Film: Another New York Holly

When people talk of iconic Woody Allen characters, the first one that comes to mind is of course Diane Keaton as the menswear-loving Annie Hall. But digging into 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters, one finds another quirky fashion icon in Diane Wiest's character, Holly. This film is probably one of my top picks in the Woody Allen oeuvre, and I find it utterly charming every time I watch it - and the ending is just the sweetest thing ever.

But over the years I've found that the thing I love most is the character of Holly. Like the other much-adored New York Holly (Golightly), she's a kooky mixed-up mess and has a fashion sense to match. Even still, there are certain elements that are pure perfection simply because the character owns the look so completely. Like Annie, her style also incorporates menswear, but with some unexpected feminine elements that make the look much softer. Her look is sweet and airy, high and low, full of vintage, objet trouvé pieces that probably came from a boyfriend's closet or a local flea market. Even at her worst, Holly's sartorial mix shows the true New York bohemian that lies within.

When we first meet Holly at the beginning of the film, it's a family Thanksgiving at her sister Hannah's house. Although the sisters are close, it's clear that Holly is harboring a few issues deep down. Her black and white floral print dress is topped by a classic mens houndstooth blazer, cinched at the waist with a belt. A scattering of vintage brooches on the lapel softens the look, but this structured style manifests the nervous discomfort she has in the scene.

Holly is a bit of a mess, and we're shown that her frenetic self-destruction has been going on for a while. When we see Holly & Mickey's first date in a flashback, she's smoking incessantly with one hand, and snorting coke with the other. Her crisp white blazer is totally out of place at the punk show she chooses to take them too, and she is equally out of place later on during Bobby Short's show at The Carlysle. She's over-accessorized herself - a scarf here, big necklaces there, and wrists full of big bracelets - it's all too much. While Holly claims she's hip, chastising Mickey for not being fun, she's the one that's completely insecure.

While Holly makes continued attempts in the acting world, she and her friend April (played by Carrie Fisher) open the Stanislavski Catering Company to earn some money on the side. It's interesting to note that Holly asks her sister Hannah (already a successful actress) to help her to pick an outfit for her audition. Hannah (played by Mia Farrow) is a classic through and through, so it's no surprise that she would lead Holly toward this buttoned-up ensemble that resembles a suit from the 1940s. It's also no surprise that Holly bombs the audition. The vintage style does seem to suit Holly, but she's still uncomfortable in her own skin and seems small on the stage.

Immediately after her audition, April comes in and knocks her song out of the ballpark, effectively making Holly a footnote in the open call. As they walk down the street, the two friends have an argument about a man they've both been dating, and the friendship (as well as the Stanislavski Catering Company) soon comes to an end. I love this look because while April looks like the standard 1980s New Yorker, Holly shows her vintage ecclecticism to full effect. A man's topcoat is paired with a vintage cloche, bright scarves, brooches, a huge basket tote (de rigeur in the 1980s), and finally a charming pair of Fair Isle mittens.

At the next Thanksgiving, Holly has given up on acting and is trying her hand at writing. While this makes for some conflict with Hannah, you can see that she's beginning to pull herself together. Her spunky personality is beginning to come through and she seems much more relaxed and self-assured. Her kicky ensemble of trousers, baseball jacket, and dark green Jack Purcell sneakers is so fantastic that I'd wear it even today. When we see her arguing with Hannah in the next scene, she's beginning to mix her punk sensibility with her soft, vintage side. The 1940s-cut dress is perfectly embellished by another scattering of brooches (possibly the same group from the first Thanksgiving?) and a pair of punk chokers. In this scene it's clear that Holly is coming together while Hannah is coming apart.

My favorite Holly outfit (and one of my favorite film ensembles ever,) comes when Mickey and Holly reunite in a record store. Holly has clearly come into her own and is freely mixing her favorite pieces with confidence and charm. A vintage sailor's blouse is covered by a classic jean jacket and then a masculine top coat finished with her usual touch of sparkling brooches. A jaunty black beret is also given the brooch treatment, finishing the look to perfection. It's obvious that she's come full circle, is happy, ready for a real career, and even a real love.

When Holly reads Mickey her script in the next scene, she's wearing a breezy oversized plaid shirt and a black menswear vest; a pairing which is back in style again today, 24 years later. Her scarf is tied in a bow in her hair, bringing a sweet touch of femininity. She seems to have grown younger through the course of the film, even as years have passed. As we say goodbye to Holly & Mickey (for another year), they're seen in a long shot in the park, where Holly has covered this outfit with a vintage fur coat, bringing a self-assured and glamorous finish to her quirky look.

