Profile: Nick Knight on SHOWstudio
Dec 5, 2016
When image-maker Nick Knight founded SHOWstudio in 2000 to pioneer fashion film, live broadcasting and moving image, YouTube didn’t exist. Neither did Twitter or Instagram, for that matter. The former, now the world’s biggest video sharing and streaming service, wouldn’t appear until 2005, years after Knight and his band of initial collaborators began uploading experimental footage onto the web. Social media, now adored by the fashion pack for facilitating quick and pithy reportage of current events, didn’t ramp up until the late noughties (2006 for Twitter, 2010 for Instagram), long after Knight began sending his team to the shows with camera phones to take pictures and record comments.

SHOWstudio is often referred to as pioneering. It’s a term used for the way that Knight embraces new technologies; he completed the world’s first Instagram fashion shoot in 2011 with Cara Delevingne, (then an up-and-coming model rather than the social media titan she is today) long before the rest of the fashion industry fell in love with filters and hashtags. It’s also used to describe his tireless enthusiasm for new talent and passion for detailing the process behind his work, be that the editing process behind his films or the multiple days of shooting that give way to a perfect final fashion image.

Numerous stalwarts of the industry got their first break at SHOWstudio, Knight has an eye for talent as much as he does fashion. Knight spotted Penny Martin, now the esteemed editor of women’s title The Gentlewoman, when she was doing her PhD and became the site’s editor in its infancy. Alexander Fury, now fashion editor of T: The New York Times style magazine and a respected critic, got his fashion director role at SHOWstudio when he was working at a bank. I currently edit the site and Knight offered me a job when I was still doing my masters at Central Saint Martins. The barriers that usual stop talent from being given a voice or platform – like age, education, work experience, connections – don’t matter to Knight. He just cares what you have to say and how hard you’re prepared to work.

“The barriers that usually stop talent from being given a voice or platform – like age, education, work experience, connections – don’t matter to Knight. He just cares what you have to say and how hard you’re prepared to work.”

‘Hard work’ is perhaps the ethos that best underpins SHOWstudio. Its Projects, as the site calls its many rolling series, are lessons in research and meticulous visual graft, from editing to animating or filming. Numerous style trends and new ideas have been questioned and considered throughout the years. In 2005, as a way of considering the power and license of a filmmaker, a variety of editors, with backgrounds ranging from Bollywood, to feature film, news and pornography, were given exclusive footage of John Galliano's Spring/Summer 2006 show to re-work into their own edit as part of the Editing Fashion series. More recently the site has pondered urgent debates around gaze, diversity and equality through series such as Fashion FetishKilled, Girly and Political Fashion. As Anna Dello Russo put it, when being questioned for SHOWstudio’s popular video interview series In Fashion back in September 2010, “you made me think about the power of the new media, ten years ago, actually. Now it's easy to talk about it because it has already happened.”

Many of the technologies or formats that Knight put faith in from the start are now commonplace. For Spring/Summer 2010, he collaborated with Alexander McQueen on the designer's landmark Plato's Atlantis collection, streaming the show live across the Internet for anyone to watch. Then it was a brave, unexpected venture, now, 70% of London Fashion Week shows are streamed.

Knight also made use of the technologies most people have day-to-day access to, such as the printer. SHOWstudio's Design Download series allows viewers to download and print patterns by some of fashion's best designers, including Yohji Yamamoto, John Galliano, McQueen and J.W Anderson, and make their own version. Those keen to learn from designers can also watch the likes of Gareth Pugh, McQueen and Mary Katrantzou at work, as Knight invites creatives into his studio to make garments live on camera as part of the 'Live Studio' initiative. These items then go for sale, alongside fashion by other rising talents, in SHOWstudio's e-shop.

It was that same commitment to supporting the next generation of talent, and embracing new ways of documenting fashion that led Knight to collaborate with QIC on a fashion film award. In keeping with the open approach SHOWstudio takes to showing fashion in movement – be it through GIFs, high-budget films or more experimental mediums such as 3D scanning – the brief was very open. Aspiring filmmakers from over 50 countries entered, using a plethora of different technologies and styles.

To understand SHOWstudio one simply has to understand Knight's ethos and way of working. To him, all aspects of the process are important – from the tireless work of stylists in selecting fashion for editorials, to the role set designers and hair and make-up artists in aiding the stories an image-maker hopes to tell. As he puts it, "SHOWstudio is based on the belief that showing the entire creative process - from conception to completion - is beneficial for the artist, the audience and the art itself."

"SHOWstudio is based on the belief that showing the entire creative process - from conception to completion - is beneficial for the artist, the audience and the art itself."

You could say he founded SHOWstudio actually back in the 1980s when he began filming all his photo-shoots, then just with a stationary webcam, aware that what was happening before him was worth capturing, archiving and sharing. The initial brainwave came to him while shooting Naomi Campbell. Then a young new face on the scene, Campbell was relaxing on set, dancing along to Prince on her Walkman. There were only a handful of people on set to witness the action and all the hard work that went into the shoot. Knight knew it was a moment worth recording. Now, rather than boxing the tapes in his archive, Knight streams the shoots straight onto SHOWstudio. Over the years, viewers have had the chance to watch Knight shoot Karlie Kloss in haute couture for W magazine with the help of stylist Edward Enninful through SHOWstudio's Haute Death project, or Lindsey Wixson in character as a Lichtenstein-inspired Pop Art character for Garage Magazine for Whaam!.

Many refer to SHOWstudio as Knight's platform. But really SHOWstudio is built by, and for, its contributors. Its viewers become active participants – allowed and encouraged to send in their submissions and opinions. That's Knight's ultimate desire – to create a platform where writers, stylists, buyers, curators, image-makers, designers and all other creative practitioners can come together and push fashion forward through open discussion and collaboration. As Knight himself said humbly when collecting his Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the 2015 British Fashion Awards, "You're only really as good as the team of people around you."