Thanks to Selvedge, I’ve stumbled across the 2007 documentary Useless/Wu Yong from award-winning Chinese director Jia Zhangke about the experimental work of Chinese fashion designer Ma Ke. The documentary follows the preparation and launch of her collection Useless in Paris, and also serves as a meditation on craft and industrial production under late capitalism. From the synopsis:
A hot and humid day in Canton. Amid the thunderous noise of sewing machines, women work quietly under fluorescent lamps in a garment factory. The clothes they make will soon be shipped to unknown customers. Likewise, the future of each face along the assembly line is blurred.
A wintry day in Paris. Chinese designer Ma Ke prepares her newly established brand “Wu Yong” (Useless) to be launched in a spectacular show. An anti-fashion designer, she abhors assembly lines. The trademark of her majestic line is based on first burying the clothes in dirt to allow nature and time to put the finishing touches on her work.
There’s also a press kit you can download from the official site, which includes interviews with both the director and designer. Here, Zhangke talks about the many layers of his film:
[Ma Ke’s] work went far beyond the image I had of fashion design; to my surprise, I found that her ‘Wu Yong’ collection made me reflect on China’s social realities, not to mention history, memory, consumerism, inter-personal relationships and the rise and fall of industrial production. At the same time, the idea of making her the subject of a film gave me the chance to look at a wide range of social levels as I followed the process from design to manufacture to exhibition in the garment industry.
I hope that we’ll get to see this documentary soon — I can’t seem to find any information about screenings or DVD release.