Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Staple: Proper Fashion Telly

So it seemed that the BBC actually made an effort to do some proper fashion TV around this season's LFW. There was a triplet of short docs on BBC4, hosted by Susie Lau, Abbey Clancy and Daisy Lowe, they were variously entertaining (intelligent, fun and pretty pointless, respectively), but it also seemed to catapult someone in the backend of iPlayer- longing for the much-vaunted return of The Clothes Show, perhaps - to dig around in the Beeb's archives and pull out a number of old-school documentaries on fashion.

Entitled the Art of Fashion collection, it's not only a really fascinating selection of programmes, but a window on how documentaries used to be made, before the advent of event telly and overbearing, omniscient, dramatic Big Brother-style narrators. My favourite was an episode of 'Ex-S' (a long-running Scottish documentary series akin to Arena) called Styling the Swan which explored Jasper Conran's attempt to costume design a version of Swan Lake, back in 1995. Presented without knowind comment or celebrity voiceover, the whole thing is a simple set of montages with Conran talking us through what's going on; there's a deliciously simple pace to it. It's not been through several rounds of Director approval; it doesn't have a social media strategy or a hashtag; there's no tacked-on 'mission'; it's not really even all that sensational. It's just a film crew following a creative guy as he wrestles with a creative problem.

And stripping all of this away (or rather before all of this was bolted onto documentaries), it's much more freeing, intimate and intelligent as a result. Maybe that's how telly was before the internet, maybe there was much more of an emphasis on showing without judging, but this simple and clean format is endlessly appealing for telling a story. In keeping the format and filming style as simple as possible, the entire focus is on the story, and crucially, on the costumes themselves; the camera is allowed to linger on details and slot in breaks for the digestion of ideas. It felt at times like a documentary from the future: when attention spans were elongated. I hope someone, somewhere, with commissioning powers watches it, and takes some notes.

The joy of this for me was both the format, and the way it allowed Conran's ideas to breathe. Looking in detail at the costumes, the problems they presented, and the way the designer got around them was hugely interesting. It kind of reminded me of Grand Designs tbh, and that can only be a good thing.

It also reminded me that there's so little good fashion telly, especially on YouTube. A very good friend of mine who is now running a fairly powerful video company was asking me if there were any and I drew a blank. I've sought a number of times a credible, intelligent fashion vlogger (especially in menswear), and they just don't seem to exist. Surely someone (*not me*) is going to take this slot - it seems too good not to, right?

Anyway, there's a few still on iPlayer (apparently for a year!) so if you're looking for a distraction, I can highly recommend. Oooh or the Julien Macdonald one! Back when he was relevant (post his days at Chanel, pre-Strictly), there are some great PTCs of him talking about how he got to where he was and how he put on a show (in Spitalfields! In 1997!), but the best bits are his parents and sisters sitting around on a dralon lounge suite, giggling about "how we knew he was diff-rent".

It's fashion televisual gold. And when was the last time you could say that?

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