The "fashion and film" theme has been approached and explored from many different points of view. There are for example festivals, events and workshops dedicated to the influence of cinema in fashion, or to the inspirations fashion designers take from specific sets, costumes and characters.
There are also perfectly styled short films or videos that tackle the issue of fashion from a conceptual point of view, while it is more difficult to find proper documentaries that look at the life and work of a fashion designer. Director Maria Visser has instead tried to discover what it takes to being a fashion designer following for over a year Marga Weimans.
The result is "Fashion House - Marga Weimans", a documentary commissioned by RTV Rijnmond, that takes its title from the eponymous first large-scale solo exhibition dedicated to the Rotterdam-based Dutch fashion designer that took place last year at the Groninger Museum.
Quite often documentaries about fashion designers fall into several traps: some end up being tedious and static interviews; others portray the designer as a heroic figure, eternally caught in a struggle with creativity and often locked in an ivory tower, or occasionally driving insane the staff in their ateliers.
Weimans is not a hero-like figure, she is first and foremost a woman with well-grounded feet and eyes on the sky. This is the main reason why, while exploring themes like social issues or architecture and taking care of her family, she creates fantastically imaginary worlds, conjuring up sublime, visionary, virtual or technological realities.
In the documentary, Visser and her team film great career moments in the life of Weimans, such as her runways at Amsterdam Fashion Week and her exhibition at the Groninger Museum, but they also follow her in a journey to Suriname, to find her roots and identity, themes that are dear to Weimans. Visser states that in this documentary she went in search of the soul behind Marga Weimans's brand and fashion house. Looks like she may have found it.
How did the January Dutch preview of the documentary go?
Maria Visser: The premiere was amazing. I didn't expect the audience appreciating the documentary as much as they did. It was overwhelming. It was an amazing feeling to see how people were touched by it - it was like giving out free presents which nobody expected and that's the best feeling for me!
How long did you work on the documentary?
Maria Visser: It took me almost one year and a half, including the research. I worked on this documentary with a small group of young professionals. After this period, I really thought the documentary was at its best, which was an exception if you consider that a documentary on such a theme is never finished. But I had faith, because during the filming everything went as hoped and planned. During the creative process I already had a clear vision of the story, style and form. I wanted to produce this film with a young team of genuinely talented people. Lack of experience provided us with the freedom to search the boundaries of documentary-making and going beyond them. We really created new possibilities when it came to the making of fashion documentaries as in "Fashion House - Marga Weimans" form, style and music all played an important part.
What fascinates you about Marga Weimans?
Maria Visser: She is not like any other designer. She distinguishes herself from the others because she does not settle with the rules that are present in the fashion scene. Her talent lies in the combination of multiple disciplines - art, fashion, architecture and technology - without conforming to the existing norms of Haute Couture. My dad, who is also a director and producer, got to know her during a dinner when Marga was still a student at the Fashion Academy in Antwerp. They talked about the future of fashion and the use of modern day technology in the industry. "Everything that stands still will move eventually" was their mutual conclusion. A few years later we found out that Marga had her studio in Rotterdam Zuid and designed an Augmented Reality dress. My dad and I looked at each other and knew this woman would eventually make it and change the fashion industry. I believe that Marga is groundbreaking within the fashion industry and my job as a filmmaker is to know when people do interesting things or things that are important and that should be told to a larger audience.
Does the documentary follow chronologically the developments in Marga Weimans' career?
Maria Visser: The documentary shows a fairly chronological story of what we have filmed in the year we followed Marga Weimans. We filmed Marga during her solo exhibition at the Groninger Museum, at her show during the Mercedes-Benz Amsterdam Fashion Week and on her journey to her roots in central Suriname. While the beginning of the documentary shows her work and career, as the story progresses, we go deeper into her person and explore her a bit better. Normally people have to get used to the camera , but with Marga it all came naturally. She soon forgot that there was a camera following her around and even said that she liked it at one point! In fact the lens turned into a teacher looking over her shoulder, something that prompted her to do better.
There is a strong link with architecture and design, but also with society and social issues in Marga Weimans' fashion collections, do these connections come out in the documentary?
Maria Visser: Yes, they do. Technology, architecture and social issues are really important for Marga; her collections are always a reflection on these personal issues, they are stories about specific points of where she currently stands in her life.
Would you file this documentary as strictly about fashion, or would you say that it is also about art?
Maria Visser: Marga is predominantly a fashion designer, but she also makes art. That's why it's difficult to piogeonhole Marga and say exactly what she is. I guess this documentary goes beyond fashion, it shows who Marga really is and the resulting film is a personal and honest portrait in which we also see a vulnerable Marga.
Which was the most special moment you lived while shooting the documentary?
Maria Visser: The most special moment for me during the filming was getting to know Marga, discovering her weaknesses and strengths. I can really say that Marga and I built a special friendship during the shoots and that we inspired each other. I feel empowered by Marga's confidence. I do not know many other people who are as inspired as her and who follow their dreams as Marga does. She is almost like a top athlete who has certain goals and gives it all to achieve them!
Will the documentary be distributed also in other countries?
Maria Visser: The documentary is definitely meant for an international audience. Marga is internationally known, so I will do my best to have as many viewings as possible. On top of Marga's and my list there are cities such as New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Milan and Dubai. I recently spoke to the head of the Film Festival in Portugal and they also sounded really interested. So stay tuned!
Image credits for this post
Stills from "Fashion House - Marga Weimans" and poitrait of Maria Visser, courtesy Maria Visser.
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