Conversation: Fashion and the Moving Image

by Laura Bradley, Ruth Hogben, Sarah Chatfield, Monica Elkelv on 7 April 2009

Filmmaker and Birds Eye View Fashion Loves Film strand curator Kathryn Ferguson leads a panel discussion with filmmakers and fashion film industry professionals. Her co-chair is SHOWstudio's Fashion Features Editor Laura Bradley and guests include leading female filmmakers Ruth Hogben, Sarah Chatfield and Monica Elkelv. Read a full transcript of the conversation below.

Filmmaker and Birds Eye View Fashion Loves Film strand curator Kathryn Ferguson leads a panel discussion with filmmakers and fashion film industry professionals. Her co-chair is SHOWstudio's Fashion Features Editor Laura Bradley and guests include leading female filmmakers Ruth Hogben, Sarah Chatfield and Monica Elkelv. Read a full transcript of the conversation below.

Kathryn Ferguson: Thank you very much for coming, I hope you enjoyed the films. I'm delighted to say tonight we're joined by Laura Bradley from SHOWstudio, Sarah Chatfield who co-directed the Yves Saint Laurent film, Ruth Hogben who directed the Gareth Pugh film and Monica Elkelv, who co-directed the Hannah Marshall film. My name's Kathryn Ferguson and I put together the screening tonight. I've been working on the selection since last year and this evening, I'd really like to discuss the genre of fashion film and how it is developing. I've been working as a programmer for Birds Eye View for the past two years and it's been really interesting: last year I nearly didn't have enough films to make up a screening whereas this year I've been totally inundated. I think this reflects how much it's developing. Laura, you're at SHOWstudio, do you have a few words to say about that?

Laura Bradley: Yes, quite a few of the films in tonight's screening were from SHOWstudio. The site first launched in 2000 and film has been a huge part of we do since the very beginning. I put together a show reel the other day incorporating five recent films and five older ones. Even though I've seen all of them all before, I was completely blown away by films we'd created back in 2000. There's a series of eight 'Sleep' films, in which Nick [Knight] filmed fully clothed and groomed supermodels sleeping in The Metropolitan Hotel. The films are really low quality -which reflects the technology at the time- but they are fantastic to watch.

KF: Do you feel the actual development of the Internet has really pushed the genre forward?

LB: Yes, definitely. Film as I said, has always been a big part of what we do at SHOWstudio. We've got nearly three hundred projects in our archive and I'd say perhaps 60% of that is film. Nick has always been very keen to include film into the projects we do, despite the technology being quite basic at the start. We were using huge phone cameras and the quality was really poor but that kind of adds to it.

KF: Why did Nick initially move into film from photography?

LB: I was recently reading an interview with Nick from 1994, which was published in The Independent. He made a bit of a prediction saying that there was a new medium on the way, something that was not film and not photography. I think what he was getting at was this genre of 'fashion film' that we're all starting to see now. He works predominantly as a photographer but has always filmed all of his shoots; he became increasingly interested in what film could show as opposed to the still image. Just after I joined in 2005, we started work on our first major film series entitled 'Moving Fashion'. We invited forty-six image-makers including photographers, stylists, hair stylists, make-up artists; we had all of the big names like Katie Grand, Stephen Jones, John Galliano. The brief was to create a thirty-second short featuring a garment, the entire series resulting in a type of 'collections story' a bit like the big issues of Vogue you buy in March and September. Some people used mobile phones, others used professional camera equipment; the scope of different types of film was really amazing to see. Nick did an interview as part of the project [October 2005] and it's really interesting to listen to him talking about 'fashion film' and to see how in tune he was with was about to happen.

KF: Absolutely. Why do you think it's developed so much over the past twelve months or so?

LB: I think the Internet has played a huge part. As well as SHOWstudio there are now so many [fashion] websites that showcase film: Dazed Digital have done a lot of 'backstage' films recently, The New York Times’ T magazine website contains a lot of film content as well as Interview magazine's site. They are great outlets for creatives who are producing films. Along with YouTube and Vimeo, it's become increasingly easier to get your work seen.

KF: Shall we ask the filmmakers some questions?

LB: Yes. I think what is most interesting is that we've got four filmmakers here who have created films to showcase a fashion designer's collection: Sarah for Yves Saint Laurent, Ruth for Gareth Pugh, Monica for Hannah Marshall and Kathryn for Erika Trotzig. Films that I believe were all created to replace the conventional fashion show. Ruth's is the most recent example having been shown in Paris last week. I'd quite like to ask each of you about your working process: how you worked with Hannah, Gareth and Stefano [Pilati], how that came about and why you think they wanted to create a film. Do you want to start Monica?

