Despite the growth in online video-driven journalism through forms of reporting, blogging, and editorial, the use of moving image by the fashion industry is still generally considered as a predominantly promotional tool for designers, brands, celebrities, and models. Karlie Kloss, to take a popular example, uses her Instagram feed to post staged videos and photos of her life to her 7.4 million followers. Given the widespread commercial use of the application by creatives from across the spectrum of the fashion industry, it could be argued that the incorporation of video to Instagram in 2013 (with the later addition of widescreen in 2015 and the creation of Instagram Stories in 2016, which allows users to post ephemeral moving image) made the notion of the fashion film, as a discrete textual category, seem increasingly obsolete. By the mid-2010s, video had become the dominant vernacular of social media, an integral part of online activity and interaction, and of the larger cultural conversation. As well as thinking of fashion film historically as a textual object of inquiry—by considering fashion films as individual film texts—it is also important to consider how content, the currency of social media platforms, defined as a form of entertainment devised through the visual storytelling of the brand, is shaping and changing fashion communications. Fashion houses now operate as brands that have effectively become content producers—indeed, brands are increasingly operating as media themselves—under pressure to maintain a constant flow of imagery across digital platforms by slicing it up and rolling it out frame by frame or scene by scene in an attempt to sustain campaigns for the duration of the season. It could therefore be argued that the more generic category of the fashion film no longer caters for the range of moving-image practices or experiences of fashion in today’s reconfigured online social media culture. Instances of integrated digital moving image that transcend a straightforward understanding of the fashion film include Burberry’s experimental use of the mobile messaging app Snapchat for content provision, and designer J. W. Anderson’s innovative use of gay geo-social networking (or “hook-up”) app Grindr to live-stream a menswear show
in 2016. One might, then, legitimately question whether the use of one generic umbrella term can possibly cover the range of commercial practices through these types of platform-specific initiatives that blend design with media. These practices also indicate the potential relocation of contemporary fashion moving image within a digital culture of data processing and its potential disconnection from forms of film narrative.
Marie Schuller’s film showcasing the SS 2015 Versus Versace collaboration with Antony Vaccarello, produced by Dazed Digital. Credits: Marie Schuller (director) and Dazed Digital (producer)
There are a number of recent cases of high-profile fashion houses that have made use of online motion content to rejuvenate their brand image. In the age of advanced luxury, in which the fashion designer now operates as a creative director, who oversees design strategy and visual communications, moving image plays an increasingly important role in the construction of seasonal campaigns. Films are now routinely supported by a range of visual paratexts: for example, posting teaser shots—still and moving—of individual looks from a collection, which are to be shared or reposted on the brand’s Facebook or Instagram feeds, aims to build up momentum until the release of the campaign film, which is now conceived as a social media event complete with a traditional cinematic release date. It is also a way of padding out and prolonging a campaign across the season by drip-feeding imagery as spreadable content to audiences.
Some fashion houses have used motion content as a strategic means of rebranding both creative design and visual communications. Take the Italian global luxury giant Gucci. The promotion of an unknown accessories designer Alessandro Michele to the position of creative director in 2014 signaled a radical departure from the label’s signature manipulation of overt sexuality, which had been so lucratively exploited under the tenure of Tom Ford from 1992 to 2004, but which had become stuffy and bourgeois under his successor, Frida Giannini, in the decade since. Ford drew his success from a commercial update of American-style seventies glamour—the Halston look rebooted for the nineties—conceived to revive the fading aura of the prestigious Florentine leather goods company known principally for its status-symbol loafer shoe. Michele replaced Giannini’s polished iteration of Ford’s template with a new design proposal that reengaged with the brand’s European heritage through a form of assemblage that ranged from Italian Renaissance high culture to English post-punk pop culture. Michele proposed a patchwork of tonal influences that revived an alternative vision of the 1970s to Ford’s postmodern take on Studio 54 glamour, one that articulated gender insubordination and sexual ambiguity through a less assertive and more romantic lens. Where Ford’s era promoted frontal views of the body as merchandise, encapsulated by photographer Mario Testino’s famous shot of the brand logo on the model’s pubis, Michele’s promotes indeterminacy as both the form and content of his designs: he opted, for example, to blend women’s and men’s wear for the Fall/Winter 2017 show following similar attempts to surpass binary gender at Burberry, Tom Ford, and Vetements. He has also discussed his work as a form of costume design and expressed a desire both to direct and design for the cinema emphasizing the importance of narrative to his design process.1
This interest in storytelling has been adapted to the task of reinvigorating the brand’s visual codes through the promotion of fashion, accessories, fragrance, and eyewear. The commercial results of the revitalized brand were remarkable: by 2017, Gucci was posting record revenue growth of over 50 percent with strong global performance across the spectrum of products.2
The task of translating Michele’s disjunctive style and radical juxtapositions into campaign imagery has fallen largely to photographer Glen Luchford and art director Chris Simmons, who have collaborated on the series of campaigns since 2015 that assemble a collage of dissonant elements such as animal wildlife, adolescent insouciance, and urban transience:
Over the seasons, these have become rich and complex tableaux, layering disparate elements and ensemble casts together in the same way that Michele
does with his collections and catwalk shows. Where nature and the animal kingdom run wild over the clothes and accessories—printed bumblebees, snakes, tigers, flamingos, birds, petals, vines and fanciful flora—so they are then placed in resolutely urban settings such as the Los Angeles subway or on a Berlin rooftop, creating a jarring tension that underscores the experimental mood of the Gucci studio.3
Photographer, model, and ambassador for the brand, Petra Collins, has also contributed to the campaign imagery by shooting a dreamscape for Gucci eyewear and appearing in the film for the launch of Michele’s first fragrance, Bloom, in 2017 with other on-trend faces, American actress Dakota Johnson and transgender actress and model Hari Nef. Gucci’s campaigns to date reflect a clear strategy to produce digital content continuously, and they engage with a specifically European artistic heritage and the generic forms of narrative cinema. Locations have included Florentine villas, Berlin shopping malls, and English country estates, all of which conjure up a surreal pop sensibility: the Spring/Summer 2017 film was shot in Rome to the soundtrack of Italian pop culture, fast food, savage animals, and iconic locations. Set to the sound of English pop (The Undertones’ 1980 track “My Perfect Cousin”), the 2017 Cruise collection was shot as pastiche home-video footage at Chatsworth House in England and mixed aristocratic class tradition with post-punk rebelliousness, channeled through the shrewd casting of British actress Vanessa Redgrave, who combines the classical and the revolutionary and who gamely modeled looks from the collection surrounded by the androgynous teens. This was followed by the pre-Fall 2017 film, Soul Scene, shot at the Mildmay Club in London, which dynamically reproduced the underground black Northern Soul movement of the 1960s and 1970s through a dance video setting the designs in motion. The call for all-black casting for the campaign on social media was accompanied by behind-the-scenes photos and teasers before the online release of the film in multiple formats: the regular “cinematic” edit and a longer director’s cut, accompanied by a 360-degree 3D version to be viewed via the brand’s virtual reality app, which added an immersive documentary feel to the viewing experience.
