Understanding Fashion Film, Form and Genre

PEER REVIEWED. In order to present a broader understanding of fashion film, this article discusses the phenomena as genre and as a boundary case defined by its ambiguous relation to established narrative forms.

Introduction

Since the birth of cinema, film and fashion have had an intimate relation, which by the turn of the century evolved into fashion film as a more or less well-defined standalone genre. The breakthrough of the fashion film was boosted partly by digital production and distribution technologies, giving birth to platforms such as SHOWstudio in year 2000, and the promotion of brands and individual designers sharing moving images online. Consequently, theory covering the field has conceptualized the phenomenon primarily as the online promotion of garments by means of storytelling and digital moving images (Soloaga 2017). On the one hand, fashion film has been understood as experimental marketing, borrowing its visual style and narrative techniques from classic and experimental cinema. On the other hand, fashion films were framed by viewing practise related to the interactive possibilities and the permanent presence of digital media content online (Khan 2012b: 252). Both positions point to the changes in the structures of production, consumption and, to some extent, aesthetics made possible by computing.

While an adequate definition of the fashion film awaits (Uhlirova 2013a, 2013b, Schuller 2017, Kubka 2013), I propose a less exclusive understanding of the phenomenon, noting that fashion film experiments had a pre-digital existence and not all films were and are made for specific promotional commercial use. I investigate the fashion film as a boundary case defined by its ambiguous relation to existing established narrative forms of moving images and use formalist theory in order to define the phenomenon.

Figure 1. Gareth Pugh S/S 18 (2017) Knick Knight in collaboration with fashion designer Gareth Pugh and artist Oliver de Sagazan. Highly experimental performative film from SHOWstudio, resembling Jan Svankmajer’s classic claymation Dimensions of Dialogue (1982).

Fashion in film and photography

The touring exhibition on fashion photography Vogue like a Painting (2015-), curated by Debora Smith, shown at Gl. Strand Copenhagen 5. May - 2. September 2018, focuses on the dialogue between the pictorial arts in classical and modern painting and fashion photography represented by prominent photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Erwin Blumenfeld, Peter Lindbergh and Cecil Beaton. Tim Walker is the only photographer and filmmaker represented at the exhibition showing both still and moving images. The video represented (No Title, 2015) reads as a series of tableau outtakes from different projects, edited for the exhibition. Several sequences include actress Tilda Swinton, with one from a project titled Stranger Than Paradise (2013) and another from Planet Tilda (2011), both made for online fashion magazine W Magazine, with Stranger Than Paradise resembling fragmented outtakes from an unfinished surrealist film and Planet Tilda a more eclectic style film that experiments with variations in aspect ratio and, in part, borrows from silent or early expressionistic films in the style of Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922) or Vampyr (C.Th. Dreyer, 1932) (See figure 2). Another sequence from the work Magical Thinking (2012), which was also made for W Magazine, plays with the imagery from early Japanese silent movies by imitating the style of fixed camera setups shooting full-figure frontals on two-dimensional set pieces. The films also celebrate early cinema by adding hair, dust and scratches and so on to make them look worn and, in turn, draw attention to the surface or skin (Baker 2009: 37) of the seemingly hand-tinted film.

None of the Tim Walker films promote any specific fashion brand but, nevertheless, immediately read as fashion films. Tim Walker refers to them as moods, or editorial films, while W Magazine uses the term fashion film. All of the films are one-to-two minute short, silent, devoid of dialog or any real sounds (music score is used), and organized as fragmented tableaus with little or no narrative causal drive around human figures posing or moving through space in a dreamlike fashion with no apparent goal. As with the most of Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio films, title and credit sequences are not integrated, but the beginning and end are marked mostly through the use of plain text on black. Though fashion film can have a more focused narrative drive, in that sense the Tim Walker films sum up formal features generally associated with fashion film (Uhlirova 2013ab, Mijovic, 2013, Khan, 2012ab). Because of the fragmented nature of the films, the video presented at the Vogue like a Painting exhibition can be perceived as one work. Tim Walker’s films interact with early and modern genres and styles related to the history of cinema in the same manner the exhibition’s fashion photography interacts with classical and modern painting.

