Nick Knight on the S&M inspirations behind Diesel

From Judas Priest footage to the burning of Norwegian churches – the pioneering photographer reveals the references behind the brand's FW14 runway film

For Diesel’s FW14 fashion show, creative director Nicola Formichetti showcased his debut – a monumental event held in a huge warehouse on the outskirts of Venice, heralding a brave new era for the brand. The experience was enhanced by a striking video collaboration with photographer and filmmaker Nick Knight and soundtrack produced by maestro Michel Gaubert – an artful video montage that breathed digital life into Formichetti’s rebellious and energetic sartorial manifesto. The video was shown on three massive, beautiful high-quality LED screens at the head of the catwalk, flashing sequences of striking images of a complex and juxtaposed assortment of moments of dance, classical beauty, heavy metal and sometimes even porn. Below, Nick Knight talks us through the themes and four acts of his film, from enlightening overture to riotous finale.

Act one begins with a nod to classicism, and then dives into something more hardcore. What were you trying to achieve?

Nick Knight: The opening act was all about setting a scene. The fashion show took place in Venice and a lot of the themes we were playing with had to do with Renaissance art, so I wanted to open with the theme tune to Death in Venice. We shot four dancers (the choreography was by Ivan Putrov and the dancers were himself, Daniel Proietto, Jade Hale-Christofi and Alex Ko) and projected coloured lights onto their bodies through smoke so that it had a stained glass window effect as seen from the inside of a church. We were playing with contrasts – it opens in a very classical way and then cuts to something a lot more violent – live Judas Priest footage and the burning of Norwegian churches.

In the second movement, there’s definitely some porn coming in at some point...

Nick Knight: There’s always some porn, it’s Diesel! Nicola particularly wanted us to use porn throughout some of the sections because he felt it was a way of opening up the boundaries for a whole range of imagery. The porn we used was from a set of German film-makers called Inside Flesh – they make fairly hardcore but very stylistic S&M films. We had them choose something specially from their archive and then contrasted it with imagery of water, nature and dolphins. So, again, it’s a play on contrasts. Also the middle section was all about denim, so it was blue themed.

“There’s always some porn, it’s Diesel! Nicola particularly wanted us to use porn throughout some of the sections because he felt it was a way of opening up the boundaries for a whole range of imagery” – Nick Knight

And the third section, which was very military focused?

Nick Knight: We filmed the dancers doing a sort of mock march and showed things like missiles and very well-choreographed North Korean marches – anything that pertained to the military and violence. We also cut in segments from Turkish oil wrestling, which is an incredibly homo-erotic sport where the wrestlers wear these very thick, oiled up, inch-thick leather three-quarter length trousers and the idea is that you grasp your opponent and throw them to the floor and then reach inside the trousers to win.

The fourth and final movement is distinctly political, with the image of three balaclava-clad dissidents – seemingly a reference to Pussy Riot. Why was it important for you to include this?

Nick Knight: The end sequence starts with three hooded figures on screen who then reveal themselves, and then all the models come out for the finale as an entire Diesel army. This idea was from a project I’ve been working on for a while, which was kicked off by the way the Russians responded during the winter Olympics to the idea of homosexuality which, quite rightly, caused outrage. All the countries across the world that still treat homosexuality as if it’s a sin, I felt in some way that the fashion industry should stand up to that and say actually, it’s not okay with us. For this series of short films on SHOWStudio we asked people in the fashion industry to put on a balaclava so that it obscures their identity and then they pull it off, revealing who they are. Underneath there’s a credit that says ‘Rick Owens’ or ‘Gareth Pugh’ (or whoever it is) to say that “I’m willing to put my name behind this; I’m not okay with how homosexuals are being treated or the way that homosexuality is being spoken about throughout the world. It’s not a sin. It’s not a crime. There’s nothing wrong with it.” 

Why is film such an exciting medium for your work with Diesel?

Nick Knight: I think the overall aim for what we’ve been putting out together at Diesel is to send a message which is ‘of its time’ and always looking towards the future. The way fashion articulates itself is changing completely. For a long time, a magazine was the way to show fashion and now there’s a digital revolution happening, changing how its seen, marketed, understood and digested. With the Diesel show, we created a film and it was truly a spectacle. It felt like the correct way of talking about and communicating fashion because that’s increasingly where it’s going.

Diesel Venice: Fashion Film features Alex K @ Milk.