Ruth Hogben makes fashion films. Once, only designers who couldn't afford catwalk shows bothered making them. Now, what with every dickhead on earth owning a video camera, the fashion world has had to man up (video-wise, that is). Hogben started her career assisting
before making films for his pioneering fashion website
. Since then, she's worked with Maison Martin Margiela, Gareth Pugh, and Alexander McQueen. She's also just finished the visuals for Lady Gaga's US tour, which, these days, in terms of popularist iconography, is like being commissioned to make Diana's wedding dress, or Hitler's mustache.
Vice: You assisted Nick Knight for a couple of years. How did that come about?
Well, Nick always featured in every single book I ever referenced. So, after I'd finished studying photography, I started writing to him. I wrote to him once a month for six months. I was about to give up when I found an
interview with him, which mentioned that he went to the same secondary school as me. That finally gave me my winning letter.
What's he like as a boss?
Challenging. He'd say, "What are you doing this weekend? Are you working? Or are you partying? Should you be partying or should you be working? Do you want to be the best? Well then, less partying!" It's a hard job but I got so much out of it. It must be absolute hell if you don't know what you're getting out of it.
At what point did you start making films?
Nick was always filming everything for his archives. At some point I got a bit bored, took up the camera and started making pretty shots and nice frames. Later, I asked if I could use the footage and try to edit it.
So it was a kind of an accident?
It was, yeah. I was the only girl on a team full of boys and I kind of just sat back with the camera and let them change the lenses. It doesn't really take four people to do. I spent my whole time practicing editing, making huge mistakes, and phoning editor friends, going, "Oh my god, the computer says I can't do it and I need to do it now! Help!"
And now you make award-winning films for world-famous designers. Do you do everything yourself, from the conception right down to the editing?
Yes, all of it. I start by meeting with the designer, seeing the materials, seeing what the mood is. Then I get the right camera, the right team and lighting, reference it with books, transfer it, edit it, color it. Sometimes I use a colorist in a proper editing house, but most of the time, because I have loads and loads of layers, I have to color it as I go. Otherwise I end up having to unpick it all and sew it all back together.
Is it technically difficult?
Some things are. For example, you're only allowed one hundred layers, but you need layers when laying different images on top of each other. I needed to do a lot more than a hundred with the last Gareth Pugh film, so I had to export film and bring it back in. Then, before you can watch it, you have to render it and those rendering times are humongous! For the Pugh film, when I clicked "render," it said: "Time left: about two weeks"!
How did you get around that?
I had to figure out another way to do it. I like all those mistakes. I think because I'm so new, if I didn't do the editing myself, I'd get lost in somebody else's knowledge. I wouldn't be able to find all those mistakes. Ah, and I also don't know shortcuts.
Fashion designers are notoriously picky when it comes to creative output. When you come up with the idea for a film, do you ever have any conflict with the designer?
It's the actual editing process that scares me more, because when we're shooting I'm there with the designer and that's all agreed and signed off. Afterward I can do something completely different. That's the bit when I think that they're going to see it and hate it and want me to change it with only two days left.
How come you're always working on such short time frames?
Because the clothes only get made right before the show. They're always pushing their deadline to the last minute. If there are no clothes in the video, like with the Alexander McQueen film, it's different. I'll always work to my absolute critical deadline though, to the point where I'm still rendering half-an-hour before the show starts. I had about two-and-a-half months of getting three hours sleep a night.
That McQueen film with Raquel Zimmermann, as you say, didn't have any clothes in it. So what was the point?
I think at the moment people in fashion are just really interested in film and electronic communication in general. McQueen's film was also part of a live broadcast of the show.
Were the big movable cameras specially built for the show?
I think they use them for sports events, like football or athletics. The movements were all choreographed by Nick. He said, "At this moment I want them turning and flipping around backwards and they should end in this position." The sound was great, really monstrous.
With film, designers seem to be moving away from just looking at the clothes and how beautiful they are. It's more about creating a whole new world, a real experience.
Yes, you're right. I think it's an amazing way to communicate someone's brand, or someone's label, or someone's vision. It's so precise. And it's of this generation as well. Someone like Gareth Pugh, he's in his twenties, he knows the internet and the power of communication. He really understands that, more so than some of the older designers who can't quite get their head around it.
Are there any designers you think could really benefit from film who perhaps haven't considered it yet?
There's a film out there for every designer. Think how amazing a film for
would be - so elegant and beautiful. And then
, how absolutely disgusting it would be. John Galliano would be amazing. The more outrageous, the more of a hook there is for a film. INTERVIEW BY NINA BYTTEBIER PORTRAIT BY BEN RAYNER