FASHIONCLASH: The Festival at the Intersection of Art, Fashion and Film

by Christina Donoghue on 24 November 2023

FASHIONCLASH festival puts the spotlight on multidisciplinary artists with backgrounds in fashion design, fashion film and performance to offer up a cauldron of talent. But what did we think? Art and culture editor Christina Donoghue shares her thoughts.

FASHIONCLASH festival puts the spotlight on multidisciplinary artists with backgrounds in fashion design, fashion film and performance to offer up a cauldron of talent. But what did we think? Art and culture editor Christina Donoghue shares her thoughts.

Last weekend, another FASHIONCLASH festival attendee turned to me mid-fashion film screening to ask, 'What is a fashion film?'. Despite seeming somewhat reductive (you'd like to think fashion film festival attendees are aware of what they're watching), the straightforward question warrants an answer few people can truthfully give.


Although FASHIONCLASH wasn't armed with a direct answer to the above, this year did mark the festival's 15th edition, which meant a chock-filled programme filled with an array of student-led exhibitions, performances, talks, workshops and fashion film screenings by designers, performance artists, filmmakers and fashion practitioners alike. By bringing together an army of creatives making up the talent of tomorrow, FASHIONCLASH had one goal: to confront fashion's rigid boundaries away from the industry's prying eyes.

Artists came from as close as Maastricht (where the event was held) to as far away as Mumbai, India, the filming location of the winning fashion film HUM हम (We/Us). In total, the work of more than 100 designers, artists and makers from more than 30 countries were presented, all expertly providing insightful commentary on contemporary fashion culture today.

'HUM हम (We/Us)' by littleshilpa, directed by Ashim Ahluwalia

The almost dizzying volume of creativity started with the festival's New Fashion Narratives exhibition, which brought together a promising selection of multidisciplinary artists all striving to rethink today's fashion agenda. Five independent fashion practitioners including Enzo Aïtkaci, Chinouk Filique, Jonathan Ho, Lotte de Jager and Boris Kollar were invited by FASHIONCLASH to form a curatorial team that honoured the work involved. From Chaewon Kong's material sculptures mirroring Michaela Stark's distinctive binding approach and differing examples of intricate needlework by Bastiaan Reijnen to a series of images by design duo Fynn Herlinghaus and Mathis Hadji) presenting their vision for an alternative fashion collection (no, seriously, we think they've cracked it), the artwork on offer forced you to look, look again, then look some more, peeling away the layers to find depth, promise and meaning.

Herlinghaus and Hadji - who go by the alias Fynnandmathis - aren't revolutionary in their want to disrupt the traditional fashion runway, but they are where ideas and concepts are concerned. Upon entering the New Fashion Narratives, there was a makeshift red carpet you had to walk down to get to the main exhibition space, where a fake camera crew were waiting to snap your photograph as a stereo provided canned laughter and screaming, mirroring the sound of a frenzied crowd at a real red carpet event. Little did we know, this circus wasn't trying to build up hype but would go on to inform the work of Fynnandmathis displayed inside, a project that aims to wipe out fashion's pretentiousness once and for all by saying: 'what you're in is good enough, now pose'.

Fynnandmathis at FASHIONCLASH's New Fashion Narratives exhibition. Photography by Laura Knipsael
Fashion beckons to nurture the aching soul with its transformative power - Little Shilpa

Believing fashion is not an industry-governed business but instead a 'cultural phenomenon', Fynnandmathis are not so inspired not by the clothes people wear but the way they wear them, as proven by their fashion portfolio, which concentrates on working closely with communities to style pre-loved clothing. Ideas are then presented on a makeshift runway with the duo using everyday people as models. Their selection, so far, has included manual labourers, taxi drivers, parents, children and friends of the brand, all of whom gathered in Herlinghaus' house as part of the duo's first-ever fashion show, which was entirely self-funded.

At the exhibition opening, we asked them how they see the concept working out in the long term or how they'd react if a more prominent brand with money offered to support them - a contract by which accepting would go against the very principles Fynnandmathis is founded upon. 'We care about our values the most', replied Mathis Hadji. 'This is all about being community-led and not-for-profit. I'd rather work in a pizzeria than sell this concept and therefore, my soul, to H&M.' Fynnandmathis' wishful plans to forge a brand that refuses to revolve around traditional concepts is part genius, part naive; for as long as the fashion conglomerate exists, the industry will be driven by money and profit over creativity.

