Fashion has no shortage of reasons for one to criticize it. From being one of the most wasteful industries in the world, to being accused of vanity and lack of depth, our preoccupation with clothes is quite frankly absurd (Balenciaga Crocs, here’s to you kid). Yet— fashion is a key part of modern society. William Klein’s 1966 satirical movie Qui êtes-vous, Polly Magoo? (Who Are You, Polly Magoo) is one of those cheekier manifestations of fashion’s absurd nature.
The film opens with a fashion show. Tall, slender models slink about the room wearing sharp, pointy, abrasive metal contraptions. The “clothes” are positively unwearable, as the sheets of metal are quite literally fitted to the models with bolts and screws.
The audience of the fashion show is a mix of fashionistas, the wealthy elite, and the press. Onlookers swoon in approval as the models clang through the room in stiff metal sheets.
“Brilliant! Uncomfortable, but what can you do?” exclaims one audience member.
The film was dreamed up by William Klein, an American-born photographer, and filmmaker who had a successful career in fashion. He achieved widespread acclaim for his work as a fashion photographer, even shooting for Vogue in the 1950s.
One designer featured in the film is the work of Agnès B. Costume historian Chris Laverty noted that “The Agnès B look is simple– or more accurately, it defines simplicity.” Starting in the 1960s Agnès curated a style all her own, as Laverty described, including “striped T-shirts, long coats, mismatched skirts, sweaters…” and very beatnik energy. The look has been reworked again and again in the classic cyclical nature of fashion and trickled down to fast fashion labels like H&M and Topshop.
The film’s official costume designer, however, was William Klein’s wife Janine Klein. All of the looks in the film have some reference to fashion in the flesh, from the clanking collections of Paco Rabanne, cameo appearances by fashion photography icons like Richard Avedon, Jeanloup Sieff, Louis Faurer. The crew of industry characters is complete with a famed magazine editor, Miss Maxwell (think Diana Vreeland), who claims “Fashion is dead! Long live fashion!”
The film is hilarious, whip-smart, and a sharp poke at a soft target. For an industry that millions of people take quite seriously, fashion is super fun to giggle at. But even in its awkward moments, it’s still an art form to behold.
In 1953, Audrey Hepburn starred in the film that would skyrocket her glamorous career as a gamine icon of the silver screen. The film was Roman Holiday, a modern fairytale where European Princess Ann (played by Audrey Hepburn) takes off on a whim one evening in Rome. The royal lady falls asleep on a park bench and is found by an American journalist Joe Bradley (played by Gregory Peck).
He scoops her up off the streets to rest and wake up in the safety of his home. When she wakes up, Bradley realizes how he might benefit from their chance meeting. Following his journalistic impulses, he pursues an exclusive interview with the princess. Of course, movie magic sprinkles tinsel in the air and a romance ensues.
Part of why Hepburn was cast for the role of Princess Ann was because the director, William Wyler, was in search of an actress who was aesthetically far removed from the popular curvy Italian woman trope. The extremely petite Audrey Hepburn–with her waify frame, preference for flat shoes, and absence of voluptuous cleavage–made her the perfect little “martian” to stick out in a 1950s Roman cinematic landscape.
Edith Head was enlisted to design the film’s costumes. The task required dressing Audrey Hepburn as an off-duty royal, a princess disguised as a random girl in the park. In a video explaining her creative decision-making process, Head explained:
“You see, she’s supposed to be a princess disguised as an ordinary girl on the streets of Rome. So we made her a simple costume, so she wouldn’t look different.”
The video shows Hepburn doing a little twirl in the first wardrobe test for Roman Holiday wearing a crisp white long-sleeve button-up shirt and a plain belted midi skirt. As Head explains her decisions, we see Hepburn rolling up her long white sleeves so they become casually bunched up onto the upper arm.
The thinking here was that the film took place in the summertime in Rome, where it would be hot and humid. Head reasoned that an “ordinary” girl cruising around Rome in summer would probably roll her sleeves up so cool off.
