Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Anthony Minghella’s 1999 remake of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley has long been overlooked and underrated. Who knows, perhaps this only further adds to the film’s mystique, akin to the best restaurant in town where only the locals are privy to its secret. The title’s namesake, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is but a bathroom attendant who’s borrowed a fancy jacket to play the piano at a high class New York event. Following a case of mistaken identity, an inhabitant of this rich world - Herbert Greenleaf - takes Tom for an old Princeton chum of his son, Dickie (Jude Law). He offers Tom money to help convince his estranged son Dickie to return home from the idyllically meaningless lifestyle he lives in Italy with girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Unknowingly, he is offering Tom the golden ticket into a world of decadence and luxury set against a lavishly beautiful backdrop of southern Italy. What ensues is a warped and unfurling plot of little white lies, larger dark lies and twisted truths - all told in order to stay in the game. In this world of double lives and overlapping identities, costume plays a defining role.

Transporting us instantly to the bliss and exuberance of sun-dappled Italy, the palette of the film itself is awash in a sea of bleached out tones. A menagerie of pastels and creams across the spectrum, the scenes appear almost faded by the heat of the sun, as if the film dailies have quite literally been left outside. The effect is carefree and light; an effect that transfers over to the lives and costumes of the main characters: a beautiful mix of American prep and southern Italian style. Dickie is the epitome of this American wealth and status and this is reflected in both his choice of style and in his clothing itself. He clads himself in a wide selection of blazers, jackets and linen trousers and portrays an air of casual liberation. Despite this, his wealth shines through; his well-fitting and high quality clothes an indication of his affluence. He accessorises plentifully and generously, adorning himself in expensive jewellery, hats and opulent ties.

As much as Dickie's clothes are driven by taste, Tom Ripley's choices are driven purely by need. Tom is very much dressed in a sartorial portrayal of the boy next door, complete with gingham, corduroy and a palette of plain, block colours. His too is an all-American look, this time however, owing to the fact that he has never travelled and has not experienced culture other than his own. His one dimensional look and lifestyle means that he does not own many clothes and is often seen in the same brown jacket, much to the ridicule of an amused Dickie. Unlike Dickie, he does not accessorise to excess, sticking to his horn-rimmed glasses and wrist watch out of a compliant necessity.

As Tom begins to imitate Dickie's lavish lifestyle, he too begins to have his suits custom made in Italy. He further mimics Dickie's look and behaviour, imitating his language, mannerisms and even his voice. He combs his hair back and wears Dickie's belongings such as his gold ring that Marge has previously given to him. Here the costume is playing a role as much as the characters themselves in the ever twisting plot. It is indeed when Marge spots Tom with Dickie's ring - the ring he promised that he would never give to anyone - that she becomes suspicious of Tom's existence in her world.

Demonstrating an idiosyncratic blend of Debutante-does-Riviera style, Marge is from an affluent family and is not dictated by money. An all-American young intellectual, she is in Italy to work on her book, albeit at a leisurely pace whilst enjoying the high life with Dickie. Her clothes are no doubt designer label and high-end luxury; however this is due to an inherent practicality of her social and financial milieu and not born out of a need to show off with the latest designer 'name'. For the first half of the film, she is clad in dainty, easy colours, simple linens and light shapes. She is a great fan of the classically white shirt, tied elegantly at the waist and teamed with a floral midi skirt. Her look is girlish and flirty with more than a hint of Grace Kelly. She is the carefree epitome of resortwear and '50s high waists, unable to resist finishing them with the preppy oxford lace-ups of her past.

Later, as her life begins to unravel at the seams, she begins to channel a much darker look - akin almost to the Hitchcock blondes of times past. She dons a heavy leopard print coat and a decidedly more ominous demeanour, complete with the ultimate accessory of mystique: a cigarette. Her life is no longer sweetness and light and she is grittily determined to find out why.

