Communicating fashion in the digital age

FCP

Be it apps or websites, a freesheet we pick up on the Tube or an expensive glossy print magazine, we are offered unprecedented opportunities for distraction due to the over-abundance of physical and digital information competing for our attention. There can be no better place to explore this dynamic and multi-platform information landscape than through the world of fashion.

In this article Sarah Kante meets with Central Saint Martins’ BA (Hons) Fashion Communication and Promotion, and asks: How is fashion communicated creatively in the digital age? What are the present and unfolding relationships between analogue and digital? How are the FCP students approaching both media in their projects?

BA (Hons) Fashion Communication and Promotion (FCP) is a course with an expansive curriculum that includes photography, fashion illustration, graphics and branding, trends, styling, public relations, fashion film, fashion show production, set and installation design, and the creative use of new digital platforms.

“Personally I love the longevity of print. When I buy a magazine it’s because it has something which I want to come back to again and again, and I want to know I have that. I can put it on my bookshelf and know its there.”  FCP student, Greg French.

Whilst FCP pushes digital, with about 50% of its projects touching on the subject, many of its students still prefer the permanence of print against the seemingly ephemeral nature of digital – although in reality, print has a shorter life-span than digital. Print seems to be synonymous with craft, quality and texture, and is valued as such by the FCP students.

“I think with everyone having access to the internet, everyone being able to upload their own content, there’s an incredible thirst for great journalism and editorial and magazines tend to be able to offer that more than the sea of rubbish online. There’s something also great about the format of the magazine, the fact it has, to some degrees, rules that have to be overcome. When you challenge those things, be it size, colour, paper type, smell etc you get to be a lot more creative in a way that the Internet can’t – yet.”  FCP student, Greg French.

This appreciation of the qualities and characteristics of physical magazines is expressed at a time when the industry is going digital. When leaving university many students will be hired in digitally related jobs: in fact pretty much all of the entry-level jobs are now digital.

Hywel Davies, Course Leader, tells us that “We see a shift from last year, as more and more students are interested in exploring all aspects of digital, and really experimenting with different technologies.”

The FCP course aims to train writers to feel confident as digital journalists, and to be generally tech-savvy; but this is not about training technicians or tech experts. Nowadays students are supported to be creative practitioners who will be able to adapt to whatever new technology comes along and run away with it.

“The course lets the students do what they want: be it analogue or digital. The students reflect the industry, but they are not here to be trend followers, it has to be organic and they are hopefully ahead of the industry.”  Hywel Davies.

 

Greg French and VANGUARD

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Named after people leading the way in new ideas, the project of Greg French is a direct response from his placement year, which was spent between the Sunday Times Style magazine and SHOWstudio.

I noticed complete extremes in terms of analogue and digital and also became immersed in fashion film. I was interested in what it was capable of doing, how it had evolved, who had pioneered it etc.

I wanted to create a platform where fashion film was dissected, a go to place for anyone interested in the genre and to help unravel it as a medium. 

I chose the magazine format to champion really great writing and see how we could communicate the digital as the analogue and hopefully in doing so work out what the stigma is between the two.

There will be an online presence, which will support the magazine. But in turn I want it to feel very manual and simplistic. It’s more of a marketing tool than an extension of the concept.

Whilst acknowledging the contribution of CSM’s own Fashion in Film publications, I don’t think fashion film is represented in print nearly as much as it could be. If I asked you one physical publication that championed fashion film I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to think of one. Ask the same of painting, or photography or fashion, Jaguar sports cars, you can tell me hundreds. I find it strange that a medium that has such a presence isn’t confronted as such. I think it needs to be represented critically and creatively. Stills on a page are all very well and good, but you need to be able to animate those through art direction and through great writing alongside. There needs to be an idea of sequence or narrative. It’s interesting to think that the magazine itself is sequential, the way we flick through it – the transcripts of interviews we read all have a progressive narrative. We can use those elements to help communicate moving image within the 2D.

Asked whether both fashion film and print can really work hand in hand, Greg answered with a big yes:

110% yes! I think using the two together gives us the ability to better understand what each is capable of and take it outside of its comfort zone. We still have no idea what context to place fashion film – do we have it online, in a festival, a screening, on an iPad. Why not in a magazine! I think once we remove things from their original contexts, we can begin to pick apart the medium. An extreme example is someone like Duchamp’s urinal, which was plonked in an art gallery as opposed to the gents and suddenly everyone is talking about art and what it should or shouldn’t be.”

“I think fashion film’s relation to the digital is more about access and the fact it’s a lot easier to make a film and put it online for everyone to see.

But people were doing fashion films in the 40s, and the fashion photographer Erwin was making fashion films in the 50s way before the word digital existed.”

 

ELECTRIC LADY LAND

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Imogen Snell and Zoë Vintilescu started working together in their first year. The collaboration continued during their placement year when they set up snellvintilescu studio.