The clip goes on to show Hepburn’s wardrobe test for the princess look. Instead of the obvious indications of royalty, like ostentatious jewels (though she does wear a beautiful necklace) or a tiara, she wears a shapely and distinguished dress made of authentic white lace. “In other words, the type of dress that a real princess would wear under similar circumstances, in a similar locale,” Head notes, “this is what we call transformation through wardrobe.”
Elsa Schiaparelli’s work as a costume designer may have been lesser noticed, but her unique vision was never more apparent than in her designs for John Huston’s 1952 film Moulin Rouge. Her illustrious garments first appeared on the silver screen way back in the 1930s. In fact, between 1931 and 1952 she worked frequently as a costume designer for films in Hollywood, France, and the U.K.
Schiaparelli had a famously brilliant career as a couturier, but her prolific costuming work went largely uncredited, possibly dismissed as an early 20th-century female dressmaker. The last and arguably best costuming feat was her final cinema collaboration on the 1952 film Moulin Rouge.
In sharp contrast to the scandalous lack of credit between couturier and costume designer (ahem– Black Swan and Rodarte? Sabrina and Givenchy?) Schiaparelli was rarely credited for her work in cinema. Schiaparelli is hardly a household name unless you’re a sartorial geek. *raises hand* but in fashion history, her name is positively legendary. She established one of the first Parisian fashion houses that produced garments teetering on the edge of fine art and high fashion.
Schiaparelli was a daring designer with a penchant for Surrealist fantasies, befriended like-minded surrealist creatives like Dalí, Cocteau, and Man Ray. Part of the artistic vision of Surrealism was transcending the logical world and dabbling in a realm where the absurd becomes perfectly reasonable. While the artists of Surrealism were translating these visions into photography, sculptural manifestations, and paintings, Schiaparelli was envisioning the body as a new landscape.
“In both Surrealism and fashion, the body was woven in fantasy and literally reimagined.” – Ghislane Wood, The Surreal Body: Fetish and Fashion
She pushed the boundaries of what was formerly considered acceptable adornment for dress– think Lady Gaga meat dress energy. Schiaparelli crafted a lobster dress, trompe-l’œil ripped fabric, a shoe as a hat, ceramic buttons sculpted into the shapes of human circus performers, a mouth brooch with pearls as teeth.
Moulin Rouge was a vision of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s vision of Paris nightlife from the perspective of a tortured, but brilliant, alcoholic artist. He painted the seedy nightlife scene in 19th-century Parisian society, including a few famed women in particular, who have gone down in history thanks in part to his artistic renderings. Jane Avril was one of these gals.
In designing the costumes for Jane, Schiaparelli based her designs on actual posters rendered by Toulouse-Lautrec. She hits the mark with incredible precision and somehow still adds evidence of her own artistic perspective as a fashion visionary. One of TL’s illustrations of jane Avril depicted a giant snake design affixed to her dress. Somehow, that seems exactly like something Elsa Schiaparelli might have dreamed up as one of her own designs. She was the perfect person for the job.
If we’ve learned anything from studying couturier x costume designer collaborations, it’s that the couturier takes a back seat on credits. The case of Moulin Rouge is so different. Elsa Schiaparelli designed some of the most iconic looks in the film, but it was customer designer Marcel Vertès who won the Academy Awards for art direction and costuming.
Prada is one fashion brand that has latched onto film as a modern marketing channel. There have, of course, been some formal cinema collaborations with the brand such as Quantum of Solace and The Great Gatsby, but the smaller features prove just as intriguing.
It’s worth noting that the house of Prada is an Italian heritage brand with roots stretching back more than a hundred years ago. The 21st-century success of the brand is thanks in large part to Miuccia Prada, the granddaughter of founder Mario Prada. It was she who took the brand to international expansion, transforming the brand from an Italian leather goods label to a key player in the realm of ready-to-wear fashion.
“Three years [after starting to design for her family’s accessories line], with the encouragement of her husband Patrizio Bertelli, Prada debuted her womenswear line in 1988, which she described as “uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised.” She would add Miu Miu, a secondary line, in 1993, which now shows in Paris and has become a powerful brand in its own right. In 1995, Prada released her first menswear line.”
Though Prada now has its tendrils outstretched across many different industries (eyewear, fragrance, bags, Miu Miu, Church’s, Car Shoe, etc.) there is still the unifying undercurrent of its leather heritage and elegant construction in the background.
