With his latest magazine Hunger, legendary fashion photographer and editor Rankin has prioritized creating content, like video, that lives digitally (to the point that he's not sure print has a future, but that's another story). The straightforward Brit is one of the few content-makers to realize fashion films don't have to be serious, which his why his latest, a fashion "mockumentary," stood out to us, even though Rankin wasn't sure Americans would get the humor.
In "Le chaise ironique," he plays an "amped-up," diva version of himself on the set of a photo shoot. He wears sunglasses indoors, plays with a Chanel tennis racket (not #spon), blows up at his assistant and glam team, takes a prop chair way too seriously, and snubs former Vogue UK Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman for not wanting to work with him, among other things.
Yes it's all a joke, but like any good satire, it reveals a lot of truths about the industry and about Rankin himself. For one, he used to be an insane diva. "It's me amped up to 16 or 17," he says. "I've been that person screaming at someone because they haven't told the model she's going topless — which is the concept of the shoot — or because the makeup or hair isn't right." However, he claims that he has since mellowed out.
Speaking of makeup and hair, in one of the film's funniest scenes, Rankin complains about what he calls "glam prison" and how he's likely wasted two years of his life waiting for models to get out of glam, commenting to the hair and makeup professionals that the model "looked better when she came in." Glam prison is also very real. "I have been in situations where celebrities have cried or they've run off set. It's like they're being abused in 'glam prison,' and I've been in situations — and I'm never going to name names — where people have gone in and they looked amazing and they come out and I'm like, 'What did you do to them?'" In real life though, he's more sympathetic towards the models. "It's important for me to ask, 'Are you happy with the way you look? Are you sure you're OK with this?'"
The Alexandra Shulman bit was also rooted in truth. "I did sweat in front of Alexandra Shulman," he says, explaining that he shot for her "a couple of times" and then had a meeting with her, which he went into with a really bad hangover, hence the sweating. "I've been a bit of a party guy," he notes.
Rankin is known to joke around on set to make those around him, especially models who may be meeting a group of people for the first time, feel comfortable. He says the idea for the film sort of came from that and his tendency to be honest and blunt about what is and isn't working.
The film also sheds light on the photographer or director/model dynamic, and as we're talking, the subject of Kendall Jenner's Pepsi debacle comes up. "The Pepsi commercial would've never happened with me, 'cause I would've said, 'That's a really bad idea.' I think people pay me to sit in a room and go, 'This is a really bad idea, guys,'" he says. "When they apologized to [Jenner], that's probably the best thing I've read."
For what it's worth, Rankin has sympathy for the model in these situations. "Everyone can say, 'Oh, she's got a cushy life and she's rich and she's had it all handed to her, but I've seen how hard she works," he says. "If you've never experienced that, you really don't know how hard it is to deal with it. If you write that in an interview, its going to seem very empty. But these 17-, 18-, 19-year-old girls are working 20-hour days... and there's no way you can say the whole responsibility would be on that one person."
With decades of experience in the industry, Rankin has a lot of stories to tell and a rare appreciation for how hilarious and strange this industry is; he even points out how existing fashion documentaries are largely serious. So can we expect more of these "mockumentaries," or even something full-length? He says he might do another, more fleshed out digital short (this one was mostly improvised), but has no pretense of doing something on a larger scale. "I'm not Ricky Gervais," he says. "The minute you start doing something with more structure, it becomes much, much less fun."