At our first Fashion Film Workshop we presented a selection of historical fashion films to an audience of academics and industry professionals, including contemporary fashion filmmakers. In addition to five digitised films from our archive we were fortunate enough to show further nine on 35mm film.
The films spanned between 1910 and 1929, and a number of them were coloured. The majority were segments from newsreels (a format that included a section of various current affairs and entertainment items, with fashion’s latest styles among them). Some of the films focused on a particular fashion house, such as Raudnitz, whilst others covered a particular aspect of fashion, including hair styles, afternoon outfits, and summer dresses. One, Ladies Costumes through the Ages, offered a historical take on fashion as seen from the perspective of 1911. Most featured fashion designs from Paris, and were produced by French production companies such as Gaumont and Pathé Frères. Some were clearly produced specifically for British or American audiences who looked to the fashion capital of Paris for the latest trends.
We were thrilled with the discussions that these films triggered, which covered contemporary and historical film practices – how they both relate and differ to each other, and how early fashion films can inform makers today. For many, it was the first chance to see fashion films from this period, and it was surprising just how many aspects – from narrative to movement – have been retained from the first days of fashion film to today. Kathryn Ferguson, for example, remarked that it was ‘amazing how little things have moved on’, and noticed similarities between the historical films shown and contemporary Fendi examples.
Within this, a range of themes arose. We began with the cinema setting for original audiences, which Emily Caston accurately described as a ‘collective live Youtube… Going to find out what’s what.’ The use of colour; purpose (entertainment or non-fiction? Both, we concluded…); and models’ movements also came up. Whilst pre-cinematic theatrical techniques were absorbed into the new medium of fashion film in its infancy, resulting in movement that can seem stilted to contemporary eyes, both ‘still’ and ‘active’ posing styles remain present in contemporary examples, conflating photographic techniques with film, which attendees had mixed feelings about. The medium itself was another important factor – could it be said that fashion film is still building its narrative conventions, just as it was first defining the genre during the early 20th century? The attendees collectively hoped so! They agreed that media archaeology is the ideal tool through which to explore these two genre-defining moments in history in parallel, as it not only looks at history chronologically, assessing how much things have changed, but also what was there already.
We are excited to capture some of these conversations in an upcoming publication. Finally, the Central Saint Martins students who attended were invited to create short films that respond creatively to the historical films they saw, to be presented in February.
Lucy Moyse Ferreira