It has almost been a decade since the passing of Alexander McQueen, one of the most prolific visionaries in fashion. McQueen was a designer who pushed boundaries and gave audiences something they didn’t even know they wanted. This was exemplified at his final presentation at Paris Fashion Week when he revealed his spring/summer collection Plato's Atlantis. Here, not only did he present outwardly and mesmeric couture, but he also did it a new way – live-streaming it exclusively on image-maker Nick Knight's fashion website, SHOWstudio.com. The live-stream was intercut with premade footage by Knight, and at the show, a screen backdrop played his iconic video of Raquel Zimmerman, lying on the sand naked with snakes sliding across her body.
It was Knight’s foresight (and Lady Gaga’s tweet) that broke the internet that night and heralded a new era in fashion. “The show was trying to say that human evolution isn’t finished,” says Knight. “And neither is the way fashion is made, consumed and articulated. We are no longer constrained by fashion magazines and editorial spreads. It’s about Instagram, GIFs, animation.”
If there’s one person who knows something about the evolution of fashion imagery, it’s the 60-year-old Brit. For the past 40 years, he has created breathtaking photos with a who’s who of the design world, from McQueen to Yohji Yamamoto and Jil Sander. The campaign image he shot for Sander sold for a record-breaking HK$2,360,000. He was also commissioned to shoot the official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. And beyond photography, Knight directed the music videos for Bjork’s Pagan Poetry and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, as well as create a film for Massive Attack’s album 100th Window.
It’s clear, then, why Knight’s work should play such a central role in Beyond Fashion, an exhibition that explores the role of fashion photography in today’s visual culture. “Photography is a passport into people’s lives,” says Knight. “Unlike a lot of other artistic mediums, which are reflective, fashion photography is a predictive art medium.” The cyclical nature of fashion, says Knight, forces it to stay ahead of the curve, presenting clothing usually three to six months before its available. “Once you are in fashion, you are out of fashion,” he says. “That desire to keep on renewing yourself and doing something different looks toward the future. That’s what we are doing.”
Fashion is a trend game, and throughout his career, Knight has always experimented with different mediums, first dedicating much of his effort to the coming age of video production.
In the 80s, Knight would film his photography sessions, but not many people were able to enjoy his documentation. So from the 90s onwards, he would record such sessions onto VHS cassettes, and distribute them like a magazine subscription service. It wasn’t until the internet come along did mass distribution of his work begin.
Instinctively, Knight saw a whole new world of opportunity for fashion content. Thus, in 2000, he started SHOWstudio – a platform combining the talents of photographers, filmmakers and writers to create fashion videos for the web. Moving fashion images – “fashion photography” as a term, Knight says, is slightly dated now – has been the element to catch on the fastest, as it can capture what was fashion photography’s biggest limitation: movement.
To this date, SHOWstudio has produced 1,500 videos – 30 of which will be presented at a dedicated section in Beyond Fashion – consisting of live runway broadcasts and the glamorous chaos of fashion shoots.
Knight is still thinking of ways to take SHOWstudio to the next level. “We see huge advancements in AI, VR and robotics,” he says. “We now see the world in a 360 space, so I too am making my first 360 fashion films.” Fashion Radio will soon follow, as will a new film for Margiela.
In his typical fashion, Knight continues to give us something to look forward to – and it could well be a another groundbreaking moment in the evolution of fashion imagery.
Beyond Fashion: Remarkable photography whichever way you see it.
Dates: 12 January - 24 February
Click here for details and tickets.