Drawing on the past to create something new in the present is a recurring theme in fashion. This can be seen when exploring the history of runway shows where designer often reference past collections – or in the notion that trends are constantly repeating themselves. This turn is also felt when we look at how Calvin Klein recreates its iconic ad from the 1990s where Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg are replaced by Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin; Instagram-Accounts like ‚@margielatab‘ that functions as an archive of a ‚Tabi Boot‘, a design by the fashion house Maison Margiela that was first presented in 1989 and gained popularity in the last years, with a following of no less than 42,6k; and at how Versace initiated a reunion of the supermodels that were at their heights of popularity in the 90s, like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.
The reference of the past is present in several different nuances of fashion and can be linked to a wider revival of retro culture that is felt in our contemporary culture, in which we experience a reemergence of past aesthetics and practices – of which vinyl records and the way how new products are designed with a vintage appeal of old media technologies, are a big part of. Jussi Parikka even argues that retro-cultures seem to be “as natural a part of the digital-culture landscape as high-definition screen technology and super-fast broadband,” and that Western societies have developed a „wider cultural situation where vintage is considered better than the new.“
In order to understand the emergence of retro-culture and what Laura Marks coined as “analogue nostalgia“ in contemporary fashion film, I will draw on the concept of “the double logic of remediation“ proposed by Bolter and Grusin and further on explore the notion of authenticity. Drawing on media archaeology practices, I will trace the symptom of ‚nostalgia‘ and show how it is created in fashion film based on a brief analysis of three short films by Gucci, Miu Miu and Chanel. In conclusion, I will argue that the use of analogue aesthetic results from the format fashion film itself which is defined by the digital expression of branding.
Fashion films are still associated with documentaries about designers or films which are centered around a narrative taken from the fashion industry, like The Devil Wears Prada. Nevertheless, another branch of fashion film has been defined as aiming to “experiment within filmmaking to advertise a brand or market a brand through visual experience.“ Therefore, I will use the term in this essay, referring to a definition proposed by Nick Rees Roberts, who described ‚fashion film‘ as a form of promotion, whether branded or editorial, which “involves a relationship between a brand, the media, and designers.“ It has been said that the popularity of using this way of advertisement has been amplified by the “digital-first“ and “mobile-friendly culture“, which make brands turn to a more open and effective way to publish their campaigns. Nevertheless, one can also find ‚grains of the past in the present‘, as Caroline Evans showed in her discussion of contemporary films that have certain parallels with the silent era, where rapid technological and cultural change were as present as they are today. By exploring the nostalgic feature which have been explored as a recurring theme in fashion film, I am aiming to understand what drives fashion film today to make use of ‚analogue aesthetics‘ that often result in different forms of ‚nostalgia.‘
Nostalgia through Retro-Marketing
What we most commonly refer to when talking about nostalgia is our preference towards objects that were common when we were younger. Many scholars explored these feelings further and recognized that nostalgia comes in different facets, it is not only a recollection of personal memories but can also refer to a ‚collective‘ feeling, which is a memory shared for example by a whole generation. The collective level of nostalgia was described by Baker and Kennedy as a shared feeling for the past as it is represented by a cultural, generational or national collection. Therefore, it is an emotion believed to be shared by individuals of similar backgrounds and/or natures. This collective nostalgia originates from group experience like stories that are passed in the family but also from representations of the past in mass media, the emotional connection is accordingly formed through “exposure to culturally created events for a prolonged period of time.“ Halvena and Holak also describe forms of nostalgia that do not refer to personal experiences but lay in the expectations about past, not self-experienced times.
Therefore, even though younger generation do not remember times without the internet, they still can get nostalgic about analogue devices and aesthetics.
Other forms of nostalgia have been referred to as vicarious and simulated nostalgia, which described the idealization of past, of not-experiences times and the wish to participate in these.
