iane Pernet is an extraordinary person and a woman with an unforgettable presence. Her remarkable career path in fashion journalism and fashion film, as guru of ASVOFF - the first annual fashion film festival in the world, make her one of the leading worldwide fashion critics and a godmother of emerging talents in fashion film and photography.
I had the pleasure to have this inspiring conversation with diane, hours before christmas. Take a glimpse into madame pernet shaded world of film and obscurity.
This interview is devoted to all shaded viewers and lovers of film.
‘Fashion is best presented
when it is in motion.’
Portrait of Diane Pernet
Illustrated by Bijou Karman for Noir Catcher
“The truth is that I don’t dress to please anyone but myself.”
What is the source of inspiration of your personal
style? What do you express through it?
My look has been fairly consistent but subtly evolving for several decades. Whatever inspirations I may have, they are not really conscious – and they come from my own internal world rather than external influences. I don’t look to films, designers or magazines to help me get dressed in the morning. To be honest, I don’t think about my style and it is for others to interpret it however they want. Personally, I think of it as elegant, simple and austere. You have to realize that, for me, my look is very normal. But of course I know that it shocks people who are used to seeing most everyone else in the world dress in a very similar style as one another. I remember when I first moved to Paris 23 years ago, I could not believe how people stared. Coming from New York where anything goes and nobody really cares, it was a pretty uncomfortable feeling. I asked a friend why do they stare and he said because you are different and ‘different’ scares them.
You have a degree in documentary filmmaking. Why did you decide to pursue a career in fashion journalism?
It wasn’t really a plan at all. Like everything else in my life, it all happened quite organically. New York in the late 80’s became a scary place between the devastation caused by AIDS that killed off about 80% of my neighbourhood in the West Village at the time. The epic crime- the mentally ill patients being let out of the hospitals with no provisions and just left to live on the streets and then there were the rats...the size of small dogs. I remember when my landlord was confronted with the situation he said, “If I could just solve the rat problem here, I’d be a rich man.” It wasn’t only the negative changes in New York. The city was not really an inspiring place to be as a designer so I decided that I would move to Paris. I abandoned my business opting for a more livable daily life. It was never my intention to become a journalist. I didn’t have the funds to set up my own fashion business again. I had enough money to live for a year in Paris while trying to sort out my next move. First it was the costumes for Amos Gitai’s Golem l’Esprit d’Exile. After that I got a job as assistant producer to CBC Fashion Files, which is where I met Tim Blanks – not famous at Style.com – who was the on camera. Writing came a few years later when Tiffany Godoy asked me to write a piece for a Japanese Magazine called Composite. So you see, the trajectory into the media was organic not strategic.
Your first job position in Paris was a costume designer for Amos Gitai’s film Golem l’Esprit d’Exile (1992). What is the most fascinating thing about costume design and the process of creation?
It wasn’t fascinating or satisfying at all in fact. I was the 6th costume designer for this one film. I was supposed to be the first one of the group of six but Amos Gitai was afraid of fashion designers, fearing that the fashion would be more of a focal point than the character. He hired 5 other costume designers before me and in the end came back to me to re-do the two principal characters, Hannah Schygulla and Vittorio Mezzogiorno, for the beginning and end of the film. But the most interesting and exciting part was the fact that I was a huge fan of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hannah Schygulla was one of his fetish actresses so that was very exciting for me. In addition to that, the director of photography on the film was Henri Alekan. He was 87 at the time and had worked with Jean Cocteau for La Belle et La Bete and most of Cocteau’s other films as well as working with Wim Wenders for Wings of Desire. He was an inspiration and I thank Amos for those few memorable encounters. The following year, I designed costumes for Arnold Barkus’ film Tempête Dans Un Verre d’Eau and dressed the director and Maria de Medeiros, who were the principal actors in the film. That was much more fun because Arnold knew me as a designer in New York, respected my work and gave me carte blanche to develop his character and that of his co-star, Maria de Medeiros, who remains a friend of mine to this day.
You gave birth to ASVOFF ‘to inspire and be inspired by creation of our times and to propose options’. How did you come up with the idea of a fashion film festival and how did you develop it through the years?
