top of page

Theory of Semiotics and Communication

Eco's (1979) theory of semiotics is based upon the idea that human beings are evolving in a "system of systems of signs.” The theory of semiotics addresses language as well as non-linguistic signs, which distinguishes this theory from other theories. From the many meanings the term sign can have, Eco (1979) developed a definition for signs: "The sign is used to transmit information; to say or to indicate a thing that someone knows and wants others to know as well” (p. 27).

Since the term sign designates an abundance of distinct objects, Eco (1979) developed a preliminary classification of sign production wherein he differentiates between artificial signs and natural signs. Artificial signs can be divided into two classes: signs intentionally produced in order to signify and signs intentionally produced as functions (Eco, 1979). The first class, signs intentionally produced in order to signify, emanate from a sender and a person consciously produces these signs with the aim of communicating something to someone (Eco, 1979). The second class, signs intentionally produced as functions, references the concept of semiotics, which Eco explains: "once society exists, every function is automatically transformed into a sign of that function" (Eco, 1979, p. 24). Accordingly, Eco includes objects such as clothing in this class of signs. There are also signs combining both functions. 

Signs that have a secondary function refer to the semiotics of the object, or clothing and accessories in this context. For example, an haute couture accessory like a Louis Vuitton bag is associated with wealth, prestige, and luxury rather than only acting as a means to carry items, which is a primary function. "In certain cases, the secondary function is so dominant that the primary function is minimized or completely eliminated" (Eco, p. 46, 1979). An item of clothing’s primary function is to protect and cover the body, but it can also signify group or cultural membership or communicate ideas and values. 

Organizations within the fashion industry, especially luxury brands and independent brands, regard their groups of customers as communities. Brands can utilize the knowledge of this theory and digital designs to create virtual communities.

bottom of page