 

Figure 2: Above Stranger than Paradise (2013) and below Magical Thinking (2012): Fashion films by Tim Walker celebrating surrealist cinema and the style of Japanese pictorial art and silent cinema. See: timwalkerphotography.com/videos/mood

It is tempting to generalise from the observations and understand fashion film as simply an extension of fashion photography to quote experimental and conventional modes in moving images the same way fashion photography interacts with other forms of pictorial arts. Many of the early experiments in the genre were made by fashion photographers such as Erwin Blomenfeld and Guy Bourdin. It is hard to ignore the obvious, that fashion photography and film share their overall subject and oscillate between the viewing practices of consumers of fashion products or designs and the viewing practices of those more interested in the “authorial expressions” of fashion photographers and/ or filmmakers (Uhlirova 2013b: 120). But on another note, relating, amongst others, to Roland Barthes, Nathalie Khan sees photography as something forever and indexically linked to a frozen dead past, in contrast to the ever-changing, omnipresent, renewed and potentially interactive live existence of fashion film as moving images online (Khan 2012a: 238-239).

From pre-film to digital fashion film

Khan uses Lev Manovich’s ideas on new media and soft cinema as new structures of production and consumption enabled by computing (Khan 2012a: 237-238, Khan 2012b: 257). For Manovic and for Khan, these structures find a parallel in early pre-filmic technologies and images as those produced by the zoetrope, exemplified by films like Ruth Hobben and Nicholas Kirkwood’s The Right Shin (2010), which uses zoetrope-like effects such as the transition from stillness to movement, and the use of cyclical sequences (See figure 3). We know this aesthetic figure in other pre-filmic forms such as tableau vivant and pose plastique (Adriaensens & Jacobs 2015), which foreshadow forms of fashion display and early forms of fashion-film-related productions such as Annabelle Whiteford Moor’s Serpentine Dance (1895) made for the Edison Manufacturing Company (See figure 3). Though Khan is careful to make the distinction between digital fashion film and other more traditional forms of fashion media, it seems clear that, for her, the full potential fashion film equals digital fashion film. Even more explicit, a distinction is made by Gary Needham to understand fashion film as separate from films about fashion, as digital fashion film (Needham 2012: 105). A general consensus on the dependency of digital production and online distribution seems to exist, linking the phenomena especially to the launch of Nick Knight and Peter Saville´s online platform, SHOWstudio, in 2000. To some extent, the launch of SHOWstudio and its impact on fashion film can be compared to the launch of MTV and its impact on the music video in the early 1980s. Nick Knight himself, though, compares to the movement from illustration to photography for Vouge Magazines in the 1910s (Knight).

 

Figure 3: Above Ruth Hogben and Nicholas Kirkwood´s The Right Shin (2010) experimenting with zoetrope-like effects and below Annabelle Whiteford Moor’s Serpentine Dance (1895) shot in Thomas Edison’s Black Maria Studio and later hand-tinted to make the white veils change colours during the dance.

Fashion Film Archaeology

In the preliminary history of the fashion film, 100 Tears of Fashion Film: Frameworks and Histories, Marketa Uhlirova tracks initial use of the term fashion film by the press in relation to displays of fashion shows in Pathé-Frères newsreels as early as 1911 (Uhlirova 2013a: 153 and 2013b: 119). Other earlier newsreels for British Pathé, including both street and stage shots, can be traced back to 1909 (Leese 1991: 9) (See figure 4). It is debatable whether these films, in today’s use of the term, qualify as fashion films or would be more correctly categorised simply as newsreels about fashion. Instead, Serpentine Dance is often highlighted as a prototypical film with its obvious interest in costume, transformation and development from stasis to movement, as generic formal elements. Other early films of film pioneer and magician George Méliès introduce fashion in film advertisement. The Méliès films, presumed lost, advertised Mystére corsets and Delion hats using music hall dancers shot in reverse and was reportedly projected into the streets outside Méliès’ Théâtre Robert-Houdin in Paris sometime between 1898 and 1900 (Uhlirova 2013a: 140). The theatre tradition of actors using costumes donated to them by admirers or companies was adapted and intensified during the heydays of Hollywood and is still in use. Actresses functioned both as mannequins and players, setting style trends for theatre audiences. This practise was followed by the movies in early pre-sound cinema (Abel 2010: 230).

