Semiotic of Distinction: Fashion Discourse in Russian High-Quality Media (“The Kommersant” Case)

Practices of demonstrating high social status (including their discourse dimension) are an especially sensitive subject in post-Soviet Russia. For almost 30 years that had passed after the fall of USSR, due to various factors, the need of Russians for symbols of belonging to the most influential and well-endowed layers of society remains high. By responding to social demand and at the same time formulating it, post-Soviet media are becoming key tools for constructing and channels of distribution of new mass perceptions success, prestige, high social status etc. Media images of the elitism and distinction are a sought-after product that media supply to their audiences. The most influential media in this respect are titles dedicated to the issues of image and lifestyle. Moreover, materials on fashion play a special part in this respect as fashion is a key mechanism of symbolization of social rankings and status differences in modern societies. The paper dwells upon the analysis of the discourse of fashion show reviews (season collections of men's and women's clothes) published during the “post-crisis” year (2009) in the “Style” section of Kommersant newspaper. “Semiotics of distinction” is one of the aspects of the discourse under research that contains information about social and group values of the imagined audience and ways to demote these values through practices of “fashionable” consumption. The analysis was based on the materials of 2009, a period when the financial crisis started to be perceived in Russian public space as having a tangible effect on the Russian economy and as a result becomes one of the most noticeable media subjects. Economic crisis, in this case, is regarded as a situation of threat to the status quo elites (imagined and/or perceiving themselves as such existing social groups), which requires a more intense and clear expression of the discourse of group belonging than usual. In particular, based on the texts of consumption practices directly connected to the symbolization of status. For the most productive approach towards work with the structure of discourse under analysis, we selected a combination of cultural research approaches, in which the discourse analysis method is leading and can, if necessary, be supported by optics and toolkit of semiotic, narrative and other techniques of media texts’ analysis. The key conclusion on the results of the conducted research are as follows: the analysed system of recommendations allows to identify those to whom they are addressed and those who would agree to follow them as “strong”, “goal-oriented”, “active”, “viable” people, “masters of life” (“masculine men” and “real women” who “don't pretend to be poor”). In difficult life situations, these people are capable of demonstrating their “moral fiber” and “restraint.” At the same time, it is “the restraint” that bears the key message. “Restraint” is understood as a capacity to possess oneself and is rhetorically defined by:  preferring laid-back fit, simple and clear shapes, minimalistic silhouettes, fabrics of moderate colours;  special attention to the way of wearing clothes (“casually”, “freely”, “responsibly”);  focus (in supposed critical conditions) on family and friends— “home dinners, family parties, quiet family time” (and not on “main social routes”). In fact, “the consumption of restraint” is the key recommendation of the discourse and acts as a marker of supporting value, which undertakes the main role in symbolizing social and group identity, namely “adherence to rules and values” as defined by the discourse under analysis.