In a film as twisted and mysteriously thrilling as The Talented Mr. Ripley, costume plays an undeniable role. Each character endures a transition of their own, their agenda shrouded in the mystery of an evolving plot and their clothing choices acting almost as a subconscious display of their inner turmoil.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Royal Tenenbaums

As featured on Taste of Cinema

To dismiss the films of Wes Anderson as cutesy or kitsch based on their stylised nature is to miss their point completely. Bubbling just underneath the sunshine-coated surface are always themes of a very dark, twisted and wholly adult nature. Placing a high importance on the visual aesthetic of his films, more can be revealed about the characters that Anderson creates by their costumes and their surrounding world than perhaps by the dialogue or storyline itself. Here lies the warped layers of depth and feeling that may easily be missed by a casual viewer of the pretty colours.

The Royal Tenenbaums is the connoisseur of Anderson style filmmaking, with the characters clothing playing a vital part in who they are and how we see them. Each of the Tenenbaum children, now in the midst of their 30s, have already long ago reached the height of their success and have since fallen from their great potential. Adopted Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) - the child genius of the family - wrote and staged plays from a young age, Richie (Luke Wilson) was a young tennis prodigy destined for great things and brother Chas (Ben Stiller) was a financial star. After their early successes fell from beneath their feet, each of the children now live for their glory days, unsure what to do next. Their daily struggle with this can easily be seen from their clothing choices.


Margot’s costuming speaks volumes about her inner turmoil. She feels stuck between the trappings of womanhood, the innocence of a little girl and the scruffily glamorous style of a wildly bohemian artist. She clads herself in a vintage-look fur coat paired with 1960s-style loafers and an extraordinarily expensive designer Hermes Birkin bag. She clashes identities further with a childlike red plastic hair barrette and heavy eyeliner, the outer presentation of her dark, complex character. Her style is supposedly said to be inspired by 60s sensation of the darkly cool, Nico of Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground fame. Alluding to this idea of Margot as a tortured soul, Nico’s song These Days plays when Margot meets her brother Richie for the first time in years.

The Lacoste tennis dresses Margot wears throughout the film are an ode to her brother Richie, once upon a time a would-be pro tennis star. Since her romantic love for him can never become anything physical under the restrictions of society, this is all that she can hold on to. The dresses also play on the jokey aesthetic of dressing a genius such as Margot in an outfit deliberately set to undermine her intelligence.


As with Margot, Richie Tenenbaum is also trapped in the costume of his life’s peak – that of his tennis career. He dresses as if he pictures himself still a serious professional tennis player, clad in preppy whites and complete with both head and arm bands. He uses his costume to hide behind, forever staying in the height of his one-time success and in this way not admitting that his prime time has moved on. His large sunglasses obscure his face and allow him to stay disconnected from the reality of life, as well as disconnected from those around him who may tell him so.

Towards the climax of the film, much is made of the act of Richie shaving off his moustache and beard; such is the gravitas of it as a depiction of his character. For Richie, shaving his beard is a ritualistic act and, as a result, emerges from the past to face his current place in life.


Chas Tenenbaum’s clothing is immediately reflective of and influenced by the tragedies of his life. Once a high-flying money maker, he has long since shed his business suits for tracksuits in the wake of his wife's death. Chas’ life now is all about running away from sadness, danger and above all from reality. His red Adidas tracksuits are perfectly matched to his children’s, in attempt to both protect them and revert himself to the unobtainable safety of adolescence. Throughout the film, we see Chas implementing emergency drills at his home, pushing his sons to run out of the house in time to be saved from the threat of tragedy. It is almost as if by dressing them all in identical clothing, they are now bound by fate to experience the same realities of life, whether they are good or bad.

The Royal Tenenbaums is ultimately a powerful statement on clothing's ability to truly be a visual reflection on who it is that we are and who we present ourselves as to the outside world. As a viewer, we find ourselves hoping that as the film draws to a close, the Tenebaums will finally be able to change their clothes, having figured out first how to change themselves. 

