Fashion

Ruth Hogben, Fashion Filmmaker, Pushes the Envelope

LONDON — “If I didn’t have fashion, I wouldn’t make films,” the director Ruth Hogben said. “People always ask me if I want to make feature films. No. I love fashion.”

Ms. Hogben was walking from the train station to her apartment in Dalston, in northeast London. She was wearing a Proenza Schouler top and skirt with Alaïa boots, her hair a dark blond bob. (It has been waist length and bright orange.)

With her laser-sharp focus and technical prowess, Ms. Hogben, 33, has become one of fashion’s pre-eminent filmmakers, a standout in a field that didn’t exist a few years ago. She makes online content for magazines like Another and Dazed & Confused. Recent commercial work includes advertising for Dior and Fendi fragrances, as well as imagery displayed at Hugo Boss stores. She has frequently collaborated with the designer Gareth Pugh; at one point her film was his runway show.

“We push each other to go further with each project,” Mr. Pugh said. His February show opened with Ms. Hogben’s eerie visuals of a model cutting off her hair before slathering herself with red paint. “We wanted to subvert the iconography of power and beauty,” he said. They are collaborating on his next show as well.

The model slathered in red from Gareth Pugh’s show, one of Ruth Hogben’s works.

Ms. Hogben’s films are featured in the “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which runs through August. Shown as installation pieces, the films are compiled from footage of all of Mr. McQueen’s shows.

“It’s like I’m being taught by him,” she said as she walked up the carpeted stairs to the second-floor apartment that is also her studio. “I’m understanding who his woman is.” She speaks in a gruff, no-nonsense tone, her tough exterior belied by a collection of Bambi figurines on the wall behind her.

As an assistant to the photographer Nick Knight, Ms. Hogben co-directed the hallucinatory undersea fantasia films that played throughout Mr. McQueen’s 2009 show, “Plato’s Atlantis,” his final runway foray before his death. Ms. Hogben recalled a difficult but amusing editing process.

“He put me up in a nice hotel in Mayfair so I could be close to where he was living,” she said. “He’d come see me twice a day, and he’d say, ‘What is that rubbish you’re wearing?’ I’d say, ‘I haven’t been to bed in eight days.’ He challenged me beyond belief and was the most inspiring person: the language he used, his physicality, the way he talked.”

Mr. McQueen was delighted, she said, when he found out she was being paid in store vouchers — another opportunity to tease her about having pedestrian tastes. “He said, ‘I bet you’re going to buy one of those chavvy skull scarves aren’t you?’ ” she said. “I bought a camel cashmere coat, actually. He was impressed.”

Ms. Hogben defines herself as a feminist filmmaker, and whether overt or not, her ethos is an undercurrent in every project.

“Feminism is about equal power,” she said. “Every time I make a film, she has to be powerful, whether that is sexy or physically strong or the camera angle to make them look strong, I need to make sure everything empowers them.”

A view of Alexander McQueen’s “Plato’s Atlantis” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.CreditVictoria and Albert Museum, London

She continued: “I’ve struggled with this for years. Should my films not be sexy? Is that helpful for young women? It’s a complex, layered question.”

Katie Grand, the editor of Love magazine, often collaborates with Ms. Hogben. She created hypnotic images of the models Suki Waterhouse writhing atop a gargantuan Toblerone and Emily Ratajkowski cavorting with a towering stuffed panda. In another, the actress Gwendoline Christie of “Game of Thrones” danced and did jazz hands as fake snow pelted her. A new film will be released later in the summer.

“Ruth works like a photographer,” Ms. Grand said. “She has a definite eye for hair, makeup and clothes. And I don’t mean to be sexist, but generally crews on films are quite male dominated, and I think they are in awe of her.”

Occasionally Ms. Hogben has departed from fashion. A film for the ballet “Tree of Codes,” with music by Jamie xx, will have its premiere at the Manchester International Film Festival July 2 and will be shown in Selfridges stores. She directed Kanye West’s video for “Lost in the World,” and she worked with Lady Gaga on videos for her last two tours, including “Artpop” last year.

“They’re fun and fluffy and not like the first ones, which were darker,” Ms. Hogben said of the Gaga videos. (For “The Monster Ball,” the singer, in antlers, writhed in a net.) “Her art directors would say: ‘Ruth, there are going to be 7-year-olds seeing this. You’ve got to make something happier.’ This time I made films with bubbles and fluff, and there wasn’t any angst because I’m not in that place, and neither is Gaga. We’re both a lot happier than we were years ago.”

Ms. Hogben’s parents divorced when she was young. She divided her time between the London neighborhood of Brixton, where her father, a vicar turned bus driver, lived, and the country idyll of a village called Offord Cluny with her mother, a head teacher for a primary school. Ms. Hogben said she was deaf as a young child, and attributes her visual sense to that loss of hearing.

“I had my own language,” she said. “My brother would translate to my mom what I wanted or needed.” She won’t discuss the specifics of her malady, but said that at 7, her hearing returned.

A still from Lady Gaga’s ArtRAVE fashion film, “Jewels N’ Drugs,” directed by Ms. Hogben, which was used on tour.

“Someone flushed the toilet, and I thought a bomb had gone off,” she said. “I hid under things for weeks. I turned into this timid thing. I had years of speech therapy, and also I’m extremely dyslexic. School was not much fun, but I was very sporty. That’s how I survived education.”

A sense of fashion always permeated her athletics. (“I had an outfit change for everything,” she said, “if I was going to climb a tree or go Rollerblading or on the trampoline.”) She aspired to be a fashion photographer and studied photography at a small university in the Cotswolds. Upon graduation she moved to London with a dream of working for Nick Knight.

“She sent email after email,” said Mr. Knight, who hired her as an assistant in 2005.

Mr. Knight’s SHOWstudio is a hard-to-quantify entity, equal parts photo studio, web magazine and streaming portal. But at that point, fashion film as a medium was an undefined genre. Ms. Hogben started documenting the shoots taking place at SHOWstudio, which led to broader conversations with Mr. Knight about the possibilities of fashion film as a new art form.

“It was like light bulbs, fireworks in my head,” she said. “Clothes moving. All of the choices you can make with films. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever discovered.”

Her role morphed from being a photo assistant to the staff filmmaker, making films with Mr. Knight and directing her own. “I was lucky,” she said. “I could go: ‘Nick, do you like this? Nick, do you hate this? Is this O.K.?’ ”

In 2009, she set out on her own. “She’s probably the first fashion filmmaker as opposed to a photographer who makes fashion films,” Mr. Knight said. “She has an incredible understanding of women and movement and an absolute love for fashion. That is what it takes, that sort of obsession you see in people like Steven Meisel and Helmut Newton.”

Film is a firmly ensconced facet of fashion now. Every high-fashion company decks out its stores with video monitors, streams its shows and produces online films. Ms. Hogben is comfortable in her place in the realm.

“Every time I make a film, I feel something,” she said. “Whether it’s commercial or creative, I sit in front of my computer and answer questions to myself and feel fulfilled. I don’t care what is going on outside of that feeling, to be honest.”

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