Fashion on Film

A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival founder Diane Pernet speaks with Merino about the art of the genre

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Launched in 2008 as a platform for the emergence of fashion films, the annual A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival has radically grown in tandem with the genre. Each year, the event pops up at a major artistic institution and brings together a respected jury to judge a series of prizes, which run alongside panel discussions, workshops and live performances. Ahead of the 2015 festival, to be held at the Centre Pompidou, Paris from 2 – 6 December, the festival’s founder, legendary fashion critic Diane Pernet, takes time out to speak with Merino about the art of fashion films.

Advanced Style Men, by Lina Piloplyte and Ari Seth Cohen for Nowness
Advanced Style Men, by Lina Piloplyte and Ari Seth Cohen for Nowness

This is the eighth year of ASVOFF – how greatly have fashion films evolved over that time?

It has been pretty extraordinary, actually. The calibre of talent behind fashion film is getting higher and higher. Now there are directors like Wes Anderson, Miranda July, Mike Figgis, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Greg Araki and so many more who make fashion films. In less than a decade, the genre has gone from the fringes of the fashion industry right to the very core of it.

Fashion film has become an essential part of any brand’s communication strategy and, in my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to capture a fashion narrative because it is an incredibly rich and memorable storytelling vehicle. But actually, fashion films have become so much more than what people thought they could ever be. The best fashion films are a true art form – which is why I think the Centre Pompidou got behind the ASVOFF in Paris and why other big museums and art institutions are some of its biggest supporters around the world.

ASVOFF is in its eighth year, you are right, but I actually started my first festival in Los Angeles with the precursor to ASVOFF called ‘You Wear it Well’ at Cinespace on Hollywood Boulevard. That was back in 2006 and, to be honest, it was a struggle to even find enough quality material to do an entire fashion film festival. All that feels like a lifetime ago now. I don’t think you could find a fashion designer today who doesn’t make fashion films.

Bags, by Senio Zapruder for Dsquared2
Bags, by Senio Zapruder for Dsquared2

What role has technology played in this evolution?

It feels exponential to me. To begin with, the technology behind filmmaking itself has become so much more affordable so fashion film is an accessible genre for everyone – designers, creatives, directors, photographers, young and old, anyone really. Of course a bigger budget usually helps but, with enough imagination, talent and drive, you can still achieve something powerful. You can even make a successful fashion film on a mobile phone so, in that sense, it is now a much more level playing field.

The other tech dimension is that broadcasting has completely opened up thanks to the internet so we can build critical mass audiences and even nurture niche sub-genre audiences all around the world for fashion film in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before. And let’s not forget that video-enabled social media is a perfect distribution channel for short film genres like fashion film and that they’re a natural fit for viral content. So it really was a perfect storm where technology converged with the emergence of the genre. And all this explains an important reason why fashion film needs an annual festival like ASVOFF to chronicle and critique it – because it is such a dynamic genre that is constantly evolving in tandem with these parallel technologies that are evolving fast in their own right.

Boom Town Slickers, by Marie Schuller for Carhartt

What, in your opinion, can a film offer that a still image can’t when it comes to communicating fashion?

It has a magical quality, don’t you think? It’s about intensity – the depth of emotion, the complexity of the narrative and the level of engagement. The moving image takes things to another dimension. Don’t get me wrong, photography will always be hugely important for fashion, both as a medium and as an art form. It has a certain immediacy and impact that is very special. But the moving image affects people in ways that photography can only dream of. When you add multi-sensory elements like sound, dialogue, animation and narrative to a message about fashion or style, it really opens up the creative possibilities. With fashion film, you can put a moving garment or a wardrobe into the wider context of a script with the nuances that actors can bring to a cinematic environment.

In the very near future, fashion film will be on the same footing as photography, I’m quite sure of that. It won’t be a 'complementary medium' any more. I also believe that, with fashion film, you tend to remember the brand for the whole immersive experience and atmosphere of the film, which can be a lot more powerful. A good fashion film lingers with you because it is a good film and good films are timeless. I don’t mind watching and then re-watching Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola – who by the way also makes fashion films – for the same reason. A great film usually lasts, no matter what the length or topic.

Crossed Crocodiles Growl, by Bart Hess for Walter Van Beirendonck

Why did you initially set up the festival?

The short answer is that fashion and film are my two personal passions. But the idea behind ASVOFF was always to reward excellence in a young genre that needed a platform and an environment to nurture the talent behind it along whatever path fashion film takes. Of course we’re helping to shape the path too but that’s not all. The festival format was important to me because, this way, it is a broader, fresher way to connect the fashion and film industries. There has always been a synergy between the two but they’ve never had a dialogue like this before. Fashion film is a very important alternative or add-on for the fashion show too. Besides, there is something about projecting it on the big screen in a big cinema that lets you appreciate fashion film for its true potential.

In the Paris flagship edition, we have conferences, installations and professional sessions in addition to all the screenings. We can now say that there is also a 'matchmaking' element – which was one of my other goals. ASVOFF puts directors together with brands to produce fashion films that we have a direct hand in creating. Our very first 'baby' was for Renault with the director Marcus Tomlinson. This edition we put together Camille Vivier with Hans Boodt and I plan on developing this aspect of the festival more and more in the future.