This brings us to the little fashion nugget that was slipped into Wes Anderson’s 2014 dramedy The Grand Budapest Hotel. Two characters working at the hotel, Zero Moustafa (played by Anthony Revolori) and Monsieur Gustave H. (played by Ralph Fiennes), decide to hire an assassin to kill Madame D (played by Tilda Swinton) in an attempt to activate her missing second will.
The assassin? Enter J.G. Jopling.
Jopling (played by Willem Dafoe) is cloaked in a black leather Prada coat. The construction of the coat was aimed at emulating a World War II-era motorcycle coat called a Kradmantel. The jacket serves as a kind of physical and psychological shield for Jopling, keeping him both insulated and at a comfortable distance from the other characters.
Costume designer Milena Canonera actually was the one who designed the construction of the coat. She sewed a fabric mock-up, also known as a toile, and sent it off to Prada to be manufactured in fine Italian leather. Upon receiving the completed leather coat, Canonera added an extra touch of rustic elegance by lining the interior of the coat in red wool.
Prada is one brand that seems to take greater pleasure in the act of contributing to cinema costuming than it does in receiving credit for the act. Prada has, in fact, produced numerous short films with major filmmakers. These films are less about a stamp of “Costume by Prada” and more about investing in the medium of cinema.
The late, great fashion historian Christopher Laverty noted that Prada has a “keen interest in film-making as a twenty-first century marketing tool.” The brand is also keen on initiating these cross-industry collaborations. Laverty notes:
“In early 2014 [Prada] teamed up with costumiers Michael Wilkinson (with Tim Martin), Arienne Phillips, and Milena Canonero to construct a series of installations. This…is the first time a brand has reached out to costume designers to join forces and not the other way around.”
Laverty also remarked that Prada is one of the few brands that seems “genuinely far more interested in what they can provide for cinema than take away, which is probably why their filmic collaborations continue to be so harmonious.”
And thus, Milena Canonero earned herself an Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work on The Grand Budapest Hotel. Unlike other instances of this phenomenon, like Black Swan and Sabrina, there was no tough love or media uproar for the designer brand going unrecognized. Canonero executed the film’s costuming perfectly, and Prada nailed Jopling’s jacket.
Taxi Driver was loaded with style, but not without controversy.
The 1976 film by Martin Scorsese is one of the few works that still boasts rating scores over 90% on Google, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes. It’s effectively stood the test of time while remaining a distinct illustration of a specific time– the 1970s. What does that mean exactly? In short, an army jacket, Deco Revival, and Diane Von Furstenberg’s famous wrap dress.
The film follows Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro), a lonely young insomniac who takes on a taxi driving gig to fill his seemingly endless existential void. Travis leads a bleak life, visiting sticky porno cinemas by day and working as a New York City cab driver by night. Generally speaking, he’s an unstable character and suffers from impulsive rage and a gnawing desire to enforce his opinions as supreme. But he’s got a heart–which helps to soften his sharpest edges–and that heart takes a liking to a political worker named Betsy (played by Cybill Shepherd).
“Having evolved into a uniform for dissenters, the army green jacket could variously represent the shell of a loner (Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”) and the skin of a neurotic (Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”), the badge of the last honest man (Al Pacino in “Serpico”) and the sign of a rebel’s toughness (the guys smoking cigarettes in your high-school parking lots).”
The aforementioned males are valid, but lest we forget, the fabulous Freaks and Geeks protagonist Lindsey Weir (played by Linda Cardellini) whose school uniform centered on her oversized army jacket. It’s a garment that’s come to represent something of a turtle shell, with a tough exterior to protect an inner vulnerable softness.
Betsy inspires Travis to be a force for positive change. She serves as a campaign worker, promoting a local senator for the next presidential candidate. Travis finds a just cause of his own to fight for, which involves the liberation of Iris (played by Jodie Foster), a twelve-year-old runaway sex worker.