Monica Elkelv: Yes. Basically the project with Hannah was a collaboration with Darren Smith. Darren and I wanted to work together to create a fashion film so we approached Hannah and she was really interested in collaborating with us both. With Hannah's film, Darrren and I were more interested in the concept of the collection rather than the clothing itself; I thought she can always do a photo shoot or a catalogue if she wants to focus on the clothes. I'm an experimental filmmaker and I wanted to create a fashion film but with some roots in art. Hannah explained the collection to us and provided us with some mood boards and sketches and then Darren and I began to build the film from there, doing research and having meetings. In the film, the clothes they are important, but for us, what is more important is the concept of the collection and the feeling Hannah has.

LB: Gareth was interviewed a lot after his show and talked about the mood he wanted to create. I don't think he really felt like a catwalk show could put over that feeling.

Ruth Hogben: He's a designer from a new generation - he's into the Internet whereas I think some of the old-school designers probably don't even e-mail! He was really interested in doing a film but I don't know if it was because he didn't want to do a show. I just think he wanted to experiment and collaborate which means he gets to see the collection through someone else's eyes, which I think is more exciting for him. Also, Gareth's clothes are not about one simple movement (walking up and down the runway). As you saw in the film, the big coat changes form and becomes a kind of ladybird. I think it was really exciting for him to be able to see in more than one way. But again, you compromise because once you see the shape and form you can't actually see the texture. That's what you've got to try and overcome in a film - actually making sure people can see the clothes. The clothes are just as important as the concept; everybody has to see what the clothes are, what they're made out of and how they move.

LB: All three of you created films to replace conventional catwalk shows. The journalist Suzy Menkes has written numerous articles over the past ten years about the Internet's effect on the fashion industry. In 1995 she wrote about digital pictures [of catwalk shows] being available online and how horrific it was that the public would be able to see fashion designers' collections at the same time as press; up until that point, fashion shows had been intimate affairs. I've been keeping quite a close-eye on what Suzy's been writing over the past few years: Hussein Chalayan chose to do a film instead of a show for Spring/Summer 2008 ['Readings' by Nick Knight] and Suzy said that it was quite frustrating that you could see this amazing film but not view the clothes afterwards. With Gareth's show in Paris, everyone thought they were coming to a runway show and all it was a screen. Ruth was there; perhaps she can describe it better than I can?

RH: It was a black room with four rows of benches, a big screen and low hanging smoke. No one had been told that it was a film so I think that didn't go down too well.
LB: Gareth also allowed us to show the film at exactly the same time it was unveiled to press and buyers in Paris. We announced it on the site a few days before but obviously we had to be really careful about the wording: we definitely couldn't say he was doing a film, we couldn't even say it was a 'presentation'. We had lots of phone calls beforehand - there was someone from the Philippines who was desperate to know what was happening. It was quite exciting actually! Then the film went up and after that we were inundated with requests from press wanting stills and clips from the film. Gareth had actually had some look book shots done featuring Natasa V but what people were asking for were stills from Ruth's film., New York Times, The Telegraph, The Times all wanted the trailer of Ruth's film, which I think is a huge step forward. I mean, normally press -particularly newspapers- would just want a model in the clothes.

KF: And does it work for the fashion press not having a show?

LB: I think it did in this instance and that was a huge shift. I was reading Hilary Alexander's review in The Telegraph and for the first time (and deservedly so) the filmmaker was acknowledged - there was a paragraph which focused entirely on Ruth. Not wanting to miss out on Sarah - I want to pick up on what Ruth said about Gareth being part of a new generation. You created a film for Yves Saint Laurent [menswear] - that's quite a brave step for them, don't you think?

Sarah Chatfield: It's funny that you mentioned the Hussein Chalayan film - that had come out just before we started working on the first film with Stefano. I think it was met a mixed reception. The fashion world likes catwalk shows and Stefano was quite concerned about making a film instead. It was quite a radical move: it was the first time a big fashion house had done something like this. At the time we were thinking either everyone's going to love it or hate it.

LB: Well Suzy Menkes loved it!

SC: Yes, luckily it went down really well. But it's just a testament, not even to the film, but just how the fashion world would react to a film replacing a catwalk show. But they really, really loved it, which was great. They also had the collection on display as well.

LB: Yes, which I think is really important.

ME: Yes, Hannah had a presentation at On | Off as well.

LB: I think it's important to be able to see the clothes as well.

