, merchandising, and design. Understanding Aesthetics… has a huge selection of recent photos which illustrate the book’s concepts well and will inspire students to create their own designs. The writing is also excellent. The book explains not just aesthetic choices behind various designs but the metaphoric and symbolic sides of the ads, bringing to the forefront the lifestyle the brands are associating themselves with and the reasoning behind these choices.

If there are any complaints to be brought about the book, they lie in the decision to use, in a few cases, low-resolution images downloaded from the Internet and re-printed at large size rather than spending the time to track down a higher-resolution version of the image, create a new one, or downsize the picture. The graininess that results from stretching the low quality images too far brings down the entire tone of those pages. Hopefully this issue will be addressed in the next edition.

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