Styled by the legendary costume designer Ruth Morley, all three of these characters uphold their own unique and enduring sartorial style. Travis is a veteran, rough around the edges like a punk, but longing to serve local justice like some kind of misfit porno-loving rage-prone Batman. The iconic look of this character is an army green cargo jacket and mohawk hairstyle. It’s a look that’s been repeated in all tiers of the fashion system, from the runway in Paris to the street styles of New York.
Designer-wise, it was Cybill Shepherd’s wrap dress that packed a sartorial punch iconic of the 1970s. She rocked the one and only Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress.
The same year that Taxi Driver came out, Diane Von Furstenberg was at the pinnacle of her success thus far, selling something like 25,000 wrap dresses per week. Of her conception of the dress, Diane says the idea came when she noticed Julie Nixon Eisenhower wearing a wrap shirt paired with a wrap skirt. She asked herself the million-dollar question: why not combine the two garments into a dress?
The magic of the wrap dress is its ability to hug in all the right places and drape loosely over the bits that some people feel more self-conscious about like cellulite and visible panty lines. It’s a dress that inspires confidence, which was exactly what a woman like Betsy would have needed as a working woman in 1970s New York City.
As for little Iris (played by 13 year old Jodie Foster), her look was an expression of the true cyclical nature of the fashion system. Fashion historian Amanda Hallay describes how, from the 1960s and beyond, fashion began it’s habit of revival trends. In the case of Iris, costume designer Ruth Morley selected Deco Revival as the trend to inform her character’s style.
Deco Revival actually began in 1960s London, but as the fashion system works, it would be around the mid-1970s when the trend would begin to be adopted by a young girl in New York City. Decades later in 2011, Marc Jacobs would craft a collection that directly references this iconic look which references 1930s glamour, soft ringlets tucked carefully into a large floppy hat, halter tops, flutter sleeves and a color palette that directly influenced 1970s fashion.
Jodie Foster admitted that the first time she tried on the costume for Iris, she wept. She hated it.
“I was mortified. Just the hot pants and the dumb hat…” Jodie explained her horror decades later at the 40th anniversary screening of Taxi Driver in NYC.
It wasn’t just Foster who was concerned. The Board of Education had objections to the 13 year old actress foregoing school to play a protitute. In the end, all the strife was worth it. She became an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress thanks to Taxi Driver, and took home a BAFTA for Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone in 1976.
Taxi Driver has both used the cycle of fashion and at once, become a part of it. From Iris’ 1930s style inspo to Alexander McQueen’s first collection titled Taxi Driver, the costuming of Taxi Driver cemented itself as a spoke in the ever turning wheel of fashion. Who will reference it next?
From music videos to Halloween costumes to mainstream brand collaborations, it’s official–the 1995 film Clueless has become an institution.
In this post, we’ll be doing a deep dive into the looks of the enduring teeny-bopper film Clueless. The outfits were carefully considered by filmmaker Amy Heckerling and head costumer designer Mona May, so as to communicate specific character subtleties. But we have questions!
Why was Cher’s plaid skirt suit yellow? Why didn’t the main characters wear 5’’ couture stilettos? Which fashion designers were featured throughout the film and which garments were fabricated by the costume designers? How did the filmmaker conceive of the ahead-of-its-time concept of a digital wardrobe? Who’s coming out with a Clueless collaboration in February 2022?
To find all these answers–AND MORE–read on.
Both fashion and cinema went through distinct stylistic chapters in every decade of the 20th century. The nineties were no exception; it was the decade of both preppy chic and grunge. In some way, the 1990s were an amalgamation of the many decades which preceded it. Though grunge and heroin chic were controversial new trends, there was also evidence of many trends prior such as studded belts, platform shoes, neons, and nylon.
Clueless is one film born out of the nineties that has endured for decades. The looks created for the movie’s many characters have been repeated in a cornucopia of iterations throughout the past thirty years.
What does the staying power of the Clueless style have to do with life in the 21st century? When will pop culture grow tired of keeping Clueless relevant? How much longer can fashion continue to reignite and reinvent modern renditions of Cher Horowitz and her crew’s outfits?
Perhaps the film is simply timeless. Despite having all the typical markings of a teenage nineties rom-com (driving scenes, P.E. period, a house party, pens with fluffballs on the end, a cute older brother, an overprotective dad, makeover scene, etc.) this film has left a lasting impression that’s anything from average.