USA, 2001
Director: Wes Anderson
Costume Design: Karen Patch

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Exploring '20s decadence in Midnight in Paris

In light of the news that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has pushed its release date back to THE SUMMER OF 2013, the sound of hearts shattering can be heard all over the world. From the controversial casting to the appetite whetting trailer, the film was already hotly anticipated and delaying its release feels like a cruel tease. But never fear! The visual pleasure of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is equally alluring in its depiction of 1920s decadence (or so I can only imagine at this point) and deserves to stand alone in the beauty of its cinematography, music and, of course, its costumes.

The film centres around Owen Wilson’s character of Gil, dry humoured and socially awkward in that classic Allen-esque way. A writer and a romantic, Gil in enamoured with the dreamy notion that he has been born in the wrong time period to ever truly be himself. Taken with the beauty of Paris on a pre-wedding trip with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), he longs to live in the extravagance of the creatively debauched city in the 1920s. Soon enough in a film as whimsically wonderful as this, he finds himself transported at the stroke of midnight to the very era of flapper girls and dapper boys.

Gil is so cleverly costumed that he does not scream 21st century and blends seamlessly into his new surroundings among the arty crowd that become his friends. His clothes appear timeless, using tweed fabrics and earthy colours as the base for slim cut trousers and blazers with narrow lapels. This timelessness works both as a plot narrative, allowing him to fit into the ‘20s world, as well as signifying the idea that Gil is not bound by the conventions of his actual time period.

The opulent world that Gil has stumbled across is filled with those of literary and artistic genius from the time. Iconic figures such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (see what I did there?) pop up and as a viewer, it doesn’t entirely matter if some of the references sail over your head as you become just as immersed in this world as Gil does. Among the glitzy and flamboyant, the character of Adriana (the eternally beautiful Marion Cotillard) is awash in a sea of sequins and headbands, opulence and elegance. A muse to the greats of the era, she is romantic, idealistic and above all, the embodiment of a dreamer. Dressing in the high fashions of the time, she is intricately costumed in a flurry of beads, lace, feathers, all drop-waist dresses and jaunty jazz shoes. It is almost as if she is a caricature of “20s fashion”, convincing herself to play a role when, like Gil, she feels she belongs in a different time: the Belle Époque of the 1890s.

It is also worth mentioning the costume representation of Gil’s present day fiancée, Inez. Bourgeois in every aspect of her life, she believes in wearing your wealth for all to see. With a distinct feel of power-dressing to her style, Inez wears the likes of Ralph Lauren and Dior. She is a markedly modern day woman yet her penchant for 80s-esque shirt dresses and waist belts depict the ideas of fashion and time periods acting as cycles, forever overlapping and intertwining. Although she doesn’t live the fantasy of wanting to exist in another time, she aims to recreate the ideals and power that come with it.

Midnight in Paris portrays how it is easy to become enraptured with the past as a place of perfection. The characters idealise the fantasy of different time period as better than their own as a means of escape and a sense of faultlessness that cannot be obtained. It is through fashion that this is visually illustrated, marking the constant revolving cycles of time.

USA/Spain, 2011
Director: Woody Allen
Costume Design: Sonia Grande

Monday, 16 July 2012

My So-Called Life

My So-Called Life is not technically a film - it’s a television show from the early '90s – but the fashion is just so worthy that I’m prepared to let this one slide. I’ll also start with the confession that, as much as I’d like to pretend, I didn’t watch this show as a super-dour five year old in 1994 when it originally aired. Instead I find myself stumbling upon its greatness just this year, as a post-teen wannabe longing to relive the heady days of my own self-imposed adolescent suffering.

Claire Danes is Angela, a sullenly beautiful/beautifully sullen fifteen year old high schooler on the precipice of all things adulthood. The show follows her woes as she struggles her way through teenage heartbreak and wrestles for independence from family suffocation. Teamed with partying friend Rayanne, brooding teen idol Jordan and Ricky, only to be described as Prince-does-suburban-high-school, the show’s characters exhibit a wardrobe of alternative '90s perfection.

