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Frock & Roll

From The Devil Wears Prada to this year’s brace of Coco Chanel biopics, the worlds of production and fashion, two seemingly incompatible tribes, have enjoyed a long and fruitful — if occasionally ill-fitting —relationship. 

Over the past couple of years, though, it’s been designers who’ve forged a new relationship with the silver screen, trading catwalks for cameras and turning to directors to showcase new collections in short film format.

The idea of previewing new clothing collections using filmed look books only really entered the mainstream over the last year or so, with the initial slow trickle of commercials and music video production companies involved turning to a deluge towards the end of 2008. One of this new wave of fashion films is the split-screen film Colonel Blimp’s Sarah Chatfield and Chris Sweeney created for Yves Saint Laurent’s creative director Stefano Pilati, to promote the label’s Autumn/Winter 2008 collection. Its success prompted a second series for YSL’s 2009 season, starring Simon Woods and Jack Huston.

“Film is emotive,” say Chatfield and Sweeney, “it can be full of drama, mood and atmosphere, and I think a catwalk show would always struggle to match the emotion you can provoke in a piece of film.” What’s more, by making a film, they argue: “you can create a world for the clothes that is linked directly to the designer’s inspiration for the collection.”

On a practical level, film also allows the audience to get up close and personal in a way the catwalk can’t. Directors and designers can emphasise cuts, cloths and stitching in sensuous close up to unexpected and artful effect.  Since fashion films are proliferating fast on the web, it’s a crowded and competitive area, pushing constant creative innovation. Among the most surprising was this year’s collaboration between Partizan’s Saam Farahmand and Alexander McQueen, on a film for the designer’s sportswear collection at Puma. Ghost sees two stylish martial artists fight it out in elegant slow motion.

It’s not just creative considerations that make film appealing to design houses, however. At a time of global recession, fashion from the high street to the couture faces the same economic imperatives of the bottom line as any other business.  Compared with the cost of executing a top-flight catwalk event, which can ring in at around the £300,000 mark, production companies can enlist the creative vision of up-and-coming young directors to turn out quality video content for a fraction of the price.

When talking about fashion films, it’s easy to get swept up in fantasies of unattainable glamour or the impenetrably abstract fashion-as-art scene. But mainstream clothes brands are catching up and beginning to see the benefit as well as the top labels. With the all-important 18-25 demographic buying fewer magazines, preferring instead to head online for their fashion news, the potential is huge.

Deborah Cartwright is a PR consultant who helps high-street brands such as Diesel and Topshop make the most of online media and the production industry’s filmmaking expertise. “A photoshoot in a print magazine might look nice but it doesn’t do very much, ” Cartwright says. “Advances in technology mean that people can pause video, zoom in. The mileage in these films doesn’t stop at people seeing the films —they can click on links and buy.”

But can these moving look books really replace the catwalks of Milan, New York and London? It’s tempting to think so —the benefits of film over live shows are manifold. Yet at the same time the exclusivity inherent in the catwalk show can offer status, lifestyle and pricing connotations beyond the means of film alone.  The catwalk audience may still be legion, but the movement towards fashion films suggests a new creative direction in the current market downturn.

This article is an edited version of a piece which will appear in Shots Magazine, Issue 115, available in June.www.shots.net

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