As fashion and music, fashion and film have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Designers may draw inspiration from the silver screen in runway collections one season, then create costumes for a film the next . Over the past few decades, these worlds have merged in a different kind of way—they come together uniquely in fashion films.
As a term, “fashion film” lacks a formal definition. If you Google it, you’ll be pointed in the direction of features and documentaries about the industry. Yet fashion films, as we currently understand them, are not these kinds of movies.
Pioneering photographer and director Nick Knight was among the earliest to recognise the transformative potential technology could have on fashion. In the fall of 2000, Knight established SHOWstudio and less than 20 years later, it has revolutionised digital creative communication within the industry. SHOWstudio was the first platform to truly champion fashion show live streaming and advance the possibilities of fashion film. These days, both practices are ubiquitous.
Fashion films occupy a space between a commercial and a narrative short. Today’s fashion films are typically independent projects that live on the internet. They feature collections, but don’t explicitly, or traditionally, advertise them. According to The Business of Fashion, a successful fashion film is “an authentic, standalone piece of storytelling [rather] than a mere marketing exercise.”
Designer Lazaro Hernandez best described the intent of a modern fashion film when speaking about Act da Fool, the first for his brand Proenza Schouler. “We thought it would be interesting to give a collection—which has a life on the runway, or in magazines—some sort of life on screen.”
When the New York design duo and the Gummo auteur released their first collaborative fashion film in 2010, it was not yet common practice for luxury brands to tap progressive filmmakers. Kenzo has since picked up that torch and sprinted with it. Often, these projects are revealed with their own glitzy premiere events.
In spite of the genre’s popularity and star-power, the fashion films have a lot more growing to do. “For years, fashion brands have struggled to fulfill the promise of the medium due to a range of issues,” argues The Business of Fashion. Among them: poor distribution strategies, budgetary constraints linked to print advertising and, in some instances, purely unappealing content. The publication notes that “Beyoncé’s Lemonade—which showcases fashion with far more power than any of the videos produced by fashion brands themselves—should be a wake up call.”
This year, the New York Fashion Film Festival celebrated its seventh consecutive year. Since 2011, the festival has not simply showcased an exciting slate of fashion films, but hosted panels exploring the influence, innovation and impact of the ever-evolving genre. This year’s NYFFF featured projects from industry leaders and bright emerging names including Harley Weir, Cass Bird, Roe Ethridge, Glen Luchford and Kristin-Lee Moolman.
Much of fashion’s best storytelling has been done on the pages of print magazines. But, “by 2019, online video will account for 80 percent of all consumer Internet traffic, according to California-based technology giant Cisco,” reports The Business of Fashion. As communication technology forges new frontiers, it’s the responsibility of fashion’s most innovative dreamers to evolve alongside it. The fashion film has already demonstrated its tremendous potential as a medium. Image-makers, magazines and brands themselves must now tackle this emerging media.
And I am planning to be next.