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How to Create Artistic Fashion Films

Caleb Ward

Whether you’re shooting the runway or a stylized documentary, here are a few great examples and tips for creating engaging fashion film projects.

Above image from DANSE À DEUX TEMPS

Fashion films are a cinematographer’s dream – moody, stylized and often experimental. Unlike commercials, which are forthright in their messaging and typically utilize an “appeal to the masses” approach, fashion films aim for a softer sell and typically target a niche audience. The proliferation of web video has led to an increase in this ‘genre.’ Brands have taken notice, using this platform as way to forge deeper connections with their audience.

Whether it’s through product placement in narrative form, documentary-style personal profiles or simply through a video lookbook, the following projects represent some of the best fashion films. Then, read on for considerations on gear, music and talent when shooting your own fashion film project.

This post comes hot on the heels of New York Fashion Week, the industry’s preeminent bi-annual event. Our friends over at Shutterstock are covering this year’s NYFW, with loads of footage and photos that you can license for your own fashion related projects.

Fashion Films: Story & Style

Your story will differ depending on your audience, product, and client, but the goal is all the same… inspire people to buy the product. Obviously this looks much different than simply creating a commercial. In fact, most fashion films don’t mention the products at all. Instead, good fashion films often highlight the products in a subtle way. What story do you want to tell?

Different Fashion Film Genres

Although ‘fashion film‘ is a bit of a nebulous term, we can break it down into a few potential subgenres…

1. Product Placement Films

Unlike traditional commercials where the product takes center stage, the following videos don’t push the sell.

For example, this film created by Jessy Moussallem for Vanina is a great example of an inspiring fashion film. Part music video, part choreography video…you wouldn’t overtly know they were pushing a product at all. Some incredible cinematography work went into creating this stunning fashion film.

The following video created by Öctagon was designed to inspire people who like skateboarding to buy their products. It’s an unconventional approach for a skate video – highly stylized, black and white color grade, visual effects. It’s futurusitic, a bit dystopian and edgy…and it works.

In this skateboarding video created for New Balance, we see a few skateboarding celebrities using the products. The video is a little more “corporate” than the other videos in this genre, but it’s a good practical example of that sweet spot where a commercial meets a film.

2. A-Day-in-the-Life Film

“Day-in-the-life” documentaries are arguably the most popular style of fashion film out there right now and for a good reason….the “lifestyle” approach connects with audiences. These documentary-like films showcase a subject doing various things which the potential audience would find interesting, but unlike ‘Cool People Doing Cool Stuff,’ day-in-the-life films focus on the beauty in the mundane.

In this film created by Free People, we follow a girl as she travels throughout a mountain landscape. Notice how the style of the film complements the clothes she wears. This is a topic we’ll discuss in more detail below.

The day-in-the-life style has become so synonymous with fashion films that it’s become a parody in itself. In this mockumentary, Viva Vena flips the script and makes fun of the day-in-the-life films that they frequently create. While you’ll probably want to take a serious approach to your film, it’s definitely a funny watch.

3. Narrative Films

One popular way to create an artistic fashion film is to use a narrative approach. A narrative fashion film typically focuses on thematic mashups where the filmmaker will try to combine different styles and themes to complement the clothing or products.

This film created for Bibi Lou showcases two themes that were clearly an objective for the filmmakers: class and fun. The cinematography, location, and clothes highlight the high-class nature of the clothing, while the content, music, and VO make it more fun. You’ll notice that the narrative isn’t quite as traditional as a ‘normal’ short film.

This film created for Ted Baker is more traditional in its approach to storytelling, but you’ll notice that the clothing seems to ‘pop’ a lot more than in a traditional film. This is because when making a fashion film, there’s a focus on making the products look good. This also translates into making meaningful set design choices and spending extra time on color in post.

This film created for Love Stories is exactly what the name brand implies. The film is simply a narrator talking about his love for a girl, with lighthearted cinematography to make the entire film feel more empathetic. It’s interesting to see that, instead of focusing on spectacular cinematography, the filmmakers focused more on creating a fun story.

4. Music-Driven Films

A music-driven fashion film will highlight the clothing by cutting incredible cinematography together with a good music track that evokes the right tone for the clothing being presented. If you’re looking for the right music for fashion films, I highly recommend checking out our library here at PremiumBeat.

This film created for JT by Jessica Trosman is one part music-driven video, one part experimental film. The film definitely complements the artistic nature of the clothing Jessica is trying to sell.

Another great example of a fashion film is this music video called  Snooze created for Forty Five Ten, Tootsies, and Haggar. The film is essentially indistinguishable from a traditional music video. This style can be a fun way to showcase your client’s brand in a non-traditional way.

5. Experimental Fashion Film

If you want your fashion film to stand out, experimental is the way to go. However, the biggest challenge when creating an experimental film is to create an engaging film that doesn’t isolate the audience. You don’t want someone to be so weirded out by your unconventional storytelling that they don’t look at the clothing! It’s a fine line… but when done correctly, an experimental fashion film can be quite effective.

This film created for Upton Belts uses contrast to emphasize the bold nature of the belts being sold. The film is successful by being visually stunning and approachable for mass audiences.

