These were some of the issues discussed at the SHOWStudio Fashion Film Awards, an event hosted earlier this month at the Regent’s Street Cinema in London. Over 550 films were submitted for consideration, from 52 different countries, in the first awards programme of its kind.
The eventual winner was Outlaw by Maksim Bashkaev, the co-founder and designer of the Russian fashion brand Outlaw Moscow. Bashkaev won £10,000 to make a new film, and will be mentored by SHOWStudio founder and acclaimed fashion photographer Nick Knight.
Before the announcement, Knight took part in a panel discussion, chaired by SHOWStudio's editor Lou Stoppard. They were joined by fashion designer Gareth Pugh, fashion historian Natalie Khan, and Dan Thawley, editor-in-chief of A Magazine Curated By.
Disegno is delighted to publish an edited transcript of the roundtable.
Lou Stoppard Nick, what was your motivation for setting up ShowStudio? Were you drawn by the possibilities of the moving image?
Nick Knight In part. I used to film all my shoots. I put a camera on a tripod at the back of the studio and just had it filming. And I sometimes noticed, looking back, that my photographs would work well as a part of a film. In 1987 of course there was no platform for fashion filmmaking. There was only cinema, which is limited by advertisers. Television never really rose to the challenge. So I think it was the ease of access that led me to set up SHOWstudio. I also had the realisation that if a fashion designer makes a piece of clothing it can’t ever be seen as a still image, it must be seen in movement. So I think film follows function more. It’s strange because obviously my career as a fashion photographer had been making still images. It became more frustrating to me that there was no outlet for fashion film. And I thought, how did fashion photography replace fashion illustration? You know, Condé Nast thought “I don’t want illustration, I want this new medium, fashion photography.” So I thought SHOWstudio could have that role, ushering in fashion film.
Lou When people write about you or SHOWstudio, they always talk about fashion film as a super-new medium. In some ways it is, but many of the great fashion photographers have experimented with the moving image. On SHOWstudio we’ve got archive footage of [Erwin] Blumenfeld and Guy Bourdin, and you can see countless examples like [Richard] Avedon and [Helmut] Newton who all engage with filming fashion. Natalie, can you tell us about the foundations of fashion film?
Natalie Khan Fashion film has existed ever since there has been fashion photography. Technology has driven the symbolic production of fashion. And fashion is about the news, so it always engages with innovation and progress. As you say about Blumenfeld and Bourdin, these are photographers who experimented with film and the moving image. Fashion film can never be seen as entirely new because it has to reference what exists already. So it references film, it references photography. But in its own way it really is something that is not film and is not photography. Some people just call it promotional film because we are dealing with commercial images, but it’s also own form. It is characterised by a particular lightness, and the immersiveness of the images. Fashion film is now different from, say, Bourdin because of how the viewer engages with the image: we immerse in the image as much as the image speaks to us. That, to me, characterises fashion film.
Lou It’s interesting to say that fashion film is neither film nor photography. Nick, would you agree?
Nick I think personally that fashion film has much more of the language of fashion photography. A lot of [the competition’s] entries didn’t seem to quite divorce themselves from the language of cinema. And I believe very firmly that fashion film should divorce itself from film and should grow out of fashion photography. If you take Richard Avedon’s fantastic pictures of Veruschka jumping across a grey background and get four more frames of that, then you would have a fashion film. You have movement, and really fashion film is just clothes moving. I’ve tried very hard to say to those entering this competition, “I don’t want you to make cinema. This is about making clothes move. The narrative is the piece of clothing.” So I think fashion film needs to define itself as lacking a narrative. With a great fashion photograph, there’s a desire to have that piece of clothing, be that person, have that hairstyle – you need to desire the things there, that’s the purpose of a great fashion photograph. And a fashion film should do exactly that; beyond that, it doesn’t matter. Taking the Avedon/Veruschka example, you don’t know where she’s been, where she’s coming from or where she’s going to go, and you don’t really care. It’s just an instant desire you have to be that person or want their clothes.
Lou Gareth, your fashion films never have narratives. What made you first engage with the medium?
