The Genteel
March 1, 2021



There are two F words that go very well together: Fashion and Film. An intimate discourse exists between the two - like two best friends, they whisper their darkest desires, thoughts and anxieties to each other. Both are deeply rooted in daily culture, moving forward yet looking back at its history. Both rely heavily on visual dialogue, honing the ability to connect and communicate in complete silence, if desired. Their art is a commodity; their business is art. They are followed by the masses and their heroes sit at the top of a culture's pyramid. Fashion and Film spill into each other, crashing into the bedrock of our culture.

Although fashion is an important communication and narrative vehicle for film, film - the medium and business - only started to trumpet in the fashion industry a few years ago. Bluntly put, a fashion film is an advertisement. Fashion advertising has been around as long as fashion itself, starting out with window displays, spreading into print and then, of course, into film. To this day, there is something irresistible about the window display at your favourite designer store, something awe-inspiring about the feature editorial spread in Vogue; yet there is something transcending about a fashion film. On the runway, clothes are merely modeled; in images, clothes are given context and start to breath. But it's in film where clothes move, play and live. Film allows a fashion designer to go beyond underlining brand values, and allows the brand to show off its personality and mood. Film renders fashion to emote.

Costume design and mise-en-scène charge a film's visual discourse with ego and emotion. Sofia Coppola's work is exemplary of fashion's impact on film. Sight & Sound writer Pam Cook observes: "The spirit of fashion as creative reinvention, performance and personal style statement informs Coppola's movie [Marie Antoinette], where costume and set design are used in various ways: to capture the essence of the period, to suggest mood, to reinforce and comment on character, to project the state of mind of its heroine, and to visualise the director's concerns." It is no surprise then, that Coppola's work not only includes feature films, but short films for Miss Dior Cherie and Marni for H&M.

Bon Duke's film for Chloe is nothing short of a masterpiece. Set in an empty dance studio, the audience is captivated by the 360˚ ballet experience. Featuring New York City Ballet principal Janie Taylor and choreographer Justin Peck, the short film beautifully illustrates the romantic and intercut personality of Chloe. Throughout, the viewer's gaze fixates on Taylor who is wearing a dress from Chloe's dance-inspired S/S 2011 collection. As she dances with her partner, her dress comes alive, and its fluidity and character casts a spell on the viewer.

In a recent reflection upon the Chloe film with a friend and fellow fashion enthusiast Hannah Gill, Gill made a strong observation: "…this film made those clothes move and instead of thinking about what the clothes would look like on me or anyone else, I was thinking about how they would feel. And I think that's a pretty incredible result." Gill also underlined the "expressive beauty" that the medium of film honours fashion. A film allows a fashion label to go beyond the surface and the visual, digging deeper into the world of thought, emotion and intellectual passion. 

During the Cannes Film Festival 2012, Roman Polanski screened his shortest film to date, A Therapy, in collaboration with Prada. Helena Bonham-Carter is a luxury-saturated socialite who is visiting her psychologist, played by Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kinsgley. The socialite begins to describe her loneliness to her psychologist who is sitting beside her listening, but unable to concentrate. A force pulls at his attention...the socialite's purple mink coat. It hangs in the corner, calling out to him. Quietly he makes his way over to it, completely enthralled. As the socialite continues to speak without pause, he tries on the coat and it suits him perfectly. Abruptly, the caption concludes: "PRADA Suits Everyone." With a subtle dose of irony, a descriptive mise-en-scène and an internationally recognised cast, Polanski narrated the enigmatic, dark, yet humorous, personality of Prada.

Interestingly, fashion films do not always feature models. In Chloe's film, a professional ballerina energises the clothes; in Prada's film, award-winning actors are favoured over the model du jour. Both examples, however, exemplify the films' loyalty to the haute status of the brands they represent.  Created by the film industry's top directors - Guy Ritchie (Dior Homme), Sofia Coppola (Dior, Marni), Roman Polanski (Prada), Martin Scorsese (Bleu de Chanel) - and featuring some of the most successful actors - Jude Law (Dior Homme), Natalie Portman (Miss Dior Cherie), Keira Knightley (Chanel Coco Mademoiselle) - fashion films mirror the high culture status of brands. 

Perhaps filmmaker Pedro Almodovar describes it best: "I have worked with very beautiful actresses, but on film, beauty is not just a surface beauty but also an expressive beauty." Film, therefore, is a personality sensitive medium. Almodovar concludes by stating that, "The camera has its own code of beauty." 

The production value of these short films is not modest. Cartier's three-minute film L’Odyssée, directed by Bruno Aveillan, had three actors playing the main role, a crew of sixty people on location, fifty special effects technicians who worked on post-production for six months and, due to strict animal laws, three different panthers. At the end of the film, supermodel Shalom Harlow makes an appearance in a red custom-made dress by Chinese fashion designer Yiqing Yin. To add a cherry on top, the film features an original score by Pierre Adenot (Paris, Je t’aime). Despite their short length, fashion films evidently aren't selling themselves short.

Although fashion film is a fusion of two mature cultural outlets, the genre is still in its developing stages and undergoing growing pains. Many fashion photographers, such as the prolific Steven Meisel, are adopting the medium of film in addition to photography to keep up with the industry's demands. As Business of Fashion points out, the industry has yet to take full advantage of the art form - figuring out distribution, budget and storytelling strategies ought to be the industry's top priority, says BoF. Yet, as with fashion brands, not every film is for everyone and not everything created for the purpose of pleasure and beauty is marketable. Perhaps the demand for high ROI is choking the genre's creativity? Some things are just meant to be created and set free.

Fashion film provides the viewer with several minutes of uninterrupted beauty, fantasy and escapism. Through film, fashion illustrates its personality and mood - flirting with the viewer and romanticising a brand. An affair that has grown into a historical romance, Fashion and Film are deeply committed to pushing boundaries and creating memories.




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