Five minutes into the pilot episode and you’ll be lacing up your Doc Martens and wishing you lived in America so that you could refer to your local British Heart Foundation as a ‘thrift store’. The show is grunge galore, with an onslaught of flannel shirts thrown over floral midi dresses and the sort of un-stretchy and high-waisted denim that’s now considered vintage. In a tribute to the morose nature of teen life, colour palettes are sombre with lots of dark patterns and heavy layers. The show fully embraces that teenage struggle to find yourself, an experimentation with personal style playing a large role in this. Long before Marissa OD'ed in TJ or Serena used boarding school as her own personal drugs haven, there was Rayanne. Her wild ways are an attempt to hide her insecurities, with a barrage of mismatched earrings, a vast collection of scrunchies and a penchant for crimps and plaits her physical attempts at this. However, this idea is forever encapsulated when Angela dyes her hair Manic Panic red, her voiceover bestowing her inner thoughts upon us in the ultimate style microcosm: 
“When Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. ’Cause she wasn’t just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life.”

One of the (many) great things about My So-Called Life lies with its sense of reality - not only with regards to the issues portrayed in the storyline, but also the spilling over of this into the show’s fashion choices. Unlike the wholly unobtainable but equally aspirational wardrobes of Sex and the City or Gossip Girl, items of clothing in My So-Called Life actually reappear throughout the series as the characters demonstrate that it really is possible to wear things more than once. Instead, perhaps the hardest thing to recreate is the air of complicated beauty and struggle, tied up in a desire to be taken seriously with a penchant for ripped fishnets.

Whether you’ve seen the show or not (shame on you my pre-2012 self), we all know that grunge is big news this season, so take inspiration from the real deal and start channelling the angsty '90s icon Angela, whose wise-beyond-her-years wisdom hits hard.

1994-95, USA
Costume Design: Patrick R. Norris

Saturday, 16 June 2012


I've been crazy-busy these last few weeks and so I've committed the ultimate crime and not updated this in far too long. All I have to say on the matter is: my dog ate it. Anyway, I've since had the pleasure of having an article posted on Clothes on Film, a really, really amazing place. Please do check out my article and absolutely have a look at all the other great stuff on there too.

Forgive me.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

All bundled up in The Edge of Love

What with it almost being June, it’s time to be honest here: we’re all fed up of waiting for the weather to give up the chase and give in to summer. Will our legs ever be bare again? The Edge of Love offers the ultimate rescue plan, brimming with weather-friendly fashion delights that will reinspire your love for layering. Set against the bitter winds of the Welsh countryside, knitwear and wellies have never looked so appealing.

A fictionalised account of poet Dylan Thomas’ life, the film focuses on the romantic entanglements that dominate. Keira Knightley plays his former flame, reentering his life with a passionate ferocity, creating a surprisingly amicable love triangle with Thomas' wife, played by Sienna Miller. The nonchalant nature of this potentially complicated situation is reflected in the characters’ haphazard clothing. These are characters not bound by the conventions of life or love.

Relish in oversized granny-esque cardigans bundled over the prettiest of little tea dresses; it’s all about a clash of textures and lengths, casually thrown on to keep out the cold when the weather takes a turn for the worst. It’s about being prepared for it all, so as not to waste any precious time worrying about it later. Colour palettes are earthy and rich, full of warmth and ease in a sea of mustards and muted jewel colours. Teamed with a nod of a stylish trilby hat or a pair of quietly sexy knee-high socks, this look is the ultimate trans-seasonal fashion that is often so tricky to perfect; the key is not to try. Raid your local charity shops for cast-offs so delightfully cosy and cool, they should have never been cast off at all.

