Fashion On Film With James Nolen

Posted by Milk Bar Mag on 16/2/16.

For the fashion fans and film lovers out there, you’re in for a treat of a lifetime: ACMI will soon present Fashion on Film, an awe-inspiring festival that will grace you with its effervescent collection of fashion documentaries from London, Paris, Milan and New York. Milk Bar Mag had a chat with James Nolen, the director for Fashion On Film, about the fashion industry and its evolving nature, the dynamic beauty of McQueen’s artwork and its impact on fans, and the omnipresent nature of the Borsalino hat.

‘It is constantly evolving, never dull, it’s intriguing.’ James says in regards to how he perceives the fashion industry. ‘I think there’s something eternally fascinating about it.’ He then discusses how he could never lose interest in the fashion industry, because he marvels at some of the creations and is awestruck by how people can get these extraordinary ideas and then twirl them into breathtaking creations.

‘Like the McQueen stuff and everything, you just go “You are from a higher being or something like that”, because not every second person is coming up with this sort of stuff,’ James says. If he could describe McQueen’s creations in three words, he would use the words ‘breathtaking’, ‘challenging’ and ‘beguiling’, and he discusses the impact that the McQueen documentary in Fashion On Film will have on viewers: ‘The McQueen one is very powerful, you’re looking at the work of a man who is no longer with us so there is that element to it. We’re looking at his last four collections that he created himself and so I guess you get a sense of the man who created these things so it’s really powerful.’

Most viewers will really experience that melancholy feeling aching inside them, as they are exposed to the extent of McQueen’s brilliant imagination, but have to couple that fact with the realisation that he’s no longer with us today. ‘It’s sort of like the world is different without someone like him in it and we’re all poorer for it. These people do leave quite big holes in probably many people’s lives, and in terms of the creative lives of many people, I mean they also create, and they’re incubators as well for other great thinkers and makers and diviners as well,’ James says. ‘It’s sort of like we have to be grateful that he did work for nearly two decades.’

James discusses how McQueen’s artwork truly comes to life when you get to view his clothes in motion on film. ‘Unlike just watching the runway shows or looking at the stills on his website or, you have an expert documentary film made by Lois Prezzo who made the film and hindsight,’ James says. ‘He brings this whole new context and unravels the thought process behind some of his work. You get to appreciate them on a whole different level, on a level you wouldn’t normally get to, I don’t think anyway, if you’re just reading it in a magazine or an editorial or something. You can vouch that perspective only through film-making.’

James mentions how McQueen’s work comprises of three-dimensional objects, not two-dimensional ones, because it is essential to see his clothes moving with human bodies, not just mannequins. ‘It’s all those things, you know, that’s what the designer is thinking about. They’re not thinking about them sitting on a mannequin in a museum,’ he says. ‘Living in them and breathing in them; it’s that perspective that probably gets a little lost until you see the models wearing them and inhabiting them and giving life to some of those creations.’

According to James, McQueen’s shows weren’t like any sort of runway show: ‘His shows were performance art as well; they weren’t just ‘pretty lady, pretty dress’ and walk out of the runway and that’s it, these were fully conceptualised pieces of performance art.’ He hopes that everybody will come to the conclusion that even if they could only see one film, they should go to the McQueen one because ‘their socks will be blown off.’

It’s interesting when something stays with you and you keep recalling moments of it, since it’s touched you on a much deeper level: ‘I think we’ve begun to understand him [McQueen] more, and the ripples of his ideas. People are still exploring a lot of his art, and commentators are really looking at his work and continuously analysing it and trying to understand who he was as a human being,’ James says. ‘It’s very special when you’ve got someone who has left the world with so much to look at in a relatively short period of time.’

Another icon that has stayed with us throughout the years is the Borsalino hat, which will also be featured in the festival. James converses about how it has managed to become such a universal symbol in the film world: ‘I think they’ve been very lucky that they’ve been included in so many big Hollywood films from the silent era till now, but that’s only part of that reason that they’ve been a hat company that has existed for a hundred and fifty something years,’ he says. ‘It’s certainly not just age; they’ve been very canny in terms of getting their products out there and onto the screen and there is a level of immortalisation of their look and their styling and you know some of the most distinctive cinematic hats.’

The beauty of the Borsalino hat lies in its omnipresence; some people don’t even know it’s actually called a Borsalino hat, but they don’t really need to know because it’s such a well-known symbol nevertheless. ‘You just know it’s a great hat and then someone might just say ‘oh didn’t you realise that’s a Borsalino?’ and you’d go ‘I know that, that’s what you’re talking about!’ so it’s amazing,’ James says.

He explains how we know the hat so well that we are quite attuned to something not being right if it doesn’t make it into a particular scene: ‘It’s amazing how those little touches gets your camerawork quite up close to the face and it’s really interesting because people see you from more the chest up rather than the waist down in the cinema. There’s different type of cinema I guess, but in most of Hollywood, you just see faces and maybe arms, so what you put on your head is very important.’

If James could meet any fashion designer in the world, it would be Elsa Schiaparelli. ‘She did things in fashion that was crazy clever and just rewrote the history book of fashion. Every time I see things that pique my interest, I look at the credits and of course it’s a Schiaparelli,’ he exclaims.

Fashion On Film
ACMI, Federation Square, Melbourne
Thursday February 25 – Monday March 14


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