Advertisement, ever-present in everyday life and in the media, is constitutive of a pervasive social practice, circulating products besides awareness. Whereas investigation studies have long defied the means in which marketing and advertising campaigns in western nations use gendered images that portray women and emphasize power disparities between the sexes to sell their commodities, not much consideration has been afforded to the pictures of Orient that are embraced to form women images in advertisements (De Groot, 2016). This essay uses semiotic analysis to address the depiction of the Orient in western women perfume advertisements, the sole kind of advertisement where woman imageries have been a central point and utmost entirely subjugated. By means of decoding the discourses and signs in the positioning of Oriental images in women perfume advertisements, the essay endeavors to expose how gender and race are joined to form and emphasize female parts and describe feminineness in western societies. The paper will focus on the advertisement for Kenzo’s Flower. In the semiotic analysis of this advert, the essay will focus on the crucial signifiers and what they suggest, the syntagmatic text structure, definitive aspects, semiotic enigmas, and intertextuality.
The media boom of the 20th and 21st centuries, mass-circulated magazines and newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, and the all-ubiquitous internet, has granted advertising exceptional authority to arouse yearning and mold graphic awareness. The basic theory behind advertising, eventually, is business, to sell commodities, the category itself suggesting the practices of selling and buying in a fiscal market.
In this research of the depiction of the Orient in western women perfume adverts, the main source is the internet website Images de Parfums, Collection of fragrance ads, a French website which according to Weisenfeld (2017), gathers pictures in every key advertising campaign of every key western perfume brands in the former decades. Of all women perfume advertising images including Oriental pictures, one kind of advert revealed itself; an ad visualizing Oriental women figures/models in conventional pictures. Amongst them, the essay picks one ad which is illustrative of this type to prove its point. It is an advertisement for Kenzo’s Flower.
This advertisement for Kenzo’s Flower is full of definitive symbols with allusions to time-old subjects of Oriental womanly exoticism (De Groot, 2016). The center of the picture is an illustrated pan-Asian female character, perhaps Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese, which is difficult to be identified. Her thoroughly-combed hairstyle, which is commonly observed in Chinese operas, too much makeup, and stylish, flickering white dress, all of which present her as an artist, a Madam Butterfly, a courtesan, or a geisha, retell individuals of the conventional “Lotus Blossom baby” picture of conventional Oriental females; sensual, self-sacrificing, self-effacing, pampering, subservient, enticing, and exotic. Her exotic and feminine appeal is emphasized in its sharp disparity with the regularity of white female figures in mediocre perfume adverts which are often blatantly sexy and conversant to the western audience. Her face, half oblique behind an Oriental umbrella, further contributes to the peculiarity she conveys. As often portrayed in Lotus Blossom pictures, she flings sexually allusive gazes and smiles but vacillates to speak. The picture in silence actualizes her as the submissive aim of male prurience.
Syntagmatically, the female is eyeing the ground and sideways, with a mysterious smile, as if toward the budding red poppy at the upper-left angle of the edge, the flower which the perfume itself is christened after and represents Eastern appeal, sensuality, and strong sexual eagerness that is illicit and hard to acquire in decent western life. The picture is in a particular movement, as if swaying, amusing a male observer off the edge, or walking and leading a cruise to the red flower, to the East and to sensory excitement and pleasure. The dual stone statues of strangely-looking spirits in Oriental mythos on the right side of image emphasize the exoticism entailed in the old-fashioned picture of the Orient.
Even though the image makes no clear allusions to men, it apparently serves a masculine sexual imaginary. The picture of an outlandish, enigmatic, womanly, and hyper-sexualized Asian female is very enticing and satisfying to the masculine gaze. It arouses the imagination in males of a distant and compliant eastern splendor, distantness contributing to the female’s mystical, and hence sex allure and compliance convey an incitement of subjugation, serving the masculine desire to conquer and dominate. The message conveyed here is that females who use this kind of perfume will be capable of experiencing and directing her man to experience with her this sensual expedition to the outlandish Orient. Through using this perfume she is capable of acquiring the same womanly allure of this Asian female and turn out to be further desired by men. Asian women are symbolized for the desire of men.
From the analysis above, some deductions might be drawn now. As a progressive subject in western women perfume advertisements, the picture of the Orient has been entirely subjugated as a marketing approach to promote commodities. According to Weisenfeld (2017), the attachment of the Oriental pictures not just assists companies to benefit off a locally besides a globally multi-racial customer foundation, but similarly grants their perfumes a unique charm by celebrating their outlandish merits and the resultant desire and supremacy they appear to provide. Underlying these advertising approaches, nevertheless, are certain ideas and ideologies entrenched in western custom. The depiction of the Orient in women perfume advertisements exposes the racial and gender hierarchies that have been existent and are still present in certain western societies.
The essay has explored, by means of semiotic analysis, an advert image which best illustrates the kind of western women perfume ads that join gender and race in their image creation. Kenzo’s flower advert uses a woman’s figure as the central image and it connects to certain gendered labels in western male-dominated societies and racial biases of the West regarding the East. The Orientalist concept of the Orient as the culturally-weaker other of the West joins with the notion of females as the gender-weaker other of males. The Orient in the perfume advert is illustrated as compliant, enigmatic, and outlandish. These traits relate to female’s womanly sexuality, household role, and compliance with males in western societies. The depiction of the Orient in western women perfume ads is commonly masculine, portraying both Western and Eastern females as the sexual and visual aim of white males. The eroticization/exoticization of the Orient and females re-assure the domination and supremacy of the West and males.
De Groot, J. (2016). Oriental Feminotopias? Montagu’s and Montesquieu’s “Seraglios” Revisited. Gender & History, 18(1), 66–86.
Weisenfeld, G. (2017). “From Baby’s First Bath”: Kaō Soap and Modern Japanese Commercial Design. Art Bulletin, 86(3), 573–598.
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