GYMNAST is a fashion film about dedication, willpower, obstacles and finding balance. It is a portrait of the Greek fashion and sports lover Vasiliki Millousi who has competed several times in the Olympic games. I asked the director Glen MacKay about his ideas behind the film as well as the value of fashion in film, and he gives free some behind-the-scenes shots of the film production.
What is your background and how did you get involved with the fashion film genre?
I’ve been a sports TV producer for over twenty years. When I was starting in television, there was a Canadian TV programme about fashion called Oh La La. It covered major catwalks to suburban back streets and was dynamic and inspiring. I watched that show without fail and it gave me a passion for fashion reporting. My interest in fashion meant that I met magazine editors and reporters that invited me to work with them occasionally. As a result, I’ve attended many fashion shows in various cities, Paris, Milan, London, Sydney and Seoul amongst others. I always loved the marketing, visuals, music and craftsmanship in fashion. I was also very keen on the visual editing accompanying catwalk shows and then years later the fashion film genre.
But as I’ve worked primarily in Sports television I become pigeonholed as a ‘Sports Producer’. A fashion interest in sports productions is quite unique, and it helped my productions enormously since it enabled me to discover new editing techniques, the use of drone sounds in soundtracks, embracing different edit transitions, crushed black image and using DSLR cameras that already emerged in fashion a couple of years before Sport productions.
In 2010 I travelled to a country with a predominantly black skin population but the models on the catwalk were mostly white. I asked a photographer, “where are the dark skin models?” He replied: “the darker the skin, the uglier they’re considered.” This response shocked me into action. I thought the best way to showcase beauty in dark skin was through a fashion film. So I gathered some of my model friends, and made a film titled ‘See Me Now‘. As it was shown in Film Festivals, I was asked to work for the first time in Gymnastics. I totally fell in love with the Sport of Gymnastics and the Fashion film genre. I imagined the beauty of merging fashion and Gymnastics. I wished to combine my sport production background with my passion for fashion. And Voila, Gymnast Chic was born.
There is something fascinating and beautiful in the contrast between Vasiliki Millousi’s extremely strong athletic body on the one hand, and the feminine dresses of soft, shiny, and glimmering fabrics in which she is dressed on the other hand. This also reflects the nature of the gymnast: elegant but powerful at the same time. How did you decide which designs would work for your film? And how important was fashion for you when making this film?
This was a long and deliberate process headed by the film’s stylist Tierra Armstrong. I was clear that the film was to pay homage to the Gymnast. I wanted to acknowledge that a gymnast has strength, flexibility, courage, elegance, grace and style. To attain such traits requires precision, dedication, commitment and lots of practise. I also wanted to pay homage to fashion design for having similar traits and requirements.
As the gymnast was Greek, I wanted to find mostly Greek designers. Tierra and I looked through hundreds, maybe thousands of photos and videos to find the outfits suitable. Tierra had strong ideas for colours and fabrics. And we were always searching for outfits that were light weight, flexible and able to move with the gymnasts moves. I discussed ideas with Vasiliki and looked with her at many poses and movements to see what cuts and fabrics could and couldn’t work. In the end, we were one outfit short, as a designer wouldn’t return our emails or calls… Then Tierra decided to make an outfit herself that allowed movement in the colour and style suitable to our film.
Fashion was tremendously important for me when making this film. I wanted it to be a fashion film. I knew that in order for it to be embraced by the fashion crowd, the outfits needed to be credible. I want this film to be as embraced by the fashion audience as the gymnastic enthusiast. So getting the movements of the gymnast and the credibility of the outfits were of equal importance.
I love how Vasiliki’s skilfully balanced moves and jumps are sometimes captured almost photographically, showing only a few signs of movement. Other times the rhythm is much more up-tempo, alternated with moments of slow-motion. I think this creates a nice balance that is intrinsic to your subject. How do you see film as a medium capture an essence of fashion, and the people wearing it, that other mediums might not be able to? In other words: what, for you, does film give to fashion?
I’m captivated by beauty. A beautiful film, message, intention, camera shot, an angle of lighting, smile, movement, a beautifully cut outfit, colours, music, ambience, rhythm of sound. Fashion allows a film to embrace beauty and showcase it, even celebrate it. So merging fashion and film is above all, beautiful. It’s not so much for me what film gives to fashion but what fashion gives to film. I’m attracted to making films. My main passion is storytelling. And fashion allows to tell a beautiful story that can be up-lifting.
This is a self-funded film with no allegiance to any designer, so that was liberating. I had the freedom to tell the story as I wanted it… paying homage to a gymnasts beauty, strength and courage. I then wanted to highlight those virtues via fashion, the graceful designs embracing her athletic body. The gymnasts’ strength and courage symbolizes the force that is required to do anything in life, but her soft gowns make up for a beautiful nuance that is also intrinsic to life. Fashion here allowed me to visually capture this balance.