Life Drawing I, II and III, by Amelie Hegardt for Casely-Hayford

While many of the films are from traditional fashion capitals such as France and Italy, there are a number from countries such as Kenya, China and Turkey. Do you find that creativity in fashion is much more spread across the world today, or that the industry is more inclusive in that way?

Creativity knows no boundaries and that means borders too. From the way I report on fashion as a journalist to the viewfinder I use when I’m talent scouting, I’ve always had a strong interest in what happens globally rather than limiting my attention to the big four fashion capitals. My own fashion career has been based mostly around New York and now Paris but I always travel a lot, all around the world all year round – to places where creativity is booming or where the markets are emerging or places that inspire me.

Every time the festival travels to another destination around the globe – Brazil, Mexico, Russia, wherever – we inspire local talent to get out and make their own films and they inspire us with the diverse ways they approach fashion, film and fashion film. This year, I’m quite excited by the number of Asian films we have which is a part of the world that is having a big impact on cinema and we’re also finding gems from around Africa to as you mentioned. I especially love the film I found when I was on the jury for Sapporo Short Film Festival in Japan called Hungry for Love. I would like to go to even more film industry festivals around the world and scout talent for fashion film which I take on the ASVOFF roadshow around the world again.

Peep Shoe, by Lernert & Sander for 3.1 Phillip Lim

There are many films in the competition – what are some of the things the judging panel are looking for when selecting winners?

The films have to be moving and touch us. Personally, I want something that takes my breath away. For the grand prize, I try to direct the jury to use the sort of criteria that we’d use assessing any good film – narrative, great acting, great camerawork, editing, the list goes on and on. Of course we have to keep in mind that fashion should somehow be the protagonist in the film but that doesn’t mean it should overpower the film. To the contrary, the fashion element can be extremely subtle and still be powerful – that’s often the case actually. We do have different prizes so you look for what moves you about the sound design, the art direction, the acting, the styling and so on. If the film is done by an emerging talent, then we ask ourselves what the film says about their future as well as what it says in itself.

We also try to keep in mind the context and the purpose of each film – for example whether its main purpose is an ad – and how it fits into the wider cultural context or the state of the world. It is a matter of taking the whole package into consideration while leaving yourself open to feel something visceral that points you in the direction of a particular film instinctively.

The Feeling, by Matt Lambert for Marc by Marc Jacobs

What to the winning filmmakers do these prizes mean? Have you seen in previous years that the prize has contributed significantly to their careers?

Yes, sometimes they do – absolutely. When Alex Pager won the best art direction prize a few years ago it did make a difference, I believe. Last year’s grand prize winner is now working on his first feature film and Matt Lambert is now booked by Gucci and Marc Jacobs among other brands. We don’t give money prizes for the moment. The prize is bestowed upon winners as an honour because ASVOFF’s jury is quite esteemed and very influential each year. So the value attached to it comes from there and the growing prestige of ASVOFF’s own name.

There is also the fact that, at ASVOFF, they share the stage with some of the biggest names in fashion and film. I love what Lernert & Sander direct for various brands from Jean Paul Gaultier for Eastpak to Prada and Philip Lim. I thought that Roman Polanski for Prada was brilliant and I loved Park Chan-wook for Ermenegildo Zegna, with A Rose Reborn. Despair with Bryce Dallas Howard directed by Alex Prager is an all-time favourite, as is She Said, She Said by Stuart Blumberg, the Oscar nominated writer behind the 2010 film The Kids are All Right, and of course I love the work of last year’s Grand Prize winner, Justin Anderson for Jonathan Saunders, which was inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema. Prada and Miu Miu consistently chose the most unexpected directors that push the boundaries of fashion film.

The Independents, by Leslie Kee for Yohji Yamamoto

Lastly, for the public attending the screenings who perhaps haven’t before, just what can they expect?

We have an icon for the president of the ASVOFF jury this year, an icon of both fashion and film. Jean Paul Gaultier has been straddling the two words for so long and a leading creative voice in their crossover too. So his presence and insight will be brilliant – not to mention his personal charisma. We also have a master class on music for films with Nicolas Godin, one half of AIR – you probably know them from Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola, but in addition to his work with AIR he has scored many films.

From New York we have Marc Happel, the costume director from the New York City Ballet who is giving a master class on fashion and dance. Iris van Herpen, who will also be at the festival, did costumes for one of the ballets. Of course we have my dear friend and the ambassador for Woolmark, Colin McDowell, taking us through the history of the iconic label. Did you know that before Colin became a writer of so many phenomenal fashion books and the teacher of the likes John Galliano, he was an actor? So he will be as brilliant as he is fun and informative. We also have performances by Chicks on Speed and my favourite pianist on the planet Pete Drungle, who just finished a world tour with Sean Lennon. And Loane will serenade the closing concert. There is a lot going on from all corners of the planet. Oh and here is something you might enjoy – there are two winners of the student film prize and one of them is from Australia, although she doesn’t know it yet.

To view the full program and book tickets, visit

As part of ASVOFF, esteemed fashion critic Colin McDowell will present Woolmark: Saga of an Iconic Label, exploring the history of one of the luxury industry’s most recognised symbols through a special screening (2pm, Saturday 5th December 2015). 

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