Most of us put more thought into how we look than this chap but does it matter? There’s a moment in the documentary, “The September Issue” when Anna Wintour adopts an uncharacteristically defensive tone in describing why caring about fashion doesn’t make someone a “bad person”. You get the sense it’s a defence she’s delivered more than once. Somerset House hosted an eloquent defence last week as part of the “Frame by Frame” Fashion Film Festival in London with a debate featuring artists (Jessica Mitrani and Anat Ben-David), a film director (Kathryn Ferguson), academic (Pamela Church Gibson), online video editor (Jennifer Byrne) and chaired by an academic (Nathalie Khan).
Most interesting of all was hearing the filmmakers talking about their work. Despite her appointment as Selfridges Filmmaker-in-Residence, Ferguson has freedom to follow her artistic instincts. The resulting work is refreshing, funny and thoughtful. “The Beauty Project” includes a film of mature ladies musing on the meaning of beauty: “You have to be in love with change and change is a beautiful thing”. Fashion itself is defined perhaps most of all by constant change.
Mitrani’s work uses fashion and humour to explore serious topics that go right to an individual’s sense of identity. Her prize-winning “Headpieces for Peace” film is a highly entertaining defence of tolerance and the expression of individuality and should be compulsory watching at the UN (not least because it is so funny).
Fashion choices identify us within society, whether we are a pearl-encrusted absolute monarch or a Harujuku student. In some ways, how we choose to define our image is less important than the facts that we are free to do so and choose to do so. In a timely coincidence, a recent BBC documentary* explored the phenomenon of royal dress and quoted a remark made by Diana, Princess of Wales to a designer. When choosing what to wear, she always asked herself, “What am I communicating if I wear this?” These thoughtful film-makers and artists confront us with this question, whilst reminding us to lighten up.
*The wonderful Lucy Worsley in “Tales from the Royal Wardrobe”, (BBC, 2014)