Interview: Writer Diane Pernet

Diane Pernet knows the fashion industry inside and out. She spent years running her own label and working as a costume designer before changing course in 2005 and founding one of the first fashion blogs, A Shaded View on Fashion. In 2008, she expanded the ASVOF brand with A Shaded View on Fashion Film, a film festival that has since been held in Paris, Rome, Tokyo and recently made its American debut in New York City. Never seen without her iconic style, she recently emailed us from Paris to talk about her unique position in the world of fashion, the effect the internet has had on the industry and her abiding passion for film.

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LASTBLOG: Before you founded A Shaded View on Fashion, you’d spent years as a costume designer and running your own fashion label. What prompted the transition?

Diane Pernet: There were many factors in my life at the time that led me from doing fashion designer to costume design. Partly it was down to place since I had moved from New York to Paris and was looking for new experiences.  But a lot of it had to do with experimenting with different aspects of that creative universe.  In fact I was a fashion designer before doing costumes. I had my own brand for 13 years and when I moved to Paris I took a position as costume designer on a few feature films. I’ve never been one to or map out my distant future or calculate how things might pan out.  At each crossroads, I’ve simply followed my instincts.  Although it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, I can honestly say that I think it has been the best approach for me.  Over the years, I’ve been a fashion designer, a costume designer, an editor, a stylist, a journalist and a filmmaker.  Although they are all very different roles, they do all revolve around fashion so there has been that constant throughout my professional career.   It is the creative process which is the most different, I think.  As a fashion designer, I was a creator in the purest sense.  I had an idea that I experimented with before refining it and finally executing it into a tangible form. Working as a costume designer was quite different even though the end product is still clothing. Because you work with a script and create characters around a framework which has been given to you, you are a part of a collective work of art – rather than the designer behind  a garment you conceived for your own signature collection. On the other hand, the time I spent as an editor and a filmmaker is very different because you’re much more of a facilitator than a creator.  You’re orchestrating several elements together and involving talent other than your own.   But as I said the one ‘common thread’ that runs through everything I’ve ever done is instinct.

LASTBLOG: Can you talk about the change from being involved in the fashion industry to critiquing and reporting on it?

DP: Those of us who are now writing about fashion who were once designers ourselves probably have certain insights that others might not have.  There’s something about the technical and engineering side of building a garment and the process of constructing it that perhaps we can identify with which is unique.  In some cases, it probably helps us to edit or write about fashion in a particular way.  But on the other hand, I suppose there is a sense of liberty among writers who haven’t designed that we may not have.  They can simply assess the effect of the finished product of its own accord.  I think it’s good to have both points of view in fashion critique. For me personally, naturally it was a big change going from the studio to the written word.  One moment you are the creator and the next you are reporting on the creations of others.  So it is a very big transition.  As I’ve mentioned already, instinct plays a big role in my life so although I had never planned to be a journalist it was something that just came along.  And I went with it.

“I champion creativity. That is what interests me most.” – Diane Pernet

LASTBLOG: You’re often described as the first ever fashion blogger, can you talk a little bit about the relationship the internet has had on fashion? 

DP: I think it is how we consume and receive fashion that has changed with the era of blogging. Everyone is privy to fashion in real time, via live streaming and instant coverage thanks to sites like Nowfashion.  The old way of presenting fashion to an exclusive few is over.  The power of the once omnipotent fashion PRs is also changing because it really matters less if you receive a ticket to a fashion show because, at the very least, you can watch it from the comfort of your computer where ever you want to be or wherever you are. Granted it is not the same experience but, more and more, the virtual experience of capturing shows is improving and advancing so that the gap between quality of the actual show and the show online is narrowing.  Of course you can’t replicate the experience of being live when a true ‘fashion moment’ happens on those rare occasions in shows when something is exceptionally moving, emotive or touching.  A few designers do go far beyond the conventional catwalk presentation but for the most part it is just people walking up and down a ramp wearing clothes.  The mood around the show isn’t often a spectacle or performance art like it used to be.  So the difference between showing on the catwalk and showing in a showroom is not all that much anymore for most designers. The real reason that most people need to attend shows now is to be seen themselves.  To be seen is to be important enough to be in a good seat or to be seen outside a show to be photographed for their style to be documented and disseminated around the world. Either way, ultimately,  it is more about self promotion than about experiencing what is being presented by the designer.

LASTBLOG: How does your work in fashion and film effect your view when you’re critiquing current trends?

