A fashion renaissance has begun and Nick Knight wants us all to be a part of it

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In our new founders column, Jing Daily profiles pioneering names in the worlds of fashion, luxury, beauty, retail and technology. We delve deep into the minds and motivations of individuals who have founded companies and brands that have helped shape their industries. These trailblazers offer a unique perspective on the evolution of the current landscape and where to go in the future.

“Fashion is not in a good place. What I mean is that fashion has a problem in the real world,” noted acclaimed photographer and image maker Nick Knight immediately. He sips coffee from a delicately illustrated Chinese teacup – something that makes a stark contrast to the chipped white walls of his famous SHOWstudio space.

We’re sitting in the atrium of the building, which Knight explains was once a place for art investors to store their off-season pieces in the 18th century. “There are a lot of rich people here,” he laughs. It’s also home to Knight himself, now one of fashion’s pre-eminent image-makers and champions of out-of-the-box creativity.

With the pleasantries settled on an otherwise uneventful Monday afternoon, Knight wastes no time trying to figure out why we’re here. In short, to learn about the birth of SHOWstudio, the people driving contemporary culture – like @uglyworldwide, the Instagram star Knight is launching a cross-dimensional NFT collaboration with next month – and the death of the fashion industry as us once knew.

The ingredients for a multimedia empire

Prior to founding the multi-award winning fashion film website SHOWstudio in 2000, Nick Knight was already making a name for himself across London, often turning to subcultures for inspiration. He published his award-winning first book, skinheads, back in 1985. Then after a time as that Commissioning image editor for iD in the ’90s, Knight set about starting his own multimedia workshop.

But he had his challenges. “People just didn’t understand it at all,” he recalls. “We entered this new space, the parameters of which were not really defined yet. We didn’t know how far it would go or if it would even resonate.” Still, the risk paid off and 22 years later his platform remains one of the most influential and innovative new media in fashion media to date.

Throughout his career, Knight has worked with an eclectic roster of models, ranging from ’90s It girls “supers” Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell to the more eccentric aesthetics of Bjork and Lady Gaga. But one thing he noticed behind the lens was the irrefutable lack of autonomy experienced by many, often lesser known, names. He argues that “Often the concept of a model in fashion is touted as a blank canvas, which I don’t find very nice. I don’t think people should be called blank canvases.” A topic that has occupied him for a long time. In 2014, his project Subjective explored the often-overlooked role models, putting them in the spotlight and giving each individual a voice.

Nick Knight, supermodel Kate Moss and artist Sarah Morris collaborated on a voyeuristic fashion film about celebrity, privacy and surveillance. Photo: SHOWstudio

As he states: “You can wear any article of clothing [models] and they become that fantasy that a photographer, stylist, makeup artist, or designer is trying to create, which is okay to a degree. But almost all models confessed that they had no control, no opinion. They were mute. And I don’t think that’s trendy.” Recognizing the power imbalance, Knight has since made a commitment to ensure his workplace is an inclusive, more holistic dynamic. “I wanted to recreate that relationship between the model and the image.”

Outlook on the new World Wide Web3

So back to the studio – an archival celebration of fashion at its finest. Here one might assume that Knight draws inspiration from the past, but in fact the opposite is true. Already deeply immersed in the philosophy of digitized fashion, he ponders the possibilities of the newfound world of Web3.

Wears a sharp-cut, signature Savile Row suit a uniform so enduring that it has etched itself into Knight’s identity He grabs the lapels of his jacket and asks, “How are we going to have our clothes tailored in the metaverse?” But beneath the joke, it’s clear there’s an air of sincerity in his words. This new world is something the Creator has been thinking about for some time. The enforced lockdown of the pandemic has only accelerated his ambitions.

He remembers how he initially thought during this time: “Okay, then I’ll take a compulsory vacation.” But nothing could have been further from the truth. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about things like the Metaverse and this idea of ​​remote work and avatars and CGI. Then the pandemic forced us to take a closer look at our digital environment. I think things probably sped up about 10 years because people were really thinking about what they could do next within those constraints,” he continues. Even as restrictions were lifted while others celebrated the return to so-called normalcy, Knight honed its focus on the opportunities – and benefits – of the online terrain.

“Physical fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world. And we can’t keep ignoring it. One of the solutions is to focus more on digital fashion in virtual space. That’s something I’m trying to address.” he adds.

“Physical fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world. And we can’t keep ignoring it. One of the solutions is to get more involved with digital fashion in virtual space.”