Director: John Maybury
Costume design: April Ferry

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Style Icon: Edie Sedgwick

If you’re a fan of unashamedly cool and ground-breakingly alluring fashion fiends, then Edie Sedgwick’s your girl. Decades before Kate Moss was even a twinkle in her parents’ eyes, Edie was working the kohl-eyed waif look to achingly hip perfection. Clad in Breton stripes and earrings big enough to cause Pat Butcher to recoil, Edie burst onto the sixties New York party scene as Andy Warhol’s darling muse and the embodiment of artistic glamour. Part actress, part model, her look is synonymous with beatnik cool, utilising opaque black tights and simple silhouettes against costume jewels and bleach blonde hair. Coming from a dancing background, Edie often lounged around in nothing more than leotards with slouchy jumpers thrown over as a casual afterthought. She finished the look with flat ballet pumps and killer legs, drowning her tiny frame in mountains of jewelled accessories. Think leopard print and mohair, with boatneck sweaters, pea coats and mod hats all thrown on with a devil-may-care attitude and you’re on the right track.

Edie’s exaggerated eye makeup and heavily pencilled brows are her infamous and signature war paint. Rumour had it that she never removed it and instead the layers of thick black liner and the several sets of false eyelashes were only further added to. Her hair, cropped and bleached white blonde, was an important frame for her style caricature; even spraying it silver to match Andy Warhols’ at the height of their friendship. Celebrity milliner Stephen Jones identified Sedgwick's demeanour as a sort of rebellion against her delicacy, claiming "Her look was a mixture of sweet and sour; an angelic face distorted with bleached hair and disfiguring make-up. You could call her the first punk".

Regardless of her short fifteen minutes of fame as New York’s first “it” girl, Edie’s fashion sense left a legacy of influence still being felt today. Indeed her recent incarnation in the 2006 film Factory Girl - starring Sienna Miller - perfectly captured the exuberance of her style and presence, catapulting her right back to the centre of public interest. Kate Moss’ early 2000’s pixie cut hair style was also undoubtedly inspired by Edie’s own, as was John Galliano's 2005 show for Christian Dior with its striped mini dresses and flat crocodile boots.

Despite her tragically troubled private life which saw her overdose at the tender age of 28, she will live on forever in our hearts as one of the true architects of the beatnik style.

John Galliano's 2005 show for Christian Dior

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The power of costume in Catch Me If You Can

Speilberg’s Catch Me If You Can explores our unhesitating acceptance of the visuals with which we are presented every day. Be this through subtle body language decisions or clever vocabulary, we often believe what we see without query. In the film, Leonardo di Caprio exploits this unquestioning acceptance, fooling his characters as to his real identity. A huge part of this visual trickery lies in his wardrobe choices.

Based on a real life story, di Caprio plays Frank Abognale Jr., a professional con artist living and loving in the Swinging Sixties. Not much more than a mere schoolboy of eighteen, he successfully impersonates the lives and careers of a pilot, a doctor, a teacher and many more. He fraudulently earns millions of dollars and even secures himself a perfectly prim and pretty fiancée, she herself believing him to be a doctor.

His costumes throughout the film illustrate the power that the simple presentation of a uniform has. Frank is able to easily deceive by exuding a strong visual façade of status. Wearing a uniform that reinforces his chosen persona, Frank grows increasingly self-assured in his ability to deceive. This can be seen no better than when he begins to impersonate a Pan Am pilot. The unmistakeable smart and accomplished air (oh, I went there) that the Pan Am uniform provides sees Frank empowered by the image he has built. He strides through the airport, receiving countless admiring glances and looks of respect, despite never having as much as sat in a plane. He is surrounded by beautiful stewardesses, themselves costumed to the embodiment of the sixties air hostess image: tightly girdled uniforms, with fully made up faces complimenting the shiniest hair and the highest heels. Presenting us with a visual reminder that flying was once synonymous with luxury style; their costumes instil a smokescreen of confidence and, in Frank’s case, somewhere to hide.

