LONDON, United Kingdom — “Everyone knows that editorial content is going to change,” says Jaime Perlman, Art Director of British Vogue. As web magazines, fashion films and a new generation of bloggers continue to capture the collective imagination of industry insiders and end consumers alike, there’s no doubt that fashion media is embracing digital technology like never before and becoming more immediate, transparent and multi-sensory in the process.
But where many in the magazine industry see a seismic threat, Ms. Perlman saw a creative opportunity. Last September, she launched an experimental fashion site called Test that embraces the collaborative energy, speed and democratic spirit of the internet and — true to its name — provides a platform for a new generation of fashion creatives to test the digital waters.
Jaime got her start in fashion as an assistant to Fabien Baron at American Harpers Bazaar, before moving on to become Associate Art Director at American Vogue. After a chance encounter with Robin Derrick, she was offered the job of Art Director at British Vogue and jumped ship for London, where she’s lived for the last five years.
BoF recently caught up with Jaime to talk about Test, the convergence of film and stills, moving to London, and the new inclusive fashion universe.
BoF: Since your roles at Harpers Bazaaar and American Vogue, you’ve become Art Director of British Vogue, worked with photographers like Tim Walker and Nick Knight, and launched a fashion website called Test. Is there something special about London that gives you the creative freedom and energy to do it all?
I definitely feel like London is buzzing with a creative energy I’ve felt nowhere else. I’ve also found the aesthetic here to be quite different to America, a bit more experimental and avant garde. It’s been a great place to try things out visually. I’ve felt much less self-conscious here about making a visual statement and feel privileged to have worked with talents like Nick Knight, Tim Walker and Corinne Day, all of whom have essentially popularised their own unique aesthetics that new generations of photographers follow.
BoF: How does the idea of a “test shoot” inform the underlying concept and the way you run Test?
I began Test as a place to experiment. Throughout my career, I’d met photographers and stylists that inspired me, but whom I had no opportunity to work with “professionally,” so I created this platform. The name Test is indeed derived from the term “test shoot,” for which photographers, stylists, models, and hair and makeup teams come together to demonstrate the best of their abilities. It’s a place to flush out new ideas and try out new collaborations.
But most importantly, Test has been a place for photographers to play around with moving image. Almost every photographer I know feels pressure to master film and video right now, and they’re keen to make a reel. It’s an exciting time, as it feels like a transitional period in media — stills photographers with no training in film are clumsily picking up their ‘high-def’ cameras for the first time and tinkering around with Final Cut Pro. It’s a race to keep up with new technology and evolving expectations. Advertising agencies don’t want to hire photographers anymore, they want to hire photographers who can also direct. It’s a skill that’s necessary for survival.
BoF: Because they incorporate sound and movement, do you think films are more emotionally charged than stills? Will fashion film become the dominant editorial format?
I wouldn’t argue that films are more emotionally charged than stills. In fact, I think there’s something incredibly powerful about capturing a single moment in still photography. You lose that in film. But I don’t think it’s a question of one or the other. With the growth of online magazines and new innovations like the Apple tablet, I think it’s about how film and photography will be used together. Increasingly, the creation and consumption of stills shoots and fashion films will be one in the same. Remember, with the Red camera, directors can shoot a moving image piece and select stills which can be pulled out as fashion photographs.
BoF: In most fashion magazines, only the photographer and stylist are credited. But with Test, you’ve taken a more democratic approach, crediting the entire creative team. What’s the philosophy behind this?
A rigidly hierarchical environment is somewhat outdated in fashion. Previously you assisted someone for years and years with no creative input and were totally hidden behind the scenes. When I first began going to shoots, it struck me just how many people were involved in producing the images you see, working their butts off, but never being credited.
Now, with the internet and blogs, people at all levels have a voice. I felt it was quite natural for Test to embrace this new, digitally-driven ethos and credit everyone involved with the shoots. Test is about the process as much as the product and I wanted to inform the audience about everyone’s role in the shoots we do. Ultimately, these are the people who may one day be credited at the tops of magazine mastheads. I’ve seen so many kids move up in the business from the very bottom, and I think everyone that’s dedicated enough to their craft has the possibility to achieve great things.
BoF: You said that Test was about the process as much as the finished product. How do you think a more transparent creative process will impact fashion?
Everything is getting more accessible these days, whether it’s fashion or celebrity. Now everything is within our reach, which is why consumers are becoming fascinated with the process. It’s something that was previously hidden away.
Within the industry, the majority of my friends and colleagues have blogs. People are always fascinated by what inspires other people and often borrow inspiration for themselves. On both levels, I think what we’re seeing is a move towards a more inclusive and open fashion universe.
BoF: Is Test ever a “testing area” for ideas or concepts that make their way into your work for British Vogue?
Test and British Vogue are two separate entities. But as an art director, I find they complement each other. A few of the artists who have worked with Test — such as Norbert Schoerner, Jacob Sutton, Catherine Servel, and Jermaine Francis — have already contributed to Vogue. But Test also allows me to work with artists who are less established and may not have had the opportunity to work for Vogue at this stage in their careers. In that sense, it’s opened my eyes to people who are potential contenders and allows me to mark people in the industry as “ones to watch” who might grace the pages of Vogue in the future.