The clothing in Clueless is integral to each character’s personality, but also an important tool in communicating the passage of time. As the storyline shifts throughout the various seasons of the school year, so too do the color palettes of the wardrobes. Even though both the story setting and the Paramount studios are in the practically seasonless city of Los Angeles, costume designer Mona May capitalized on classic seasonal tones.
On the first day of school, Cher wears a yellow plaid skirt suit made by Dolce & Gabbana. Costume designer Mona May noted that blue and red were runner-ups for color choices, but ultimately yellow seemed to make the statement that nobody could outshine the main character.
Cher’s best friend Dionne wears a plaid skirt suit as well, but in red, black and white. Cher’s skirt is hemmed ever-so-slightly longer than Dionne’s, and paired with white stockings, to hint at the fact that she’s still a virgin. Plaid skirts play into the classic school girl look, but the absence of crisp white peter pan collared blouses helps the ensembles to stray away from the fetishized school girl aesthetic. Instead of white-collared button-ups, the girls rock a couple of casual white T-shirts.
The writer and director of Clueless, Amy Heckerling, noted the intentional absence of stilettos in the film. In a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair, Heckerling stated that she “wanted the movie to have a fresh innocence…not, ‘Hi, I’m 15 and I’m in five-inch heels…” Reading this from the Euphorian Era is a pleasant surprise. High school kids are, well, still kind of kids.
May acknowledged the importance of the shoes as a character statement throughout the film, noting, “all of the shoes were really important for me and Amy. That is why there are no stilettos. We had a lot of Mary Janes, cute little sandals. It’s part of being a girl in high school,” or at least it was in the 1990s.
As the southern California weather cools down from 90 degrees to its chillier winter temp (75), the wardrobes shift to darker colors, dark cranberry, black, and deep blues. At the holiday house party, almost every character is sporting some variation of bright red and classic green. In springtime, we see pastel pink, baby blue, and white. Dionne wears a crocheted white floral cap, which is still sold to this day with her referenced as a selling point. There’s another active style still referenced in fashion today. The skater girl grunge style of young Brittany Murphy’s character Tai.
Playing the “new kid” as a loveable dork who’s completely clueless to the world of fashion that Cher and Dionne are so deeply invested in, Tai begins the film with a look that is super casual, androgynous, and skater-inspired. Part of Tai’s character arc is the style (and attitude) journey from grungy tomboy vibe to Cher’s preppy girlish influence.
One character who was on the fringes of Cher and Dionne’s social circle is Amber. The wardrobe of Amber was possibly designed to be garish and aggressive to make her more noticeable and less likable for the audience. She dressed like a go-go dancer, a pin-up sailor, combat girl, baby doll, Pippi Longstocking, Mary Quant mod… The list goes on. She’s somehow always trying to stand out and fit in, which never works in her favor.
The P.E. scene shows a line-up of high school girls wearing various forms of stretchy black and white clothing. In physical education, you’d expect loose cotton shorts or some type of jersey. In Clueless, we see a girl’s creativity pushed to its limits within the loose limitations of a uniform. In this case, the only rules are black and white garments.
Cher wears cotton basics like bike shorts and a black crop tank over a white tee. Dionne wears a frilly white tux blouse underneath a long sleeve black top, topped off with a white bandana. Amber, always stretching to be the star and failing to do so, wears a referee-style black and white vertical striped topic with a red star and long red pigtail extensions. All three girls manage to squeeze in some accessories to P.E. period– a water bottle purse for Amber, a white pager for Dionne, and Cher’s gold chainlink cellphone sling.
The cellphone holder is one of several concepts that this film touted way ahead of its time. Years later, Karl Lagerfeld would adopt the cellphone-only purse as a new enduring feature in Chanel’s purse collections. Though most of the costumes in this film were built by the costume department, there were a handful of designer names used.
Another concept that was quite futuristic for the time was Cher’s digitized wardrobe. Speaking from the realm of 2022, this concept has never been more real, but back in 1995, the idea seemed like pure fantasy.
