LONDON — Nick Knight spends his days shooting ad campaigns for Christian Dior, Lancôme and Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming fragrance, but in between, he likes nothing more than flipping over fashion’s tough, shiny shell to expose its creative — and imperfect — underbelly. Through his Web site, Showstudio.com, Knight is quietly helping to change the way the world sees fashion.
“The Internet has been revolutionary for fashion,” said Knight, 44, during a recent interview at the kitchen table of his home just outside London. “Fashion is a about movement, so by reducing clothing to a still shot, you compromise it. The Internet, however, is a mass-distribution medium that is able to show fashion in motion.”
Knight said the fashion industry has largely turned a blind eye to the power and potential of the Web. “It has been remarkably unwilling to change and reluctant to embrace things digital and the Internet,” he said over a milky cup of tea. “But the revolution has happened: Fashion coverage is going from page to screen, and thanks to mobile phones, we can now get into everybody’s pockets.”
He started SHOWstudio 2 1/2 years ago in an effort to expose the creative process, push designers and models in new directions and show what the Internet could do for fashion. The site has no advertisers, “which means we can deal with issues and images that magazines won’t touch,” said Knight.
He has been funding SHOWstudio himself, but admits he needs to find investors to help fund growth (although he’s not in talks with any companies as of yet). He’s also looking to buy a broadcasting studio in West London and set up SHOWstudio satellite spaces in New York, Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles.
SHOWstudio draws 100,000 to 200,000 hits per day. In January, Knight’s team used mobile phones to shoot and comment on the January couture shows in Paris and e-mailed those to the SHOWstudio site minutes after the looks hit the runway. In the future, Knight plans to zap the images and commentary straight to people’s mobile phones.
Earlier this year, the site also featured a stream of live images from the fashion shoot Knight did for the May issue of W Magazine, WWD’s sister publication, as well as Alexander McQueen designing a wedding dress and live Web cam interviews with Kate Moss and David Bailey.
Knight, who has videoed all his shoots for the past 20 years, said SHOWstudio is a way for him to tell an alternative story to what readers see in a glossy magazine. “Like most fashion photographers, when I shoot, I produce a performance. Thanks to the Internet, I can allow people into that performance,” he said, picking up a copy of the May issue of W that features his photos of evening dresses from the January couture shows.
“My goal for SHOWstudio was to take the public through the process of the W shoot, and contextualize haute couture.” The on-screen images weren’t streamed immediately, but were refreshed every 30 seconds. Knight put a Nasdaq index on one side of the screen so that viewers could watch the value of fashion stocks rise and fall throughout the day. On the other side of the screen, there were two actors, dressed in suits and slugging it out — a symbol of the corporate battles among the big fashion groups.
Later in the shoot, Knight had a dead chestnut mare hauled into his East London studio. “We had the best tanners in England come in and skin the mare for 45 minutes. I wanted to put the concept of leather and hides into context,” he said, adding that no political statement was intended.
Knight loves experimental shoots, which is one reason why he asked McQueen to design a wedding dress live for the Web cam.
“I had heard that watching McQueen take scissors to cloth was a sight to see. For the site, he transformed a young bridegroom in a Yohji Yamamoto suit into a bride in a dress with a full skirt and gaffer tape corset. He just went into another world; it was a moment.”
He also loves not knowing how stories will end. “I tend to overcompose my pictures, but this frees me up because I’m watching the creation of the image and how it unfolds. I like that feeling of not being able to control the outcome.”
SHOWstudio also has allowed viewers to download one-of-a-kind clothing patterns by Yamamoto and John Galliano. The patterns, however, are no picnic. “That was the point, I didn’t want those Galliano and Yohji garments to be cheap and cheerful. I wanted people — including fashion students —to be able to study the construction.”
Indeed, London’s fashion schools are using SHOWstudio as an educational tool. “I think the site is really inspiring; it’s popular, especially among our multimedia students,” said Maggie Norden, course director of the B.A. Honors Fashion Promotion course at the London College of Fashion. “I’m excited by the interaction of fashion and imagery. It is truly a pioneering project.”
Knight believes the next great favor the Internet can do for fashion is — horror! — kill the fashion show as we know it. “Everyone hates the huge traveling circus twice a year, so why not stage the shows on the Web? It’s much less expensive, and the designer has more control over the clothes and the context. It’s like the transition from theater to film. Theater is great but film is a mass market medium. So if it’s beneficial to the product then why not do it?” he said.
Knight believes there is no turning away, or back, from the Internet.
“Fashion photography is dead as a medium. By that, I mean the photography of 20 years ago — before digital manipulation. There are lots of different ways of creating an image nowadays. In addition, there is nothing more powerful than putting sound with imagery. Once you can link the visual image with sound, it becomes much more powerful emotionally. It is very hard to make photography alone change emotions.”