DP: Whenever I consider a collection I ask myself a lot of questions like  do they express a personal vision through their designs; do they pay great attention to cut and fabrication; are they designing for a real client; do they take full advantage of the countless techniques and finishings available; have they researched the daily lifestyle of the client they are attempting to target and so on. It is interesting to see how brands tackle social issues like the recent campaign shot by Bruce Weber for Barneys dealing with gender identification.  We’ve also started to see older models suddenly appearing on magazine covers and in ads and the rise of sites like Advanced Style.  Fashion is guilty of being prone to fads so the impact of these movements might not be as long or go as deep as we’d like but fashion is somehow a lens on the state of the collective consciousness. In today’s media culture, a format such as ‘fashion film’ — which is more spontaneous and less scripted — can be very attractive to consumers when they are exposed to the brand in an online environment.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the ‘fashion film’ phenomenon has opened the door for  small and medium sized fashion brands to make video ads for the very first time.  Previously, before the internet developed to a point which became suitable for ‘fashion film’ to flourish, only the giant fashion brands had enough budget to make video ads because TV and cinema advertising rates were the only outlet and they were very expensive.  But now, ‘fashion film’ can be accessed — without any additional cost to the brand — from their own websites, through social media sites or video channels on the internet so this means brands only need to pay for the production of the film, not advertising space itself.  And even the production costs for ‘fashion film’ can be a lot less expensive than traditional TV fashion ads in the past.  Why?  Because the spirit of ‘fashion film’ is typically one where the consumer expects brands to push the boundaries a bit more and to not necessarily be quite so precious about things.”

Diane Pernet with Jefferson Hack

Diane Pernet with Jefferson Hack

LASTBLOG: You’ve often stated a preference for smaller designers as opposed to larger brands. Why do you feel this way?

DP: I champion creativity. That is what interests me most.  Creativity can be found in brands of all sizes but it is most important to nurture in those that are the youngest and purest.  It gives me great pleasure to do that.  Also, I was an independent designer for my own brand for 13 years so maybe there’s an element of that in it too.  And I like to support talent not just in fashion.  So that means film directors, artists, musicians as well since they are all connected in my world. It is never easy to be original so I want to provide a platform where talent can be supported.  I don’t lose interest once they become successful either.

LASTBLOG: Has the internet helped these kind of young designers stand out? How?

DP: Now, talented designers from just about anywhere around the world have at least some access to global markets thanks to the internet.  Of course having a presence in a fashion capital accelerates and amplifies everything but you can be a young niche designer and survive on the fringes now thanks to doing business online. A lot of the tools that the internet provides are so much more cost effective than the offline alternatives so this also lowers the barrier to entry.  On the other hand, like everything online, there’s a glut of information and names so you have to cut through it all to really shine.  It still takes marketing talent but now online marketing means that the playing field has leveled a bit.

“… the one ‘common thread’ that runs through everything I’ve ever done is instinct.” – Diane Pernet

LASTBLOG: Your first love doesn’t seem to be fashion or blogging but film, you even got a degree in film before working in fashion. What started your love for film?

DP: I’ve loved film since I was a child when my parents would take us to drive-in movies. It was about mystery, dreams, fantasy and I was immediately hooked on it. When I studied film my school was focused on documentaries. Of course then I wanted to shoot fiction. I’ve been obsessed with both fashion and film for decades so why not join them together and that is why I created my first fashion film festival. Then there are the people who’ve been inspiring to me around film – too many to mention but from the past there was Pasolini, Visconti, Antonioni, Fellini…I adore the work of Mike Figgis especially Timecode which changed the landscape of independent filmmaking. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and John Cassavetes were also revolutionary and hugely inspiring. Then there was Steve McQueen, early Polanski… I like different directors at different times in their careers, like Almodovar, Lynch, Atom Egoyan, Tarantino, Jodorowsky, I would love to see him make a fashion film…

LASTBLOG: When you curated the first ever A Shaded View on Fashion Film, you essentially created a whole new category in the film world. How would you describe fashion film and how does they differentiate from art films?

DP: A fashion film can be many things and captured many ways but essentially it is a film where the protagonist is fashion. When I first started, it was like propelling a very embryonic movement forward. Somehow I instinctively knew that a fashion film festival would fill a much needed creative gap. I guess it was because I understood there was already an audience waiting to be served.  But what I could never have anticipated was just how quickly the cross-over between fashion and film would evolve from wild experimentation into a bona fide art form and a valuable commercial outlet. I certainly don’t aim to create it for a niche audience although I’m under no delusions.  I know that it is not for everyone. Fashion is already a topic and a world that has a lot of baggage so it is sometimes a challenge to persuade people that this new genre “fashion film” can capture their imagination or inspire them in ways that fashion alone might not be able to.  But it’s truly rewarding when I see that epiphany happen.  The idea was always to develop the festival and nurture fashion film as well globally as well as offer a platform for dialogue between the fashion and film industries.  In the Paris flagship edition, we have conferences.  We can also now say that the ‘matchmaking’ element – which was one of my other goals – has begun to happen.  ASVOFF is now putting together a director and a brand to produce fashion films that we have a direct hand in nurturing.  The very first ‘baby’ in this incubation period of films of this kind is for Renault and the director is Marcus Tomlinson. I plan on developing this aspect of the festival more and more in the future.