Hesterman said in an interview that she once spoke to a Hollywood music producer who had some iteration of the futuristic wardrobe index. The producer was inspired by the kinetic clothing racks at dry cleaners. When someone has SO many clothes, the challenge becomes more about giving each garment some sidewalk time. The producer explained his vision to some builders and had his closet vision realized. Heckerling decided it was a fashion fantasy that perfectly suited our leading lady Cher Horowitz, so she used this as the conceptual jumping-off point for Cher’s digital wardrobe builder. Who could have imagined that the fantasy of digital clothing would soon be a reality?
Fashion has gone digital, from virtual try-ons to live stream runway shows to NFT Birkin bags. There are even apps that offer exactly what Cher Horowitz’ digital wardrobe did– a virtual place to catalog, organize and curate your outfits. The U.K.-based company Whering even goes as far as name-dropping Clueless on their homepage.
The staying power of this random 90s movie is really what makes Clueless so substantial. The yellow plaid in particular has been a point of reference for going on thirty years now. It’s not dying off either! Just this month the polarizing shoe company Crocs launched a Clueless x Crocs collaboration. One of the patterns? Yellow plaid.
But it doesn’t stop there.
In 2014 Australian singer Iggy Azalea adopted the theme of Clueless for “Fancy,” her most memorable music video to date. Azalea positioned herself as the main character of course, and thus, strutted her stuff down the halls of a high school wearing none other than the plaid yellow skirt suit.
Four years later, pop culture would practically eat itself in a true Clueless-flavored inception. Alicia Silverstone guest-starred on the evening television show Lip Sync Battle in 2018. She belted out the hit “Fancy” dressed up as Iggy Azalea dressed up as Alicia Silverstone dressed up as Cher Horotwiz. Is your head spinning? As if.
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The 2001 French film Amélie is quite like a dream. . .
The leading lady Amélie Poulain is something of an enigma, and so her costuming and cinematic environment had to be as well. Unlike French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s other darker films like Delicatessan and the City of Lost Children, this one carries the gentle breeze of childlike wonder and innocence.
The beginning of the film whips its audience through a fast-paced synopsis of Amélie Poulain’s inception; a lucky sperm finds an egg, a baby is born named Amélie; she savors the earthly delights of her world through the five senses. Amélie’s sensual experience of the world is a key part of her identity. As a child, we see her carefully peeling a sheet of glue off of her little hand, eating raspberries off her ten fingers, playing doctor with her imaginary friends. As an adult she’s curious and playful, pushing her hands into a vat of dry beans at the marché and spying on neighbors.
All of these details act as personality signals, cluing viewers into the vivid inner world of this shy, quiet, introverted French girl. Her wardrobe is no different. The style swings back and forth between girlish and grandmother chic. By night she wears a super feminine, floral pointelle nightie to bed, and by day, switches between figure-flattering tops to bulky, comfy, bag lady silhouettes. Amélie is a coquettish mystery from beginning to end.
It’s said that the film’s cinematographer based his painterly frames on Brazilian painter Bruno Delbonnel’s compositions. Costume designers Madeline Fontaine and Emma Lebail closely aligned Amélie’s wardrobe with this saturated, moody aesthetic as well.
Several garments featured a deep, crimson red, which somehow made her both pop out of the landscape and simultaneously blend in too. If that concept seems like a riddle, then it’s a perfect reflection of this film. Amélie’s garments seemed at home in their environment, draped cozily over her gamine frame. Despite her slender figure, she sticks to comfortable clothes–—knee-length skirts, coats that shield her petite frame, knits, and clunky leather shoes with socks.
This is a look that mashes the refined French attention to aesthetics with a hint of cozy grunge. Look out for our first-ever Cinémode “Vête Comme,” a simple style guide to bring your favorite characters off the silver screen and into your very own closet.
One of the most famed costume designers of all time, Edith Head, took home an Academy Award for her work on Sabrina, but it was Givenchy whose work most fans remember.
In the Oscar-winning 1953 film Sabrina, a working-class girl goes from a suicide attempt in the garage of her father’s employer to struttin’ around Paris in haute couture. Whether climbing a tree on Long Island or walking a poodle in Paris, Sabrina Fairchild is easily one of the most timelessly chic characters in cinema history.