Before becoming the ultimate conman, Frank begins the film as a young school boy trapped in his parent’s divorce. His sadness is visually reflected through the lacklustre, dull and colourless attire he wears before he begins his life of deception. As he falls deeper into his false world of impersonation, his ‘off-duty’ clothes become increasingly flamboyant and vivacious as his confidence grows. Fitting with the sixties vibes, out of uniform he kits himself out with a palette of vivid and loud colours. He can be seen in white trousers and bright blue shirts with orange Wayfarer sunglasses casually perched atop his head. He becomes a man that can have all he desires and beings cultivated a collection of luxuriously tailored suits and expensive cars. However, as the film draws to a close, Frank’s wardrobe demonstrates a complete turnaround in his appearance as his lifestyle dramatically changes. Caught and imprisoned for fraud, his health deteriorates as his riches turn to rags, his long, unkempt hair and dirty clothes a visual embodiment of this.

2002, USA
Director: Steven Spielberg
Costume Design: Mary Zophres

Friday, 16 March 2012

Summer lovin' in (500) Days of Summer

With the swell of sunshine so nearly upon us for another year, what better film to entice us into the season fully than the glorious (500) Days of Summer? Starring the bashfully handsome Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom Hansen, he is clothed in beautifully geeky skinny ties and buttoned up cardigans. However, it is his office object of desire, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) who really takes the proverbial fashion biscuit. Summer, witty and charming with a penchant for The Smiths, is a young woman who doesn't really believe in love. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, and that is that she believes in fashion.
The immediate thing to note about the costume ensembles of (500) Days of Summer is their timelessness. The pieces are stylish and fashion-forward without screaming ‘my name is (insert try-hard fashion victim’s name here) and I’m a try-hard fashion victim’. Summer especially is clad very cleverly. She wears a simple sun-inspired menagerie of cottons, denim and embroidery, with flatteringly feminine A-line shapes and full skirted designs. She undoubtedly enjoys dressing and knows what suits her, the feel of her outfits unmistakeably soft and romantic. With modest hemlines and a relaxed fit, Summer exudes effortless beauty without the need for revealing more. Her unawareness of the impact of her beauty only adds to her appeal. Here is a girl who is not afraid to be her own person, her controversially casual attitude to life and love going hand-in-hand with her self-possessed style.

In another nod to her vivacious fashion poise, Summer is dressed almost exclusively in blue for the entirety of the film. Hued in everything from duck egg to midnight navy, it becomes her signature trademark. The all-blue palette rebrands the term of the LBD (little black dress), lending an idiosyncratic twist to create Summer’s own ‘little blue dress’. Softer than the classic black version and a quirky alternative, it is again a reflection of Summer’s eccentric and unabashedly individual manner.

The morning following Tom and Summer’s first night together, a surreal dance sequence takes place in the street, employing a plethora of seemingly arbitrary dancers and background actors. It is the only scene in the entire film where blue is worn by anyone other than Summer. Costume designer Hope Hanafin confirms that the idea behind this was to show that, in the morning-after glow of his night with Summer, Tom’s whole world is a reflection of his all-consuming lust for her. Now that’s some signature dressing.

So if you want to rock a little bit of carefree charm this summer, do it the Deschanel way in a beautiful blue and you’ll feel anything but melancholy. 

2009, USA
Director: Marc Webb
Costume design: Hope Hanafin

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Powder pastels in Marie Antoinette

With the hint of Spring just around the corner, the soft and sumptuous palette of Marie Antoinette has never been so appealing.

A biopic on Marie Antoinette could easily have fallen into obscurity alongside countless other historically based costume dramas. However, with Sofia Coppola at the realm, this was never going to happen. You may recognise Coppola from her other work such as the soft focus and dewy paletted The Virgin Suicides and here again, her direction does not disappoint. With attention to beautiful cinematography and design, Coppola places a clever and heavily deliberate importance on costume as a stylised character unto itself. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the elaborate ensembles of Marie Antoinette, submerging us in a world of 18th century decadence and excess, using modern influence to really set itself apart from the costume drama crowd.

