Once upon a time, in an age that pre-dates Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest, magazines reigned supreme in the fashion world. In many ways, those were simpler times for advertisers. The cinch-waisted silhouette of a lady for Chanel or a line-up of the 90s supermodels (Christy, Nadja, Cindy, Stephanie and Claudia that is) in metallic mini-skirts and little else for Versace, gazing out from the pages of Vogue or Harper’s, was enough to illicit frenzied mass spending. Today, thanks largely to the demystifying powers of the internet, these appeals to base, aspirational instincts do not inspire the savvy fashion aficionado so much anymore. Enter the fashion film. If you’re yet to see one of these mini-masterpieces, you needn’t move beyond the comfort of your laptop to do so.
Quynh Mai, founder of New York-based digital content and marketing agency Moving Image & Content, has built an astoundingly successful business purely on the need for brands to create meaningful web-specific content. As Mai puts it, “Brands need to speak to their consumer where they live, which these days is online.”
With a client roll that reads like a who’s who of the fashion world and includes ex-editor of French Vogue Carine Roitfeld, purveyor of luxury lotions and potions Estee Lauder, Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford and fashion house Thierry Mugler, she’s not the only one willing to wave goodbye to still photography as the prevalent advertising medium in favour of something more dynamic – or at least entertain the idea. Where local enthusiasm for fashion films is yet to reach the same fever pitch as it has in the US, with film crews often left to play second fiddle to traditional photographers, the mood is slowly shifting. The influx of entries to this year’s inaugural LMFF Fashion Film Series and the high quality of the three winning submissions – Tomorrow’s Lovers by Christian Blanchard and Steven Protuder, ksubi kolors by Daniel Askill and Emma Mulholland 12/13 by Alex Goddard – is testament to this mini-revolution. If, as for everything else, we look to New York as the cultural centre of the world, the rise and rise of the medium on our own shores is inevitable.
While the new wave of fashion films are a fairly recent development, fashion and cinema have been in unofficial cahoots for decades – think Audrey Hepburn and the little black dress, Madonna and bras on the outside in Desperately Seeking Susan, and Carrie Bradshaw and those mysteriously funded Manolo Blahniks. The difference, according to Mai, is in what the new breed of mini-movies leave out.
“Fashion films need to have a narrative. However, in a blockbuster viewers want their questions answered at the end, where as fashion films must create a ‘curiosity gap’, which is that little bit of mystery that leaves the audience yearning for something more, just like all good advertising. That’s what makes people click through,” she explains.
While commercial return on investment is inevitably key for brands, one cannot watch the nostalgic romance played out between an old world beauty and her love letter-writing Romeo (albeit with the modern addition of a lip ring) in Tomorrow’s Lovers without agreeing that such a work takes advertising out of the depths of vulgarity and lifts it firmly into the realm of art. As consumers wise up to the games of marketers, an interesting tension is evolving between enjoying fashion and the desire to be an intelligent consumer (or more widely, person). By bridging the gap between fashion, art and advertising in a way that does not assume stupidity on the part of the audience, fashion films suggest that they needn’t be mutually exclusive. A future in which fashion brands use artistic mediums to challenge, entertain and stimulate their buyers, who may then willingly choose to show their support through purchase, is far less bleak than the appeals to insecurities popularised by advertising of the past.
Of course, it is not as simple as that. Any creative shift that is to occur must be accompanied by similar changes in business and marketing models. Amidst her creative inspiration, Mai reels off bamboozling terminology like “millenials” (a term that describes 18–34-year-old digital natives) and refers to fashion films as a “lean forward medium” which exist in a “feed world”, where information is increasingly viewed from the palm of the iPhone-yielding hand.
“What I see in [Australia now] is the way it was 10 years ago in New York, when I was constantly having to justify and market the validity of the medium. Beyond their role as creatives, filmmakers need to bridge the gap between brands and consumers by generating a conversation people want to be a part of. They need to be a marketer and a producer and to have a bigger vision – think Roman Polanski or Francis Ford Coppola, but runway”, says Mai.
If it all sounds a bit confusing, it might be best to approach the fashion film the way that most of Mai’s clients do. “I’m constantly being told, ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I think it’s the future’ by my brands,” she regales. If fashion films are in fact the future, tomorrow looks beautifully shot, intelligently structured and dressed to impress.