Gareth Pugh I first met Ruth [Hogben, fashion filmmaker] through Nick, and we were thrown into the deep end because we decided to replace a whole show at Paris Fashion Week with a film. At the Chambre Syndicale, there is a main schedule of shows, then subsidiary events. And I didn’t want to be listed as a presentation. So we told a lot of white lies. Going so far on such a big platform was readdressing the whole context in which people saw your work. I liked the idea of regaining control - when you send a girl onto a runway, if she trips or blinks and the photographer takes a shot at the wrong moment, that defines your work for the season, and what a wider audience sees of your work. Dealing with Ruth, who has such a great eye and such a great sensitivity to what you want to project, allows us to control what the audience experiences. And we work so far in advance that we’re able to edit and refine and retouch so everything’s perfect when we release it.
Lou Dan, what’s your take on the way brands are using moving images in a semi-commercial, semi-creative way?
Dan Thawley Well, it’s been important for a long time, all the way back to when Martin Margiela was staging men’s presentations. There would be a fake runway with men walking past on a film that they’d created a few weeks before. Hussein Chalayan was also using fashion film in the 90s and early 00s. Today everyone is trying to seem the most in-touch label. I think that it is most successful when something transcends just being a film about the clothes and becomes more of a cultural and a social comment, when people manage to make a real authentic link with the aesthetic.
Lou Do you think we will get to a point when most of fashion week happens digitally?
Gareth I think the thing with people in fashion is the group mentality. People like to be on the road and I think that is very difficult to extinguish. The idea that people will just sit in their office and watch fashion films – where’s the excitement in that? Big drama is what fashion week is all about and I think that’s what a lot of people signed up to be in fashion for. While I love fashion film and think it’s a great platform, when we’ve done a film we’ve always had a presentation, as if we’re inviting people to a show. Because you want the opinion formers to attend, and have that feeling of being special. We rented this huge space just to show a film. It needed to have that physical experience of going to a film premiere or a fashion show.
Natalie In my mind, you need to let go of the idea that fashion film is representation and the fashion show is reality. They’re both highly artificial images. One happens in a physical space and the other might be film, but they’re still highly worked on.
Dan It’s quite interesting that when you look at the of view counts of fashion films, it’s really not very high.
Nick I’m undecided whether the show will go on as spectacle. But if we look at the future of fashion imagery, virtual models are almost certainly the thing you’ll begin to see next. I’d 3D scan all my models and motion capture them. And although we love the spectacle, in the end commerce will decide. If you’re saving a lot of money doing a fashion film and not a show, and they reach a lot more people, then that’s where it’s going. Fashion has always been business, so I think that will decide.
Lou What technologies are changing?
Nick Instagram is changing things. Fashion film is yet to find itself, so part of the joy of doing them is to help define the medium. So is that going to define fashion film, in the way that MTV defined a music video? I don’t think there’s one new technology pushing things forward. To be honest with you, the iPhone has pushed a lot. I just need to pick it up and I can film in 4K.
Gareth For me, the most exciting thing is Periscope. You open an app and literally live broadcast what’s happening in front of you with your phone. And it’s interesting in that it also brings the audience back to the live element. You can communicate with as many people as you have on Twitter via a live stream.
Dan It’s really struck me how live stream itself has become such an integral part of so many shows. These days, the audience is a very much part of the experience. The critics are in the background of every single photograph, and certain brands will even place celebrities in certain parts of the show so that they’re a part of the image.
Nick That’s the basis of Plato’s Atlantis, the McQueen show. That was a turning point in the industry. I think the fashion industry thought, “Either we’re getting to 300 people, or we’re getting through six million. Something more exciting must be happening in the six million department.” Now nearly 70 per cent of all London shows are broadcast live.
Lou What makes a great fashion film?
Gareth An emotional response to what you have in front of you, and that’s all it needs to be. The intention behind the clothing that is there, and also behind what the designer or the filmmaker wanted to put across, can be very vague. Whether you’re a designer or a filmmaker, you need a lot of freedom to work. If you think about things too much you can stilt your freedom. And I think it’s important to have no script.
Nick When I was working with Ruth, she said “Great fashion makes a great fashion film.” I think that’s in many cases true. But conversely a lot of the films we’re going to see tonight were made without access to great fashion. What I could see going through the films, I could almost tell from the first frame whether each film was going to be good or not. There was one film that was made by a young filmmaker, where there was a beautiful man, a martial arts expert, and throughout the film he put on a white shirt and it was just a normal white shirt, but you could tell that the filmmaker understood elegance, beauty and fashion. Although he didn’t have access to Gareth’s clothes or whatever, you could just tell that he had that eye. So partly what makes a great fashion film is great fashion, but partly also a great fashion filmmaker, somebody who can see.