When first encountering the “fashion film,” many people have this idea that it’s all about glam, that it’s about showing these fashionably dressed and made-up personas in an idealized world of transcending beauty where everything just seems so overly perfect it’s surreal. To some extend, this is what fashion film does, Chanel being a perfect example. But there’s a whole different face of the fashion film…
A much more “rawer” version, like Without A Word by Youness Benali, who chose to shoot his film in a suburban landscape graced with grey concrete. In an interview with directorsnotes he says:
“There is something visually powerful and striking with tower blocks – I think I’m just really impressed by that juxtaposition of something looking so big and powerful but that still has such a negative connotation to it. For me that was the perfect backdrop for the film.”
Interestingly, Benali seems to be surprised that powerful architecture can be something negative. I think we need to remind ourselves that the buildings that shape our landscape always necessarily put the people living inside that environment in specific positions, structured by power. Think about, for example, Michel Foucault’s description of the Panopticon prison: a round construction with in the middle an observation tower. Prisoners, however, can’t see when they are being observed, disciplining them to behave all the time.
Socio-economic status shapes architectural landscapes, which in turn reconstructs and maintains these socio-economic positions, often dividing space into different scales of rich and poor. Fashion film is often thought to focus mainly on those spaces occupied by the people with the most money, making their environment aesthetically attractive. The fashion industry (like any industry) is, after all, fueled by money.
But besides an industry, fashion (film) is also an art. One that isn’t just dictated by the higher “classes” that invent trends for the others to follow (read more about this in my former blogpost Want to rebel the system? Become more human being). I feel like what Benali was inspired by is the fact that lower socio-economical spaces are also breeding grounds for creativity – not only in fashion, but in many arts, this fashion film giving special attention to (street)dance.
The classical music especially composed for this film symbolizes the increasing blurriness between “low” and “high” culture. Street cultures and arts have become a great influence for “high” fashion and art practices in general, gradually making fashion more bottom-up and less dictated by a small group of (rich) people. The fashion film contributes to a continuing of the democratization of fashion and arts with fashion filmmakers coming from all kinds of backgrounds, which is the result of increasingly affordable access to technological equipment and exposition possibilities online.
Also, it’s clear how Benali let himself be inspired by Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, following a group of young adolescents in a poor banlieue in France, which was received with a standing ovation at Cannes in 1995. With such great masterpieces being an influence for fashion film, the genre becomes even more promising, since its perspective goes beyond the aesthetic to broader socio-economical issues in the society we live in, whilst appearing to a broad audience through the internet instead of a more select group of cinephiles.