I was writing for the online editions of Vogue and ELLE, which had only just launched. Then, in Febrary 2005 I launched my website www.ashadedviewonfashion.com, which was one of the first or one of maybe the first three fashion blogs at the time. It’s hard to imagine that now when you think of the millions of fashion blogs that are around but the internet was still a pretty barren landscape for fashion back then. As you can imagine, big mainstream publications online like the ones I worked for before have limited space for non-advertisers and I wanted to cover the people and events that I found interesting — hence I launched my website.
I launched my festival ASVOFF in 2008 at Jeu du Paume. I felt there was a creative gap that needed to be filled and I’d been making low-fi fashion films since 2001. Back then, Marc Eley of Eley Kishimoto, commissioned me to make a film for the launch of his menswear brand by way of the GUMBALL rally, it was a road movie. When I finished it my collaborator for the blog in LA asked to screen it there. Concidentally, a day later, my collaborator from Mexico City sent me a fashion film and I decided not to just screen my film but to make a festival out of it. It was more of a curated program more than a real festival. It was called You Wear It Well (YWITW) and I did it with my LA collaborator for 2 years, and then in 2008 I was contacted by David Herman. He had read an article about my festival in a magazine and asked me if I wanted to screen it at Jeu du Paume and if I’d be interested in making it a 3 day festival. That was in 2008 and we’ve been working together ever since. The first year was at Jeu du Paume and since 2009 we have found our Paris home at Centre Pompidou.
Clearly I’m pretty obsessed with cinema but if you asked the people closest to me, they’d all probably say I was most obsessed with being eternally ‘switched on’ so that I can capture, document, edit and – if I wish – share whatever or whoever inspires me... be that film, fashion, art or anything else for that matter. I guess I’d have to admit that sharing my “shaded view” on the creative universe around me is probably borderline obsessive. I’m curating non-stop all year long for my annual festival, ASVOFF, and I’m constantly keeping my blog ASVOF updated. I’m not saying that I’m necessary super meticulous about every aspect of my work all the time. I guess that’s why I was so attracted to the looser format of the blog. so early on. But I’m probably guilty of having an obsessive streak, yes.
“I am most obsessed with being eternally switched on.”
“Shows are losing their power to make us dream.”
How did the global network change Fashion?
The global network took some of the power away from the old ‘gatekeepers’ who used to guard fashion and made it accessible to anyone. With instantaneous websites like NOWfashion and live streaming, attending shows isn’t quite as important as it once was. Shows, with of course a few strong exceptions, are losing their power to make us dream. On the other hand, there are Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten and a few others who offer a magical quality that can only be fully appreciated when one is present at a show. But for the most part, walking up and down the catwalk just doesn’t do it for most of us anymore. Make a film, on the other hand, has no expiration date, a narrative and it reaches around the globe in a way that a show doesn’t necessarily do.
Your first fashion film festival is called ‘You Wear it Well’. When a person is well-dressed?
I think the name sums up a lot of things that we wanted to express at the time because it alludes to the fact that style comes from someone, who knows how to wear his or her outfit well. You can’t buy style. And I think there was also an element of it where we wanted to say that film can wear fashion as well or better than photography. The name was borrowed from Rod Stewart’s lyrics of You Wear it Well. The very first edition of You Wear It Well in 2006 was done with a contributor for my blog at the time. It was launched at Cinespace in Los Angeles and it then travelled to 12 cities in the first year.
What does the cinematic medium bring to fashion?
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, because the spirit of ‘fashion film’ is typically one where there the consumer expects brands to push the boundaries a bit more.
“I am always attracted to elegance but what is interesting these dats is when you see new categories.”
Who are the most innovative fashion designers and filmmakers nowadays according to you?
My criteria for such a selection includes things 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. Also there is a moment when you have to critique even the young talent for a certain degree of wearability. Although fashion can be a fantasy on one level, they should never forget that designing fashion is about translating brilliant ideas into real products. Very few fashion designers thrive or even survive off seeing fashion purely as art.
Personally, I am always attracted to elegance but what is interesting these days is new categories like luxury sportswear, innovative and modern collections that focus on the hidden details, the quality of the textiles and most importantly the cut. And what I think is always important to appreciate when looking at a designer’s proposal is to consider whether it is merely fashion or whether it is something that can be relevant in terms of style. Fashion is something that you buy and has an expiration date whereas style can go on forever and is personal – and has nothing to do with price. Take , for example, a designer like Dries Van Noten whose work is timeless and although we call it fashion, it is really more about style. Christopher Kane, by contrast, changes his signature almost every season – that is definitely more about fashion. Other timeless designers for me include: Rick Owens, Bernhard Willhelm, Haider Ackermann, Boudicca, David Szeto.