This film created for Ioana Ciolacu is a little more experimental in it’s approach to storytelling, but if you investigate the brand, it actually falls right in line with their clothing style.

6. Fashion Documentary

A behind-the-scenes or documentary approach can give viewers a behind-the-scenes look, while humanizing a brand.

This documentary simply showcases Naked and Famous Denim’s process and values through interviews and b-roll footage. As far as craft goes, the film looks fairly easy to create, yet the content makes it just as good as the other videos in this post.

This film created for Helen Rödel is a simple VO with b-roll footage of the creation process. But the thing that really makes this film stand out is the cinematography. The shots are up close, intimate, and raw… just like the clothing brand.

7. Lookbooks

In fashion, a lookbook is simply a booklet that showcases clothing or products that will be released in a given fashion season. Some companies are choosing to create lookbook films as well. These can look very different depending on the brand/intent.

This lookbook created for Urban Outfitters is simply a series of models on a white backdrop wearing the clothes with a very unique motion graphics effect applied to them. The result is a cool overview of the clothing styles and an entertaining video.

This is another example of a lookbook created for Ezekiel. The film pairs footage of a small European village with the clothing to supplement the tone that Ezekiel was going for.

Finding Music for Fashion Films

Behind every great fashion film is a great music track. Music has the power to radically change the way your audience perceives your film… and subsequently the clothing. When picking the right track, you want to focus more on how the track will complement the clothing. This all depends on the type of clothing you will be selling. For example, if you are creating an ultra-sleek modern fashion film, you might want to choose an edgy electronic track. Whereas if you are creating a lifestyle video for a sweater brand, you might want to choose something a little more folksy.

Music for Fashion Films

When it comes to selecting the right music for a fashion film, you have two options: pay an artist to create a custom track or license a royalty free track. Paying an artist can generate some amazing results, but it can also be crazy expensive. Not to mention the process of creating a custom track can take a lot of time and effort.

So your best option is to license a track from a royalty free music site. Here on PremiumBeat we have thousands of custom tracks designed to be embedded seamlessly into your fashion films. Our artists handmake tracks with character and emotion. I especially recommend PremiumBeat’s fashion page for upbeat fashion-inspired tracks (also perfect for covering runways and live events).

Color Considerations for Fashion

If you want to take your footage to the next level, then color needs to be a cornerstone part of your post-production workflow. This is especially true if you’re creating a fashion film. Color, or more specifically color palettes, can make the clothing ‘pop.’ While the example below is a bit extreme, it does highlight how important it is to think about all of the colors in your scene.

You’ll notice in the video that the colors seem to be more vibrant than most videos you watch, but that’s simply not the case. Instead, the colors are emphasized because they contrast well with the other elements in the scene. You won’t just see someone wearing a bright shirt… you’ll see the shirt as it stands in contrast with the mountains and snow.

The entire frame was colored to make the clothing colors stand out the most. It’s basic color theory. When you intentionally draw out colors in your video through set design and post-processing, you can make your footage look very professional and inspiring.

One color resource that I like to use is Coolors.co. On their site you can lock in certain color values and see what colors go well with them. When fashion designers are designing clothes, they use color palettes… so why should you abandon color palettes when you edit the footage? Spend a little extra time planning out your footage color and you’ll be amazed by the result.

Gear Considerations

When making a fashion film, tone is king. Before you select your camera, you need to figure out the overall tone of your scene. Will it be modern, hipster, authentic, etc.? After you’ve chose a style and tone, then you should select your camera. Most fashion films want to showcase how beautiful the clothing is, so you probably want to get a camera with a high dynamic range. Also, for color purposes, recording in RAW is a must.

Fashion Films: 5D Mark III

If your budget is slim, you could go with a Canon DSLR like the Mark III with a magic lantern hack or a Blackmagic Cinema or Pocket Camera. If your budget is middle-of-the-road, you could use something like a RED SCARLET or a Blackmagic URSA. If you’re going high end, you will always get good results with a RED EPIC or an ARRI ALEXA. Be sure to bring enough cards as well. RAW footage ills up cards incredibly quickly.

While the camera is certainly important, don’t forget about lenses. If you’re wanting to get really up-close shots, you’ll want to make sure you rent or buy a macro lens. And while we’re on the subject, you should probably use prime lenses only when shooting a fashion film, as they will generate a shallow depth of field and a crisper image.

Where to Find Models for Fashion Films

If you don’t already know a good model, then there are a few online resources out there to help you find the right model for your gig. The most popular site to find models online is Model Mayhem, but the models are almost all amateur. They’ll require quite a bit of direction once they get on set. Model Mayhem is cheap though — sometimes free, actually — so if you’re working on a low-budget fashion film, it’s probably the best way to go.

Another option would be to call a modeling agency in your area. They will likely be able to find you an experienced model, but you’ll pay for it. If you’re working on a medium to high-budget shoot, this is the way to go.

For more fashion film inspiration, check out the fashion section on Vimeo where they hand-select only the best fashion films.

Have any other tips for shooting a fashion film? Share in the comments below.