BlackBook Premiere: Natalie Shirinian Directs Exquisite New Fashion Film For Designer Louiza Babouryan

Growing up between Armenia and America, it was Louiza Babouryan‘s father’s jewelry creations that first inspired her youthful experiments with clothing design. She eventually graduated from LA’s Otis College of Art and Design, and, deciding to skip all the tedious ladder-climbing in the New York fashion world, instead launched her own eponymous line in 2010, with a stylistic manifesto built around the notion of free-flowing femininity. She created – and continues to create – clothes that convey a distinctly contemporary sense of elegance, always allowing the body preeminence over the garment, rather than the typical other way around.

Her styles would eventually end up on the famous frames of the likes of Elle Fanning, Evan Rachel Wood, Kilo Kash, Lorde, and even multiple-Oscar-winner Glenn Close. But like so many other indie fashion designers, retail closures and a global populace that suddenly found itself without a reason to dress up, meant that the pandemic took a particular toll. But she enthuses that eventually her clients just wanted to get dressed up again, “even if it meant dressing up at home.”

Many of the top fashion houses responded to the long-awaited easing of COVID restrictions with exuberant bursts of creativity, Chanel enlisting Sofia Coppola, Ferragamo collabing with Wim Wenders, and Margiela with Olivier Dahan, to name but a few examples. Babouryan was similarly inspired to do her first promotional clip, enlisting award-winning queer Armenian filmmaker Natalie Shirinian, whose production company NES Films is also based in Los Angeles. Shirinian had already been featured in the InStyle “Badass Women” Issue, and accumulated additional glowing ink in the likes of Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Interview and the New York Times. Notably, her recent semi-autobiographical Hello Mother (Parev Mama) won Best Short Film at the Big Apple Film Festival, and continues to be a hit on the festival circuit.

But perfectly capturing the post-quarantine psychological/emotional zeitgeist, her new collab with Babouryan titled Fantasy Skate (which BlackBook enthusiastically premieres here) uses the theme of skating to perfectly explicate the sense of regained freedom, after so many months of such severe restrictions. And the film employs graceful but spirited movement – all soundtracked by Sub Pop artist Still Corners’ ‘Into The Trees’ – to express something essential about the clothes themselves.

We slowed them both down long enough to discuss how it came about, and what it all means.

Natalie, have you done any other fashion films?

Natalie Shirinian: This is actually my first fashion film. I’ve done a dance campaign, and mostly narrative and documentary films. I actually began my career as an actress appearing in television, film and commercials, and my directorial debut was the documentary film Interior Motives, which captured the connection between fashion and design through the perspectives of industry leaders like Michele Lamy, Maria Cornejo, Tommy Hilfiger, and other influencers and icons. It won a few Best Short Film awards at festivals and was inducted into the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) film collection library, which I’m super proud of.

What did you want the film to say about Louiza’s designs?

NS: I wanted to showcase her work in an ethereal way, immersing in the materials and stunning colors she uses. The way her clothing flows on the body is so captivating to me, I wanted the film to feel like that.  

Louiza, what is your design philosophy? 

Louiza Babouryan: My design philosophy is, “Don’t save romance for a special occasion, you can wear the pearls, feathers, and precious materials every day.”

What made this the right time to do your first fashion film?

LB: I’ve actually been wanting to do a film for quite some time, and the opportunity just presented itself when Natalie proposed the concept – it was kismet. 

How did you arrive at the concept of skating / motion?

NS: The movement of Louiza’s designs were the inspiration to what made me want to see her clothing in particular on the body, in motion. Skating in my opinion was the best way to showcase that concept. The film was also shot specifically in slow motion, which was important to me to express flair and movement. We got lucky with the breeze that day too, since it added to the dress’ stunning effect. Funny enough, Louiza also [had the idea] to do a skate film. 

What was it like working with Natalie?

LB: We’ve collaborated in the past and I love her work. We share the same aesthetic, and working with her is always a treat. I love the way the film came out.  

How do you feel the film conveys the essence of your designs?

LB: It goes back to the philosophy of doing the unexpected and wearing the unexpected. 

There is a lot of campaign creativity coming from big houses like Prada, Fendi, Chanel right now. What are the plusses and minuses of working with smaller budgets?

NS: Honestly, you can make something captivating on any budget if you get the right team together, get creative and are passionate about the brand and concept. Anything is possible if the vision is there, you really just have to make the best work you can with the budget you have.

Do you hope for this to be a continuing partnership?

NS: I have collaborated with Louiza in the past, we work so well together, and I admire her so much. As two Armenian creatives it’s important to help one another shine in any way we can.

What have been some of your other recent projects? 

NS: Currently my short Hello Mother (Parev Mama) is my first narrative film inspired by my own life. It follows a first-generation Armenian American lesbian woman conflicted by her sexuality and the traditions of her culture and her mother. It was recently selected to participate in NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the Arab Film and Media Institute (AFMI) and Dutch Culture USA, which is very exciting. I’m actually in pre-production with it to turn the concept into a full length feature.

Film Credits

DIRECTOR Natalie Shirinian, CINEMATOGRAPHER, EDITOR Dylan Marko Bell, PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Kar’Lei Tan, MUSIC ‘Into the Trees’ – WRITTEN and PERFORMED BY Still Corners, COURTESY of Sub Pop, MUSIC SUPERVISOR Elizabeth Baudouin, CLOTHING Louiza Babouryan

Skaters: Adriana Uruena, Kim NewMoney, Adele Berne, Jodi Castillo

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