The Relationship Between Fashion Film and Animation/Fantasy

My own initiation into fashion film was a hesitant one, uncertain as to whether fashion films could ever be situated on the same spectrum as traditional film. The role that fashion film plays within cinema is still relatively undiscovered. Films dissected by Stella Bruzzi (1999) have often explored both fashion and film as two separate entities, which combine in challenging identity and metaphorical gestures, as well as aesthetics; whilst an auteur of the early fashion film, Guy Bourdin, created voyeuristic moving images which have only in recent years, begun to emerge to a wider audience (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 - Guy Bourdin’s campaign for French shoe label Charles Jourdan (Spring 1979, ©    Guy Bourdin   ).

Fig. 1 - Guy Bourdin’s campaign for French shoe label Charles Jourdan (Spring 1979, © Guy Bourdin).

Despite some of cinema, photography and art’s most notable visionaries, directors and writers turning their hand at the craft to create compelling, sometimes thought-provoking moving images, the area is still misunderstood. And thus, the medium has created its own parameters within cinema. I decided to look specifically at the relationship of fashion film to both animation and fantasy. There is perhaps a surprisingly strong link and, though there are an array of fashion films from many genres and those that are both narrative and conceptual, animation and fantasy have given fashion films a new dimension. I wanted to look at where fantasy and animation meets fashion, and what that creates in relation to a wider dialogue, selecting a few films from both animation and fantasy in order to illustrate how fashion has explored them.

Fashion Films are often short films, sometimes video art or other forms of moving image which aim to experiment within filmmaking to advertise or market a brand through visual experience. In many cases, a fashion film is created to enhance and epitomise brand identity through film. It is the idea that the multifaceted concept of ‘luxury’ must embody its own world, and fashion films have become a way that such companies can sell the world they want you buy into. Prada is one of the most iconic brands to blend the elements from fashion as clothing, to literature, film, artefact and culture/heritage. Like advertising where traditional filmmakers could be seen to create work within a commercial context, Prada grasped the idea that the elements making up the commercial side, such as obvious product placement, static shots of products or garments, or films acting as moving catalogue pages, did not have to be the case. Instead, they worked on stories that would influence an audience to look deeper within the brand, and later fall in love with the ideas, and of course products sold by said brand.

Alexander McQueen - Spring/Summer 2014 Collection (Steven Klein, 2014).

Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Roman Polanski and James Lima are but four filmmakers to work on films for Prada; whilst Lima’s animated short for Prada, Fallen Shadows (2016), epitomises why cinema should be more inclusive of the fashion industry’s films. As the Prada website detailed: “Prada's engagement with experimental work in film, animation, architecture, art and sound design. The animation - undertaken together with director James Lima - experiments with cutting-edge technology. Computer Motion Capture and Cyber-Scanning - in which an entire body is scanned and recorded, rendering a completely animated character - have been employed here for the first time.”

For the Alexander McQueen 2014 Spring/Summer campaign, alongside a matching set of editorials for the pages of glossy magazines, a film was also created. Kate Moss, draped in yards of organza, is transfigured into an ethereal holographic stereogram by artist Chris Levine, modernising a nineteenth-century optical illusion for British luxury fashion house in McQueen. The futuristic film directed by photographer Steven Klein in East London was inspired by Michael Powell’s 1960’s British thriller Peeping Tom, and follows a similar premise in just over four minutes. The haunting short film noir, that begins with a glowing pixie-cut brightening up this voyeuristic dingy thriller, sees a mini-moss tossed in the trash of uninhabited London streets, before the tantalisingly sexy Moss is watched undressing, illuminated in a set of unaffiliated images by Dominick Sheldon’s cinematography. The film works in the fantasy genre between supernatural and magical elements which follow a narrative structure, and is a strong example of how fashion film can sit within the parameters of cinema beyond the idea of advertising.

Die Verwandlung (Jon Jacobsen, 2017).

In a similar exploration of fantasy, Jon Jacobsen’s Die Verwandlung (see right) is a multifaceted project that forms part of a residency at SHOWstudio - the home of fashion film, alongside the British Council Chile and King Kong Magazine. Die Verwandlung is a fashion film that incorporates an editorial, and explores metamorphosis and motion, informed by Jacobsen's interest in the dichotomy between digital and organic states. It is both a grotesque and ethereal conceptual project that feels a lot like performance art, and allows fashion to explore imagination, speculation and the Kafka-esque. It therefore roots itself to metaphysical concepts, like the McQueen campaign, falling under a supernatural branch.

