Haute Couture Goes to Film

Milla J bandage dress


“There is a scene at the beginning of John Woo’s spectacular new film Face/Off in which Nicolas Cage strides down a runway. His eyes are covered in designer shades, his long black frock coat is blowing in the breeze. His boots gleam and the wind flicks around the elegant hemline of his jacket. We haven’t quite worked out who he is. We don’t know where he’s going. We don’t know what he’s done. The clothes, however, are definitely Donna Karan.

Hollywood and the world of fashion have long enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship. There have been films about fashion; films featuring fashion; designers who dress film stars; models who become actors; actors who date models. It is a love affair with endless permutations.

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“But in recent years, the nature of the relationship has changed, or at least the balance has shifted. Increasingly, films are being used to showcase designers – the latest of these is Face/Off, due for general release next week. We might not know who directed the film, we probably aren’t interested in who wrote the script, but we sure as hell know who designed the clothes.

More than that, designers – now Hello!-style celebrities in their own right – are fast becoming the stars of film. Luc Besson’s recent sci-fi movie The Fifth Element may have featured Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman in leading roles, but the real star of the show was Jean Paul Gaultier. He designed the costumes, gave all the publicity interviews, and was in more demand at Cannes than Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz combined. In short, it was Gaultier who sold the film.

This developing relationship between cinema and haute couture is examined in a new book by film lecturer Stella Bruzzi called Undressing Cinema. In it Bruzzi outlines the ‘elaborate and fragmented’ history of couture’s involvement with cinema. The interaction was there from the start, but the massive potential for commercial exploitation is only now being realised.

The earliest films where couture played a part, dating back to the first decade of the century, were straightforward, cinematic fashion shows. Then in 1931 Sam Goldwyn offered Coco Chanel a million-dollar contract to design for MGM. He wanted the glamour of a designer name, but the relationship came to a premature end after less than a year following reports of disagreements between Chanel and Gloria Swanson, whom she dressed in Tonight Or Never. It was a rocky start, but the relationship between Hollywood and the couture industry blossomed nevertheless.

From almost the beginning, cinema had a strong influence on contemporary fashions. Edith Head’s strapless party dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun (1951) was copied across the world; Clark Gable’s bare-chested look in It Happened One Night (1934) resulted in a 30% drop in American sales of men’s vests. More recently, Uma Thurman’s dark crimson talons in Pulp Fiction caused a run on Chanel’s Vamp nail varnish and Agnes b fitted white shirts. See the movie, buy the outfit…”


This article from The Guardian can also be viewed here in its entirety:  http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/29/haute-couture-films-costume-design


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