Looking beyond the lookbook

Even with a well-structured Boolean search, there are some things on the Internet that are just impossible to find. For example, if I were to search my own first name on Google (which I do frequently), I'd have to sift through pages and pages of 2007 M.I.A. album reviews and Swedish fish identification charts before I came across anything remotely related to myself. While doing research for this week’s column, I found that the same is true for fashion films.
No, Google, not “films depicting a two-dimensional seterotype of life within the fashion industry” (<i>The Devil Wears Prada</i>), not “Oscar-bound Hollywood biopics” (<i>Coco Avant Chanel</i>) and not “decade-specific cult films” (<i>Clueless</i>). What I was searching for was not so much “films about fashion,” but rather “fashion in the form of film.”

A relatively new development in the realm of fashion promotion, the promo film is becoming increasingly popular as a means to convey the mood, theme and creative direction of a particular collection. Like its predecessor, the lookbook (a booklet or pamphlet showing a new season's collection), the promo film's job is to both set the scene and entice the viewer to buy the collection – emotionally and monetarily.

In fashion marketing, context is crucial and can have a huge influence on whether or not the product is accepted by the public. For example, this summer I had to stop myself from wandering into a Ralph Lauren Kids store in London, even though there are virtually no children in my life and there was therefore no need for me to be in there. But the beachside window scene – complete with a life-sized boat, cellophane water and live palm trees – was so refreshingly creative and evocative of all sorts of wonderful summer-related memories that the positive connotations alone were enough to get me to the front door of a store I would normally not even bat an eyelash at.

Fashion marketing is all about prompting an emotional response, and what better medium to do that with than film? Promo films are short (because, let's be honest, if its over three minutes no one's watching it), visually stimulating and often come with a killer soundtrack. There's usually some kind of loose story line to keep it moving forward, nothing too complex, and of course all the clothing is supplied from the designer's latest collection. In a few short minutes, promo films serve to educate viewers on the brand's image and the meaning behind the new collection, and promote the actual garments themselves by showing them styled in real-life (or fantasy) scenarios. And all the while these films masquerade as art films, encouraging viewers to appreciate them without really realizing that what they are watching is essentially an advertisement.

But promotion aside, most of these films actually are art films, and provide a bridge between the worlds of fashion and creative film. American designer Proenza Schouler recently collaborated with writer/director Harmony Korine (of <i>Kids</i> and <i>Gummo</i> fame) to create a striking but somewhat unsettling short film depicting the life of beautiful (and beautifully dressed) teenage girls in an unnamed American ghetto. Local film collective Salazar has been making stunning seasonal films for Canadian clothing company Lifetime Collective for the past few seasons, with striking results. Haunting in their simplicity, Salazar's films elevate Lifetime's relatively mainstream collections to a more prestigious level simply by instilling in the viewer a subconscious tie between the garments and the exotic settings shown in the films.

Like most of pop culture, fashion films can also draw in the viewer with the promise of belonging. One of my favourite examples of the promo film is Swedish designer Heidi Nilausen's video for what I can only assume is her debut collection (the film is the only thing on her website). Featuring Kendal Johanssen’s synthed-up “Blue Moon” cover, the film follows a young redhead as she wanders alone (stylishly) and eventually stumbles upon a group of (stylish) girls in an abandoned (somewhat stylish) basketball court. The girls embrace the newcomer, paint her face, and then they all dance around in slow motion while smoke swirls around them.
On paper it sounds ridiculous (most art does), but the film serves its purpose – not only does it promote a relatively unknown designer, but it makes me completely buy into the culture of the brand. I feel like I am the redheaded wanderer, looking for my own group of fierce, Heidi Nilausen-clad warrior bitches. And until I find them, I’ll just follow Heidi on Twitter.

//Kala Vilches
Kala Vilches is a graduate from the fashion program at Kwantlen college. Because of that, as well as her notably next-level wardrobe, she is in a position to share her experiences and woes with us. Find her on Facebook. Then "like" her photos. She loves that.

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