'Gay Is Okay' sweater by Justina Semčenkaitė, presented at New Fashion Narratives exhibition

Other works looking to challenge the status quo included Kelly Konings' thoughtful approach to textiles rooted in sound, 'I listen to the sound of the looms, and by listening, you can tell if something is going wrong', she noted and Maria Gilmen's Wild West: Property and Profit project, which stemmed from the Mexican artist's rage at cultural appropriation in fashion.

Despite the multi-roomed spectacle showcasing a myriad of designers and artists, New Fashion Narratives only served as an appetiser before the much-anticipated main meal, which was a screening of shortlisted fashion films of which SHOWstudio's very own Sam Bassett was on the jury. Ranging in style and taste, the short-listed films covered various topics, including thrifting as a metaphor for nostalgia, fashion as a transformative power and the importance of style when it comes to belonging. The film that trumped them all? Milliner Little Shilpa's HUM हम (We/Us).

Still from 'HUM हम (We/Us)'

Using fashion to enlighten an already colour-coded vision, Little Shilpa casts light on themes pivoting around gender, class identification, mental health, community and self-expression to communicate her vision rooted in the transformative power of clothes and how they can shape an identity while dismantling a social construct.

'The protagonist yearns to belong and to be seen for who they really are, without the stigmas that orbit around their very existence', emphasises the film's press release. 'Despite it all, fashion beckons to nurture the aching soul with its transformative power, for it is not a mere artifice. It is a process of validating their place in a world that shuns them into the hinterlands.' In truth, the Ashim Ahluwalia-directed film is about honouring the resilience of communities that have been marginalised while begging the viewer to turn inwards and ask: are you free to express your authentic self?

Still from 'We Belong Together'

Other films that deal with themes of belonging include the aptly-named fashion film We Belong Together - a collaboration between director Flo Meijer, knitwear brand and artist Nadie Borggreve. In just three small scenes, the film celebrates community through choice of dress (in this case, being jumpers from's A/W 22 collection). Think Mean Girls' you can't sit with us' until you find something pink to wear. Same jumper? You're on the same team.

'We wanted to make a film that inspires people to revalue the idea of collectivity and belonging to a group', said Meijer, whose film is considered a direct response to the increasingly favoured 'individualistic approach' fashion has taken, both in education and in business. 'As [fashion] students, you are educated to become the head of a big fashion imperium - working together, as in truly sharing your inspiration and creative process, is not often championed.' Although more pop-based and commercial in its message, We Belong Together is irreverent, silly and immediately relatable; tribes have existed for as long as humans have, and if our clothes can't reflect our values and who we are as people, what can?

Still from 'We Belong Together'

Amid the film screening and exhibition, there were plenty of talks and introductions to different fashion and art-based research projects over the following days. The most interesting was by fashion practitioner Anouk Beckers who presented us with her experimental and multi-functional magazine Booklook during a tour at Limestone Books. 'I wanted to make a magazine where each issue tells a story that can be interacted with by unfolding to create a physical paper garment or pattern', Beckers revealed. 'Up until now, I've made two issues; the first, an apron, and the second unfolded into a shirt'. The next one? 'A space suit that reworks artist and now collaborative partner Iris de Leeuw's original 1966 space suit'. 'Not only is it a garment but it's a pattern in itself, the actual outline you can cut around, but you can read the steps too'.

Considered as a form of intricate origami - one that encourages resistance against passive consumerism, Beckers' designs are made from 100% synthetic paper 'so you can actually wash it in the machine', creating a middle ground between textiles and its tree-derivative counterparts. Leeuw's 1966 pattern played on similar notions, paving the way for legendary designers like Martin Margiela to take the stage and introduce his army sock sweater for A/W 91, released alongside a book that told you step-by-step how he make it so you can too. When it comes to ownership and sharing knowledge, we at SHOWstudio count ourselves as avid supporters in this field, a concept demonstrated each year with our Design Download project.

'Booklook Shirt': art direction Anouk Beckers, text Alessandra Varisco, crochet design Mika Perlmutter, graphic design Lejla Vala Verheus

Although not everything presented was blow-your-socks-off-brilliant, never have I seen art and performance so deftly weaved through different fashion narratives. Was all the work presented fit for an international stage? No. But this is a festival that harbours growth in a way that's honest and respectful of the creatives they're supporting. FASHIONCLASH helps to forge a new generation of makers that, instead of feeding fashion's hungry beast, will continue to rethink how their role as an artist can make a wider impact in a world we all share, whether that be through research, film, fashion design, art or performance.

'Booklook Shirt': art direction Anouk Beckers, text Alessandra Varisco, crochet design Mika Perlmutter, graphic design Lejla Vala Verheus


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