On another note, avant-garde photographer and surrealist artist Man Ray, assisted by model and later war-photographer Lee Miller, used moving image projections (hand-coloured clips from George Méliès) on the “strictly white dress” invitees at the “Bal Blanc”, hosted by Countess Anna-Letizia Pecci-Blunt, to use the guests as ‘moving screens’, which in 1930 foreshadowed the use of film projection and live performance in contemporary fashion shows (Uhlirova 2013a: 147).  Also, fashion photographers extended into the area of moving images. An early example highlighted by Uhlirova is George Hoyningen-Huene, who made a series of plotless and unfinished films in the early 1930s (Uhlirova 2013a: 144). Several other fashion photographers, like Erwin Blomenfeld and Guy Bourdin, were experimental in the 1960s and 1970s (See figure 4). On another level, fashion photographer Cecil Beaton not only experimented with film but, impressively enough, also worked as art director, costume designer and production designer on iconic Hollywood productions such as Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964). Though fashion film was boosted by online digital distribution, it existed and its main topes were formed prior to the Internet and still has a groovy offline existence at festivals, exhibitions, cinemas and shows.

 

Figure 4: Above: Fashion was featured in the so-called ‘actuality’ film of early cinema and was, popular subjects of newsreels. An early Danish silent-film studio recording displays models wearing garments for sale in Copenhagen compartment store Magasin du Nord. The film is un-dated but might relate to an event at Nimb in the late 1910s or early 1920s (Clip from Danmark på film). Below:.Undated and untitled 1970s experimental Guy Bourdin film..

Fashion film as promotional fashion film

From the examples mentioned it is only natural to understand fashion film as promotional film or as advertising in disguise. From this industrial point of view, scholars like Paloma Díaz Soloaga understand fashion film mainly as a new communicational vehicle building brands in the digital era. Here, fashion films are seen primarily as an experimental marketing tool of luxury fashion firms using storytelling and filmic aesthetics to promote brands and establish closer and more intimate consumer relations (Soloaga 2017: 44). A critical approach would analyse this tactic as a feature of a commercial culture, whereby producers of fashion films related to design companies use tropes and techniques from avant-garde film and iconic images of popular culture as a “memory bank”, “available on free loan” to be converted into new currency by means of pastiche and other forms of imitation (Mijovic 2013: 178). Highlighting the commercial aspect, which frames fashion film as experimental advertising, the genre is, at times, referred to by the term promotional fashion film (Gibson 2017: 635 and Mijovic 2013: 175). 

As with fashion photography, the fashion film cannot be isolated from other forms of promotion. However, the idea of fashion film as experimental advertising tool to exploit the visual language of cinema to brand luxury products is insufficient to cover the variations characterizing fashion film. In reference to the David Lynch film for Dior, Lady Blue Shanghai (2010), Nathalie Khan sees fashion film not simply as a “vehicle of consumption relying on the discourse of commodity fetishism, as is the case with fashion advertising” (Khan 2012a: 237). For Khan, fashion film breaks down the boundary between consumption and representation by relying on a cinematic language. Many films can be understood as part of an experimental marketing strategy that uses visual media to reach a new audience of potential customers, but not all. Some films, like the Tim Walker series cited in the introduction, do not advertise any brands, but display clothing in motion in a manner that visually echoes early or classic cinema. The films foreground movement and the tactile, or haptic, qualities of the image in a lyrical style that hinders elaborate dramatic intrigue. Other films might not include fashion as their raw material or they might even promote non-existent goods.