What the authors derive from this observation is that some types of nostalgia are more predictable than others and therefore, especially applicable in marketing contexts. The marketing tactic that is described as including certain element that stimulate and activate consumer’s nostalgia, evoke memories and eventually promote consumer’s buying behavior“, has been coined as ‚nostalgia marketing‘. These different notions of nostalgia show that the stimulating elements that are materialized in ‚nostalgic marketing‘ have similar effects on the consumer although they belong to different generations. As vicarious, simulated and virtual nostalgia indicate, one advertisement can appeal to several target groups. This has further been explored by Rubo Cui who explained this phenomenon by older people tending to more nostalgia as they have more time to think and remember the past – and young people who are facing rapid social changes and psychological pressure, are more open towards the notion of ‚nostalgia‘ as the past seems to provide an environment of stability and a sense of belonging – but at the same time it seems to be fashionable to turn to past practices. This is further stressed by Laura Marks, who observed students compelling mixtapes and saw that “analogue nostalgia seems especially prelevant among works by students who started learning video production when it was fully digital.“ Nostalgia emerged to be a tool of consumption with the aim to create nostalgic product-making that repeats and simulates earlier experiences.
It has even been said that the goal of product makers is not only to benefit from an existing nostalgic relationship, but also to train towards a nostalgic attitude.
Authenticity through remediation
In their attempt to understand new media, Bolter and Grusin define the representation of one medium in another as remediation and argue that it is a defining characteristic of new digital media. The notion that new media remediates old media is driven by the desire to get past the limits of representation and to achieve the “real.”This realness is not defined in a metaphysical sense but in terms of the “viewer’s experience, it is that which would invoke an immediate (and therefore authentic) emotional response. On the one hand it is achieved in the attempt to erase all indicators of mediation – and on the other it highlights the signs of mediation. This paradox shows how both attempts share the desire to create an “authenticity of experience.“ Highlighting the signs of mediation, the remediation of analogue aesthetics in digital forms, has been described as “analogue nostalgia“ by Laura Marks. She relates analogue nostalgia to the attempt to “re-create immediate experience in an age when most experiences is rendered as information,“ which she links to the desire for indexicality.  This distinction between digital and analogue based on indexicality has been criticized by Bollmer who explains that equating digital with a loss of indexicality problematic, as the internet and social media do follow an indexical logic. Nevertheless, Marks constitutes further that the loss of indexicality does not mean a loss of materiality, as digital and other electronic images consist of processes which are “no less material than photography, film and analog video.“ Although media scholars constantly point to the materiality of the digital, it is still perceived as less material than analogue devices. Bollmer states, that “cyberspaces“ have been described as another world which exists detached from physical reality – in which “bodies and minds are unconstrained by their physical limitations.“ Therefore, the emergence of ‚analogue nostalgia‘ may be explained by a desire for immediate experiences. Meanwhile Jussi Parikka connects the development towards analogue nostalgia to the notion that globalized information cultures are often described as “speeding up and temporalities upraising those of our human perception possibilities“ which lead to the emergence of a fascination with the past. Niemeyer refers to contemporary nostalgia as a reaction to accelerated times, as a “desire to overcome and cure our ‘homesickness’ for the past via media itself.” This acceleration of times is further emphasized by the concept of ‚planned obsolescence’ that seems to be integrated into digital media, which shall decrease the lifespan of consumer commodities, making new fashion appear old and outdated in order to stimulate the need to purchase. In the following, I will explore how the desired ‚immediacy‘ and is created in the medium of fashion film.
