The ever-existing connection between fashion and film has often been explored in previous posts on this site (and I can assure you that further posts will follow about new collections and old films..), yet the moment has come to start considering the other side of the coin of this link between these very exciting media.
In lectures and courses I did about this topic I often highlighted that looking at fashion and film doesn’t mean - or at least it doesn’t only mean - spotting which fashion designer did the costumes for a film.
Indeed, one of the most interesting points of this connection remains exploring and analysing how the world of fashion often feeds off films and how the work of a costume designer sometimes has a tangible impact on fashion trends.
One of the best examples of these two points is Italian costume designer Milena Canonero (who already appeared here and there on this site): her designs for Chariots of Fire prompted Ralph Lauren and Jeffrey Banks to launch collections inspired by the characters’ attires in the film, and, after the film came out, Canonero herself was asked to design a collection (that won her the Coty Award) for menswear manufacturer Norman Hilton. Canonero’s costumes for Out of Africa spawned instead a trend for safari and travel clothes.
The most fascinating aspect of a costume designer’s work is the research behind it: not depending from any fashion headlines and deadlines, costume designers compile multi-layered researches in libraries and museums, combining historical data with their own imagination and with the requirements of the film script. This is essentially why some looks, ideas and inspirations that appeared in specific films from the past have reached the iconic and timeless status and keep on being extremely fashionable and desirable even decades afterwards.
Developed in the last ten years also thanks to London-based galleries and studios with strong fashion connections, the contemporary fashion film is not necessarily something that influences fashion for years to come, in fact most of the times it lives only for the moment. We have seen fashion films developed by young and hip directors to open specific shows or to present new collections by young designers (often when there was not enough money to put up an entire show - and this is absolutely understandable) or to build anticipation about a fashion event/collection.
There is even a new initiative launched by the British Fashion Council and entitled Fash/On Film that is currently on at London Fashion Week and that revolves around the idea of supporting and developing relationships between fashion designers and film makers. Yet what sounds like a great idea, actually hides many pitfalls.
Most of the times, a "fashion film" indicates a visually enticing video of a model posing while wearing the new creations of a particular designer.
While this could be a great idea also on a promotional level (you can virtually reach out to new buyers or new fashion fans by showing the video on the Internet, etc…), this medium usually doesn't turn into the means to an end (i.e. promoting/presenting a collection through a proper film), but into an end in itself (just watching some clothes through mesmerising masturbatory close ups that leave you cold, but that are superficially meant to show the supposed high quality and craftsmanship of the clothes - think fashion porn and you get the idea...), since, after all, a fashion film is not an advert with commercial power, so, it doesn’t even help selling clothes.
Besides, as a passive watcher, you find yourself in a wonderfully visual and enchanted world and, two minutes after, you come down again having more or less forgotten everything you’ve just seen (ask somebody if they remember one of these “fashion films” and they’ll probably say no; ask them if they remember a specific frame of a film with costumes by Milena Canonero and they will most certainly say yes, this, I guess, is the main difference between a real fashion film and a short but visually enticing fashion video).
The other thing I don't particularly like about a strictly fashion film programme during a fashion week is the fact that it pigeonholes films, attracting only a certain audience, while a movie should attract a wider audience, especially people who claim they don't like fashion (I can assure you that, during some presentations I did of films with some fashion connections but not about fashion, these people were the best members of my audience).
In a way, rather than an initiative for short fashion films (or rather videos, because most of the times these are "fashion videos"...), I would like to see a programme of fashion documentaries that showed different aspects of fashion, from the making of a collection to the more exploitative sides of this industry, accompanied by a grant to allow a young director to shoot a real film with some fashion connections and another grant for somebody who wanted to study as a costume designer but can't afford it. These would be genuine fashion and film connections.
In conclusion, if you’re a fashion designer and you desperately want to jump on the fashion film bandwagon, before doing it, sit down and wonder if the film is actually a means to an end ( = promoting and selling a collection), if it’s a more creative product that you want to circulate together with your collection to highlight the inspiration(s) behind it, or if the film is an end in itself, because, if this is the case, you and your director will be living in a visually enchanting and enticing world, but, commercially, you may be on the wrong track.
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