Every time I watch this film I want to go shop on Haight Street and find a vintage sailor's blouse and a few more brooches. Or, at the very least I want to find some Grandpa's closet and raid it for funky old coats and hats.

I think that Holly shows a great lesson of life: that you are what you wear, even if it takes you a long time to put together the right ensemble.

Film: A Thing of Beauty

Edie Martin as Toots Brawne and Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion's Bright StarSubscribers - please click through for best viewing!

After much anticipation I am so happy to have seen Jane Campion's new film Bright Star. More than the beautiful story told, I love that the look of the film conveys so much more than the dialogue or action. It is as though Jane Campion has gone back in time to re-create the original inspirations for John Keats' poetry, creating a sublimely simple and beautiful design. Romantic, of course, but perfectly atmospheric for the late Regency period. Set near Hampstead Heath (just outside of London at that time,) the exteriors are rich with seasons, colors, and all manner of flora.

Fanny's room in Bright Star

Meanwhile, the interiors are cleverly set to show changing spaces. Fanny's spaces are airy and bright, with white-washed woods and crisp linens. Keat's spaces are dark and wooden with tufted leather sofas and dark wood tables. Family spaces are a mix of both, creating a cozy, loving space the perfectly suits this interesting family. The house is simple, a middle-class dwelling without much ornament or pomp. It is clear that the cook and the maid are part of the family circle, while friends and neighbors are familiar confidantes.

And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanchéd linen, smooth and lavendered,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferred
From Fez; and spicéd dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon.
These delicacies he heaped with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathéd silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retiréd quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light. -
"And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
Open thine eyes, for meek St. Anges' sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache."

- from The Eve of St. Agnes, John Keats, 1819

Sammy (Thomas Sangster) Toots (Edie Martin) and Fanny (Abbie Cornish)

While certain details are known about Fanny Brawne and her family, I could find nothing in her history about why her family was in such a straightened financial condition, other than Mrs. Brawne had recently been widowed. In the film, it is clear that the Brawnes need to economise, but the children still speak French, go to beautiful parties, have pocket money for books and paper, and have dancing class from a private tutor. Mr. Keats, on the other hand, is clearly of a more impoverished class. While educated and presentable, he seems to be largely dependent upon friends for his room and board.

Fanny stitches her collar.Fanny's dress at the ballThis difference is also conveyed majestically in the costume design of the film. Fanny Brawne is derisively described by Keat's friend Charles Armitage Brown as "fashionably slavish", and there is much talk about Fanny's "stitching". Mr. Brown, and Keats at the beginning, both think that this stylish proclivity shows a shallowness of character in Fanny. She, however, takes great pride in her craft talking about her talent for design and style, and presenting herself as entirely confident in her avant-garde looks. The difference between her style and Keats' shabby dress are entirely evident, creating even more tension between them. When Fanny and Keats first meet she criticises his jacket, suggesting he needs one in blue velvet rather than his well-worn wool.

Fanny (Abbie Cornish) & Keats (Ben Whishaw)In every shot, Fanny's costumes set her apart from the group. She is more elegant, more daring, more colorful than anyone else, conveying her personality and good humor. As the relationship with Keats grows Fanny's style changes, starting with bright colors and elaborate hats and moving toward more somber tones and quiet embellishments. The other Brawne children are equally stylish, especially Fanny's younger brother Sammy. His lanky early teen frame is perfectly suited to his short jackets and tall straw hats, but his crowning glory is the jaunty silk cravate he wears in each scene.

Promenade Ensemble, 1822, from Ackermann'sThe fashion of the late Regency period is far more interesting than the early Regency. In this time (about 1816 - 1822), there is more pattern, silhouette, and color than the simple muslin frocks commonly associated with this time. The short Spencer jacket is still popular, but now there are long redingotes, and the hats are much more elaborate than the simple bonnet. To create such stylish designs herself, Fanny Brawne likely consulted ladies' magazines or the fashion plates from France. While early Regency gowns were straight and clean, this era shows more flounces at the hem, creating weight and dimension. The waistline was just beginning to creep downward from the empire line, but this still dominated the designs, as did the elegantly sloping shoulder. Just a few years later, sleeves and skirts would increase in volume, creating the perfect bell shape that would last through the 1860s. This film captures such an intriguing moment of fashion, from such a unique perspective: that of a Regency-era tastemaker, who was the most fashion forward member of her circle.