Fashion design fiction and diegetic prototypes

As with Lucy McRae’s series of design fiction or speculative design (Markussen, Thomas & Knutz, Eva, 2013), the films explore products like Swallowable Perfume (2014), in a way displaying what David Kirby frames as diegetic prototypes (Kirby 2010) (See figure 5). The concept of diegetic prototypes, and to some extent also design fiction, is to contextualize technologies or designs within a social context via the narrative structure of, for example, a film. However, the diegetic prototypes can also represent a powerful force in creating and framing desire for technology (Kirby 2010: 45) and here possible future design. As with fashion photography, fashion as a specific design product is not necessarily the main reason why audiences interact with the genre. Uhlirova states:

The Fashion Film doesn’t always blatantly implicate the viewer as consumer and has, generally, a greater degree of autonomy from the fashions it displays or connotes, as it is less concerned with social and psychological proses of identification, persuasion and reassurance than is the case in more conventional advertising. (Uhlirova 2013b: 121) 

Fashion film might be used by designers to investigate visual and other qualities in the process of development. As Khan notes in her analysis of Ruth Hogben’s Immahine 79 (2011), the garments are no longer the ‘original’ and the image its ‘copy’. The image does not recreate the garment through visual representation; instead, vitality becomes their only reality (Khan 2012b: 255).  Especially the use of digital technology and computer manipulated imagery as part of production processes in the making of fashion films has helped create visualizations of both possible and impossible dress as in Comme des Garcons (2016) and Dynamic Blooms (2011) by Nick Knight (See figure 6). 

Figure 5: Swallowable Perfume (2014) by Lucy McRae: Fashion film as design fiction and speculative design.

Fashion film and genre

Fashion film seems to escape any neat classification as a genre, Marketa Uhlirova points out (2013b: 120). It covers a range of styles, modes of production and filmmaking techniques from stop-motion and computer animation to live-action and montage film. As genre, it has borrowed from and combined other genres and modes of production from experimental avant-garde film through music video and documentary film to dance film and commercials. Fashion films also vary in production scale from the individual zero-budget production through to budget and big-scale productions (Uhlirova 2013b: 120). Some use so-called non-narrative approaches and others more conventional narrative structures. It is, however, possible to recognise the genre even if it is hard to define. Its tropes are recognisable to such an extent that parodies like Matthew Frost´s short FASHION FILM (2013) have been made.

It is not unusual that traces of several genres are at play within individual genres. No genre exists in a vacuum. Also, concepts of genres might oscillate between synchronic essentialist trans-historical positions and dynamic diacron positions. This dynamic is perhaps best framed in the literary theory of Tzvetan Todorov (Todorov 1976) and Mikhail Bakhtin. In his work Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Bakhtin emphasizes the interaction between stabile archaic elements within the genre and how they are kept alive by their constant renewal (Thompson 1984: 34). It is not unusual for any form to grow from, be inspired by or to interact with other forms. On the contrary, it is a rule that they do, or as Todorov puts it: “A new genre is always the transformation of one or several old genres: by invention, by displacement, by combination” (1976; 161). For any new art form or genre, likely traces of archaic elements from other genres continue to exist or transformation features might appear. Consider the change from ritual to drama in ancient Greece and the continuous existence of the chorus as a feature of both comedy and tragedy, or think of the theatrical full-figure framing of early pre-sound cinema. To the point fashion films are organised around garments, the films either prompt or investigate garments (and at times, other products such as jewellery and perfume), or merge materiality and visuality, creating their own exercises in the moving image.

