The need for fashion videos became apparent as the parades themselves evolved and their mise en scène went from excess to excess. Nonetheless it has remained a tool for publicising and selling the models making up a new collection, with a secondary function as a souvenir/reminder of a fleeting spectacle. In the same way as fashion parade photography it provides (moving) documentary images for journalists and buyers and, in the haute couture context, for possible clients.
Few designers and couturiers have been interested in giving artistic polish to the video which documents the constantly shrinking timeframe of the fashion parade. For many of them it is no more than a record, in motion, of the brief and sometimes highly emotional seasonal show. The upshot is that in many cases the format stays the same: a frontal, linear rendering of an unvarying scenario in which mannequin follows mannequin.
But if the fashion video is not the equivalent of the music version, it remains a tool designers cannot do without. Being less static than photography, it allows observation of the garment’s relationship with the body, and retains the music that plays just as important a part in the overall atmosphere. The parade only happens once, but the journalist or buyer can access the video at will. The genre tends to put the emphasis on direct observation of the garment, to the detriment of artistic considerations; only in a very few, isolated cases does the image itself take on a creative aspect.
Prior to the 60s the use of fiction in the presentation of a collection was a rarity. A handful of fashion parade reports shown on the TV news point up the taste of the time, but few of them use the garment in motion to trigger a fresh, filmic scenario.
Marcel L’Herbier’s La mode rêvée (Fashion Dreaming, 1938) is a brief, atypical survey of the latest fashions. The director came up with a story set in the Louvre, with the mannequins emerging one by one from pictures by the old masters. La mode rêvée is a dream that cuts free of the banality of the standard presentation by combining the talents of the couturiers and the director in a commissioned film which may have been the first to inject fiction into a nascent genre.
In the 40s and 50s TV news programmes occasionally decided to liven up their presentation of haute couture collections with short, fanciful stories whose naive spontaneity now draws indulgent smiles.
It was not until the 60s that a genre focusing specifically on fashion and the image began to gather momentum. Rightly famous and with no rivals in its own time, France’s Dim Dam Dom (1965–1971) offered trial runs to such upcoming directors as Jean-Christophe Averti and Peter Knapp, and to Just Jaeckin, better known for his film erotica.
Presented by Daisy de Galard, these programmes also provided early opportunities for big photographic names like David Bailey, Jeanloup Sieff and Jean-François Jonvelle to work on the actual language of the TV camera. Together they shaped a new vocabulary for a moving image that was no longer limited to mannequins on catwalks. Clothing was going democratic and this was reflected in the use of fiction and journalism to communicate the fashion message of the moment.
Attempts to embellish fashion videos in the 80s were few and far between, but worth citing all the same: William Klein’s Mode in France (1985) is that rare bird, a fashion-driven movie. Jean-Luc Godard turned out a film/essay for designers Marithé & François Girbaud (On s’est tous défilé, 1988) and Jean Paul Gaultier was behind numerous fashion clips commissioned by Télélibération, concentrates as it were of the spirit of ready-to-wear collections.
It was in the 90s that designers began from time to time to make creative use of what they saw as a new medium. Martin Margiela’s videos, for example, avoid identification with the fashion show context in which the collection was originally presented; this Belgian brought an urbanely poetic eye to bear on clothes-driven strolls in which the catwalk was no longer the sole presentation/atmosphere context. Shot in the street or imitating the training film model, they accompanied the latest collection without reproducing it literally. Designers like Jean Colonna, Corinne Cobson, Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs sometimes came up with a new video vision and interpretation that could replace the actual parade; while others like Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga, Viktor & Rolf and Hussein Chalayan did their best to develop a set video vocabulary that chimed with the image of the fashion house in question. Thus director Séraphin Ducellier developed a matter-of-fact tone for Balenciaga’s videos that complemented the designer’s approach to the garments. For other big names, Yves Saint Laurent among them, Ducellier set out to match his fashion films to the medium in which they would be used and so regenerated the long-unchanged format of the classical parade.
The first retrospective of its kind, this History of the fashion video is the result of a partnership involving France’s National Television Archive (Ina) and the Rencontres d’Arles. Sheer dizzying quantity means that there is no intention here to include all existing fashion parade videos; instead the focus is on directors and designers who have added an extra artistic something to ensure creativity in terms both of subject and medium. Thus does the exhibition put together the singular and so far untold story of fashion in moving pictures.
Olivier Saillard, exhibition curator.
The exhibition has been mounted with the backing and archives of the Ina.
In 1942 cinema newsreels began using fashion stories to counterpoint war reports. Actualités Françaises (French News) continued to cover fashion until the late 1960s, when they yielded to competition from television.
Various TV magazine programmes took over, the most memorable being Dim Dam Dom. A testing ground for young filmmakers, it used a mix of directing techniques in a cheekily humorous coverage of fashion and current trends.