For their final project, instead of making the conventional magazine, Zoë and Imogen are making an exhibition called ‘Electric Lady Land’ referring to both their different personalities and similarities in aesthetic preferences. It is inspired by the mood and imagery of late 60s and 70s experimental filmmaking and photography, as well as by people such as Peggy Awesh, Pipilotti Rist, Derek Jarman, Guy Bourdin, Kenneth Anger, Stephen Arnold, and many more.

The exhibition will use film as its main medium, although stills and writing will be featured: making a platform for both print and film. The girls work with both digital and analogue media depending on what seems right for the project, and very often mix the two.

It is interesting to see that while FCP students love film, they want to explore its physicality through displacement, be it a printed magazine or an exhibition space.

The exhibition will take place on the 7th-12th of May at The Arch Gallery on Cambridge Heath Road.

 

DIGITAL AESTHETIC 

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Gareth Wrighton is a 2nd year student who is “a bit obsessed by digital. I find digital cultures such an interesting area of contemporary art and fashion, in particular the way it is used as a bit of a trendy aesthetic which can be such an unstable foundation to build an entire brand on, while at the same time it echoes the DIY mentality of the punk movement to great effect.”

I had a chat with Gareth about all things digital, and the way it is approached both within the FCP course and industry.

“I use digital media and digital aesthetics because I am quite sceptical about it. A commentary on digital culture is more valid if you actually use digital. You don’t judge it without knowing it. So I am trying to understand what it is all about.

The bad thing about digital is that whilst it’s really easy and cheap to set up, it is very hard to charge money for your content. How do you make online content worth something? We take the Internet for granted and we feel we are entitled to any website we want to go on, whereas print, you can charge for because the buyer is getting a product he can hold it and keep it for the rest of his life. The interaction with the paper is more exciting than scrolling on a website.”

Paid online content is an entirely different subject and many a debate is raging about its viability as a business model. Whilst pay walls might be discouraging the users of today from accessing some content online, we can see a future where paid online journalism is part of our life, the same way most of us seem to have gotten used to paying for downloading music.

The blog era might have put some students off digital with its amateur-ish, unedited content, but the future will bring more exciting, boundaries pushing, worth-paying-for content, which will turn the medium into a go-to place for experimentation.

Gareth is particularly interested in Digital/ web aesthetics, something he explored in a First Year project titled getmeoffline.com.

“I had a brief, which was “do anything, do a FCP concept”. I did something looking at the love websites, you know, the websites that are all about “finding a girl or a guy online”. They are primarily for male audiences and I also wanted to push the digital aesthetic and the idea of ownership on the web: watermarking is such a good aesthetic. Everyone puts their web address on their images, and even though it ruins the image from a photographic point of view, it gives it a sense of ownership.

DIGITAL AESTHETIC: THE TURN OF THE MILLENIUM GRAPHICS THAT PEOPLE ADOPTED TO PROMOTE THEMSELVES WHEN THEY HAVE A WEBSITE.

It’s been something that has been played around a lot by SHOWstudio. Nick Knight’s latest project is really pushing this digital aesthetic.

A lot of young brands now are building themselves on their online presence: fashion brands making incredibly trendy clothing, which use Tumblr and YouTube to promote themselves. For example, not doing fashion shows, but fashion streamings and presentations… It’s so great because they are using what they’ve got, and it’s DIY but at the same time how long is that going to last? Are they just playing on the over the top web aesthetic trend?”

According to Gareth, a younger generation will be able to create and deliver more creative apps than we are because they will have been born with the technology. The way my generation takes YouTube, emails and websites for granted, will be extended to apps for the students at CSM in 5 – 10 years.

The love of print and analogue seems to be very much with us all, with many people associating digital with amateurish, cheap, bad quality content that gets consumed quickly and is then trashed. Will fashion communication ever do away with physical experimentations? I certainly hope not. However, digital content can, will be and in some instances already is, more interactive, beautiful and exciting than print could ever be. It might be time to shift our perspectives and accept that whilst digital may never ‘get’ the craftiness and texture of a physical product, it can be more interactive and experimental than the age-old medium.

Thanks to the BA Fashion Communication and Promotion course. As we have seen, their emphasis on creativity and experimentation means that its students can adapt and run away with whatever is coming next: be it app-obsessed babies, mobile aesthetics or an analogue-digital hybrid.

Hywel Davies and the BA FCP students shared many different ideas and perspectives that illustrate just how diverse the themes around digital literacy can be, as well as raising issues that need further investigation by the Digital Present team, such as:

  1. Watermarking as a sense of ownership
  2. Scrolling and clicking as forms of tangible engagement
  3. Notions of stigma between digital and material
  4. Generational identity and expectation regarding technology…

 

Interesting links and references

CSM Fashion in Film project   http://www.fashioninfilm.com/about-us/

CSM BA(Hons) Fashion Communication and Promotion   http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/undergraduate/ba-fashion-communication/