About breaking up the landscape of Asia and how it is a force for the future of fashion

Whether in the physical or digital world, it’s evident that the founder is now a legend. And after launching SHOWstudio, it didn’t take long before his work was recognized in all major fashion centers around the world, including Asia. Over the years, the continent has fallen in love with his creative eye. There were exhibitions like Nick Knight: Image Showcase in Seoul in 2016, Quiet in Tokyo’s The Mass in 2018 and an honorable mention in Beyond fashion in the same year at ArtisTree in Hong Kong.

Nick Knight: image featured over 100 works and installations that highlighted Knight’s constant reinvention of the process of image making. Photo: SHOWstudio

When asked about Asia, he replies enthusiastically “It’s such a huge power. I think the most interesting fashion films are currently coming from Asia. Any kind of culture that’s emerging like Asia, you get that burst of creative energy, and I think that’s what we’re seeing coming through.”

Knight’s first exhibition in Korea (at the artistic landmark Daelim Museum in Seoul) featured a curated fusion of Photos, videos and installations from throughout his career, demonstrating his avant-garde approach to overturning conventional ideals of beauty. “I wanted to do it in Asia and not in Europe or America because I feel like the mindset is more like mine. It felt more progressive, forward-thinking. Europe tends to look back to the past, while Asia looks forward,” he says.

“Europe tends to look back to the past, while Asia looks ahead.”

Whether geographical or generational, there simply is no rule book for the British director. In fact, his entire vocation was designed to reject the formula that has dominated imaging for decades. He doesn’t want to be perceived as a “photographer” or fall into the repetition trap that often accompanies the title. “I don’t want to repeat those moments from fashion photography,” he affirms.

So I ask Knight what he sees as fashionable in the industry now. “Fashion has almost gone out of fashion. Also, the idea of ​​a catwalk show isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. This younger audience is embracing that sentiment and wanting something different. Just like Jazelle.”

promote individuality

As if on cue, Knight pulls out his phone to show me clips from his latest project called ikon-1, the aforementioned collaboration with Jazelle Zanaughtti, better known as her social name @uglyworldwide. As a non-binary spearhead, Jazelle is best known for a craft that subverts traditional standards of beauty and instead celebrates the weird and wonderful. “I found her on Instagram,” Knight explains when asked how the partnership came about. “They are very productive with their own image and have the ability to present many different versions of themselves.”

Left: ikon-1 wears dress by Alejandro Delgado with hair by Eugene Souleiman. Right: ikon-1 wears a Jazzelle t-shirt and trousers by Maison Taskin, along with a handbag by Masha Batsii and hair by Eugene Souleiman. Photo: SHOWstudio

With the advent of social media and new channels of expression, the focus has been on how fashion can bring together the kingpins of the industry with this new wave of changemakers: most of them using their platforms to promote authenticity.

“You hear a lot of really negative things about social media, some of which are true and valid, but you don’t hear the positive things. Social media allows those who didn’t necessarily meet the beauty standard to build their own following, their own fan base, and ultimately set the standard and fundamentally change the power dynamic of the industry.” In Jazelle’s case, they are a juggernaut bringing new life into a often brings outdated scenery – and Knight wants the world to know about it.

The beginning of a new era

Though he’s been an undisputed force and a cornerstone of fashion for decades, what’s striking about Knight is his openness to being vulnerable. He wants to make it absolutely clear that the pressure never lets up. “I think I feel a kind of artistic obligation. To make sure I create something with as much as I put into my photographs. I put a lot of handwork into them, a lot of care and love, and we spend a lot of time creating my paintings. So I didn’t want to do anything that I just felt was disposable,” he reveals when he talks about his latest project.

His latest virtual venture marks just the beginning of what he sees as a long-term endeavor in fashion’s newfound spaces – the Metaverse is just the beginning. Throughout his career, Knight has eschewed all the tropes of what it means to be a fashion creator, instead focusing his passion on pushing the parameters of what is possible. From taking photos on iPhones to using robotic arms in London to lead sessions in Shanghai, the artist has proven time and time again why he remains one of fashion’s most influential and important visionaries today. So what makes an icon an icon?

“This is someone who can capture the zeitgeist” knight says. “It is this person who is able to see what the world wanted to see, the crystallization of common desire. It’s about merging not just this world with the next, but all of them. It’s about independence. It’s someone who can understand the values ​​that people are talking about now. That is what makes an icon.”

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