Working It from Home: Fashion’s New Frontier

As social distancing continues we explore the new reality of fashion image making

In a coronavirus world, fashion’s ability to provide escapism through its beauty, creativity and desirability is more important than ever. For this industry, which relies on constant innovation from its main players, creativity has become a key coping mechanism. And creativity there is in abundance.

 In our new lockdown existence, fashion shoots have been cancelled, studios closed down, group gatherings banned. Fashion has responded with a shift to homemade media and editorial coverage shot from home, via online chat systems, FaceTime, laptop webcams, Zoom conferences, you name it.

Mainstream brands have been as much a part of this as designers. Global retailer Zara has shot its entire new collection from the homes of the company’s favourite models. ASOS and have followed suit. 

The most forward-thinking media titles have made the most of the technology available, taking photos and sharing them online, often in advance of the publication of the magazine itself. 

i-D magazine launched its Safe+Sound Campaign shot by Willy Vanderperre in April, selecting 19 models worldwide, capturing their interviews and headshots via video call, posing questions about the adjustment of routines, and collating their tips on how to stay sane. 

Mert Alas, creative figure and photographer to the stars, initiated an Instagram call-out, asking his followers to submit self-styled, self-shot pictures for him to edit following a loose brief he had given them. He selected and showcased some of the best examples on his Instagram page, noting that his competition gave him a sense of escape from isolation. 

 Los Angeles photographer Angelo Kritikos argues that the imperfections that come with the new self-shot territory of photography add to their overall charm. Among key adopters of this new technique is Vogue Italia. Its shoot featuring Bella Hadid, shot by Brianna Capozzi and styled by Haley Wollens, captures these imperfections perfectly. The slight blur adds to their allure and intimacy, giving the shoot a fly-on-the-wall atmosphere.

Students are also responding creatively to confinement. Silvana Trevale and Stephanie Francis-Shanahan are just two of the MA Fashion Image students at Central Saint Martins who are continuing to create and find inspiration under lockdown.

Trevale’s images are part of an ongoing exploration into her appreciation and connection, through her Venezuelan heritage, to dark, naked skin. Shot over Zoom, her images also encapsulate the beauty of imperfection, which is such a feature of the new wave of Zoom photoshoots.

By complete contrast, Francis-Shanahan has been working on a DJ livestream project on Twitch for @ukbirdtable shot on Zoom with best friend Molly Dilkes (@dollymilkes). Citing her friends, family and creativity as a cure for isolation during this time, she wanted this livestream to offer a touch of momentary happiness for its viewers. She intends to keep exploring “the progression of collective joy as it currently sits in a digital realm”.

These are just a few examples of fashion’s creativity under lockdown. Significantly, they serve to democratise the fashion image. They represent a move away from, say, the haughty perfection of Mario Testino’s chiselled shots or Tim Walker’s extraordinary fashionable imaginings of Alice in Wonderland. The new direction is all about well styled, realistic and accessible photographs, featuring fashion’s most famous faces in more informal settings.

So, are these virtual shoots merely fleeting examples of COVID-enforced creativity, or will they result in an industry-wide democratisation of photography? Will we see a long-term adoption of this more intimate style?

Any academic analysis of the democratisation of fashion tends to look way back, referencing the invention of the sewing machine in the 19th century, for example. More recently, such an analysis might highlight the bloggers’ infiltration of the fashion system in the Noughties.

The current democratisation trend is focused firmly on the fashion image, with the modern Insta-ready selfie leading the way. As Mert Alas has shown, along with a generation of bloggers and Insta fashion influencers, fashion photography can be more wide-ranging than the images presented on the pages of Vogue. We can now acknowledge that a well-styled, well-lit selfie constitutes a fashion image just as much as a fashion spread in a magazine.

And so, a new genre of fashion photography is emerging. If this virtual trend truly proves a long-lasting one, the good news is that it will allow more people into the game. Keep working it from home.

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