“I’ve loved film since I was a child when my parents would take us to drive-in movies. It was about mystery, dreams, fantasy and I was immediately hooked on it.” – Diane Pernet

LASTBLOG: Since ASVOFF is now in it’s 7th year, would you say that definition has changed over time? How?

DP: Of course it has become more recognized by the established fashion, film and art worlds than when I first started ASVOFF.   It is a natural evolution so at the same time that some directors are taking it to a more sleek and polished place, others are already returning to lo-fi, raw experimental styles.  What I appreciate the most is the storytelling point of view from real directors and not just fashion photographers proposing moving fashion shoots. But some things will remain the same as far as fashion film’s place in the festival.  ASVOFF has always been for anyone who enjoys films or wears clothes. Fashion film won’t be for everyone but it is intended for everyone.  It’s not just an insider medium.  Great fashion film should touch people like any art form or cinematic form. We’ve still got a long road ahead of us to experiment more which is hugely exciting. We just came back from Rome where ASVOFF collaborated with BVLGARI and Altaroma and where we had our first red carpet event. Currently we are putting together the program for ASVOFF New York which takes place at FIAF March 14 and 15th . We have two iconic cinema directors as special guests:  Jerry Schatzeberg and Mike Figgis. ASVOFF also will travel to Milan this summer, and Mexico City in November. There will be other cities in between but that is what is confirmed for now.

Screens at Centre Pompidou for ASVOFF6

Screens at Centre Pompidou for ASVOFF6

LASTBLOG: Can a mainstream film be a fashion film? Can they have elements of fashion films?

DP: Sure look at films like Zoolander, Pret a Porter and so on.  They’re particular perspectives on fashion but they certainly overlap the realm of fashion film.  More and more, fashion films are on long format projections too so they needn’t be short.  We only impose this on our in-competition section of the festival because it is an early stage of the genre’s development – and because I believe they often suit fashion better when they are not too long.

LASTBLOG: Every year, ASVOFF has had an impressive panel of judges. How have you established connections with these major figures in the film industry?

DP: We try to find a jury with leading voices from the creative and commercial arts which span fashion, film, contemporary art, radio/tv, advertising, music and architecture. A good mix provides us with a lively debate and a hugely valuable diversity of points of view.  As for how I’ve connected to them, I hate to repeat myself but it has happened naturally – it has just been life and my career which brought me together with most of them in one way or another. Occasionally, there will be someone who I’ve not met who I really want to be in the jury who I seek out.  But usually they come into my life and it seems to be for a reason.

The Team at ASVOFF Association

The Team at ASVOFF Association

LASTBLOG: How has your relationship with the industry evolved as ASVOFF has grown?

DP: ASVOFF has just been covered in Variety magazine which is very exciting because that magazine is the foundation for the film industry so being recognized by them is quite a milestone for the festival.  This sort of recognition is important – not just by influential press but by leaders of each industry. That’s how the growth can be seen beyond greater maturity and variety for the genre itself.

LASTBLOG: Of all your creations and changes, what are you most proud of?

DP: In the recent past, I can say that one of my biggest achievements was to find a home for ASVOFF at Centre Pompidou. Being held at such an esteemed creative venue with such a profile and past is something that can’t be overstated.  Another recent important turning-point for me is when I was able to restructure ASVOFF into an Association with a great Board of Directors. Otherwise, what I’d say is that I’m very pleased that I’ve been able to find a way for myself and the festival to continusously travel around the globe.  Travelling has always been something I needed in my life so to be able to do that while developing the festival, working and enjoying myself is pretty fortunate.

Audience at ASVOFF 6 at Centre Pompidou

Audience at ASVOFF 6 at Centre Pompidou

LASTBLOG: What would you do differently?

DP: Well, I made a few mistakes early on with the people that I collaborated with.  I can hold my hands up and now see that they were bad decisions. But despite being the wrong people, in some way, most of them had some meaningful impact on the festival or other projects I was working on.  I think we just need to be able to know when something is not working and have the conviction to stop it.  However, now I feel things are in a good place and I’m surrounded by the right people that are all into making this project succeed.

“Fashion film won’t be for everyone but it is intended for everyone.  It’s not just an insider medium.  Great fashion film should touch people like any art form or cinematic form.” – Diane Pernet

LASTBLOG: How do you see A Shaded View on Fashion evolving as we move into the mobile era?

DP: As online, tablet and smartphone media channels grow ever more important, ‘fashion film’ is also filling important business niches and offering artistic solutions to challenges we could never have imagined even a few years ago.  It’s also creating totally new, sometimes unexpected opportunities as it goes along.  We all know that video has a very important place in the area of mobile – both in terms of business and entertainment.  Fashion film is still finding its feet on mobile beyond a platform to view it but it will evolve into something very exciting in the next few years, I have no doubt.

Diane Pernet © Miguel Villalobos courtesy of Diane Pernet

Diane Pernet © Miguel Villalobos courtesy of Diane Pernet



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