Why the fashion film is a new medium

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Beats by Dre / Nick Knight

Beats by Dre has teamed up with Nick Knight and fashion stylist and director of W Magazine Edward Enninful to create The Seven Deadly Sins of Edward Enninful“a celebration of both Enninful’s illustrious career and the interplay between fashion and music.” The seven sins are represented by eight iconic top models (gluttony required two): Karlie Kloss, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Lara Stone, Anna Ewers, Jourdan Dunn, Maria Carla Boscano and Karen Elson. Highly intriguing, yet occasionally at the point of uncomfortable to watch – maybe just because of that – Nick Knight pushes the boundaries of the fashion film medium even further into the digital and further away from both fashion photography and cinema, departing from the concept of the seven sins. So where is he going?

Fragmented images and undefined shapes, flickering, turning, twisting, overlapping. The images of Karlie shot by the objective eye of the camera are submerged in the digital world where they will be changed forever – and continuously keep on changing. There is a clear aesthetics of the casino and gambling machines that are defined by spectacle through uncertainty. Everything is show and fabricated, offering many new possibilities for the representation of fashion on screen, even questioning what “fashion” really is. That is, the actual fashion “object” in its physical form becomes less central as it is not always clear what is “real” and what is manipulated or “imagined” by virtual SFX- take as an example the headdress in the form of a casino wheel. The overall aesthetics and the idea of gambling and “play” associates well with that of the video game, coincidentally or not reaffirmed by the lyrics “I’m on a new level.” Also, the integration of digital “buy” icons that shape the online shopping environment anchors the digital fashion film as a commodity in itself in this commercial environment, in no way denying the role it plays here.

Two obvious themes here: religion and war. It is sometimes said that fashion takes itself (too) seriously, wherefore it might be compared to a religion. In this sense, fashion could be considered as part of building one’s identity, seeing it as a spiritual value (read more about that here). But instead of using fashion as a means of exploring ones self inside, the idea of always having to improve could also become an obsession that isn’t necessarily a journey of “inner search” or expression, but more of a superficial facade for the outside world that demands people to consume – the more the better. I couldn’t help but see a similarity here with one of Marcel Duchamps futuristic paintings of the figure on the stairs – a study of movement through time. Over the last two decades, this has of course been an important subject with regards to the increasingly fast-paced fashion industry through the internet and globalization. Here war comes back in, as we are all aware of the social and environmental issues this has brought with it.

The internet has changed the porn industry forever. It has become much more accessible wherefore it has taken up a significant role in everyday life (admit it or not). Cinema has always been intrigued by sex, but this is taken to a whole new level now everyone possesses cameras and a smartphone, introducing phenomena such as sexting. The digital screen is changing the way we think about, express and experience eroticism and sex, giving birth to a whole new video aesthetics. Since fashion is directly linked to the covering and revealing of (parts of) the body, sexuality plays an important role here, not the least because it sells. This can be either liberating or controversial, turning (the representation of) the act into a commodity.

Whilst on the one hand the fashion industry is guilty of pushing mannequins towards anorexic behavior, the Western society is on the other hand more and more confronted with obesity through the commodification of cheap fast food. The relationship of fashion with food is therefore a complex one, but both have one thing in common: temptation. This is addressed in Knight’s film by drawing parallels between abundant candy floss dresses and anything overly sugary. The models literally melt into ice cream and both transform into this strange digital texture that is constantly changing shapes and merging with its surroundings. Both the mannequin and the edible objects are now commercial objects on the same level in the fashionable world shaped by their dresses. Much like the The Sims, the models come to life in a parallel virtual world that is created by real-world (fashionable) ideals.

The digital world has brought with it a sense of anonymity since we’re able to choose how we portray ourselves online, which has created a whole different way of behaving and interacting with people. At the same time, it has given us access to much more visual material and (fake) representations of real people through filters, selfie cameras and photoshop. It has become easier to criticize others, but most of all ourselves, when all we see of them is are distorted surfaces. Interestingly, Knight embraces his own haters by showing some of their comments here, confronting them again with the fact that this is the world we now live in, and they are a fundamental part of it too.

I feel like this sin was the most difficult to portray, and it stays closer to Knight’s more general fashion film aesthetics. The “no signal” screen flashing up is interesting, suggesting we’re so interrelated with our (portable) digital devices we can no longer go without them. They both make us productive, allowing us to do new things with the help of advanced technology, while it can also be a huge distraction, a killer of boredom, a means of useless procrastination.

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One of the most prominent issues connected to our presence online are those concerned with privacy and safety. With google maps and location sharing it has become easier to find each other – friends and enemies. On another note, images of disasters have increasingly come to the forefront since everyone carries a portable camera, immediately pulling them out at any shocking event, making anyone witness them first hand. This, in a sense, brings happenings much closer because of the often blurred and fragmented images of the amateur filmer creating a specific “live” aesthetics. What links this with fashion is the fact that both are increasingly portrayed by the “ordinary masses” through the same devices, in a way connecting them more directly than ever. As a side note, we may even speculate whether this has contributed to the development of the normcore style as counterpart to this increasingly visible chaotic madness.

In sum, Knight defines the fashion film as a new medium through its fundamental embedment in the digital world with its own aesthetics and issues, creating whole new ways of representing, perceiving, consuming, and rethinking fashion.



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