Other cinematic genres are organized in similar ways. Celebrating objects, or sound, defocusing, or pushing narrative to the background has resulted in standalone genres, with the most obvious examples being the music video and the architecture film or, maybe more specifically, the city symphonie. A shared quality for these films is that they are not necessarily defined as either fiction or non-fiction, nor do they relate to the in-between mocumentary or so-called faktion film. Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, Die Sinfonie der Grossstadt (1927) is not a documentary about Berlin just as Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kino-apparatom) (1929) is not a documentary about modern life in soviet cities but rather a visual celebration of such life. More recent films like Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Max Kestner’s Drømme i København (2009) at least challenge or renew the city symphonie as genre, (often thought of as a historically framed genre like German expressionism). As fashion films, neither architecture films nor city symphonies give factual information about their main subject or contain narrative content of mainstream or conventional film. Rather, they try to mimic the rhythm of big city life using the cinematic parameters of montage editing and salient images. Music videos work in the same manner most often pushing conventional narrative to the background using non-narrative approaches for reasons similar to those in fashion film. First, (pop)songs tend to be cyclical and episodic rather than sequentially structured. Second, as Vernallis notes “If the intent of a music-video image lies in drawing attention to the music – whether to provide commentary upon it or simply to sell it – it makes sense that the image ought not to carry a story or a plot in the way that a film might (Vernallis 2004: 1-2). Højbjerg outlines three types of music videos se either lyrical, narrative or performative – or any of these types in combination (Højbjerg 1999: 87).  Also, the forms that associate fashion film constantly seem to be caught between genres.

 

Figure 6: In-between genre. Visions of possible and impossible dress as in  Comme des Garcons (2016) and Dynamic Blooms (2011) by Nick Knight. SHOWstudio.

The fashion film and the fantastic

Todorov in his work on The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1975), defines the genre as characterised by a certain doubt, or ambiguity, in narration, while seemingly supernatural story-events unfold. When confronted, for example, by real demons in the framework of fiction, we characterize it as fairy tale or fantasy.  If, in another work of fiction, demons are explained by hallucination or superstition, we characterize it as realism. In the fantastic, we are never sure if the demons are real or not. When faced by the ambiguity, narration hesitates. In short, for Todorov this hesitation is emblematic in or the first condition of fantastic fiction (1975: 31). The fantastic sits in-between and is defined by its in-betweenness. Though, on another level, we find ambiguity and in-betweenness in fashion film with regard to its relation to surrounding genres, fashion films thematise garments and the promotion of garments might be the archaic element.

However, fashion films are not entirely advertising. They are not entirely documentaries, and they are not just abstract film or wholly narrative film either. A commercial containing clearly recognisable brand logos, slogans and price tags would usually not read as a fashion film. The Wrangler Whole New Rodeo (2018) commercial, with its final statement “New Styles, Great Fits, Wrangler. Real. Comfortable. Jeans.” easily reads as advertising and not as fashion film. The H&M commercial Naomi Campbell Glam (2017), which includes logos and price tags, might read as a fashion film due to its self-conscious, ironic take on 1980s music videos. A film like Wim Wenders´s Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989) is a documentary about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto (1989) and not a fashion film. Nina Holmgren’s Age Appropriate: Club 99.7 (2015) for online platform Nowness reads as a personal tribute to her grandfather, but might also read as a fashion film. Also, experimental films like The Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) by Matthew Barney might read like a boundary case. Feature films that include salient fashion design, such as Luc Bresson The Fifth Element (1997) including costume design by fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, feature films of Sofia Coppola as Marie Antoinette (2006) and Nocturnal Animals (2017) directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, are not necessarily fashion films. However, films like Nocturnal Animals might include an independent layer in the narrative, which communicates through garments and style, as acclaimed fashion researcher Pamela Church Gibson notes (Gibson 2017). 

