By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
What would it feel like to work in a sweatshop? How would it smell? What would it sound like? It seems most fashion consumers don’t really think much about that, or if they do, it’s definitely in the abstract. Even watching it on TV doesn’t make much of an impact, given that we are so desensitised by all the violence we are constantly bombarded with.
But one Italian filmmaker, Francesco Carrozzini, is doing the next best thing to taking shoppers by the hand to visit the makers of their clothing: he’s putting his cinematic skills to the service of a remarkable VR installation that allows users to experience what it’s like to be in a sweatshop for themselves.
In fact, it does much more: it’s a cinematic VR experience that guides the viewer through different stages of garment production, from cotton farm to sweatshop; from catwalk to consumer purchase to the afterlife of the garment.
X-Ray Fashion, which premiered in Competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival, uses the futuristic medium to convey a strong political message about the fashion industry, which is responsible for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions, as well as being linked to human rights violations.
Carrozzini was enlisted by the World Bank Group’s Connect4Climate, Vulcan Productions and Alcantara, after the Danish VR/AR company MANND won the Uniting4Climate Virtual Reality Pitch Competition. The film director and fashion photographer (who also happens to be the son of the sadly deceased Vogue Italia editor, Franca Sozzani), was the perfect storyteller for this topic, since he literally grew up surrounded by the fashion industry.
In this exclusive interview, Carrozzini talks about fast fashion, virtual reality and remembering his iconic mom through science.
Considering your background in film, how did you approach VR?
It was like walking in the dark! MANND is the company that won the World Bank contest last year, promoting Connect for Climate. They already had an installation in Venice during last year’s festival called Separate Silence, so their script won the funding and they had to attach a director to the project. Giulia Braga, from the World Bank, with whom I had already collaborated in the past, contacted me to direct this VR project.
I had never done virtual reality, but when she described the information that was going to be part of the project, portraying the amount of waste and pollution that goes into making a pair of jeans, I was very intrigued. I also called my dear friend Livia Firth — who runs Eco Age — and asked her opinion and she encouraged me to do it. I’m very close to the Firth family. I went to Livia’s Green Carpet Award, and thanks to her I decided to get involved in X-Ray Fashion.
How did you approach a medium that was so new to you?
The creativity of the installation that allows you to test all of your senses, was designed by the MANND team in Denmark, who conceptualised the installation. Maria and Signe [MANND’s founders Maria Herholdt Engermann and Signe Ungermand], who are millennials, helped me understand how the interaction of technology can enhance your reality and everything was based on the actual conditions we found.
We went to an actual sweatshop, and we came up with the idea of the heat that one can feel inside; or when we visited the drain, so we conceived the water that you step into. VR is really about manipulating space, instead of time and I think this is a great way to show the potentials of what VR can do.
How was it to have X-Ray Fashion featured in Venice’s VR competition?
I was thrilled to be part of this VR competition, I now have a love story with this festival, since it’s my third project feature at Mostra del Cinema, over the course of nine years. Here they also have the only competing VR section, therefore so far it’s the only festival that truly takes this new medium seriously.
Where do you see the future of Virtual Reality in cinema?
I strongly believe that Virtual Reality is going to become a discipline that stands alone, that will have an evolution in its fruition. When movie theatres opened a hundred years ago, people were perplexed, I think we are still in that phase with VR. Several people do not consider it an independent art expression; instead, they connect it to cinema or video games. But I think that in the future there will be VR parks, which could also become a profitable business, because it has an impact on the way people believe what their mind creates through the stimulation of their senses.
Do you think people are increasingly aware of the impact fashion has on the planet?
People don’t really think about how trucks that carry clothes have carbon emissions. Nor do they reflect on the litres of water used into the making of an item of clothing. So when I was given the data, I felt the urge to tell this story and spread awareness, also because I have grown in the world of fashion. Two years ago I presented in Venice the documentary about my mother Franca Sozzani [Franca: Chaos and Creation]. So, I thought this project would have had a more powerful impact if the storyteller was an insider. And I think this is also what audiences take out of this VR experience.
Were you more inspired to take on this project, since your mother was an advocate for sustainable fashion?
Actually, my main focus after my mum passed has been understanding the world of science and medicine; we have created something in her name that will be announced at the end of the year. I had the urge to understand what happened to her, specific to her cancer and genetic research.
RYOT is an organisation about women in VR. What are your thoughts on the matter, considering this is the year of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?
We get exposed to too much of everything today, but reiteration triggers change. I am the son of a single mother, who truly raised me on her own. She had quite a personality, and through her I saw that there is nothing a woman can’t do. As a man I’ve probably ignored it for a while. I was very lucky growing up as an Italian man, and did not know what it would mean to feel marginalised or harassed. But I realised it through time and this year we gave The Franca Sozzani Award to Salma Hayek, for the second time, here at Venice International Film Festival in Belmond’s Hotel Cipriani. This recognition is for women who stand out for both their artistic careers and their social commitment, and Salma has always been very vocal and a great example of strong females who stand up for their rights.
What are your own personal shopping habits?
I still wear coats that I’ve had for 15 years. This is a shirt my father left me when he died – these are his initials – and I can no longer find shirts of such exquisite quality. I’m going to wear it until it’s completely worn out and then I will still keep it for the emotional attachment. We need to wear something we love. I myself have always used all my items of clothing until they had completely worn out.
Women alternate shoes that they wear all year round with a variety of other footwear they wear once a year. I’m married [to Bee Schaffer the daughter of Anna Wintour], I know how it works. As Livia says “we need to invest in our wardrobe.” Instead of buying compulsively, cheap clothes that don’t last long, we should purchase one expensive item that is going to last through time. I believe the wardrobe should be re-thought in these terms.
Finally, how are you sustainable on a day to day basis?
I’m obsessed with recycling, to the point that I annoy people, I always look for litter bins that contain different materials, such as plastic, paper, and so on. How can we not love our planet? Especially if we are going to have kids, who are going to have children of their own? What world would be leaving to those who come after us? We have to take responsibility. As a filmmaker I exposed the dark side of fashion, but the goal is to encourage people to take action. This is the awareness that people have gained exiting the X-Ray Fashion VR installation.
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