SC: That's the thing. Essentially the audience are there to buy or write about the collection so if they see a film which is over very quickly it helps to be able to view the clothes afterwards. I think what Stefano felt quite restricted by showing his clothes on a catwalk - nobody really gets to see the theme and the thought processes behind the collection. He is a very creative man and puts a lot of thought into the concept and I think he thought film would really help him to be able to express this. A film allows you to really show the key things and make clear the designer's statement.

LB: I think that was exactly the same for Gareth: he felt very keen to convey the 'feeling' of his collection. Ruth you worked on a previous film entitled 'Insensate' which showcased his Autumn/Winter 2008 collection. How did that come about?

RH: I was still assisting Nick at the time and Gareth called to see if I would be interested in working on a film for him, which was really exciting! Of course I wanted to do it!

LB: I should explain that Ruth has been working as Nick's 1st assistant for the past three and a half years. She's just finished and Gareth's recent film was her first major project. A pretty impressive start really?

RH: Well, I was very, very lucky! Everybody's eyes were on Gareth - it was his second women's show in Paris. I'm lucky that he didn't tell everybody that it was going to be just a film because I'm not sure many people would've turned up! I was really, really lucky to be able to work with such amazing designs. Gareth gave me a lot of freedom - he only came to see me once whilst I was working on the film!

LB: Did he let you see the collection before?

RH: He showed me one piece of material that he ended up using for the wide trousers. He did lots of fanning and posing!

LB: I didn't know you hadn't seen the collection! What I really enjoyed about the film is that it felt like there were lots of layers, each of which seemed to fit together perfectly: your powerful aesthetic, Matthew Stone's thundering soundtrack and Gareth's designs. How did it work in the initial meeting you had with Gareth? How much input did Matthew have?

RH: A lot, because he's an artist himself. The set designer Simon Costin and the stylist Katie Shillingford were at the meeting too. We talked about lots of different ideas - lots of things that didn't happen. We wanted to ensure it would be a physical presentation and not just something on a small screen. At first we thought about a big white box that people could stand inside; there would be [a film of] all of these 'Gareth women' walking towards you with music playing. Then I realised I only had four days to edit!

LB: That time-scale is quite interesting. Monica, how long was you working on Hannah's film for?

ME: All in all, after the initial meeting it took about three weeks. The editing took five days. It was very complicated because we were working with two or three screens and you don't see the screens because it's all pasted in black and then we had to grade all of the black to the same tone. It was quite intense but we had very supportive editors.

LB: And Sarah, how long did you work on the Yves Saint Laurent film for?

SC: Chris [Sweeney] and I have worked on two films for Yves Saint Laurent. The first was super quick - a couple of weeks! With the second film we said that we wanted a few months to collaborate with Stefano. We started in around February or March with meetings in which we discussed concepts and initial ideas; we went back and forth and went through quite a lot of different processes before we even got to those final ideas. We ended up shooting around June time. It was much better the second time around.

LB: Did you get to see the clothes beforehand?

SC: Well the thing is, as with any fashion house, the clothes are only properly ready just before the catwalk show starts; in some cases they're stitching up until the last minute! It was like that for YSL. Although we did see a lot of rough designs and fabrics - we looked through the fabric book and talked about textures. The fabrics were an important theme for the Spring/Summer collection; they used really feminine fabrics like light silks and crepe de chine and our film had a lot to do with femininity and masculinity. But we didn't actually see the clothes until the day before the shoot or something.

LB: I find that quick turnaround quite unbelievable really.

SC: Yes, because you really want to be inspired by the clothes and make that your starting point. The main thing was the rough designs, the descriptions and the ideas behind it. But when you're trying to plan your storyboard and your short list, it's quite hard. You have to re-jig things on the day but that's the way it is with fashion and that's kind of sexy.

KF: Sarah, because you've actually come from a music video background, how do you feel it compares to working with fashion?

SC: Judging it on what I've done so far in fashion, I would say it's been a lot more enjoyable and you get a lot more creative freedom. Working with music videos is fun and it can be creative but there are quite a lot of restrictions and quite a lot of people involved. Everybody wants things a different way and also with a music video, you are trying to appeal to a mass audience and the bottom line is to try and sell as many records as possible. Whereas with a fashion film you're really just trying to appeal to the fashion world; although it goes online and it's a type of 'brand' film for the fashion label, you're not really trying to appeal to everyone. You're trying to make something a bit more artistic, so in that sense it's nicer to work on.

KF: And would you approach it in the same way with your ideas process?

