Print is So Last Season

Fashion houses turn to high-art filmmaking.

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From a marketing perspective, the film is brilliant, something that Leo Burnett may have wished he came up with. The purpose of an advertisement is to ultimately convey the designer’s vision and serve as an extension of their collection. It also represents a philosophy — you can’t wear Versace and be a wallflower and you couldn’t possibly be a Marc Jacobs guy or girl and not like grunge. Taking his Chanel ideology one step further, Lagerfeld conceptualizes a scenario of beautiful night revelers, partying in fashionable garb in St. Tropez. In terms of content, it lacks the intellectual stimulation of a Godard film or the wit of a Coen brothers’ work. Its entertainment value rests in its aesthetic qualities — from the garments to the models — and its escapism element. After all, who wouldn’t find the glamorous (albeit clichéd) St. Tropez lifestyle appealing? While fashion enthusiasts rejoiced over Lagerfeld’s latest venture, others heavily criticized the film, acknowledging the ridiculous fascination with St. Tropez culture (surely there is more to St. Tropez than Brigitte Bardot, Mick and Bianca Jagger and Sacha Distel?), the fashion models’ poor acting skills, and other inaccuracies (one cannot be from Yugoslavia because it no longer exists.). Cinephiles ultimately dismissed Lagerfeld’s attempt at movie-making, calling Remember Now “indulgent;” and one person went so far as to describe the overall film as “languid, just like the anorexic models dragging down the runway.”

American designer Marc Jacobs has made his own version of a fashion “film.” Filmed by photographer Chadwick Tyler for AnOther Magazine, the video features young, grungy models in garments from Jacobs’ Fall/Winter 2010 collection. There is no plot and not even dialogue — the film, Marc’s Models, consists of portraits that are shown while the Raconteurs’ song “Intimate Secretary” plays. It basically films the models staring and “acting” for the camera. I like to call it goofing off in $500 clothes!

 

An investigation into why Tyler and the film’s stylist, Alister Mackie, chose these particular models provides a glimpse into the politics of fashion — more specifically, Fashion Week. While it is clear that one of the hottest tickets in town is the Marc Jacobs show in New York, industry professionals look to the designer’s models to determine who will be among the season’s “hottest faces.” Tyler defends his video, explaining that he chose this format to reiterate the opinion that certain people are capable of wearing (and pulling off) Marc Jacobs clothes. Mackie euphemistically describes this superficial act by saying, “It’s the attitude they bring; a sense of ease. They wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear them.”

Valentino got in on the act, too:

Once again, we are presented with two good-looking models, acting angst-y and restless in an abandoned room while hip underground music plays. The Valentino video, although technically an ad campaign for the Spring/Summer 2010 collection, isn’t much more than a video of a photo session. The filmmakers — photography duo Mert and Marcus — try desperately to create a video with substance but end up with something that would better translate as a French Vogue editorial. Despite being an advertisement, it completely fails on all fronts. First of all, you can barely see the clothes — the entire video is shot in a dimly-lit room and on top of that, everything is in black and white.

The “characters” emit an air of drugged-out nonchalance. The girl stares blankly at the camera and does her best to act possessed. Do I really need to mention the suggestive crawling and writhing on the floor? And burning flowers, that’s cool and edgy, I guess. You know what’s really cool? A carbon footprint. Ipso facto, Valentino, as documented by this single video, prefers to destroy the environment. While other designers (see video, below) go the eco-friendly route, Valentino does the opposite.

And speaking of avant-garde, Ryan McGinley’s short film for the fashion line Pringle of Scotland wins the award for “ most pretentious and artsy.” The camera follows a bleach-blonde Tilda Swinton running through fields of wheat, then a forest, and finally through hills to a cave. The artsy-fartsy effect comes about a minute into the video when Swinton runs up to the camera, stops and whispers, “Insignificant images.” Um, OK.

She wears a long, black dress whose fabric cascades down the front — it’s no doubt a beautiful garment. And the image of a slender woman running barefoot through nature is indeed picturesque. We don’t get to clearly examine the dress but how McGinley filming certainly supports the belief that gowns look best when blown in the wind. In the next section, we see Swinton scoping out the cave in an entirely different outfit. Don’t ask me where she got it, or how she found that white candle.

While the fashion industry attempts to move beyond the realm of print media, they are still grappling with how to effectively convey a meaningful message through video. Yes, the clothes look good and the models do, too, but from a cinematic standpoint, these films really are self-indulgent. Even though Lagerfeld’s voyeuristic piece is appealing, he, as well as the rest of the filmmakers in this article, still has not achieved what Tom Ford achieved in A Single Man, not even to a small degree. The videos are practically print advertisements with another dimension added to them. They do what live-streamed catwalk shows should do—convey the designers’ vision. Why the need for all the embellishments—music, landscapes, irrelevant dialogue? If fashion films are just a case of “the bigger, the better” Lagerfeld and Co. might want to get serious. With that said, I leave you with Dior’s Lady Blue Shanghai, written and directed by David Lynch.

 

The 16-minute film stars Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (the fashion house’s celebrity ambassador) as a woman haunted by spirits that inhabit a purse left in her hotel room. Yes, the premise is weird but bear with me — Lynch isn’t exactly a conventional filmmaker. By and by we learn of a passionate love affair between Cotillard and a mysterious man, which leads us to believe he is the purse spirit. The plot is substantial because of its focus on a specific product — the “Lady Blue” purse. And the theme of Dior’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection is retained through use of vaudeville-esque music and the general setting of the film — from the hotel interiors to the romantic landscape of Shanghai. What was most appealing about the film was how a renowned filmmaker and a big fashion house were able to seamlessly come together to create something that falls between advertisement and film. The viewer gets the satisfaction of a decent plot, an escape into a night of romance as well as a glimpse of Dior’s beautifully made products. And the symbolism in the film is obvious — love this purse like it is a lover; cherish it forever.

Despite the Lynchian elements, Dior’s Lady Blue Shanghai is a successful attempt at merging fashion and film and most of all, it reads like a film. There are equal parts mystery and intrigue — and I can’t emphasize this enough — it was done by a director rather than a slew of photographers and fashion designers. As we approach an age where magazines are being repurposed to accommodate new technologies like the iPad, why not create a short film? After all, fashion design is about artistry and innovations. And who knows, maybe online magazines will include short films such as these in the future. But one thing’s for certain. If designers do decide to move forward and use film as a medium to show off their products, they’d better make sure the videos are little bit more than beautiful models being, well, just models. • 27 May 2010

Courtney McLean is a senior communications major at Drexel University.

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