Not all of us are lucky enough to be in Finland today at the Pre Helsinki fashion festival to enjoy our night of fashion film: as part of this year’s festival Visionaire, Pre Helsinki and the Design museum presented a night of ten films chosen show a huge variety of sub-genres there are within the rather new genre that is fashion film.
In the last few years’ fashion film has been challenging the norms of traditional advertising techniques and fashion shoots: designers have incorporated film into their brands as an art-form and another portal of expression. They have moved away from mundane product placement and started creating stories, bringing the excitement back into the business by bridging the gap between reality and fantasy. Designers’ and directors’ use of tech and collaborations between disciplines and their modern approach to video has created a powerful intersection between feature film, documentary and fashion.
Fashion films are not something new; the earliest films were silent films with a live music soundtracks and the technology lent itself to dance, costume and special effects. If you compare early films like Danse du Papillon from 1900 and Danse Serpentine from 1896 with Ruth Hogben’s fashion films for Gareth Pugh filmed in 2011, you can see how fashion and costume has been used over the years to heighten the narrative.
Since its humble beginnings, fashion film has come a long way thanks to pioneers like Erwin Blumenfeld, whose experimental film Beauty in Motion, shot between 1958 and 1964, was initially believed too be groundbreaking. Blumenfeld’s mixture of techniques, such as photomontage, solarization and color slides, pioneered the way for modern photography and separated this new form of images making from the traditional techniques used by most photographers at the time. Many believe artists like Blumenfeld were laying down the foundations for the medium that we now understand as fashion film.
2009 marked a turning point in this fashion-film/commercial-art relationship when Tom Ford made his directorial debut with A Single Man. As the first fashion designer to cross over into the mainstream world of cinema, he was presented with a lot of criticism and had to prove that his fashion/directorial style had the true substance of a great film. Despite the critical success of the film, it is unlikely that many will follow in Ford’s footsteps. Few fashion designers could even afford even the modest budget of Ford’s film and even fewer film producers would take a risk on first-time fashion designer-directors without major intervention. Ford ended up financing the film himself so that he could maintain creative control.
In 2000, Nick Knight established SHOWstudio, a pioneering fashion film platform intended to bridge the gap between fashion and the Internet. The site chooses to show work that is experimental and boundary pushing. In 2003, they released eleven previously unseen fashion films by radical fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. Shot over the span of 30 years, SHOWstudio attributes the genius of Bourdin in recognizing how fashion needs to be converted into moving image. Bourdin was a protégé of Man Ray who himself was a innovator of fashion and image by bringing fashion into the realm of art.
Visionaire chose a selection of films for a wide variety of directors; Balthazar Klarwein, Justin Wu, Harley Wu, Autumn De Wilde, Tim Walker, Aaron Rose, directors Santiago & Mauricio, SHowstudio and our own fashion film looking at the house of Dior. Each film has a different purpose and shows how many different angles a director can take when creating a fashion film.
Fashion film is no longer just about showcasing the designer’s product because it relies on the vision of the director to not only use the medium of film to break out from still images but also deliver a strong concept that matches the brand identity. These collaborations keep the spirit of creative film alive but it is of course the fashion that continues to provide the inspiration. Pre Helsinki’s purpose was to create a platform that supports young Finish designers. The festival starts today, 20 May and runs till 24 May.