Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Fashion Pack

Fashion Pack
Dir. Olivier Nicklaus
Country: France
Aus Rating: U15+
Running Time: 168mins

Fashion, like any other niche segment of pop culture, has crafted its own place in the cinematic world. No longer just the realm of costume design, film and the fashion industry have well and truly blended into one to satisfy the fashionista set's desire for cinematic enlightenment. From dramatic films like Coco avant Chanel and The Devil Wears Prada, to documentaries such as Bill Cunningham New York and The Tents, fashion and its makers are as much a part of the world of film as sport fans, the GLBT community, and environmentalists. Taking its name from the classic Malcolm McLaren tune of 1989, ACMI's "Deep in Vogue" is ACMI's focus on fashion festival, coinciding with the Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Screening amidst the mini-fest are films about Tom Ford (Visionaries: Inside the Mind of Tom Ford, a title that doesn't wont for ego), Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton (Dressed for Winter) and this trilogy of documentaries, each just shy of 60 minutes, entitled Fashion Pack.

Divided into three sections, Fashion Pack (or, going by its international title, Fashion!) looks at the modern world of fashion through the prism of decades. The extravagant 1980s in "Golden Eighties", the anti-fashion rebellion of the '90s in "Anti-Fashion", and the current global obsession with brand and the ever-burgeoning world of fashion in "Go Global". The first two pieces are screening together, and the third separately, but all three together makes for the optimum viewing experience.

That being said, the films themselves are curious creations. I'm not aware of director Olivier Nicklaus' history with the project, but the three pieces feel more like television programs more than anything else. A quick glance at his IMDb profile shows no mention of Fashion Pack, but there is a 60-minute TV documentary called The Red Carpet Issue that amassed a guest list as long as Fashion Pack so one must assume that these three docos are better suited to the small screen. Whether audiences will get a chance to see them outside of ACMI's season, however, is something I cannot answer.

Still, no matter the technical limitations on the project, the three films do impart a good amount of knowledge on a viewer who may not be otherwise up to date with their fashion history. Golden Eighties is certainly the most fun segment, its fashion flashbacks making for highly entertaining viewing as it follows the big designers of the day whilst giving hat tips to the incoming crop. Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana and Azzedine Alaia are the major focuses and their careers are full of fascinating anecdotes and moments of designer chaos that make for fun viewing. Anti-Fashion, however, is the one that proved to be the most interesting for a novice of the arena. Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo's work in dismantling the excess of 1980s fashion and redirecting it into a world of political and social demonstration (is that where Step Up 4: Miami Heat's inspiration came from?) If ever there was somewhere to direct people who don't believe fashion can be art then this may just be it.

The Go Global segments looks at the commercialisation of modern day fashion into the world that we know it today. Focusing on the likes of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel (I just kept picturing Margaret Cho's stand up bit, "wouldn't it be fabulous if Karl Lagerfeld actually was a murdered?!?"), Tom Ford's reinvigouration of Gucci, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vutton, John Galliano at Dior and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy. Viewers such as myself will certainly find this piece the most recognisable in terms of names and designs, but much like modern day fashion feels decidedly un-edgy, the film too falls into a rather complacent groove. It's informative, but rarely all that thoroughly. Extending it and the entire series into a longer television series would have, I suspect, allowed for deeper analysis and a more complete history being presented.

Visually the film is sadly unspectacular. Fashion Pack screens off of digital betacam that lacks the sleep design of a Chanel suit, but this probably won't be as big of an issue given the film's prevalence of archival footage. Still, it just further accentuates the project's ought-to-be television home. Nicklaus' distracting English language dubbing is unnecessary and the editing is rarely anything beyond the expected. It's a shame the director didn't take inspiration of his subjects and inject the technical aspects with more style and panache, a bolder vision for a bolder project. As it stands though, Fashion Pack is certainly a collection worth perusing to fill in ones knowledge of the fashion world (or, at least partially). Fashion fans will get a kick out of the interviews with industry royalty and the repeated use of old runway footage will be a hoot for any viewer. Golden Eighties: B; Anti-Fashion: B; Go Global: B-.

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