Abbie Cornish as Fanny BrawneAs Fanny and Keats' romance runs into difficulty, Fanny seems to take on the quiet tragedy of the poet. Like any teenager, she's given to moodyness, flights of fancy, and dramatic passions. One of the most beautiful scenes is when she and her siblings gather butterflies and then set them free in her bedroom. The colors, dainty insects, and gauzy atmosphere create a romantic image like none other.

As the film nears it's tragic end, the atmosphere grows crisp and cold, while Fanny's vivid pinks and rich browns give way to deep blue and finally black. The lush greens of spring and summer have given way to stark tree trunks, gray skies, and brown earth. The stunning warmth of the romance fades into memory, leaving the viewer wanting more of everything.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

     Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

     With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,

     And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

     With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

     For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.

- from To Autumn, John Keats, September 19, 1819

It is a credit to Campion to have so masterfully captured this time and place so perfectly in Bright Star. The many layers of visuals - cinematography, costumes, and sets - serve to tie the true story of the romance with the actual poetry that we have known and studied for generations. To unite all of these elements so seamlessly, so effortlessly, sets a new standard for any type of biographic film.

Film: Know Your Hitchcock Dames

I've had this post brewing in my head for a little while now, and it seemed like actually writing it would be the best way to get back into action. Especially since it has to do with some of my favorite films and their delicious, inspiring, and ever-exciting style.

The first film that really turned me on this way (and inspired my life-long love of fashion,) was Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. This was the very first film my family rented when we unwrapped our brand new video player way back in the 1980s and it's just as fascinating to me today. This was the first time I really came to notice just how much costume could tell the story; in Rear Window it serves as another character, setting up the main characters' relationship in a film that is sparse on sets and changes.

As I've come to know the rest of the Hitchcock library, I've realized that all his films feature women who are as equally alluring and stylish as Grace Kelly playing Lisa Fremont. They're all strong, unusual, backed into difficult corners, full of flaws, and yet still able to land the overwhelmingly attractive leading man. Hitchcock always made certain his women were on an equal standing with their men, creating complex and tightly controlled characters that are all designed by the same hand, yet remain wholly unique. So, with inspiration from my friend Sophia at Chic & Charming, I've put together a little look at some of the Hitchcock dames with all of their modish victories, wacky neuroses, strengths, fragilities and foibles...

Rebecca

year: 1940

actress: Joan Fontaine

role: The 2nd Mrs. de Winter

leading behaviorism: mousyness

weakness: rich, lonely widowers with suicidal tendencies

sartorial inspiration: whatever's hanging in the gallery

iconic fashion: English country chic - tweed skirts and cardigans

favorite food: scrambled eggs

beauty tip: a new haircut and permanent will be just the thing

accessory: a priceless, but broken figurine, hidden in a drawer

essential prop: big, spooky house on the coast of Cornwall

essential atmospheric film effect: thick, low-lying fog

aversions: Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper

breakthrough moment: "I am Mrs. de Winter now." 

 

Notorious

year: 1946

actress: Ingrid Bergman

role: Alicia Huberman

leading behaviorism: binge drinking

weakness: American agents

sartorial inspiration: lots of draped jersey

iconic fashion: Euro/Latin - black evening gown with a deep V back, accessorized with a lace fan

favorite food: chicken and champagne with a view of Buenos Aires

beauty tip: a health spa in the Andes Mountains

accessory: key to the wine cellar

essential prop: bottles full of uranium ore

essential atmospheric film effect: the extreme close-up

aversions: mother-in-laws

breakthrough moment: realizing that there's more in the coffee than cream

 

Dial M for Murder

year: 1954

actress: Grace Kelly

role: Margot Mary Wendice

leading behaviorism: naivete

weakness: American crime writer ex-boyfriends

sartorial inspiration: your ordinary London housewife

iconic fashion: quietly wanton - a red lace cocktail dress

favorite food: just cocktails

beauty tip: going to jail can ravage a girl's looks

accessory: a silk stocking that needs mending

essential prop: missing housekey

essential atmospheric film effect: camera angles from up high and down low

aversions: High Court judges

breakthrough moment: finding the scissors on the desk

 

