Fashionistas turn from catwalk to silver screen

Young designers are shunning costly shows, preferring to use independent film-makers to showcase their work. By Susie Mesure and Paul Bignell

Fashion shows are so last month, dahhhling! Film is the new catwalk, don't you know? Erin Featherston, the upcoming New York designer, does. Her clothes are the star of a black-and-white short starring Kirsten Dunst. With a video camera, the director Ellen von Unwerth can capture the subtleties of fashion that a conventional camera would miss: the ruffles of a dress, the sway of its pleats, the way it hangs and moves on the actress.

The film is just one example of how scores of designers are ripping up the rulebook and changing the way they showcase their talent. Many young designers, unable to afford the hefty costs of staging a catwalk show, are instead turning to small, independent film-makers to help bring their clothes to life. On top of saving money, designers believe these collaborations can liberate fashion from the static confines of the traditional photograph.

The Dunst clip is one of 11 films being shown today at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts that celebrate this new genre. Other alliances include those between London-based designer Emma Cook and director Shona Heath, as well as fashion photographer Toyin and menswear designer Kim Jones.

Penny Martin, chief editor of Showstudio.com, an online fashion broadcasting company, said: "Lots of London-based fashion designers, such as Jens Laugesen, Richard Nickel and Peter Jensen, started to make fashion films in the early 2000s. Now with outlets such as YouTube, you have that perfect tool for providing a global platform that anyone, anywhere can watch."

But at first the then pioneering medium struggled. "In hindsight, our ambition to create genuinely progressive fashion media was far too far ahead at that stage. Even the most experimental and visionary stylists and photographers would tell us, 'Oh, I don't really use computers,' and some didn't even have email. We were banging our heads against a brick wall in many cases," said Ms Martin, who will host a discussion after the screenings.

Bella Freud, whose film Strap Hanging was directed by John Malkovich, said capturing fashion on the silver screen allowed designers to be much more creative than they could be on catwalks and in magazine spreads. "It enables me to show my work in different ways. The conventional catwalk way of showing doesn't work for everyone – it works if you're very theatrical, but I'm not," she said. "[With film] I can draw the viewer in and show them what I want them to notice."

Many mainstream designers are jumping on the fashion-film bandwagon, too. Alexander McQueen and John Galliano have both collaborated with the photographer Nick Knight to produce short films. And luxury brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Prada, which recently shot a film starring computer-generated models wearing its clothing, are also getting in on the act.

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