For Fashion films, the criteria is much the same. Mike Figgis, because he is a brilliant director and I still never can get enough of his work. Established fashion film directors Bruce Weber and Ellen Von Unwerth always inspire in their very different styles. Newer on the fashion film scene are Mert and Marcus that work with elegance, humor and glamour, Marie Schuller got her training at SHOWstudio, where she still works but has managed to carve her own unique signature with fashion film, Stuart Blumberg has a very cinematic approach to fashion film, Jason Last is a favorite, Jessica Mitrani.
Which are the movies you would always recommend to a friend or a stranger?
Opening Night by John Cassavetes
Martha by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Exotica by Atom Egoyan
Les Enfants du Paradis by Marcel Carne
My number one fashion film is still William Klein’s Who Are You Polly Magoo but there are so many others that I also love, like Puzzle of a Downfall Child with Faye Dunaway – the story of a model and a photographer and the relationship that fashion can have on one’s life.
Les Stars is the first film directed by the prolific photographer, filmmaker, fashion architect and perfume maker Serge Lutens. Having directed two short films in the 70s, Les Stars and Suaire, both were shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Les Stars, which is a spine-tingling visual masterpiece, ultimately made it into the official Quinzaine des Realisateurs selection in 1976. But despite its reputation as a sensation, the film somehow became nearly impossible to find – even online – so it was a rare privilege to have it screening at the last edition of ASVOFF after all these years tucked away in the creative vaults.
Some short fashion films that I really appreciate are The Four Dreams of Miss X by Mike Figgis for Agent Provocateur and She Said She Said by Stuart Blumberg with Marisa Tomei and Elodie Bouchez – and Muta by Lucrecia Martel.
As a fashion critic and a talent scout, how do you find new talents and how do you evaluate their film projects?
I travel a lot always with eyes open for new discoveries, fashion, art, design, music and of course film. I also have about 30 contributors.
I find myself by exploring talents and some come to me by making contact or through contributors. On one level, of course the fashion and the film has to please me. I’ve developed a 31-point guideline to help direct the many talented, legendary, up-and-coming fashion film and creative industry experts, who are on the jury making the final impartial decision as to who wins.
31 WAYS TO WIN ASVOFF
1. Remember that this is your chance to get up close and person-al. So make us something personal.
2. Grab the attention of your viewer in the first 30 seconds of the film. Don’t wait.
3. Do not use the mirror effect. Please just don’t.
4. Coloured smoke isn’t really all that impressive.
Really — reconsider.
5. Sometimes, a little comedy can be a clever way to seduce people who are starved of humor in fashion.
6. Never forget that what you’re creating is a film. It is not a photo shoot in motion.
7. Work closely with a composer to support your images with a fitting score.
8. Fashion must be the protagonist of your film.
9. Have your film take us somewhere we’ve never been.
10. Develop a unique aesthetic for your film. Know when to contrast and when to complement. Consider the raw and the refined.
11. A clear scenario helps, especially if the film is more than 3 minutes.
12. Invest in and have immense respect for good technicians. They are a rare breed. 13. A genius film editor is a huge asset.
14. Sound is a key player in any film; pay close attention to it.
15. Get the best director of photography you can find.
16. If you need actors, then don’t ask models to play their roles – not unless they can really act.
17. Evoke powerful emotions. Loud isn’t always powerful. Subtlety can be.
18. A director certainly doesn’t have to come from the fashion world to make an outstanding fashion film.
19. Someone famous either in front of or behind the camera can be a big boost. But it’s not for everyone and not for every film.
24. Leave your viewers wanting more.
25. Know when to cut. There’s nothing worse than a film that leaves you waiting for it to end. Sometimes, less really is more.
26. Take my breath away.
27. Predictability is the biggest turn-off.
28. Leave room for spontaneity but, for heaven’s sake, have some sort of plan.
29. Snag a brilliant art director.
30. Always respect the time limit.
31. Do not heavily grade the image to compensate for the fact you don’t know how to light.
“I do believe that fashion has to up its game and its standarts in order to make any profound or meaningful change.”