Is it her gamine, stereotypical mannequin figure? Her romantic, whimsical attitude? Those daringly short bangs over a bold brow?
Those might all be factors, but one definite contribution is the dynamism of her wardrobe throughout the film. Her clothes have just as much of a plot as her character does, both on camera and behind the scenes.
Prior to filming Sabrina, Audrey Hepburn was sent to Paris to meet a hot young French designer–Hubert de Givenchy. The film’s screenwriter and director, Billy Wilder, sent Hepburn there to get a feel for the magic and style of the city.
Givenchy was initially disappointed when a slender-framed Audrey strolled into his atelier wearing her classic slim pant and flat shoe combo.
The designer had been expecting a different “Miss Hepburn” (Katherine), or so the story goes, but the sartorial relationship between Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy blossomed into a decades-long esteemed fashion muse dynamic.
Much to the dismay of lead Sabrina costumer, Edith Head, director Billy Wilder instructed Hepburn to visit Paris and return with some Givenchy dresses for her character to wear upon her cinematic visit to the La Ville-Lumière.
Sabrina’s costuming aesthetic was divided into two distinct chapters for this film– before knowing the stylish sensibilities of Paris, and afterward. Hollywood costume legend Edith Head was in charge of conceiving the former, and Hepburn retrieved the latter on her own via Givenchy.
This was reportedly a bitter experience for Head, as Sabrina’s more stylish scenes held promise for her to have showcased her abilities within the world of Paris couture. Instead, Wilder went around Head completely and sourced the clothes from an actual Paris couturier. However, that didn’t stop Head from altering the Givenchy garments and sketching her own renditions of them.
As the story goes, Givenchy was expecting to meet the glamorous and esteemed Katherine Hepburn instead of Audrey. His disappointment was evident in his decision to her back to Hollywood with some samples from the previous year’s spring/summer collection.
The film was nominated for six Academy Awards in 1955 and won three, including Best Costume Design in Black and White (from 1948-1967ish, costume Oscars were two separate categories: color and black & white).
Who do you think won the award: Edith Head or Hubert de Givenchy?
If this feels like a flashback to the Black Swan controversy, that’s because it is. Givenchy’s dresses in Sabrina became famous, even synonymous with the film. But it was costumer Edith Head who took the Oscar home. She didn’t acknowledge Givenchy in her acceptance speech either. In fact, she avoided an acceptance speech altogether by swiftly accepting the Oscar and exiting stage right.
Controversies aside, both Head and Givenchy’s garments are timelessly chic. The Givenchy clothes are breathtaking, but even before Sabrina matures into a fashion-forward Parisienne, her style is still remarkable.
The 2010 sexy psychological thriller Black Swan caused quite a stir, but not for the reasons you might think.
The media buzz wasn’t centered on Natalie Portman’s strict diet of carrots and almonds, nor the steamy girl-on-girl sex scene with Mila Kunis. The controversy centered on the costume credits or really, the lack thereof. Sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy of the fashion brand Rodarte signed on to work in the costume department, serving as two on the thirteen-person wardrobe team. They were in charge of producing costumes for the final ballet performance at the end of the film, the dramatic grand finale. Why was there controversy? A simple search for the film credits will reveal that the lead costume design credit was given to Amy Westcott, not the Rodarte sisters. What happened?
Have you ever noticed how, at the beginning of a film, we see a flash list of some team credits? They are the “face” of production– the director, writers, producers, the headlining stars, maybe a composer. The end credits are a different experience. There are often hundreds of contributors named, sometimes in multiple columns at once, whipping up and off the screen before you can read who did what. Why doesn’t the food truck that catered these 200 people for two months get a shout-out at the beginning of the movie? The simple answer is hierarchy and prestige.
It’s worth noting that fashion has fought for its increasingly prestigious position as an art form. It’s come a long way, thanks in part to haute couture and luxury fashion. But what about everyday clothes? There is still a rift between the value of high and low fashion, fine arts versus arts & crafts, leisure versus working class. This divide is evidenced and reflected in the hierarchy of movie production credits.
