The Future of Fashion Film: A Conversation with Diane Pernet
by Jhonnatan Hernandez-Bonola
It is no surprise that the lady in black, Diane Pernet, has been one of the most recognized contemporary icons in the fashion industry worldwide. During the late 70s and into the 80s, the label Diane created under her name proved to be a successful venture for her in New York. After 13 years of working as a designer, she moved to Paris to pursue a career in fashion journalism.
Her professionalism and eye for raw talent has landed her a great successful career in journalism, as well, made evident in her successful blog: A Shaded View on Fashion, which has become a leading voice in the fashion community worldwide. Her passion and training in documentary filmmaking has allowed her to fuse the best of her creative talents and create one of the most innovative and most respected fashion film festivals in Europe and Asia: ASVOFF - A Shaded View on Fashion Film.
For the 6th edition of the ASVOFF in Paris this past October, Diane Pernet presented at the Centre Pompidou an emotionally-charged group of winning filmmakers paying tribute to their many talented collaborators and to ASVOFF for encouraging and even inflaming them to continue to push their creative limits. An incredibly diverse program provided nonstop stimulation for the audience with debuts, exclusives and vintage film screenings, celebrity appearances from the likes of actor Julien Landais, who also served as master of ceremonies, and inspiring presentations by industry leaders such as Christophe Lemaire, Michele Lamy, Philip Fimmano and Polimoda's Linda Loppa. Among the participants were filmmakers including Larry Clark, Serge Lutens, Mike Figgis, Bettina Rheims, Wing Shya, David Sims, Ellen von Unwerth, Bruce Weber and fashion brands such as Dior Homme, Haider Ackermann, Hussein Chalayan, Pierre Cardin, Armani, Opening Ceremony, Chanel, Gieves & Hawkes, Terry de Havilland and Viktor & Rolf who were the visionaries and fashion brand protagonists behind some of the most successful collection of films.
Given the attention film is generally taking over the creative industry, we got the opportunity to previously discuss with Diane about some transitions the fashion industry is taking towards film. Here was our conversation:
FM: First of all, thank you, Diane, for giving us the chance to talk more about film in the fashion industry. Now, reaction wise, what do you feel is the most important difference between advertising on film as opposed to photography?
DP: Two obvious elements: sound and movement. The moving image takes on a whole new dimension that photography can only allude to. It is another medium where brands can promote themselves.
FM: Now, one could conclude that there is a greater cost involved in creating a film for a designer to promote his or her work, as opposed to a photo spread. For example, in a season’s collection, you would have to gather a director, producer, camera crew, and models, who have some acting ability, for one advertisement. However, in my opinion, there are more pros than cons in video or film since buyers and editors can get a better understanding of the behavior of the fabric in a collection. With still photography, however, there is retouching and other types of image tricks to make the clothing look better. This begs the question: financially, is it more cost effective for a designer to create a film for promotional/advertising purposes or work with a photographer for their campaign? If so, why?
DP: They are two totally different ways of conveying an idea. Yes, of course, film involves a director, a sound designer, an editor in addition to all of the usual suspects from a photo shoot: stylist, hair and make-up artists, assistants, etc. The cost depends on the type of equipment, if it is a Red or Scarlet camera you get both the still and the film in one go and in fact that saves a lot of money. Of course, there are huge expenses in editing Red or Scarlet footage and the camera is also quite expensive. As for retouching, there is a company called D-touch that deals in digital retouching for films. It is still in a rather experimental stage. A buyer gets a better understanding of the behavior of the fabric, how is that possible when on a moving image you really see how it all works. Maybe film is like ‘couture’ it is more about creating an image and a dream. For instance, take the YSL film using Michael Pitt -that was in ASVOFF 2. It is for a perfume, you never see the product, you hear a voice off talking about fabric in the most sensual way and you see this beautiful man just silent making subtle expressions. It is transporting and leaves a strong image in your mind. It is a very successful viral and you never even saw the product. Film is about creating an atmosphere and an identity using all of the elements available whereas photography is limited to an image. Please understand I do not see film putting an end to photographic shoots, they both have their place and one does not nullify the other. It is like the internet and print, one does eliminate the other.
FM: Do you think that it would take time for people to adapt if designers started to take this direction for the promotional aspects of their company?