What is your opinion on vapidness and the lower morals and ethics in the fashion industry recently? Does media has any responsibility for that drainage?
Of course the media plays a part in focusing on vulgarity to sell products and underestimating the intelligence of the public. Unfortunately sex and celebrity do still sell products. When it stops ringing the cash registers, perhaps the angle of communications will change. Having said this, it is a “chicken and egg” scenario so I do believe that fashion has to up its game and its standards in order to make any profound or meaningful change.
Does the fashion word need a new direction of presentation?
I champion the medium of film.
What do you think about the mass customers’ fictation on material things and their disconnection with the real world?
Fantasy and escape are often important elements in the creative process of fashion, so some degree of that is probably a good thing. But when it becomes excessive, then real problems can crop up as we’ve seen by the downfall of many designers in recent years. So, like everything in life, I think it is about finding a place in fashion where you can creatively flourish without falling off the edge.
How do you succeed in being on the positive side of the ‘wave’? What lays in the heart of your balance?
Authenticity is what attracts me and it is really quite easy to sense when something is real or fake. When I can, I try to adopt the words of the great Mahatma Gandhi:
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
What keeps awake your public?
The idea behind ASVOFF was always to develop the festival and nurture fashion film globally as well as to offer a platform for dialogue between the fashion and film industries. In the Paris flagship edition, we have conferences and other events in the festival program that are public access. We can also now say that the ‘matchmaking’ element for ASVOFF – which was one of my other goals – has begun to happen. ASVOFF is now bringing together directors and brands 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 was for Renault and the director is Marcus Tomlinson for the latest edition of ASVOFF. I plan on developing this aspect of the festival more and more in the future.
What made your website a ‘must-read’?
To a certain extent, I’d say it’s a matter of authorship. ASVOF.com is about showcasing creativity around the planet with a special focus on emerging talents — although we certainly keep following them once they become established. However, the topics I cover span a great variety of disciplines such as fashion, film, art, photography, literature, architecture, travel and lifestyle. So, in theory, there are many other blogs with similar or overlapping missions as mine.
But the difference is that their viewfinders, their voices and their edits are not the same as mine. The key to understanding ASVOF.com is really in the first three letters “A”, “S”, and “V”. It is about “a shaded view”, meaning the perspective I impart from behind my sunglasses. The same idea also extends to other blogs which are considered influential too, of course — certainly not only mine. Many of those that are successful have big personalities behind them.
Besides aspects like ‘immediacy’ and ‘interactivity’ which are unique to blogs and other online media, I believe that the most important elements determining whether any blog is successful are the same elements that determined whether early style ‘fanzines’ like Dazed & Confused, iD and Interview later evolved into successful magazines. So, with this in mind, in order to set yourself apart from the rest of the bloggers, you probably need at least three essential components to your personality: a strong point-of-view, a unique angle or selling point and a voice that helps to nurture a loyal, intrigued audience of readers. But, unlike printed magazines which have limitations due to cost, the number of potential blogs is endless, so blogs need to be even more vigorous and rigorous than print did in the old days.
You constantly work with fabrics, colours, details, combinations, and that makes you sensitive towards the unusual and the original. What is the very first thing that you notice in a person?
Good energy and a beautiful smile.
What are you most proud of through your career?
Building ASVOFF and continually screening it at Centre Pompidou. Also, turning ASVOFF‘s organisational structure into a formal “Association” with an amazing Board of Directors and a brilliant President.
What guarantees a successful project – individualism and following your own ideas, or collaborative effort, a synthesis of various concepts and visions?
Personally, I would say pioneering a new idea and putting together a great team to make that idea a vivid reality. But sometimes, the “lone wolf” working on his or her own can also produce some exceptional results. It depends.
What is the spring of motivation through your career?
How would you spend the Christmas holidays and How would you decorate your private space for it?
The ‘black vibe’ has never been part of my home décor. I love color and I am surrounded by it. As for Christmas, I love rituals, will pass by Saint Gervais and light candles and enjoy the singing nuns. I am staying in Paris. A friend, Jules, who is one of the actors in the MUGLER FOLIES is having a Christmas dinner for some of the cast and her friends. I will go there with my friend Akiko and Mr. Pearl. Personally, I like quiet holidays.
“It is about a shaded view, meaning the perspective I impart from behind my sunglasses.”