More obviously, even excessive sequences in Hollywood musicals such as the Gold Diggers (1933-37) series might read as standalone fashion or dance films. In the same manner, some filmed inserts, like the Subterranean Homesick Blues sequence from D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back (1965) have taken on a life of their own, existing, thought of and used as standalone ‘music videos’.  An early example of the phenomena of what could be described as feature film deliberately using fashion film inserts was the serial film The Adventures of Dorothy Dare (1916), which tried to combine plot with a featured display of gowns.  In the film, action was stopped at intervals to describe the gowns displayed (Leese 1991: 11). Highly stylised films from Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) through to Kar-Wai Wong’s In the Mood for Love (Faa yeung nin wa, 2000) and Winding Refn’s recent The Neon Demon (2016) thematization of the fashion industry might include sequences or images that could be read as fashion film inserts (see figure 7). The shoe shopping and cake montage sequence in Coppola´s Marie Antoinette, which included anachronistic sneakers amongst the 17th century footwear, might read as a fashion film insert. The Nike-sponsored YouTube web-series Margot vs Lily (2016) (see figure 7) reads as a comedy TV series using storytelling and product placement to promote Nike sportswear and not as a fashion film series, while the Prada Candy (2015) series by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola with its humorous imitation of the style of the French nouvelle vague cinema of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard is. Transformation or metamorphosis might be an aesthetic feature of fashion film, but even more transformation relates to the in-between quality of the genre.  In addition, it is possible to recognize some formal qualities, such as great self-consciousness, as well as artistic and transtextual motivations, which from a formative point of view shape narration in the fashion film. 

 

Figure 7: Boundary cases of fashion film: Margot vs Lily (2016) web series by Nike & Winding Refn’s feature film The Neon Demon (2016).

Fashion film form and narration

In the by now classic book Narration in the Fiction Film, David Bordwell presents a system for the classification of narrational modes, which bypasses mushrooming genre-systems. Inspired by Russian formalists in literature theory such as Tynianov and Boris Tomashevsky, narration is conceptualized as a dynamic process that invites the spectator to join in the activity of creating narratives, which she or he then perceives as more or less coherent wholes. In the fiction film, narration is “the process whereby the film´s syuzhet and style interact in the course of cueing and channelling the spectator’s construction of the film” (Bordwell 1985: 53). The syuzhet, or plot, embodies the film as a dramaturgical process and style mostly as a technical one. Fabula, or story, is then a cause-and-effect chain of events suggested by the syuzhet (1985:  49-50). By analysing the style and tactics of the syuzhet, Bordwell suggests four narrational modes (1985: 155). The modes suggested are classical narration of mainstream Hollywood cinema, the mostly European author-style narration of art cinema, Soviet historic materialistic montage films, and parametric cinema, sometimes referred to as non-narrative film. On a tactic level, the syuzhet operates to disturb information, or data, as cues during the duration of the work. Any syuzhet selects which fabula events to present and combine in any order. The combinations create dramaturgical composition; the selection of cues creates holes. On a strategic level, narration works through range and depth in knowledge, the degree of self-consciousness and the degree of communicativeness. Motivations can either be compositional, realistic, artistic or transtextual (1985: 36). In this system, fashion films are, in general, characterized by orchestrating elements mainly through artistic and/or transtextual motivations. Fashion films are often interested in movement, the ornament and the pattern, as well as the tactile and haptic qualities of garments or other material serving as the centre of the films. 

Figure 8: Casstello Cavalcanti (2013) High degree of self-consciousness and transtextually in Wes Anderson’s narrative short, art, ad or fashion film emulating classic Italian cinema for Prada. Starring Jason Schwartzman.

