WAs Ethan Hawke strutted down the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival this summer ahead of the premiere of his new movie, the romantic western directed by Pedro Almodóvar Strange way of lifehis wardrobe contained an interesting trifle: it was put together by the film’s producer.
Strange way of life is the first creation of Saint Laurent Productions, a newly formed film production arm of the esteemed fashion house. Led by Saint Laurent Creative Director Anthony Vaccarello, the emerging studio features projects in development from an enviable list of talent including David Cronenberg, Wong Kar-wai, Paolo Sorrentino, Jim Jarmusch and Gaspar Noé. “I want to work with and provide a space for all of the great film talent that has inspired me over the years,” Vaccarello said in announcing the studio’s grand opening.
Although Saint Laurent may currently be the only fashion house to have its own film studio, Strange way of life is hardly the first project of its kind. In 2019, as part of the Fortnight of Directors in Cannes, the premiere of the Valentino-financed film took place The Stunning Girl by Luca Guadagnino (Call me by your name), another popular author with a chic European flair. Also Olivier Assayas’ acclaimed collaboration with Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria And personal shopper, were supported in part by Chanel, for which Stewart is a longtime ambassador. And the release of Louis Garrel this month The innocent was made possible in part by the contribution of Giorgio Armani, for which credit is given in the film’s opening credits.
Of course, fashion has been linked to film since the dawn of cinema – the medium is able to capture the movement and movement of garments in a way that photography or illustration rarely can. Many of cinema’s most iconic moments are the work of fashion’s greatest artists. Think of Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dresses Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or Richard Gere’s broad-shouldered Armani suits American gigolo. In recent decades, it has become common for fashion houses to hire the crème de la crème of cinema to forge the visual identity of their brands; Martin Scorsese and David Lynch shot commercials for Jil Sander and Calvin Klein respectively in the 1980s, while actors such as Sofia Coppola and Darren Aronofsky continued their work between films, bringing their sensibilities to commercials for Marc Jacobs and Saint Laurent.
For a fashion-forward director like Almodóvar, whose films are known for their color and spectacle, collaborating with big-name fashion labels seems like the perfect solution. “Almodóvar is one of those European filmmakers who have worked with designers from the very beginning,” says Elena Caoduro, film and media scholar at Queen’s University Belfast. She refers to his 1993 film kika, which featured Jean-Paul Gaultier’s iconic cone bra in a scene. “Working with designers is essential for him,” says Caoduro. “Very visual filmmakers have an interest in the texture of their films, so costumes or fashionable clothing come in handy. The cooperation is very fruitful.”
By producing significant work by filmmakers like Almodóvar, fashion brands are shaking off the advertorial reputation attached to some previous director-led campaign films. In return, they gained acceptance at renowned festivals and film institutions. However, this should not be due solely to the artistic value of the work. “The film festival as a business thrives on the sponsorship revenue and PR spread that comes from hosting these branded events,” says Caoduro. “So for the festivals themselves, it’s beneficial from an economic point of view.”
Fiona Cuningham of fashion PR firm LDN Communications sees Saint Laurent’s move as part of a decade-long transformation: the festival’s red carpet as a highly competitive advertising space for fashion brands. “The red carpet is probably one of the most important tools in a brand’s annual marketing calendar,” she says. “The right dress on the right star can reach billions of consumers.” Producing the films these stars promote seems like a fitting next step.
“We’re deep in an attention recession,” says Melanie Larsen, a strategist at trend forecasting firm WGSN. “Consumers today want brands to have a purpose. Cooperation with renowned film directors […] is one way brands can create meaning.” Larsen sees these new collaborations as part of a sea-change in the luxury industry, where “brands are going beyond fashion, expanding their audiences and repositioning themselves as broader cultural agents.”
The fashion-forward traveler may have noticed that this shift has been underway over the last decade. In 2014, Louis Vuitton opened a gallery in Paris and Saint Laurent followed in 2017 with its own museum in Marrakech. Prada now operates the Fondazione Prada in Milan, a showroom with a cinema and café with luxurious interiors designed by Wes Anderson. As a company, it is also actively involved in funding the restoration and re-release of classic films and has a decades-long series called ” women stories, which invites filmmakers as diverse as Naomi Kawase, Lynne Ramsey and Isabel Sandoval to create short films featuring items from Miu Miu’s latest collections.
However, it is not automatically altruistic. Arts philanthropy can also turn the intangible benefits of a branding opportunity into something that has a more direct impact on a company’s bottom line. “There are often tax breaks when parts of a company are reinvested in art,” says Caoduro. “For example, if a company wants to invest in cultural production in Italy, there could be a tax refund of up to 30 percent.”
The directors involved seem at least grateful for the opportunity to realize otherwise commercially demanding visions. Chanel’s financial support on Clouds of Sils Maria allowed Assayas to shoot his film on 35mm instead of digital, and Noé previously received Saint Laurent’s support for the creation Lux Æternaa positively-reviewed improvised video essay on witchcraft, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the specter by Cecil B. DeMille.
“I was interested in doing things that had never been done in the West,” Almodóvar said IndieWire of the inspiration behind his new project, which stars Hawke and Pedro Pascal as two lonely gunslingers who are caught up in a passionate reunion. Meanwhile, Guadagnino is nonlinear The Stunning Girl was built from the ground up to capture the essence of Valentino’s designs. “If I had time, I’d always rather do something,” he said deadline in 2019. “I felt that [Valentino creative director Pier Paolo’s] There was a narrative at work that needed to be fleshed out.” Appropriately for a well-heeled film inspired by couture collections, The Stunning Girl‘S The credits end with a detailed description of the clothes star Julianne Moore wears as her character tries to lure her artist mother back to New York from Italy.
But despite all the elaborate clothing items featured in these films, the critics were cold at times. Despite The Stunning GirlDue to its star-studded cast (Mia Goth and Kyle MacLachlan also made appearances) and its long list of respected collaborators, including the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, the film was widely criticized as a somewhat flimsy work, and currently only earns a score of 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. “It all feels like distractingly elaborate packaging [Valentino’s…] Haute couture collections,” wrote The Hollywood ReporterDavid Rooney in a negative review.
So far, Saint Laurent’s approach appears to be more label-based, offering tailored suits rather than branded items. Strange way of life has also received a slightly warmer reception, although critics seem to agree that Almodóvar’s film conveys his haute style with ease.
It’s also worth noting that two of the biggest blockbusters of 2023 – Barbie And super mario bros are clandestine studio-washed promotions for a doll and a computer game. This means that the new fashion model hardly seems overly commercial. With Saint Laurent Productions as a first name, in fact Strange way of life On the poster, the project looks admirable for how nakedly it flaunts its patronage. And when brands are determined to turn the arthouse into a showroom, at least they’re in good company.
Strange Way of Life hits theaters on September 25th for one night only and includes an exclusive Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar