Venice Film Festival 2017: When fashion designers turn to film

CNN

The fashion industry has often proven fertile ground for dramatic and comedic movies, from “Funny Face” and “Blow-Up” to “Zoolander” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

But while the worlds of film and fashion feel like natural bedfellows, crossing between them can be a high-stakes gamble.

This year’s Venice Film Festival sees the latest attempt to do just that, with fashion designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy showing their directorial debut, “Woodshock.” The film marks a first major creative shift for the sisters behind the high-fashion label Rodarte.

A trippy psychological noir, “Woodshock” looks very much the way their fashion design feels.

“Our jobs as (fashion) designers is to make people believe in an idea that they might not know already,” said Laura while speaking over the phone from Venice. “For Rodarte, we’ve always cared about the juxtaposition of darkness and beauty. Hopefully an audience will get that from our film too.”

A natural transition

Some fashion designers’ creations are so bound up with particular films, they feel almost like homages. It is virtually impossible, for instance, to imagine how Tom Ford would design clothes if he’d never been privy to the slick sex appeal of “American Gigolo.”

And, in many ways, Ford is the Mulleavy sisters’ most obvious forebear. He has set a bold precedent. The former Gucci and YSL designer’s debut was based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, “A Single Man.”

In his follow-up movie, “Nocturnal Animals,” Ford crystalized a new aesthetic — high-gloss intensity set against a violent and unsettling storyline.

Julianne Moore in Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” (2009)

“Woodshock” is a cerebral proposition, starring “Game of Thrones” actor Pilou Asbæk and longtime Rodarte collaborator Kristen Dunst.

In fashion, as in film, Laura and Kate are a complicated — and often acquired — taste. But, if bought into, they leave a lasting impression.

“The film artistically represents what we wanted to make,” says Laura. “For first-time film directors, that’s a really big honor and achievement. It really represents us. That belief in our vision is something that I really carried forward (from my time) working as a CEO and creative director.”

A love of film

The first film to have a notable effect on the Mulleavy sisters was Hitchcock’s adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier classic, “Rebecca.”

“I knew it was dealing with interesting subject matter young,” said Kate. “I could catch the undercurrent of it. That was fascinating to me; that was what attracted me to storytelling.

“(The more) you understand movies, the more experiences you have. It’s so transformative. I always had an attraction to something more profound than I could understand in that moment. That’s when you’re most invigorated creatively.”

Kate and Laura both went on to study film at the University of California, Berkeley. The state’s redwood forests play directly into the psychological torment of “Woodshock.” The film’s title is a reference to a real condition, woods shock, which can affect people when they become lost in the wild.

Perhaps inevitably, costumes play an important role in the pair’s transition from catwalk to screen.

“The film is about watching a woman thinking,” said Kate. “Costume is used to dress her in a symbolic way at the beginning, and later on it’s used to reflect her in various stages of mental decay and (to show) the chaos of her disorientation.”

While both Kate and Laura lean on their experience creating fantasy worlds through fashion, they admit that doing so in film is an entirely new proposition.

“The two forms of expression feel so vastly different,” said Laura. “Or at least they did to us. You’re utilizing a different group of people and a different set of creative skills. It’s such a different, interior energy that you use. Working on set, writing a script, in the editing room, working on the score — it’s cohesive and all-encompassing.”

“In terms of writing and directing a movie, we were really interested in the subtlety and nuances of storytelling.” said Kate, expressing hope that their debut is not seen as a fashion film. “It’s definitely a film where you enter into the mental landscape of the character. Everything about film can engage all of your senses. It’s about approaching that from a unique perspective and trying to give things layers and meaning.”

“So hopefully when somebody walks off from the experience, they actually go away thinking about the story.”

CNN by Paul Flynn

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