With the fragile beauty of Kirsten Dunst as the canvas for the role of Marie Antoinette, the tone of the film is one of delicate innocence thrown into a lavish and opulent world. Marie was fourteen when she was married off to the French heir to the throne and thrust flagrantly into the public eye, developing child-in-a-sweet-shop syndrome; a naive and porcelain beauty given anything she desired. This is reflected in the colour palette of Marie’s decadent gowns, all pastel soft and gauzy lace. Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero recalls Coppola handing her a box of pastel-coloured macaroons from the Laduree pastry house at the start of pre-production, with the words 'These are the colours I love'.  Their influence is unmistakable in the beautiful silks, taffeta, and satin. These were days in which draping one’s self in lavish lace and jewels was a signifier of wealth, Marie Antoinette the most indulgently wealthy of all.

The footwear is the work of Manolo Blahnik, shoeing our teen queen in an opulent collection of candy-coloured heels generously embellished with ribbon, embroidery and beads. The shoes themselves are of a height and shape that would be impossible to attain by real period techniques, yet the fantasy element of this is characteristic of the luxury of French royalty at the time. This is the theme of the whole film, with the mixing of modern-day pop songs clashing gloriously against the period settings. Above all, this is a peaches-and-cream look at a young Queen whose rose-tinted innocence and naivety was to be her eventual downfall.

Let them wear cake!

(That one was too hard to resist...)

USA/France, 2006
Director: Sofia Coppola
Costume Design: Milena Canonero 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Clueless & 90s prep chic

‘Do you prefer “fashion victim” or “ensemble-y challenged”?’

When Clueless burst onto our screens in the mid-90s, it left us with a bucketful of sarcastic put downs to try out in the school hallways and a penchant for plaid we never knew we had. Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz became an overnight sensation. Girls identified with her heartbreak and social worries, simultaneously envying her revolving wardrobe and online outfit chooser. Loosely based on the plot of Jane Austen’s Emma, this is a High School film at its finest. Set in sunny Beverly Hills with a free rein of Daddy’s credit card, the fashion is of utmost importance and social acceptance. The overriding sense of the film is that these are girls on the precipice of adulthood, their levels of sophistication undeveloped and gaudy. Inwardly, they are desperate to be taken seriously and their garishly matched designer uniforms are their outward attempts at this.

Cher’s style is rich girl prep’ and her signature patterned mini-skirts, knee high socks and platform Mary Jane shoes became emulated by girls the world over. The look is all about tasteless colour and texture, with Crayola brights adorning the pleats and pinstripe patterns. When more is more, accessories are bountiful; the tackier the better. The girls are drowning in faux-fur handbags, feather-trimmed coats and velvet headbands, with Cher’s best friend Dionne exhibiting a penchant for freakishly flamboyant hats. This is a world where berets appear to be not only socially acceptable, but actually fashion forward.

When new girl Tai, a then relatively unknown Brittany Murphy, arrives on the scene she is quickly shunned for her Nirvana-grunge appearance, probably the most realistic portrayal of how teens dressed at the time. The contrast is so extreme that it is Tai who looks wrong and costumed, while the other clownishly dressed students are the ones that appear acceptable. It is up to Cher and Dionne to transform her, cladding her in preppy shift dresses and oxford collars until she becomes another Beverly Hills clone.

The west coast preppy flair of the film delves us into a world of pure fantasy, far removed from the sloppy grunge style of its 1995 release. As a result, Clueless provided a fashion revelation, with girls everywhere longing to shop on Rodeo Drive. In the words of Cher, they would strive for “courageous fashion efforts” and work to makeover their wardrobes. Hopefully, like Cher, they were also inspired to make over their souls in the process.

1995, USA
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Costume Design: Mona May