Another interesting look at fantasy elements in fashion film comes in the form of a group of short films from actress and director Asia Argento. Don’t Bother To Knock were short films scheduled for public release at specific intervals of October 2006, and were shot in promotion for the feature film Marie Antionette (Sofia Coppola, 2006) starring Argento who played Comtesse du Barry in the film. The film's blend reality with fantasy and are part-scripted by author Emma Forrest. Fiction therefore forms a part of the project as a whole. An element of the films that play with the idea of fantasy and the mind, is the narrative of Twenty-three words beginning with ‘F’. Monologues are developed from the words, as Argento discusses what may or may not be spoken truths. In addition to the film, the monologues were first presented as entries on the SHOWstudio blog, with comments made by SHOWstudio users displayed alongside the films. This is a somewhat unique film that also takes a form of audience participation into action. Through vignettes interspersed with 'video diary' aesthetic elements, Don’t Bother To Knock feels more detached from fashion as we often suspect.

These short films use fantasy as a way to explore the genre in the same way that narrative film does; through science fiction, the supernatural, fantasy worlds and other such themes that fall within the genre. It allows the same escapist and extraordinary qualities to arise and like short film as its own genre, creates a platform for filmmakers to challenge large and wild stories in limited time, and with a motive - to sell. But within a larger filmmaking context, fantasy in fashion film creates a fine balance between whether a fashion film can be considered cinema in its own right, as well as standing for a metaphor for the idea that it tries to sell.

Love Soldiers (2017).

Like fantasy, animation has become more prevalent amongst fashion film. At its most basic, a simple animation was used in a collaborative project between SHOWstudio and Japanese streetwear brand Cav Empt (C.E). The SHOWstudio x C.E film is a two-and-a-half minute animation by Chloe Feinberg (titled Love Soldiers [2017]), and a bespoke graphic by Brooklyn-based musician Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN). The film was created to coincide with the release of a capsule collection that included t-shirts and jumpers designed by C.E – the young Japanese label from SK8THING and Toby Feltwell. Graphic-centred designs from the clothing form that in the film - only this time, they move in a world of their own. The animation is simply hand drawn and comes to life for a few minutes in a film that feels more like an abstract advertisement, and thus becomes something of a fantasy film whereby an animated world comes alive, objects appear and ambiguity works to leave questions on the film open-ended.

Fig. 2 - There’s Something About Mary (Nick Knight and Younji Ku, 2015).

Fig. 2 - There’s Something About Mary (Nick Knight and Younji Ku, 2015).

In a more exploitive digitally animated film, There’s Something About Mary (not to be confused with Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s nineties comedy romance) an electric, high-octane film for the Mary Katrantzou brand comes together (Fig. 2). The 3D animation by Younji Ku - digital art director, filmmaker and sound designer - features digital graphics to match the designer’s aesthetic of digital printed clothing. It becomes a fun visual medium showing the fine details and craftsmanship of the designer’s iconic collections within this abstract film. The lack of narrative does nothing but enhance her brand’s strong identity with the use of strong female protagonists, cascading florals and dancing shards of various shapes in this technologically-fuelled film. This film encapsulates the very strong, iconic and signature digital features of all her collections and what her brand is all about. In a similarly digitally-charged way, department store Lane Crawford challenges the use of technology as scans of a model wearing a variety of luxury designer pieces are brought to life. The 3D animated film uses 3D body renders, pushing the boundaries of realism, or at least what appears to be realism.

Fashion films account for a broad range of cinematic experiences. Some tell us stories through strong plots and compelling characters, others bridge the gap between art and advertisement, whilst others play on the notion of ‘art for arts sake’. Even so, what we can see is that the fashion industry is using fantasy and animation to form a variety of still and moving works that encapsulate an entire brand. Animation can therefore be seen to work in its own sphere to illustrate ideas as an art form, as well as to express fantasy. CGI, stop motion, 2D-based vectors, motion graphics and traditional animation are often seen to be a way in which the fantasy elements in fashion films are depicted.


Bruzzi, Stella. Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies (Abingdon, Oxon: 1997).


Marianna Michael  is a fashion and film writer, essayist and creative working on a variety of projects between the two sectors. This includes the museums and heritage sector, as well as fashion, film and art. Visit: / @mariannamic1