SC: Not really because when you work on a music video you're starting point is the music and with fashion films, it's to do with the concept and the ideas and the music comes a later on. With the music video, you're listening to the track and thinking what would be right for that track and what would be right for the artist as well, as it's generally centred on the performance from an artist. When you're doing a music video for an artist, you've got a lot there already, you've got an artist who (hopefully) has a fan base and people enjoy watching that artist/band perform and for a lot of music videos, that is enough. If you're making a film to showcase clothes and it's going to be like ten minutes long or whatever, the hardest thing is to keep the interest for that length of time. But also not to detract from the clothes because they should be the central focus. I really don't believe that you should try and introduce any kind of narrative because the main intention should be to show the clothes and put across the mood and feeling of the collection. Sustaining interest and not detracting from the clothes is a big challenge but it makes it fun!

KF: So you feel like a narrative would detract from the clothes?

SC: Yes, I think so. It depends on the intentions of the fashion film. From our point of view, we were working on a film to replace a catwalk presentation. A catwalk presentation would show the clothes and also put across the mood of the collection; if you were to put in a narrative to a fashion film, I think people would just be following a story and not looking at the clothes. That would just defeat the whole point really. But then to keep something entertaining for that long, that’s the trade-off.

RH: I think that's the challenge though for a fashion show - to keep the audience happy for ten minutes. Because you can't have someone turn up for an event and it be two minutes. But if you were doing it like an editorial, then it opens up a lot more. You need to see the clothes and understand the clothes, but you haven't got people picking out every single detail: whether you can see the hemline or the cuff detail. You could probably be a little bit freer.

SC: Yes.

LB: What was the reaction after the Gareth show, because you were watching that film with everybody else?

RH: I wasn't, I was hiding in the corner! It was really good; Gareth was just really excited. I think the main thing was the fact that it was a fashion show and people wanted to talk to Gareth about his clothes and his collection, which is exactly what it should be.

LB: It wasn't just about the collection, it was about you too.

RH: Yes, but then my film was about the collection. It was really exciting for Gareth because everyone seemed really happy and really positive about what he'd done. The collection was really just fun to work with and I think that was reflected in people's responses.

LB: In one of the interviews afterwards, Gareth was asked if that was the way he was going to carry on from now on, and importantly he said he didn't think so and that next season might be different. I don't think it's right to replace every catwalk show with a fashion film; it's not right for every designer and it's not right for every season.

RH: It's just a new genre.

SC: Stefano enjoyed the process so much and found it so exciting and fun, which is great. For a fashion designer to see their designs come alive on film -because film is quite a highbrow medium or whatever- and you know they love that, it's like...

RH: ...a new layer.

SC: Yes, exactly. It's quite exciting I think. It's like if you were a pop star or whatever seeing your own music video and yourself on screen. He said, 'I'm never going to do a catwalk for menswear after this'.

LB: Ruth, you saw Rick Owens after Gareth's show?

RH: Yes, he was really, really, really excited. He said, 'Oh man, I want to do films like this, I'm not going to do catwalk again!' It was a good response. I think that most people that are interested in fashion are excited about it because it is a whole new avenue that we’re are all just experimenting with and learning about. You [Sarah] come from a different background, but I think that we're all just learning our different skills and trying to make something that's important as a still or as a catwalk show.

LB: We managed to get forty-six people to contribute to our 'Moving Fashion' film series in 2005 but it was quite hard work and we really had to push them to do it. That was followed by a slightly bigger series entitled 'Political Fashion' in 2008. And we did 'Future Tense' last year, which was working with a younger generation - less established designers. They were so keen! Recently, two weeks before London Fashion Week we were inundated with designers saying they'd created a film instead of doing a show and asking whether or not we could put it on the site. In the end we just had to take four because we were covering all the shows as well. I was quite astounded by the amount of people that are turning to film.

KF: Do you think that's going to change fashion? Because I suppose, with film, designers who wouldn't be able to afford a catwalk will now be able to make a film instead. So they've got a way of getting their work out there whereas before a catwalk show would have maybe been too pricey. Do you think that's going to encourage more up and coming designers to show?

LB: Yes, I think so. But they all need an outlet - they need to get it out there so it can be seen. There's YouTube; anyone can make a film. But it needs to be good! And Gareth only had to use one model - compare that to the thirty or forty models required for a catwalk show. The costs would be quite different.

KF: Great, well I think we're going to have to wrap it up. Thank you all very much for coming.




Conversation: Dressing the Screen

28 October 2013
A group of female fashion filmmakers sat down for a unique panel discussion on representations of women.

Panel Discussion: Dressing the Screen - Russia

11 March 2014
A selection of of filmmakers and Russian fashion insiders discuss the emergence of new creative talent in Russia with SHOWstudio's own Marie Schuller.

The Future of Fashion is: Fashion Film

22 October 2021
The best way to see fashion? In motion.
Back to top