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Essay

Essay: Sweet

by Susannah Frankel on 10 November 2000

Suzannah Frankel muses on the dual naivety and darkness of Jane How and Nick Knight's Sweet project.

Suzannah Frankel muses on the dual naivety and darkness of Jane How and Nick Knight's Sweet project.

Despite, or perhaps even because of it, its cute-as-candyfloss title, Sweet, shot by Nick Knight and styled by Jane How, seems ultimately rather sinister. True, the models, dressed in fondant coloured fancies, constructed by How entirely out of sweet and cupcake wrappers, doilies and the trimmings from Christmas presents, might have made for quite whimsical viewing. Their hair and make-up, too - huge beetling bows and oversized freckles - is naive to the point of being doll-like. Then there is the soundtrack, courtesy of Fridge, which sounds just like a little girl's music box - albeit a slightly crazed one - an effect only added to by the fact that the models shot from every angle rotate constantly. What makes the film all-the-more interesting, however, is that the production technique itself invests the proceedings with a darker, even violent edge.

'We used a 3D scanner to film this', Knight explains, 'which takes a photographic reading of each side of you, and builds up a relief map reading of your body. But if you put shiny things all over a figure, the machine can't tell if something's coming towards it or moving away and where the information doesn't quite add up, it starts adding things on.' Or eating things away, for that matter. In several cases, model's heads appear to explode.

'We didn't really know what was going to happen when we started shooting it. Nobody had ever shot fashion in 3-D, and then animated it before.'

The technicians responsible for the scanner were uneasy with the distortion, and wanted to clean the film up. 'But that was just the thing we thought was interesting about it', says Knight. 'We thought "great" and wanted to leave it just as it was.'

'We didn't really know what was going to happen when we started shooting it', How affirms. 'Nobody had ever shot fashion in 3D, and then animated it before. The technicians advised on clothing that wouldn't interfere with the scanner but Nick told me to do exactly what I liked.'

Still from Sweet (2000) by Nick Knight

This, it turns out, involves a rather more cerebral approach to fashion than is usual. 'I wanted to show how much effort, and even pain, goes into making a single dress. I wanted each garment to seem precious, like an art form. I know a lot of people don't see it like that - and I'm well aware of the fact that fashion is ultimately disposable - but I'm lucky enough to be able to work with people who prove there's more to it than that.'

Rather than shooting clothes from the current collections, How endeavoured instead, to make her own, inspired by individual designers who particularly interest her. 'I wanted to capture the essence of the designer rather than do anything more literal'. So, a Comme des Garçons wrap, re-created in crimson cupcake wrappers is, just like the originals that inspired it, as delicate as a sea anemone: a Hussein Chalayan neck-rest comes here covered in gleaming silver foil rather than butter-soft leather.

Other designers represented include: Yohji Yamamoto, Thierry Mugler and Christian Lacroix. Play at spotting their influences throughout the film, and discover how fashionable you really are.

[1] Jobling, P. (1999) Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography Since 1980, Oxford: Berg, pp.111-2

[2] For discussion of these girl figures, respectively, see: McRobbie, A. (2009) The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change, London: Sage; Radner, H. (2000) On the Move: Fashion Photography and the Single Girl in the 1960s in Bruzzi, S and Church Gibson, P. (eds.) Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. London: Routledge; and Arnold, R. (1999) ‘Heroin Chic’ in Fashion Theory, 3(3), 179-296

[3] Wollstonecraft, M. (2004) [1792] A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. London: Penguin

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A series of experimental editorial images unwrap Jane How and Nick Knight’s Sweet project.