Some of the most important, film-defining roles of a production crew are expected to blend into the background: casting, sound, choreography, hair & make-up, location scouts. The costume department is usually lumped into this category. But when superstar fashion designers join the costume department, it takes some ego-deflation to participate on equal footing with their contemporaries.
Though a few costume designers have gained celebrity status–think Edith Head and Patricia Field–the vast majority remain out of general public awareness. Fashion designers are quite the opposite these days. Fashion designers are celebrities, like Ralph Lauren and Stella McCartney. So what happens when a humble Hollywood costume designer joins forces with two fashion darlings?
Enter: the Black Swan costume credit controversy. When Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind LA-based fashion label Rodarte, signed on to contribute to Black Swan’s costuming, public interest piqued and media coverage abided. Rodarte was in the limelight, yet the Mulleavy sisters were credited behind the head costume designer Amy Westcott. The public was outraged that the sisters wouldn’t be given a headline credit. Instead, their efforts were lumped in with the other thirteen costume department credits.
Just to be clear, the ugly duckling here isn’t Westcott, nor is it the Mulleavys. The ugly thing is the hierarchy of labor value. It’s high fashion versus the merit of everyday clothing choices. It’s the Vogue September issue versus Hanes socks. The ballet costumes were breathtaking and expertly done, but so was the singular leg warmer that Natalie Portman wore in rehearsal, indicating that she was treating an isolated sore muscle. So was the virginal white lace nightie Portman wears as her mother tucks her in, while she’s still docile and obedient, and the sheer black slip Lily lends her before they take ecstasy (or do they?). These sartorial choices matter just as much as the refined construction of erect tutus and asymmetrical feathered bustiers.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. When you think of the movie Black Swan, you don’t swoon over memories of Natalie Portman’s grey leg warmer. The final ballet costumes are the glittering centerpiece of the film’s wardrobe. The controversy over costume credits here is part of a larger conversation about the value of individual clothing. Even if the Mulleavy sister’s costumes had been Oscar-worthy, the two designers were not yet members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While they weren’t members back in 2010, they probably are now.
Most recently the Mulleavy sisters collaborated on Sing 2, designing animated fashion ensembles.
No offense to Mr. Bond, but Grace Jones stole the show in A View to a Kill, the fourteenth film of the James Bond franchise. Technically, the main character is James Bond, played by Roger Moore. Stylistically, the star of this film is easily May Day, a fierce role delivered to us on a silver platter by avant-garde fashion icon Grace Jones.
May Day’s character subverts the dusty-ass script that’s normally written for “Bond Girls.” Instead of playing the piece-of-ass trope, May Day kicks ass and spies in style. The whole James Bondiverse is deeply riddled with problematic depictions of women, but May Day is a refreshing deviation from the usual damsels. She’s not just a strong, gorgeous, capable, and confident badass; she is the epitome of cool.
Tunisian haute couture designer Azzedine Alaïa was brought onboard to craft May Day’s wardrobe, with the help of Indian costume designer Emma Porteus. Grace Jones and Azzedine Alaïa were tight friends. Jones was his muse and wore original Alaïa garments designed specifically for her body.
The film fashion historian, Christopher Laverty, described Alaïa as “not a household name for the uninitiated, but still remembered as a hugely important designer.” Part of his importance was found in his dressmaker nickname–the King of Cling–and how he utilized stretchy fabric to drape and dance around the human body. We can thank Alaïa, in large part, for the bodycon dress craze.
Bodycon dresses cling to every little curve, dip, lump, and bump. At first, you might think that style of dress is smothering and restrictive. It is, surprisingly, quite the opposite. Think about wearing a lycra dress versus trousers and a button-up blazer. Which would you prefer for yoga? Sure, your ass cheeks might flop out of the dress but you’ll be one downward-facing dog without ripping a seam.
Alaïa’s commitment to the intersection of the feminine form and comfortable, breathable, dynamic fabrics is precisely what made him the perfect choice for clothing a character like Madame May Day. The woman parachutes off of the top of the Eiffel Tour, tames a bucking horse, seduces Bond, and does karate. Her glamour needed equal parts form, flexibility, and femininity– the very three pillars that Azzedine Alaïa prided his designs on.
“Fashion will last forever. It will always exist.” –Azzedine Alaïa