PARIS — The last year and a half of being stuck to the small screen for work and pleasure, desperate for any new piece of escapism be it blockbuster or art house or glossy series, has to have changed forever our relationship to the moving picture, raising the stakes and the expectations. And if, when fashion first went online, the idea of transforming a show into a video seemed like a potential savior for the industry, it also exposed some of the limits in the fashion imagination.
Watching model after model stroll by onscreen, even with some fancy camera angles, it soon became awfully easy to look away.
This is especially true now that in-person shows — like big-screen movie experiences — are back; now that video has become a conscious choice, rather than a necessity. For some, such as Dries Van Noten, it’s a matter of pandemic health concerns; for others, such as Marine Serre, it’s a creative imperative.
Whatever the motive, though, it has become increasingly clear that for a designer to opt for a mini-movie instead of a runway, there needs to be a specific reason for the video to be; something you can do onscreen that you can’t do in person.
The medium has to be part of the message. (Apologies to Marshall McLuhan.)
Ms. Serre, a designer who thinks deeply about the current state of things, has always understood this. (Well, she tends to be first with a lot of things: an inveterate bicyclist, she also made masks before masks became a part of daily life, and she’s already moved on from dependence on her widely-recognized crescent moon logo.)
She made two of the most successful fashion films of the previous digital seasons, in part because each contained a narrative thread that — like her fashion, which was built on upcycling long before it became a runway trend — was rooted in the world. Not just the world of environmental politics, but of the literal materials of everyday life.
To that end, she said, film “lets me go deeper than I can with a show, break the bounds of fashion in a way,” to show people not just how to wear her clothes but how to live and how to act within them.
She did it again, this season, in a garden in the Marais, where her movie, “Ostel 24,” could premiere on a big screen. A day in the life of a single close-knit community, it showed them meditating, driving, kneading dough, eating, dancing alone in their rooms, crushing cherries for dye — above all, tending to one another. Taking care. Paying attention.
That they happened to be wearing clothes that were also deeply imbued with a sense of the personal alchemy that can transform vintage Dutch linens (embroidered napkins and tablecloths) into delicate tea dresses, or checked terry-cloth dish towels into Chanel-like lunching suits, or ’90s popcorn tops no one likes anymore into extraordinary collages of print and color (sometimes 15 tops in one dress), was part of the story. A reminder that the choices you make matter, from what you put on in the morning to what you eat and whom you share it with.
As, in a different way, was “Genealogy” from Thebe Magugu, like Ms. Serre a relatively young, independent designer who has found a more intimate voice through digital than in the echoing environs of the runway.
A sort of family memory/therapy session, as well as a startlingly personal guide to his formative influences, the film featured Mr. Magugu conducting a kind of round table with his mother, Iris Magugu, and his maternal aunt, Esther Magugu, as they went through old family photos from their life in the South African mining town of Kimberley and discussed their favorite clothes — which Mr. Magugu had translated into his new collection.
So his mom’s prized trench coat became a beige and sky blue off-the-shoulder trench dress. A nurse’s periwinkle blue uniform became a neat shirtdress with trumpet sleeves, hem dipping down in the back. Ditto the paisley print from a beloved frock, given a sophisticated rockabilly edge. As an expression of how the past informs the present (and future), and how memories are contained in what we wear, it was elegantly and potently done.
And it made Riccardo Tisci’s Burberry video seem calculated and antiseptic by comparison: a sort of mix and match version of house codes (trench coats! leather!) with a world of nature overlay (gimmicky deer ear prosthetics; bat-ear hunting hats that might become viral successes; butterfly and cow prints and fluffy faux fox tail accessories) paraded through a landscape of rooms. It turned out many of the most classic looking trench coats were cut away entirely at the back to expose the rear. Shock! Transgression! Chilly? Also: Why?
At least Mr. Van Noten’s stop-and-start compilation of movement, color and music communicated the intensity of the collection, which viewed in accompanying still photographs looked like nothing so much as a flood of pure fashion: blown-up couture volumes and ruffles, waterfalls of rainbow fringe, blurry firework prints, denim covered in diamanté — idea after idea, each seeming more tactile and maximalist than the next.
In a Zoom conversation, Mr. Van Noten said he had been thinking about festivals, both the desert happening Burning Man and India’s colorful Holi, and how people come together to express joy. His clothes were all that. But it made the disconnect between what they represented and the fact they were trapped, onscreen, especially frustrating. When what the viewer really should feel was enthralled.
Emotional and technological connectivity isn’t enough; you need context, too. That’s the place where the stories we tell ourselves get woven into cloth. That’s when you hit rewind. And watch it again and again, until it’s ready-to-wear.