Rear Window

year: 1954

actress: Grace Kelly

role: Lisa Carol Fremont

leading behaviorism: clotheshorse

weakness: cantankerous invalid photographers

sartorial inspiration: whatever just got off the Paris plane

iconic fashion: Park Avenue perfection - cocktail gown with black bodice and embroidered tulle skirt

favorite food: lobster, french fries and a bottle of Montrachet from The 21 Club

beauty tip: "a woman going anywhere but the hospital would always bring makeup, perfume and jewelry..."

accessory: Mark Cross overnight case

essential prop: binoculars

essential atmospheric film effect: a complete Greenwich Village city block

aversions: knives wrapped in newspaper

breakthrough moment: breaking into the neighbor's apartment

 

To Catch a Thief

year: 1955

actress: Grace Kelly

role: Francie Stevens

leading behaviorism: being a rich, headstrong girl

weakness: retired jewel thieves

sartorial inspiration: Louis XV and a Texas oil well

iconic fashion: something icy-looking but no jewelry: "I don't like cold things touching my skin."

favorite food: picnic of chicken and beer overlooking the Mediterranean

beauty tip: light makeup but always suntan lotion

accessory: silver roadster convertible

essential prop: black cat

essential atmospheric film effect: fireworks

aversions: younger French girls

breakthrough moment: "The Cat has a new kitten."

 

Vertigo

suit_vertigo.jpg

year: 1958

actress: Kim Novak

role: Madeline Elster/Judy Barton

leading behaviorism: trances

weakness: retired detectives

sartorial inspiration: "You're looking for the suit that she wore for me. You want me to be dressed like her..."

iconic fashion: a plain grey suit from Ransohoff's

favorite food: dinner at Ernie's

beauty tip: get a full makeover...twice

accessory: vintage necklace

essential prop: mini bouquet of roses

essential atmospheric film effect: rapid zoom & reverse zoom: the "Vertigo" shot

aversions: California Missions

breakthrough moment: "Don't you see - it wasn't supposed to happen this way..."

 

North by Northwest

year: 1959

actress: Eva Marie Saint

role: Eve Kendall

leading behaviorism: flirtatiousness

weakness: advertising executives on the lam

sartorial inspiration: the quiet side of blonde bombshell

iconic fashion: little black dress and a handgun

favorite food: brook trout in the dining car

beauty tip: just be a big girl in all the right places

accessory: pearl choker

essential prop: Mount Rushmore

essential atmospheric film effect: wide open spaces

aversions: The Cold War

breakthrough moment: "I never discuss love on an empty stomach."

Psycho

year: 1960

actress: Janet Leigh

role: Marion Crane

leading behaviorism: secret sexpot with a desire for "decency"

weakness: divorced hardware store clerks

sartorial inspiration: office girl - button-up shirts and pencil skirts

iconic fashion: torpedo bras and slips

favorite food: one of Norman's sandwiches

beauty tip: long, hot showers

accessory: $40K

essential prop: getaway car

essential atmospheric film effect: a Bernard Hermann score

aversions: taxidermy

breakthrough moment: pulling off the highway to find a motel room

The Birds

year: 1963

actress: Tippi Hedren

role: Melanie Daniels

leading behaviorism: practical jokes and compulsive lying

weakness: tall, handsome lawyers

sartorial inspiration: the chic suit will take you anywhere

iconic fashion: green tweed sheath and jacket for three days straight

favorite food: martinis on a hilltop over Bodega Bay

beauty tip: toothbrush and granny gown from the general store

accessory: cigarettes

essential prop: caged lovebirds

essential atmospheric film effect: bird's eye view

aversions: crows, gulls, finches, sparrows...

breakthrough moment: Seeing the crows gathered on the jungle gym.

 

Marnie

year: 1964

actress: Tippi Hedren

role: Marnie Rutland

leading behaviorism: compulsive behavior derived from childhood trauma

weakness: horses

sartorial inspiration: unobtrusive, elegant

iconic fashion: what the neurotic wife of a rich man wears: dramatic white evening gown with white fur trim

favorite food: a quiet, family dinner at the country house

beauty tip: lots of hair dye: red, then blonde, then brown, then blonde...

accessory: beauty case

essential prop: a disapproving mother

essential atmospheric film effect: flashes of light and flashbacks

aversions: the color red

breakthrough moment: "You don't love me. I'm just some kind of wild animal you've trapped!"

To catch up on your Hitchcock Dames watch Turner Classic Movies tonight, April 1st, for "Hitchcock in the 60s". The lineup includes The Birds, Marnie, and Psycho...