The past fifteen years have seen Olivier Nicklaus hone his career to specialise in making documentaries, with a particular focus on fashion using a tapestry of influence from archives, films, and interviews. But 2024 brings with it a turning point in his career as Nicklaus has been crowned the new Artistic Director of Barcelona’s Moritz Feed Dog festival, the country’s only festival dedicated to fashion films. Fashion on the Big Screen will be the 8th edition of Moritz Feed Dog, celebrated in Barcelona’s Mooby Bosque cinemas from the 20th to the 24th of March.
Nicklaus is set to shoot the festival to new, international heights through his extensive knowledge of fashion and cinema. And, for the first time ever, the festival has introduced a competitive aspect, to “spice up the experience” even more, in the words of Olivier. Each documentary will be delicately tailored to meld fashion and film, featuring the likes of Tilda Swinton, Coco Chanel, Jacquemus, Patricia Field, Versace, and many more. Expect fashion and glamour but also humour, identity and history. And if you cannot attend in person, fear not! The festival is accessible through the online platform CaixaForum+.
Hi Olivier. First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your role as artistic director of the Moritz Feed Dog film festival in Barcelona. What challenges do you anticipate in your role as artistic director?
As a fan of documentaries about fashion and arts, I’m really excited that Barcelona has the luck to have the biggest international festival in that field. It’s an opportunity to dive deep into fashion stories, to invite their directors – and even sometimes designers that we plan to invite also from now on. The challenges are to cover every aspect of fashion, from historic stories that enlighten our comprehension of today, but also to find movies about the contemporary challenges of the fashion industry like sustainability, diversity, inclusion or even, more recently, artificial intelligence.
And what excites you the most?
To transmit my passion for documentaries, and especially here, fashion documentaries which, when they are good, always teach us something about the world we live in, whether for its social, political, or aesthetic content.
Looking towards the festival, tell us about your vision. Is there an overarching theme or message you aim to convey this year?
My vision is to open up the festival not only to fashion but also to other related artistic disciplines. First of all, you’ve got the big monographs about fashion designers like, this year, for instance, Coco Chanel, Jacquemus, or Versace. They’re interesting because they document different time periods: Chanel started her brand in 1910, Gianni Versace in 1978, and Simon Porte Jacquemus in 2009. Then you’ve got some portraits of big personalities linked to fashion and art like Tilda Swinton, Scooter LaForge, Patricia Field, and my personal favourite this year: Apolonia Apolonia. The portrait of the young painter Apolonia Sokol, a stunning and heartbreaking documentary, filmed over thirteen years.
We are currently developing an identity section with documentaries questioning inclusivity in the fashion world. And then, you’ve got documentaries about related artistic disciplines like high jewellery (Boucheron), painting (Apolonia Apolonia and Scooter LaForge: A Life of Art), cinema (Tilda Swinton: Le Geste et Le Genre), costumes (Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field), etc.
A new director means a new approach. As the internet goes crazy with the trend of ‘ins and outs’, could you list what’s in and what’s out according to your new vision?
Of course. When you work on a fashion documentary festival, you have to respond to the frenzy about trends. But for me those trends can be, as I said, sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, or artificial intelligence, more than wearing pink clothes or a skirt of a certain length. And I’ll always be very attached to documenting the history of fashion, which is always a way to understand today more accurately.
I see that for the first-time ever, a competitive aspect has been introduced this year. How do you believe this will enhance the overall festival experience?
Yes, the idea is to spice up the experience. The festival had already a very high level in its line up. I can tell because I was a guest here before being its artistic director, but we felt the need to have a new goal. Having a competition makes it more exciting, puts us on a bigger map of festivals around the world, and also allows us to invite guests that are not linked to any movie but that we feel we want to invite here in Barcelona to share our passion. But competition doesn’t mean it has to be dramatic: we intend to keep it fun!
Barcelona celebrates several film festivals throughout the year, and many related to the documentary genre – from music to contemporary art. How do you think the city’s audience might influence the editorial/curatorial aspects of such events?