The foregrounding of design elements or cinematic techniques supporting qualities of design elements empathise with style in a manner that most often subordinates realistic and compositional motivations. Bordwell understands compositional motivation mainly as a means of delivering canonical story information and realistic motivation in reference to elements existing in the extratextual reality. In mainstream cinema, with some local exceptions, style is mostly thought of as invisible or as motivated by story elements. In fashion film, story elements are, for the most part, presented in a highly restricted or fragmented manner and include a relatively low degree of communicativeness in order to foreground style or, as in art cinema, to mimic a restricted personal point of view to foreground subjective impressions. Here, art cinema resembles what Torben Grodal in his genre typology frames as lyricism, for example related to visual poetry in films like Fernand Léger´s dada/ futuristic Ballet Mécanique (1923-4) and surrealist Luis Bunuel´s Un Chien Andalou (1928) (Grodal 1999: 166). Often, we are given very little knowledge in both range and depth concerning the totality of any fabula compared to conventional narrative film. Story depth and complexity is hindered by the mostly short duration of the films. Also, qualities of garments are foregrounded. Fashion films are highly transtextually motivated by quoting the stylistic patterns of admired directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock and others, or emulating salient cinematic styles of film noir, or nouvelle vague or experimental films. Many but not all of these characteristics resemble what Bordwell frames as parametric and art cinema film.

In the paper, “Narrative form and the rhetoric of fashion in the promotional fashion film” (Mijovic 2013), Nikola Mijovic proposes three approaches to fashion film and fashion film making: the non-narrative approach, where the status of fashion as a designed object is foregrounded; the conventional narrative approach, where fashion acts as an aspirational object; and the organic narrative approach, where the visual style is constructed around clothing. The first is best understood in relation to the borrowing of avant-garde techniques as seen in films Resnais’ L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) and Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) or in the experimental films of Andy Warhol, with all films relating to Bordwell’s idea of the parametric film. For Mijovic, the narrative-driven films in his system seem to relate more specifically to the signature style of directors of cinema in the understanding of theories of authorship, such as that of Andre Bazin and Andrew Sarris (2013: 181). More specifically, this correlates with Bordwell’s conceptualisation of an art-cinema narrative approach. The idea of organic narration is less substantiated but seems to suggest an approach less influenced by author style or visual and narrative pastiche, focusing on organizing style around or through the garments presented (Mijovic 2013: 182). In this regard, Bordwell’s system of narration in fiction film is more neutral to individual preference and seems to cover the dominant narrative modes suggested as either an author-orientated art-cinema approach or a lyrical/ poetic/ parametric one. Downplaying conventional narrative strategies, as in mainstream cinema, and outward rhetorical figures, as in direct hard-sell advertising, it is fair to say that the fashion film not always, but for the most part, applies lyrical or parametrical narrative strategies characterised by a high degree of self-consciousness, use of repetition, fragmenting or the stopping of time, no or little causality, and a sense of ‘organic’ equality in style and syuzhet.

Conclusion

The fashion film exists outside the online world it is often associated with, at art exhibitions, at shows, in cinemas and at an increasing number of fashion film festivals. Fashion films are not always promotional if one understands promotional as a form of commercial advertising. In this understanding, the fashion film capitalizes on the art world of classic film and experimental filmmaking in order to sell luxury products. However, fashion films are not always about consumption, but can be a way for designers and filmmakers to investigate garments through the means of visual media. Sometimes they work as experimental films, adding both to fashion design and to the language of moving images. The fashion film is mostly short, but can take on any length and be distributed by means of any media channel.  In relation to other more established forms or genres of moving images, the fashion film presents itself as a boundary phenomenon. The fashion film is somewhere in-between established genres, and this undecidedness might be its signature. Still fashion films are recognisable as such. A simple definition of fashion film from a formal point of view could then read as primarily a parametric or lyrically orientated standalone film, series or insert organised around visualisations of garments or other fashion objects. First and foremost, this definition would recognise the existence of fashion films as something more and something other than digital promotional short films only and indicate narrative strategies of the genre. Also, this formalistic definition less focused on industry and consumer behaviour or media specifically might point to the artistic potential of fashion film and guide visual and narrative analysis of individual works within the genre. 

Figure 9: Put Your Head on My Shoulders (2017) by Britt Lloyd and Kick Knight. Golden Dreamland, troubling and seductive fashion film from SHOWstudio.

 


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Suggested citation

Wille, Jakob Ion (2019), Understanding Fashion Film, Form and Genre. Kosmorama #274 (www.kosmorama.org).