Fashion Film and the analogue narrative
A young boy puts on a vinyl record, the song “48” by Suzi Quatro comes on, that was released in 1973. A boy with an Elton John shirt is laying on the floor, next to several vinyl records. In the next scene he puts on his boots, grabs his bag and runs over the street to a bar, where he enthusiastically begins to play Pinball, with several people around him cheering. The Gucci film released in May 2018 uses several elements as stimuli which can be interpreted to active consumer’s nostalgia. It is not only the music that hints to a past time, but also the playing of Pinball, which is a game that gained popularity in the 1980s, especially after the ban to play pinball was lifted in 1974 in California. The boy in the campaign is wearing an Elton John shirt, a musician who had his breakthrough in the 1970s. But the nostalgic stimulus is not only present in the narratives and symbols in the film but also in the visible expression of the ad. It looks like the campaign has been shot with an analogue videocamera, as the picture noise indicates. The practice of using analogue signifiers, that hint to the presence of a camera lens as in this case has been explored by Atkinson who describes it as “vestiges from an anachronistically misplaced, analogue sign system, which are endemic of remediation and of a medium in transition.“ Following Atkinson, it is the remediation of a visible effect, that depended on the sensitivity of the film used in analogue cameras that “enhances the authenticity of the film in which virtual cameras predominate.“
Miu Miu: F/W 2018
A similar visible expression can be traced in a film by the fashion house Miu Miu, which has been published in the same years and which also uses analogue signifiers which make the film look like it is shot on an analogue camera, as seen in the picture noise, the flickering screen, the warm toned filters as well as the format 4:3, which is the classic format of 35-mm-films, which seems to emphasize that this film has not been shot for a digital medium. The film has been described as being inspired by Andy Warhol and mirrors his famous Screen Tests, where he presents girls and their clothes in a very similar manner. The editing of the film also shows techniques that have been frequent in analogue films, like blending in, zooming in and out. But it is not only the use of analogue signifiers but also the use of historical artifacts like a portable radio, an old camera that one of the models has in her hands, which underline the ‚analogue nostalgia‘ in this film. Furthermore, the voices that seem to talk through a telephone about the clothes and girls presented here, use expressions like ‚groovy‘, which is a part of a slang that was popular in the 1960s.
Chanel Paris Fashion Film 2019
Zooming on the roofs of Paris, putting in a telephone number on the round dials of a phone with a cord cable, a woman laying on the bed while filming through the lens of a video camera. The Chanel Paris Film was published in 2019 and is defined by a switch between different aesthetics and screens. Once it looks like it’s being shot with a video camera, with the ‚Rec‘ sign flashing on the screen, it changes to a 4:3 screen with black bars back and then back to the 16:9 format that fills up the whole screen. The model regularly zooms in and out when filming herself but is also filmed in the same manner. Picture noise and a flickering screen define the scenes.
The historian Peter Aronsson explains that the use of certain artifacts – which in the films described above may be Pinball, the phone with the cable cord, the video camera or the old radio – create links between “the past, the present and the future.” Accordingly, the strive for authenticity is not only a defining characteristic of new digital media, as Bolter and Grusin state, but also a determining factor in marketing. Therefore, consumers and marketers seem to be united by their quest for “the real and genuine“ as well as the emotionally charged “magical and dreamlike.“ Accordingly, borrowing from past aesthetics is a longing for the emotional and a way to ensure authenticity for a brand. Muehling and Sprott state that memories of personally-experienced events, similar to those expected under personal nostalgia conditions are likely to produce high levels of positive affect when watching, in this case, the campaign video.
Therefore, the fashion films analyzed here, are attempting to imitate and trying to evoke the feelings that come up when personal nostalgia appears. It has even be hypothesized that exposure to nostalgic ads will generate higher levels of ad involvement. Therefore, the brands here are adding value to their image by reactivating these narratives in fashion film, appealing to not only to the elder generation in which these pictures and narratives of analogue devices like a portable radio and Pinball – but also to younger generations, who, as they touch upon the collective nostalgia, feel addressed by this aesthetic as the students of Marks felt connected to a certain aesthetic although they were not able to experience it themselves.
The exploration of contemporary fashion films offers the opportunity to further investigate a phenomenon that has been named nostalgia. Media scholars investigates nostalgic references in digital media, explaining them as a response to the acceleration that comes with globalization and digitalization; as well as a strive for immediate experiences which are felt to get lost in digital media. The use of analogue signifiers in fashion film today can be explained through the concept of ‚remediation‘ which defines the strive for authenticity as a characteristic of digital media, which also emerged to be a tool in marketing. As fashion film is being expressed in a digital media and as branding – and therefore marketing – is by its very definition implemented in fashion film, it seems only consequent that fashion film makes use of the concept of analogue aesthetics which results in the production of nostalgia.
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