The intertextual references to cinema are similarly eclectic. The official campaign films have been supplemented by director Gia Coppola’s four-part series of fashion films for the online Gucci Stories, The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice
, which starred Lou Doillon and was styled by Arianne Phillips. The film imagined the pre-Fall 2016 collection through a narrative transposition of the Greek myth to modern-day New York. Luchford and Simmons have
tended to translate the collage sensibility of Michele’s designs through a more economical style of visual storytelling. The commercial for the 2016 Cruise collection, entitled A Fashion Story
, filmed in New York, collapsed a basic boy-meets-girl scenario into a presentation film as the model walks directly from the sidewalk to the catwalk. The Fall/Winter 2016 campaign lensed in Tokyo offset the floral psychedelic imagery of the city against a parallel commentary on its formal construction as film by grafting fantasy subtitles onto the images that describe the different sounds envisaged to accompany them like scenes from an imagined feature film. The Autumn/Winter 2017 developed this cinematic concept into a pastiche b-movie trailer for a futuristic sci-fi feature. The most ambitious engagement with cinema to date were the campaign visuals for the Spring/Summer 2016 collection shot in Berlin. The commercial replayed a scene from the German film Christiane F.
(Edel, 1981), a bleak tale of drug addiction among errant teenagers in Berlin of the late 1970s, which included a prolonged sequence filmed at David Bowie’s Station to Station
concert performance as the Thin White Duke persona. The homage to Bowie’s Berlin suggests a similar path to Hedi Slimane’s earlier lucrative scavenging of youth subcultural histories at Dior Homme, but in a less preprocessed manner. The Gucci film documents a group of carefree kids as they roam, falling and stumbling, through the corridors of a retro shopping mall before escaping to a rooftop, which allows for ensemble shots of the collection against the panoramic backdrop of the city. The original scene is a montage sequence set to the music of Bowie’s hit single “Heroes” from 1977, and the Gucci ad conveys the dynamic sense of movement of the original, but it is purposefully less fluid. Instead of the deep, geometric tracking shots through the long corridors that accompany the kids as they ransack the mall and escape from the police, the ad uses commercial continuity through a quicker-paced montage of shots to splice in the close-ups on product, thereby subtly switching between cinematic and promotional styles.
Since 2015, Gucci’s advertising campaigns have shown innovative ways of engaging with moving-image content to rejuvenate a brand’s visual codes by tailoring imagery more specifically to online social media consumption. Other brands have pursued different strategies, however, in an attempt to blend the online fashion film with more traditional media advertising.
In an era of intensified promotion, in which consumers are saturated by conventional forms of push marketing, there has been a drive to develop editorial content devised by fashion brands to give the illusion of an audiovisual experience, akin to the consumption of cinema or the visual arts, which masks the more obviously promotional logic of commerce and sales. In short, unlike the frequent interruptions of push ads that pester online consumers, vehicles of “advertainment” like branded fashion film have been developed according to the logic of convergence to suit the more actively participative ethos of social media consumption. Alongside strategies of covert communications—through a type of content in which the brand is on mute—comes the parallel resurgence of a residual form of spectacular hyper-publicity that amplifies the brand by collapsing online content into media advertising. For example, the lavish three-minute film, L’Odyssée
(2012), a PR event directed by photographer and filmmaker Bruno Aveillan for the luxury jeweler Cartier, is emblematic of this trend, as is the director’s grandiloquent film for the classic French perfumer Guerlain, La Légende de Shalimar
(2013), starring Russian top-model Natalia Vodianova as Mumtaz, the consort of a seventeenth-century Indian mogul emperor. In her analysis of this type of hyper-advertising spectacle, Karine Berthelot-Guiet explains how the large-scale Cartier film, which was produced at a cost of some four million euros by two agencies belonging to the Publicis
glorifies the brand through its animated staging of myth and magic in the journey made by the brand’s emblematic panther across the glob...