Fashion Film ‘Venus Has Risen’ Explores Femininity Outside the Male Gaze

Launching exclusively with BRICKS, designer Emilia Anne Smith and visual artist Tom Oliver present a utopian garden of Eden within their short film.

WORDS Louelle Loreti Jongen 
PHOTOGRAPHY Tom Oliver

Screening at The Salon Space on February 22nd, ‘Venus Has Risen’ is a poetic fashion film celebrating divine femininity beyond the male gaze and patriarchal systems. Exploring the collection of recent London College of Fashion graduate Emilia Anne Smith, the short film is the second collaboration of the emerging designer with visual artist Tom Oliver. 

“For so long our interactions with the feminine have been controlled, altered and visualised through ideas and behaviours of the patriarchy,” Smith explains about the film. “So it was about unravelling that and creating a space where the feminine body can be explored uninhibited.” 

The film follows model Faith wandering around fertile landscapes to the spoken words of Francesca Gilbert. Based on Smith’s collection, the film represents different stages of dress and undress visualised through liquid latex and soluble fabrics creating the illusion of wetness embellished with contrasting pearls and metal chains. Combining the garments with the delicate cinematography creates an exploration of sensuality by Smith and Oliver within the garden of Eden – or at least its utopian version without Adam. 

For so long our interactions with the feminine have been controlled, altered and visualised through ideas and behaviours of the patriarchy, so it was about unravelling that and creating a space where the feminine body can be explored uninhibited.

Emilia Anne Smith

“I believe that watching the film could be a strong bodily experience itself. The film is structured somewhere between a guided mediation and a powerful speech,” Oliver tells us. “Underneath, for me, it’s very determined, almost angry, but it’s expressed in subtle ways with a peaceful facade.”

Expressing their frustration about the normalisation of previous projects being released through social media, the two creatives decided on hosting an in-person premiere of their project. Curated by Alex Blackbourn, the event will be a celebration of their work, not only showing the film but presenting the original collection alongside writings by Gilbert, jewellery by Kiki Li and photography by Yemi Oyato. 

Before the film launch, we spoke to Emilia Anne Smith and Tom Oliver about the collaboration, their expressions of femininity and the role of gender within their work. 

LLJ: Could you please describe the film’s concept in your own words? 

Emilia Anne Smith: The concept of the film was to explore an experience of femininity that sits outside of the male gaze. For so long our interactions with the feminine have been controlled, altered and visualised through ideas and behaviours of the patriarchy. So it was about unravelling that and creating a space where the feminine body can be explored uninhibited.

Tom Oliver: My role was to work with Emilia and our Creative Director, Yemi Oyato, to develop a visual universe for the collection to exist in, bringing to life Emilia’s goal to reclaim feminine softness as a source of power. We took inspiration from the garments, with the marriage of soft pinks and oversized silhouettes motivating the delicate yet determined tone of the film.

The garments all started from my own body. How does this fabric feel? How do I want to move with it? How does it smell? Taste?

Emilia Anne Smith

What was the inspiration for the collection?

EAS: The main jumping-off point for the collection was the idea of dressing and undressing for the bodily experience rather than the visual outcome. The male gaze is a visual phenomenon, it can sexualise the visual of the feminine but it can’t reach the experience. The garments all started from my own body. How does this fabric feel? How do I want to move with it? How does it smell? Taste? This was all during a lockdown where we had this unprecedented time with ourselves. The colour scheme of pinks and golds made it very opulent and decorative but also fleshy. Another source of inspiration was female goddesses and religious figures such as Venus, Lilith and Medusa – who reclaim their power. For the suits in the collection, the traditional suit was dragged through this utopia that I had created and came out as a symbol of feminine power.

The film has very delicate cinematography representing a utopian world, in what way does this mirror the concept of the collection? 

EAS: The collection and the film are trying to create a place of safety to experience femininity outside of the violence of the patriarchy.

TO: We were fortunate enough to film in some amazing locations which feel like this abandoned utopia – conceptually, we hope that these visuals mimic an image of Eden, void of Adam’s male presence. Time also plays an important role in the film, both with the slow pace of the edit and the inclusion of some slow-motion scenes. I think this distortion of time echoes that which might be felt in moments of indulgence, an act I think Emilia’s work encourages – indulgence in yourself and your body. 

This is the second project you have made together, what sparked this continuing collaboration?

EAS: Even before working with Tom I had such a respect and connection to his work and when we started collaborating the ideas seemed to come together very organically and it felt like the second project was a natural evolution from the first. 

TO: For both projects, Emilia came to me with an exciting collection of garments coupled with some really strong conceptual narratives. From there it’s always been a really open discussion, we’re very open to each other’s ideas and slowly something will always develop from that back and forth. Personally, I also really enjoy the challenge of working with Emilia to develop narratives and concepts which I wouldn’t necessarily get to explore in my personal practice. Seeing Emilia’s research develop into something that works really well on screen is very exciting. 

