The fabric of fashion film

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Issey Miyake
“If fashion can be said to be cinematic in its social and visual effects, then cinema is also very clearly a primary product of the aesthetic and technological processes of fashioning.” – Christopher Breward

When you think about it, fashion and film have quite a lot of things in common. For example, the montage and cutting techniques that build up a film is similar to cutting and stitching clothes. Even their materiality is related, as both the film and the fashion industry were boosted by the expansion of the plastic industry: celluloid was first used in (wearable) synthetic materials (see Esther Leslie). But there is more.

Giuliana Bruno has argued that the creative process of fashion and film are parallel to each other too, as she calls film “a form of tailoring” in which strands of celluloid are (virtually) woven into patterns to design a customized garment. She adds to this:

“Film language is “fashioned” in many ways. Not only the pattern of editing but also the movement of film can be said to issue from the undulation of cloth.”

The overarching characteristic that fashion and film have in common, is that both have always had a fascination for movement. As Nick Knight, a pioneer amongst the ‘fashion cinematographers’, said in an interview: a designer doesn’t make clothes to be seen statically from one angle, but he or she designs clothes to be worn, and thus to be seen in movement. Seeing the piece of clothing, that is in and on itself immobile and static, in movement, is seeing how the designer intended it to be perceived by the public. Similarly, cinema is actually nothing more than the illusion of movement. All individual frames that make up a film reel are in itself immobile and static too. Only when these images are projected together with a certain speed does the message of the filmmaker come alive, and can the spectator perceive the film in the way the cinematographer intended it to be.

Issey Miyake is a brand that very clearly focusses on and emphasizes the potential of its clothing through movement. Its designs are rich with folds and hypnotizing patterns, that in motion refer to the practice of the Mandala. More than fashion photography, the fashion film is able to present the motion that is inherent to the design, and translate it to an object that is diffusible across the virtual world, that is in turn becoming more and more important for the presentation, promotion and buying of clothes.

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The same designs represented through photography.

But fashion film can do more than simply present the garment in movement the way the designer envisioned it. Fashion film thrives because of the digital world, and is intertwined with other new media technologies and techniques, which makes the fashion film transcend the objectively observing camera-eye of ‘traditional’ cinema. It doesn’t only represent that what is happening in real life, as the camera lens can only register those things that happen in front of it. Instead, the digital fashion film is able to modify and invent images that previously weren’t possible. It is therefore clear that film in its “traditional” sense is very different from digital film, and thus from fashion film too.

Breward, Christopher. “Fashion and Film.” Fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 131–41.

Bruno, Giuliana. “Surface, Fabric, Weave: the Fashioned World of Wong Kar-Wai.” Fashion in Film. Ed. Adrienne Munich. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. 82–105.

Leslie, Esther. “Dreams for Sale.” Birds of Paradise: Costume as Cinematic Spectacle. London: Koenig Books, 2013. 29-40.

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