We are very watchful to the expectations of the Barcelona audience, but I think our role is also to surprise them. To propose movies to them that they didn’t expect and could fall in love with. In that sense, the movie Apolonia Apolonia that I was speaking about before is the perfect example. It’s the journey into a young painter’s life, and, from surprise to surprise, the end of the film leaves you in tears.
You specialise in documentary filmmaking but have a keen focus on fashion in particular. What attracts you to fashion as a focal point?
Fashion is a great arena for a story, whether it’s treated in fiction or in documentary. The number of fiction series on the platforms this year (Balenciaga and Karl Lagerfeld’s life on Disney +, the Christian Dior story on Apple TV, etc.) proves it. I like it personally because it’s dramatic and colourful, and through it you can also speak of the moment in the sense that the best designers always hold a mirror to the society in which they create. In documentaries, I also like the way you can use the collections of the designer (as shown on the runway) to give a taste of their mood in the moment.
I see that you have a broad range of experience in filmmaking, from fashion series to scriptwriting and films. What is it about documentaries in particular that you find so fascinating?
I’m always looking for the best stories to tell. And most of the time, I think it’s stronger to have the real characters, like, say, Donatella Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, or Azzedine Alaïa. Bigger-than-life personalities rather than actors trying to impersonate them. I always have a great time finding old archives and recent ones to put into perspective the passage of time. When it works, it’s strong and moving. That said, I’m also fond of fiction, and that’s another part of my work. Actually, my pleasure is to navigate between documentaries and fiction depending on the subject. Sometimes, it works best in documentaries and sometimes, in fiction.
Your work has documented fashion throughout history through interviews with predominant designers of each decade. Do you consider them the most representative of the world of fashion?
In the best of cases, designers are artists (I think of designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Azzedine Alaïa, or Yves Saint Laurent, all three of which I had the luck to interview). Artists who have a strong vision, and I think my role as a documentary filmmaker is to pay tribute to this vision. But I’m well aware fashion is also an industry: today, people like Bernard Arnault (LVMH) or François-Henri Pinault (Kering) are very important. They have the power to change things in the numerous brands they own in fields like sustainability, inclusivity, diversity, etc.
Could you share some cinematic influences that have inspired your scriptwriting for fashion films?
There are so many! I’m a big fan of William Klein’s work, he was the first documentary filmmaker to shoot fashion differently. Before him, it was very respectuous and, to tell the truth, quite boring. He introduced irreverence, irony, especially in his masterpiece Who are you, Polly Maggoo? (1966), which I strongly recommend. On a more serious note, I’m also fond of Frederick Wiseman’s work: I’d recommend his documentary Model (1980) about the model agency Zoli in New York, and The Store (1983), about the department store Neiman Marcus in Dallas.
Does your passion for fashion extend past your professional life and into your own wardrobe? How would you describe your own style?
I always thought that even people who say they don’t care about what they are wearing express something of themselves in the way they dress. So I guess I’m not an exception to this rule! For me, it’s really according to what I have to do on the day. In everyday life, I like to be quite casual. But I also like to dress up for occasions. Like last year, when we opened the festival with my documentary about Azzedine Alaïa, I decided to wear a full red costume and, one year later, some people still talk to me about it. It’s a way to make occasions like that fun and memorable. Now, your question makes me wonder what I’m gonna wear for this year’s opening! (Laughs).
To finish, could you recommend us your top four documentaries (fashion or not) to save on our watchlist?
As artistic director of Moritz Feed Dog, I guess my duty is to recommend documentaries of this year’s edition! It’s tricky because the committee was kind enough to take two documentaries I directed last year: Versace and Boucheron. So, of course, I can’t quote those two. More seriously, I’d say Apolonia Apolonia, directed by Lea Glob, as I said my personal coup de cœur; Coco Chanel Unbuttoned by Hannah Berryman because Chanel had such an extraordinary destiny that you can never get enough; Tilda Swinton: Le Feste et Le Genre directed by Pierre-Paul Puljiz because Tilda is really such an icon of your time – I could listen to her and watch her for hours. And then I’d say Donyale Luna: Supermodel directed by Naliah Jefferson, to enhance the fact that we want to show diversity in our line up.