The spoken word grounds the film by providing a framework to lead the viewer through the film and help them connect with the visuals. Essentially, creating a more accessible way for viewers to engage with some of the more subtle concepts found in Emilia’s collection.

Tom Oliver

Do you think the cinematography from a male director added anything specific to the exploration of femininity within the film? 

EAS: Femininity is something that can be explored across all genders – sensuality, softness, strength and the bodily connection. It was interesting to get a wider interpretation of the feelings and ideas around the feminine.

TO: For this, I mostly lent on the dialogue between Emilia and Yemi, trusting that they would develop more nuanced expressions of femininity than I ever could. Although as Emilia says, I don’t believe femininity is constrained to one specific gender and I often find myself considering my own relationship to femininity in the way I present myself. That said, I understand the delicate nature of taking on a film like ours as a cis man and I’m grateful to Emilia for trusting me with bringing her collection and concepts to the screen.

The film echoes the fantasy of the garden of Eden, removed from Adam’s presence – why did you choose to represent the exploration of young women in connection to fertile landscapes? 

EAS: We wanted to explore the feminine in connection to fertile landscapes because of ‘mother nature’ – the connection between feminine and nurture, life and growth. For Example Venus with water, Lilith with Eden, Mary with birth. Fertile landscapes give the freedom and space to explore the body in relation to these things.

What role does an exploration outside of the male gaze play within your own work outside of the film?

EAS: It gives me more freedom to play with clothing. Redefining the purpose of clothing from an aspect of modesty and sexualisation to a personal exploration of decoration and celebration, building a better connection between the mind, the body and the environment.

The film uses original written words by Francesca Gilbert, why was using a first-person narrative important within the story? 

TO: The visual narrative of the film is quite abstract. I feel the spoken word grounds the film by providing a framework to lead the viewer through the film and help them connect with the visuals. Essentially, creating a more accessible way for viewers to engage with some of the more subtle concepts found in Emilia’s collection. Additionally, the opportunity to work with Francesca was very exciting, her words and performance truly gave an overall lift to the project that felt like the final piece of the puzzle.

Do you think gender matters as a designer or filmmaker? 

EAS: In regards to exploring ideas of femininity and masculinity I don’t think gender matters (or should matter). We all have feminine and masculine parts within ourselves and we should be free to explore these through our creative practices.

TO: I’m sure I’m not the best person to answer this but for me, the answer is yes and no. No – in that, stunning work can obviously be created across all creative practises regardless of gender. Yes – in that, as a viewer it can be quite ignorant to not consider the gender of a practitioner where it’s relevant and for many makers, their experience of gender strongly informs and is engrained across all of their work.

The film will be premiering on the 22th of February, could you tell us a bit more about the screening?

EAS: The screening will be held at 7pm in Coal Drops Yard. The garments will be suspended alongside photography by Yemi, writing by Francesca and jewellery pieces made by Kiki Li. People will be able to walk through these pieces, touch them and interact with them. It brings the audience closer to the experience in the film.

TO: I was really keen to hold a physical event for this project because I was becoming so fed up with seeing my work diluted into another piece of Instagram ‘content’. I’m really proud of what we’ve made and lots of people put their time and energy into this film so I wasn’t prepared to let that happen again. Fortunately, we came across Salon, a social club that hosts pop-up events and exhibitions for emerging talent in fashion, fine art and music.. We pitched the project to them and they were really keen to take us on. I’m also very excited to be working with friend and very talented curator Alex Blackbourn to bring the event to life.

What do both of you want the viewers to take away from the film?

EAS: A freedom to view femininity outside of the sexualised gaze. To be able to see the femininity within yourself and celebrate it, explore it. An encouragement to explore and connect with your own body. What feels good, tastes good, turns you on outside of someone else’s sexualised gaze. More freedom in bodily expression.

TO: I think everything that Emilia said is bang on. Beyond that, I believe that watching the film could be a strong bodily experience itself. The film is structured somewhere between a guided mediation and a powerful speech. Underneath, for me, it’s very determined, almost angry, but it’s expressed in subtle ways with a peaceful facade. I hope that this duality comes across to the viewer and creates a unique viewing experience. 

A Collection by Emilia Anne Smith
A Film by Tom Oliver
Creative Direction by Yemi Oyato
Jewellery Designer: Kiki Li
Model: Faith Aylward
Spoken Word: Francesca Gilbert
Colourist: Erick Moraes
Make-Up: Marianne Widmer
Prod. Assistant: Reuben Jelley
Location: Dreamworld
Event Curation by Alex Blackbourn
Special thanks to Macy Kerrigan, Vincent Riezouw and Maurice Talbot

Premiere brought to you by The Salon and CSM Alumni Club.

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