One of the earliest fashion film directors must be Nick Knight, whose approach to the genre has been greatly influenced by his background as a photographer. The reason he moved to fashion film, Knight explains in a video, is that the moving image is able to show a designer’s idea much more completely, since garments are always designed to be worn, and thus to be seen in movement. His fashion films have therefore evolved around the physical fashion object, allowing it to visually manifest itself in the broadest way possible, showing its different sides through beautiful compositions and mesmerizing aesthetics. Hence, Knight argues in the same video, ‘(high) fashion is already rich with narrative as it carries a designer’s vision,’ wherefore it doesn’t need any additional narration like in narrative cinema. Rather, fashion film should allow a garment to fully express itself, and align with its designer’s philosophy. In a way, fashion film thus opens up the limitations of fashion photography by being able to show a garment in movement.
However, his latest fashion film The Worst Crime Is Faking It (2016) proposes a different approach by moving from direction to fly-on-the-wall observation and the development of cinematic narrative. The film documents the (fictional) relationship of two young girls, models Demi Scott and Harmony Boucher, who are left to improvise in front of a crewless camera. Through this approach, the work seeks “…to authentically document loss, affection, love and pain.” Instead of focussing on a garment in motion and showing its different properties, The Worst Crime Is Faking It rather searches to show how garments move its wearers, so that their intrinsic narrative(s) are manifested through the emotional world of the person wearing them. In other words, fashion is emerged in an emotional universe on the personal level of the models that goes beyond solely aesthetics.
Though the first thing that strikes is the film’s blurry and webcam-like aesthetics. The image is often times distorted by extreme zoom-ins, and occasionally time is delayed through what seems a bad Internet connection, recreating an amateur home-made-film feeling. Together with the setting of a teenage bedroom, the viewer enters in the private environment of the two girls. The spectator takes on a voyeuristic viewer’s position by witnessing the personal interaction between two lovers. This intimate setting creates a cinematic space in which fashion is presented as a personal experience, rather than just a performance for outside of the house.
Within the girls’ relation, clothing plays a pivotal role as it forms both a physical barrier between their bodies, as well as an emotional connection when various garments are exchanged. Dress here takes on a symbolical role as Demi continuously puts on Harmony’s clothes in order to get closer to her. These vary from a fuzzy bear vest to a dressed shirt and an extravagant furry neon jacket. Instead of finding socially appropriate contexts for these clothes to be worn in, they are put all together in the same environment of the bedroom, placing an emphasis on personal meaning and how the garments feel. Along this line, the film lays bare the intimacy of clothing in which the fabric embodies the touch of the wearer’s skin. Exchanging garments therefore creates an indirect, symbolic connection between two individuals, in which the physical sensation of the fabric touching the wearer’s skin becomes a mental and emotional experience of intimacy with the other person. Even when Harmony eventually leaves Demi heart-broken, she is still ghostly present through her clothes, which have now become an emotional memory of their relationship.
SHOWstudio wants to engage with its audience by showing the craft behind the art and its production mechanisms. This is also true for The Worst Crime Is Faking It, in which at a certain point the frame is paused and the spectator sees the shadow of a hand in front of the screen interacting with the image, and later taking a photograph of the frame (see stills). During the film, one can hear a camera clicking, the images being available on the same page. The film incorporates its own behind-the-scenes imagery and aesthetics, creating an awareness that even though it relies on observation, it is still staged. This approach stimulates a media-savvy, Brechtian mentality towards images, art, fashion, and how they are made. At the same time, it highlights the emotional dimension of clothes as intimate objects infused with (inter)personal memories. Both aspects in fact support a more sustainable vision of fashion by portraying fashion as meaningful intermediaries, and by relying on an aesthetics that invites the viewer in between the lines to question the things (s)he sees and consumes.