DP: We all know that regardless of how fast fashion moves, the fact is that the structure of the fashion weeks has not changed in decades and the likelihood of the majority of designers opting for films instead is not likely to happen in the very near future. What is happening is that all designers from Prada, YSL, Rodarte, Chanel, Gareth Pugh, Missoni, to virtually unknown designers are expanding their universes through the medium of film. The reach is the planet whereas with a fashion show you only have a capacity for maybe 200 – 500 that is why there is so much live streaming of the events now. A film lasts, a show is over in 7 minutes.
FM: Given the current economic crisis and all the costs involved with producing a fashion show from the ground up, many designers have decided to cut down on how elaborate the production of their shows are, some going to the extent of merely doing photographs and slide shows of their collection in lieu of a runway showing. Do you think that if shows were broadcast online, it would significantly cut expenses for designers?
DP: I think that opting for a fashion film as opposed to a fashion show would greatly reduce the budget and at the same time increase the brand's visibility.
FM: As far as fashion shows online go, SHOWstudio has been one of the largest supporters of streaming fashion shows live from their site. Do you believe that within a few seasons, other designers will start to go in that direction? In other words, do you believe this is the future of fashion shows?
DP: I’m not sure that this is the future of fashion shows as I see it in a different way but what I do see is that the world of fashion has been democratized through the internet and now live streaming. I think that is a wonderful advance. I am a huge fan of SHOWstudio. I think they have always been at the forefront of innovation and experimentation with photography and now the moving image. What I think is that in the future fashion shows will be more like entertainment, something like Tokyo girls where the shows are open to the public at the time when the clothes actually are in the shops and that people can watch the show and order directly from their mobile phones. Even though I think , with few exceptions, fashion shows are not that necessary and films and installations feel more real at this point, I know that I am in the minority with that thought and that a lot of people cannot imagine fashion without catwalk shows so designers are not going to be that easily convinced that if they do not do a catwalk show they are still going to be able to get as much press as if they did.
FM: on an interview you had with Not Just A Label, I quote: “Like Josephine Baker, I have two loves: fashion and film.” Most of us know you were a designer in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, that you were quite successful in New York and that you have a degree in film. However, you decided to pursue a career where you could fuse your two biggest passions together instead of conforming to one. Do you feel you have evolved from where you started in fashion to where you find yourself today?
DP: It feels right and that I am completing a circle. I do love both fashion and film and with my fashion film festival, I am able to provide a platform for the two mediums I love. This season I’ve noticed more actual films than moving photo shoots which I think is exactly how it should be. It’s an interesting time now where all photo agents are telling their photographers that now they have to learn film. The thing is it is quite different directing a film and directing a photo shoot and what tended to happen initially was photographers were shooting films in the same way that they did photo shoots except there was movement and that was not all that exhilarating. To answer your question, I started out studying film, documentary, then I became a fashion designer for my own brand for 13 years. I’ve always loved the two so to be able to put my two passions into one vehicle feels like a nice place to be.
FM: I've considered you an incredible source of support when I started my career in design. Personally, you have provided me with so much insight and constructive criticism of my work and I deeply appreciate everything you have done for me since the first day we talked. Now, I remember that you told me once after speaking with you about some of my projects that the first thing I should do is to “get rid of my fear and to stop putting so much pressure into myself – that I should just do what I like to do, enjoy it and relax.” I have to say, it is probably the best piece of advice I have ever received. Now given the fact that you are such an avid promoter of fresh and new talent, what other advice would you give to people that are starting out in the industry?
DP: Thanks for all your support. I guess in a world full of fashion pollution, I would say what I always say, don’t start until you have something to say. Follow your own path, listen to criticism, then decide what applies and what goes against your gut. If you are true to yourself instead of trying to fit into a trend or someone else’s expectations of you, I think eventually you find your place. Take two strong examples of designers that have gone against the current and followed their own path no matter what the direction of the times called for, Azzedine [Alaïa] and Rick Owens, they will always be on top because they carved their own path and listen to their own voice.
FM: Anything else you would like to add about ASVOFF and other current projects?
DP: Volumes of work for what I think will be the strongest ASVOFF to date. For sure I have an amazing jury that comes from diverse backgrounds in both fashion and film. [You can see in] the sponsorship pack, which lists them all. I am really beyond happy that they have all accepted to join me on this fashion film journey.
FM: Thank you, Diane for your time and insight. We are really honored to have you featured in our issue. I’m sure you will be an iconic source of inspiration to others such as you have been to me.
DP: Thank You. •
This interview was first released in 2011 under PORTAFOLIO and reprinted with permission for FRAMED, Issue No. 2 - The Icons.