Director of Fashion in Film at Central Saint Martins talks to Sandra Porto about fashion, gender issues and leading a fulfilling life.
It is a breezy early evening in spring. East London has always managed to surprise me, especially today: in the midst of heavy traffic at an impossibly busy roundabout, I turn into one quintessential London streets; one of those you might see in a movie, typically pretty at this time of the year. It only adds to my expectation in meeting Marketa Uhlirova, the founder and director of Fashion in Film: an interdisciplinary project incorporating fashion, motion picture and the arts at Central Saint Martins.
Marketa is a determined woman. The titles of Senior Research Fellow in Fashion History and Theory and Director and Curator of Fashion in Film research project are remarkable but meeting Marketa in person leaves the most profound impression. The woman radiates life and awareness translated into a personal history of victories and constant striving to live a good and fulfilling life.
Like many women of her generation, she pursues a healthy family and work balance. Despite her many commitments and two adorable young children, she finds time to cook dinner and tells me more about herself. Born in Prague, Marketa recalls a happy childhood: an independent spirit from an early age, she fiercely questioned gender roles, which she felt were frustratingly resting on her.
What did she want to be growing up? The question is met with the same shining eyes as a child might have in a sweets’ shop. Her imagination travelled to and from various scenarios. Such fertile imagination is perhaps responsible for her pursuing a career in the arts with a Masters degree in Art History from Charles University, and a curatorial studies course at Bard College, New York. The arts give Marketa the freedom to create and keep imagining.
Looking stylish in her denim and silver silk minimalist blouse, I wonder whether she is a consumer of fashion. So how did she become interested in fashion?
“I love clothes.” She tells me straightway. Even though that doesn’t express in the form of consumerism, Marketa’s sense of style is unique. She elaborates in her love for dressing well and expressing one’s style, something she believes was inherited from her seamstress grandmother who often partnered on her side, rescuing her from unsightly sartorial ensembles. On a particular occasion, her mother dressed her in a rather unflattering green overall, which she very much disliked but had no power of choice. Her stylish grandmother was the saviour, whom in a single remark directed at her daughter, saved Marketa: “Why are you dressing Marketa in such monstrosity?”
Upon telling this story, her eyes beam again. I observe that everything about this petite woman screams truth, wholeness, intelligence and beauty. Such vitality and creativity have propelled her to establish, with Roger Burton and Christel Tsilibaris, Fashion in Film with the first festival being held in 2006. The interdisciplinary exhibition, research and education organisation sitting between the worlds of fashion, film and art “explores the intersections between the moving image and clothing, and more broadly, questions of design in film.”
“Throughout its 10 years, Fashion in Film has explored clothing in cinema in a variety of contexts, such as cultural stigmatisation, violence and crime and spectacle – as Marketa puts it, “fashion and costume in film can be a form of special effect”. The biennial festival has been supported by prestigious institutions such as the BFI Southbank, The Horse Hospital and Tate Modern in London, Yale University, City University of New York and Museum of the Moving Image in the US.
Among the explored movies and themes, there are contemporaneous pieces such as Tony Takitani, a movie inspired by a captivating short story by Haruki Murakami; and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to mention a couple. Perhaps, the most alluring of the studies involves the beautifully crafted and registered visuals from the 1900s to 1920s in which the costumes were the centre element in film. Take for example Les Papillons Japonais: shot in 1908, the plot tells of two artists who draw a butterfly only for it to come to life.
Despite funding still being an issue, it is undeniable that the original work catalysed by Marketa will leave a long and lasting contribution to the arts and fashion. Hearing about the effort and success of the initiative, it is almost impossible to reconcile with the struggles she describes she went through in London. Thankfully, she found home at Central Saint Martins: “People were polite, friendly. They greeted you.” There she was given the freedom to create one of the most original projects London has to offer.
To see more about Fashion in Film, visit: