“A refugee documentary by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a horror film starring Jennifer Lawrence, and George Clooney’s latest directorial effort are all tipped as must-sees at the Venice Film Fest set to open on the Lido island on Wednesday,” says Reuters. While top Hollywood talent and auteur directors will be vying for the Golden Lion, fashion has been increasingly taking center stage during the almost two week-long affair. Fashion does manage to make its way into the mix at most cultural epicenters, after all, and the world’s oldest film festival is no exception.
In its 74th year, the festival opens with Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” a satire starring Matt Damon, and consists of a “rich selection of U.S. and international movies also includes Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Mother!,’ starring Lawrence and Javier Bardem; Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water;’ and Stephen Frears’ ‘Victoria and Abdul,’ with Judi Dench as the 19th century queen, which screens in the out-of-competition section.”
And far from just dominating the event’s red carpets, fashion is looking to take the main stage. The number of fashion films is on the rise, and aside from fashion-specific festivals, which Forbes contributor Western Bonime has said are "growing every year," fashion-centric films are making a play for some of the industry’s biggest film events, including the famed festival in Venice.
For instance, last year, designer Tom Ford debuted his second feature film “Nocturnal Animals” at the Italian festival, taking home the “Leone d’Argento — Gran Premio della Giuria” prize –the second place award following the main award, the Golden Lion – for it. Just a few years prior, Ford presented his directorial debut film, “A Single Man,” at the same festival.
For both films, Ford put costume design in the hands of celebrity stylist and costumer Arianne Phillips, who did not outfit the characters in head-to-toe Tom Ford. Well, not for both, at least. “A Single Man” was heavily inundated with Ford-created goods, but for “Nocturnal Animals,” it was a bit different.
Speaking to GQ, Phillips said “Nocturnal Animals" characters, including Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, and Laura Linney, wore clothing she created (some of the costumes were created in Ford's atelier, using some of his suppliers and cutters – but with a hard “no logo” rule) in some instances. In others, they wore everything “from John Galliano at Maison Margiela to Marc Jacobs to Alessandro Michele at Gucci.”
Also something of a long(ish)-standing force in the fashion film mix: Prada’s little sister label, Miu Miu, which has – since 2012 – fully financed and produced short films written and directed by women. Under the watch of Miucci Prada, the aptly titled, "Women’s Tales," has since put its name on 14 films, which, “are all loosely inspired by Miu Miu clothes and accessories, but with no obligation for these products to be shown on the screen,” writes Variety. Nonetheless, the brand’s garments and accessories are often featured throughout.
Miu Miu’s latest projects, set to debut in Venice, are Chloe Sevigny’s “Carmen,” starring Spanish-American comedian Carmen Lynch, and “(The [End) of History Illusion]” by U.S. choreographer-director Celia Rowlson-Hall.
Those shorts join Rodarte founders Kate and Laura Mulleavey’s directorial debut, which comes by way of a feature film – “Woodshock” – starring Kirsten Dunst and based on a screenplay written by the designer sisters several years ago. While the Mulleavey’s have been mum on the project, including whether or not their ethereal, couture-like designs will appear in the film, it seems like at least somewhat likely. i-D wrote, upon seeing the film’s trailer, that it “looks reminiscent of their dreamlike runways,” seeming to suggest that Rodarte looks very well might appear in the film.
Advertising or Art? (Or Both)
Fashion’s foray into film is not all that novel. Well-funded brands, like Chanel and Dior, have long created very short “films” – oftentimes for fragrances. They have also released slightly longer ones, a la “Remember Now” – a 16-minute long mini movie highlighting the brand’s Cruise 2011 collection – or “The Return” – a 25-minute look at founder Coco Chanel's reopening of her couture house in 1954 – also for advertising purposes, albeit in the form of entertainment.
And arguments can easily be made in favor of such mini-films' abilities to both entertain and sell pricey luxury goods (or more affordable licensed products) at the same time. Karl Lagerfeld’s take on Saint Tropez for “Remember Now” – starring actors Elisa Sednaoui and Pascal Greggory, and models, including Freja Beha Erichsen, Magdalena Frackowiak, Baptiste Giabiconi, Sebastien Jondeau, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Leigh Lezark, and Heidi Mount – proves visually appealing in its own (sometimes campy, other times forced) way as Chanel’s cruise collection did blend quite seamlessly into the club-hopping, château-partying, and yacht-going depicted in the film, even though models are not necessarily the best actors. Nonetheless, if Elisa Sednaoui romping around the French Riviera cannot tempt you into wanting Chanel for your next sojourn, then I - for one - am not entirely sure what will.
“The Return,” on the other hand, promoted the house’s latest seasonal collection (at the time), while also providing a mini-history lesson into the house’s early days.
As for whether the new slew of films, whether it be Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” or Miu Miu’s latest films are glorified advertising, they might be – but those involved will certainly assure you that is not the case.
While “A Single Man” featured Ford’s menswear, womenswear, accessories and beauty line, costume designer Phillips recalls trying “to sneak” a pair of the designer’s sunglasses on set for star Amy Adams to wear in “Nocturnal Animals,” and they were immediately bounced, she says. Phillips, said it was different the second time around. “This is Tom Ford the director, this is not an advertisement to sell clothes,” she told TheWrap. “He’s not making a movie to sell clothes. He made that very clear to me.”
Similarly, Max Brun, the producer of Miu Miu’s "Women’s Tale," swears the films are not created for sales purposes. “We are not doing advertising,” says Brun, who calls the shorts “an innovative web campaign in which, if the narrative involves clothing, Miu Miu will make its clothes available. But there is no requirement to use them.”
However, even if the main goal of such films is not be get consumers into the brands’ stores or on their websites, it seems difficult to swear off the role that such films may, in fact, play as a form of advertising – even if it is indirect. Stars were certainly on hand – in Miu Miu (at least some of which was lent or gifted) – to attend the debut of its 2016 short films, Seed by Naomi Kawase and That One Day by Crystal Moselle. Julianne Moore, one of the stars of “A Single Man,” and Amy Adams, who starred in “Nocturnal Animals,” along with Tom Ford and the male stars, all selectively wore Tom Ford creations for the Venice debut of both films.
But none of this is wildly out of the ordinary.
So, while many of these feature films (as distinct from the more purely promotional shorts, for example) are almost certainly put forth for their own independent artistic merit, the publicity that surrounds the red carpet and various other promotional events for these films in undeniable and certainly does not hurt. And really, who - in 2017 - is saying that these films cannot simultaneously amount to both art and advertising? Not me.