Interview: Patrick Pearse, Documentary Director
The concept of a feature length fashion documentary is certainly nothing new. Needless to say it takes both a subject and a director to raise one out of copycat territory and into a space of creative clear air. In this case it is the involvement of director, Patrick Pearse, and young Australian designer, Kym Ellery, which sets the insightful Ellery in Paris a sophisticated side step apart.
Premiering this Saturday, August 30, as part of the annual ACMI presents Fashion on Film season, Ellery in Paris chronicles the journey of the Sydney-based designer as she makes her fashion debut on the Paris runway: the home grown talent with the unique eye who launched her brand in 2007 establishing her entrée on to the international fashion stage.
Yet much of the film’s appeal is due to Patrick’s handling. The fellow Australian sets the cameras firmly on Kym in the lead up to the eponymous label’s first Parisian show; the Spring Summer 2014 collection.
One could suggest it is his perspective and ease in film that has lent the documentary its backbone: Patrick, who says that he enjoys a shallow depth of field and abstract composition, has created a surprisingly relaxed look at what could have possibly been the most stressful period in the Perth-born designers life. Not that he will claim any of it.
Patrick: “I think that all comes down to Kym. I barely knew her before I made the film and it blew me away how relaxed she was in such a stressed environment, all while the pinnacle of her career was happening right there and then. It was very tranquil.”
Patrick, who got his start in short form documentaries and television commercials and has made Paris his base for the past 12 months, met Kym Ellery through her boyfriend, pro surfer Luke Stedman. The two formed an instant bond and, when Ellery was invited by the Fédération Français de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, to show as part of the official off-schedule for newcomers in Paris, the film maker jumped at the opportunity to accompany her.
Pearse: “I originally met Kym to discuss the possibility of her contributing some costumes for a fictional piece that I’m working on. That was in Sydney last year and she happened to mention that she was about to go to Paris. We just connected and got along really well. In conversation the idea for a documentary arose, I had no idea that it was going to be a feature length at that stage and I gathered a small crew together. The next time I saw her was when she came out of the arrival terminal at Charles De Gaulle airport and we started filming. It was very organic.”
With filming taking place over a week-long period in Paris, followed by time spent in New York, Sydney and Perth, the production took “three or four weeks in total” to be completed.
Patrick: “It was really quick, but then it took me three months to edit.”
Though he laughs as he says it and our phone conversation is lighthearted, it’s hard to not appreciate the gravitas behind the film and Kym’s position as one of only three Australian designers (joining the ranks of Collette Dinnigan and Paris-based Martin Grant) to show in the City of Light.
Patrick: “You could feel the emotion coming through the camera when we were watching the rushes back at night. Within the first few hours of shooting we knew that we were making something really special. There was a great sense of achievement. I knew very little about the fashion industry at the time but even I realized how big of a thing this really was. The moment that sung out to me was probably when the last few models had walked out onto the runway and you could see Kym’s emotions, it was very inspiring to capture. She had tears in her eyes and I think a few of us did as well, it was like reality had just hit us and we began to realise what had just happened.”
There’s a moment during Ellery in Paris when the designer refers to Paris Fashion Week as the “Olympic games of fashion”. And while the director states that it was “amazing to see a young Australian achieve that on a world stage”, Patrick has also scored his own major accomplishment – creating Australia’s first fashion documentary.
Patrick: “I had no idea [that was the case] to be honest. Not being from the fashion industry, I couldn’t believe it at all when I was told that.”
Although he may be downplaying his own success, it’s great to hear Patrick praise Ellery’s dedication to her craft. During our chat it becomes even more apparent to just how strong of a bond has been formed between the director and his subject.
Patrick: “She [Kym] was so patient with it all. Kym really held it together and so did her team. I think that the cameras may have provided a distraction and a barrier so that the situation didn’t get the better of her, but that’s exactly how it was. What you see is exactly what it was. Even though we had absolutely no production schedule (Kym arrived into Paris a week late) and it was literally 20-hour days filming with no schedule or idea of what would happen next.”
He speaks highly of the team effort – of camera crew taping the showroom so that boyfriend Luke could paint it, of mixing paint and carrying buckets. It was tremendous effort made for a designer whose supporters cannot help but respect.
Patrick: “Kym has a really great team who she’s worked with since she started and they continue to work together on everything. From photographers to stylists through to the interns that she had, everyone would do anything for her, and we got totally swept up in the experience. Not just in making the film, but it was inspiring to be part of something so big."