Style on the Silver Screen

A good film leaves us with an impossible itch long after we have left the cinema screen. We may have a desire to inhabit the film’s inhabitable world, or perhaps to inherit the protagonist’s eccentricities. The futility of this leads us to cling on to the tangible, imitable aspects, such as a character’s wardrobe. Indeed, cinema is the vehicle that brings fashion to life for most of us as we experience costume as a vital part of the narrative.

The iconic imagery of certain films has left a deep impact on our collective fashion consciousness. This is your guide to the most sartorially influential cinema. 

A Bout de Souffle (1960) – Probably the most iconic of the Godard’s Nouvelle Vague period films, A Bout de Souffle’s gamine Patricia (Jean Seberg) inspired a generation of women who adopted her pixie haircut and filled their wardrobes with Breton tops, chinos and ballet flats, synonymous with classic and chic French style. There was, in fact, no costume designer for A Bout de Souffle, and Godard encouraged the wearing of the actor’s own clothes. This film signals the abandonment of the prim, ladylike attire of the 1950’s and marks the transition into the tomboy look that represents free-spiritedness and liberty present in Patricia’s character. 

Qui êtes-vous Polly Maggoo? (1966)Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? is Vogue photographer William Klein’s hilarious, if not eye opening satire of the fashion world. The opening scene is a shocking portrayal of the industry’s glamorous façade, as models take to the catwalk, having been fastened into sheets of aluminum. On the catwalk the models are serene and poised as they parade in these architectural masterpieces and the fictional head of the fashion world (based on Klein’s editor, Diana Vreeland) proclaims them ‘magnifique’, but backstage its grotesque reality is depicted, as a model screams having been badly cut by a sharp edge of her impractical, metal dress. The film is a flawless evocation of the Modernist pre-hippy sixties, influenced by La Nouvelle Vague, Mary Quant and Bridget Riley and seems to foreshadow many of Gareth Pugh’s latest designs. 

The Great Gatsby (1974) – With another remake of the movie coming out later this year, this season has seen many fashion houses taking inspiration from the Jazz Age, symbolic of freedom and hedonism. Gucci’s Frida Giannini has cited the inspiration for the 90th anniversary collection as being “the architectural shapes, especially the New York skyscrapers of the period”. It was after styling all the male characters in the 1974 version of the film that Ralph Lauren became a household name, and garnered him an Academy Award. 

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Annie Hall (1977) – Annie Hall’s (Diane Keaton) style embodies a range of dichotomies that should not logistically work, but which she manages to pull off with ease. Her outfits are at the same time masculine and feminine, irrational and organized, frumpy and tailored. On their first encounter, Woody Allen’s character compliments what Annie Hall is wearing, to which she replies: “Well, uh, this tie was a present from Grammy Hall”. Everything that she wears has a symbolic value, and only works due to the enigmatic and quirky nature of her character. Allen loved Keaton’s style so much that he refused to hire a stylist, and indeed, Annie Hall’s style seems to reflect Diane Keaton’s own neuroses, signaled by the covered up nature of the garments.

The Virgin Suicides (1999)– The dark, sinister nature of the film is contrasted with the sisters’ innocent appearances, clothed in outfits of long, pastel coloured silk and chiffon. The outfits were intricately and painstakingly detailed in order to imitate 70s style, from the billowing sleeves of the white maxi dresses to the velvet bell-bottoms of the boys’ suits. Coppola allows the dresses to portray the sisters’ fluctuation between girl and woman and between innocence and impurity.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)– What makes the costume design in The Royal Tenebaums so unique is the fact that each character has their own idiosyncratic uniform that stays with them for the duration of the film, from their infancy at the beginning, right until the end. The Director, Wes Anderson, explained that this was supposed to show how the characters all peak in their adolescence and never evolve in the same way again, becoming static characters. Margot’s (Gwenyth Paltrow) wardrobe is a mélange of sporty and glamorous, her daily outfit being a piqué collar Lacoste tennis dress, a Hermes ‘Birkin’ bag, and a caramel coloured mink coat designed especially by Fendi. Margot’s look has inspired many designers, most recently Cynthia Rowley’s Autumn/Winter 2011 collection.

Marie Antoinette (2006) – What the critics found lacking in substance and historical accuracy are certainly made up for by the visual elements of the film, with the Italian costume designer Milena Canonero winning an Academy Award for her efforts. Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) wore 60 different dresses during the film; all designed in Rome’s Cinecitta studios, considered to be the core of Italian cinema. Coppola, who directed the film, is said to have handed Canonero a box of pastel coloured macaroons from Ladurée, and said, “These are the colours I love”. This pastel colour palette translates perfectly onto Marie Antoinette’s outfits and the set design in general, and illuminates the aim of the film: to show Marie Antoinette less as the commonly portrayed detached hedonist but more as a naïve, playful girl thrown into the role of Queen at a far too early age.

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A Single Man (2009) – Tom Ford’s direction delivers a perfectly rose tinted portrait of 1960’s American style and aesthetic, which masks the desperately crumbling reality of the film’s characters. Arianne Phillips was asked to design the costumes, with Charley’s (Julianne Moore) black and white dress as the centerpiece but the men’s fashion does not fail to disappoint either. Even in the scene where George (Colin Firth) is sitting on the toilet reading a book, his shirt, tie and dark, thick-rimmed glasses combo exudes sophistication. Phillips started her research for the male characters by looking into 1960’s sack suits but transformed the silhouette into one that was more relevant to the contemporary eye, so that they appear tailored yet loose at the same time, all produced in Ford’s Italian factory. One of Ford’s reasons for creating the film (out of his own pocket), was the longevity of film as a medium, something which is essentially a time capsule from the moment of creation but which lives on, as opposed to fashion which needs to be new and ever evolving in order to be consumed and appreciated.

Io Sono l’Amore(2009) – Tilda Swinton stars as Emma Recchi in Io Sono l’Amore, a visual masterpiece about the oppressive nature of the Milanese haute-bourgeoisie. Raf Simons of Jil Sander and his team were asked to create the pieces so that the colour palette changes from muted colours and pastels at the beginning of the film, to the red dress in the second half of the film which signals her succumbing to socially forbidden passions. The director stated that the choice of Jil Sander’s team came from their understanding of “an extremely subtle dialogue within the film between narrative and fashion”.