It’s not often that you’d find Helen Bonham Carter strewn on a sofa with her arm over her forehead, discussing her loneliness to an ignorant Ben Kingsley. Frankly, he’s more interested in the Prada fur coat, hanging on the coat stand by the door. Touching it, smiling slightly, he slowly tries it on in a daring gesture of appreciation, caressing it and letting out a sigh of satisfaction. After procrastinating, he grasps the giant fur collar and strikes a pose in the mirror, and the tag line appears, reading ‘Prada suits everyone’. The contrast of the ridiculous coat and the solemn doctor is the first of many quirks in cinematic advertising that draws the viewer in and opens up a new world of fantasy, played out within fashion.
In a humorous jest at the ‘availability’ of their clothing, fashion films are a bold and entertaining new way of advertising a designer’s collection, showing it off in a perfect fictional world of cinematic beauty. Women lounge on the beach in exquisite eveningwear, draped in diamonds and men go about their daily business in bespoke tailoring. It’s a subtle new concept that trickled though a range of different designers, used exclusively for their websites and private showing during Fashion Week. Interestingly, the films are made to steer the focus away from the plot and onto the product itself as the personification of a luxury commercial item is played out by the actor, their character oblivious to their indulgent lifestyle, making me as a viewer crave it even more. Whilst they seem a little vague in their plots and lacking in their direction, advertising has never been a market to conform to our expectations so pairing up with the unpredictability of the fashion industry seems fitting.
A prime example is Karl Largerfeld’s move into cinema with his multiple productions including ‘Tale of a Fairy’ (2012) and ‘Remember Now’ (2010). Creating short and ambiguous storylines to structure a plot, a clever trick is to ensure direct attention to the clothes and moving away from the focus of the plot itself. ‘Tale of a Fairy’ is a clever campaign for Chanel’s 2012 Cruise collection; a tale of two sisters and their struggle to live each other whilst wearing exquisite Chanel wardrobes, playing out plays out on a course of events over a few days of parties, gambling and unexplained personal turmoil.
In turn, the famous Chanel No. 5 film with Nicole Kidman, more recently starring Audrey Tatou, sees two characters meet under spontaneous circumstances and fall in love, with aid of the unique fragrance, couture and every day ready-to wear. Although it sounds a little romanticized for everyday life, it’s hard not to be captivated by the glamour and beauty of the product as well as the setting of the story. It leaves me hoping I’ll find a handsom stranger in a cab one night in New York, our love stemming from the allure of my kiss, my smile and as he says breathlessly, “her perfume”. One day, perhaps.
Ambiguity is key here as the lack of development for the character makes it impossible to tear your eyes off clothes. Utilised as the only clue to the audience as to who they might be, the audiences learn more about the characters than they could from an editorial spread by what they wear and, naturally, how they wear it. Calvin Klein’s artistic film “Provocations” (2013) reflects this. Unlike Largerfeld’s work, “Provocations” is purely metaphorical; emotions and attitude expressed through the clothing featured on Alexander Skarsgard build a vision of sexuality, power and authority, which is hopefully reflected onto the consumer if they were to invest in pieces. The sculpted tailoring and sexualised denim casual wear say more about the type of people who (should) wear the label than the actors scarce one-liners do; abrupt but accurate and very effective.
Understandably, fragrances jump on the bandwagon, expanding on the stories told within their short adverts. The little details of human motion, the gasps, laughing, raising of eyebrows and sighs, they all bring the fragrance to life, sustaining the theatrical element of fashion. For Dior Homme, Jude Law is a gangster in “Une Rendez Vous” (2010), dressing to meet his rival to whom he talks with over the phone and the rugged charm is one of many irresistible feats that draw me in as a viewer. By Guy Richie’s directions and a clever trick of cinematography, the girl who is dressing him is actually on the other end of the line and confirming they’ll find each other across the city via the fragrance, unable to resist the scent that’ll lead both parties to their pending liaison. The smirk on his face and the small twitch of her head when they do find each other across Paris reminds me of a brilliant flirtation, the sort of confidence one gets with their ultimate crush and a strong Gin & Tonic. Not to mention that I am now desperate to go back to Paris. In a 5 minute clip, the characters surrounding the fragrance have developed into full blown nostalgia trip and I’m grateful for both the cinematic experience and the product endorsement.
Ultimately, it is the dramatic personification of the product that makes these films so successful. Until Prada’s film “A Therapy”, a fur coat seemed ridiculous to me and after Baz Lurman’s worked his magic, Chanel No.5 now seems like an essential for my next romantic conquest. Fashion is advertised on the pretence of a fantasy, a dream that is now brought to life by fictional characters living and breathing in couture, rather than being framed on a human coat-hanger. The difference between a photographed advert and a fashion film is the how the character is always on some level relatable, shirking the gap between a (student) consumer and a luxury item. Whilst the world of fashion still seems years away, and my hunger to join it grows daily, at least I have fictional character to relate to and the products they use to live out the same fantasy that Lagerfeld first constructed.