How Fashion Film Gave Models a Voice

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There's a new theme every day on It's Vintage. Read more articles on today's topic: SHOWstudio.

From the early days, models were a central part of Nick Knight's vision for SHOWstudio. The surveillance-themed fashion film above came from footage he shot of Kate Moss in 1995, and was recently uploaded to the site. Since those pre-internet beginnings, he's worked closely with Moss, Naomi Campbell, Karlie Kloss, Lara Stone, and other big names, showcasing not just their static images but their personalities and thoughts.

Knight says that an important part of his work has been "talking to models and finding out what they think, and allowing them to do other things than just stand in front of a still camera. A lot of models are incredibly extroverted. They’re performers. These are girls, and boys as well, who like showing off."

One noteworthy project was his video "Untitled," starring Naomi Campbell and addressing racism in the industry. Campbell stares tensely at the camera, aiming a gun at the lens. The footage is interspersed with Knight's written statements about his encounters with racism in the industry. "You need a space to be able to say these things," he says. "We purposely never carried any advertising on SHOWstudio because I don’t want anybody to say to me, ‘Oh you can’t say that or I’ll pull my advertising.’ We’re independent; we say what we want."

Another memorable — and equally pugilistic — project called "Get Back! Stay Back" involved Lara Stone, styled by Carine Roitfeld, throwing punches in Balenciaga. Stone "took to Krav Maga training with great zeal," Knight recalls. "We really put her through it, and was very convincing at it."

If there's an overarching theme, it involves taking models from passive objects to active subjects. "People think models are pretty girls who wear a dress and look pretty in front of a camera, and nothing can be further from the truth," says Knight. "Great models like Kate Moss or Karlie Kloss, they’re incredible people in the same way that an actress is an incredible person. And a model is kind of, in my mind, a mix of an actress and an athlete. The physical endurance you have as a model is pretty amazing, and the sort of awareness of your physical form, so how you can twist a tiny muscle in your wrist to make your hand go the right angle, like an actress would do. You understand the narrative written to a piece of clothing."

Knight's interview series, Subjective, is a group of conversations with top models like Moss, Karen Elson, and Erin O'Connor, who quickly opened up about their life's work. "The models have never really had the power. In the '60s, '70s, and '80s, they had no voice," he notes. "When I interviewed these women and talked to them, the stories they would tell — you realize how much a model brings to a shoot, in the way they move, how they interpret the clothing, how incredibly important they are.

"I think they do have power now, they do have a say in their imagery. I don’t think the landscape is any way similar to what it was prior to 15 years ago. I think it’s very different now, and I think it’s much better."