Now that the FashFilmFest is over (but will return in 2013!) I'm back to blogging! What better way to get back into the routine than with a favorite? By request and popular demand, I've got a new edition of J.Crew Catalog Theater, from the April catalog... The models are sad, sassy, confused, and wearing things we've seen before. But don't hold that against them! They're models, they can't do any better...
It's been a very long time since the last episode of J.Crew catalog theatre and the only reason I can give you is that the stylists at J.Crew have seriously upped their game of late. I'm not going to lie - they've done a great job at making their pages both appealing and shoppable. That is, until now... (I hope my sister and her New York crew enjoy... I hear they love it when I get sacriligious.)
I was so happy to find this issue in my mailbox full of odd, ackward poses, models who are both pale and hungry, and very very strange styling choices.
There's a lot of ground to cover here, so indulge me. And yes, I edited out a few pages too - there was just too much good stuff...
Two posters for Last Year at Marienbad, 1961
As we approach the final list of films for the FashFilmFest, I’ve been screening and re-screening a number of different films to hopefully narrow some selections. One film I’ve always had in mind is Alain Resnais’ 1961 film, Last Year at Marienbad. It’s under consideration, but I’m hesitant. Certain films you love without question; this is a film I’m always forced to question. What is happening here? Do I understand anything that’s happening? What is this place? Why am I so uncomfortable? Do I even like it? When it comes to Last Year at Marienbad, at any given time the answer could be either yes or no. Even when considering writing about this film (which I have many times in the past) I've also hesitated. Is there anything new to say that hasn't already been said? Perhaps not, but I can still state the facts of this film as a significant influencer of style, film, and fashion.
Delphine Seyrig in Chanel in Last Year at Marienbad
One of the more obscure French New Wave films of the early 1960s, Last Year at Marienbad has none of the color or humor of a Godard film, nor the youthful angst of a Truffaut, but it’s a film that designers and cinemaphiles come back to again and again for its style and unconventional narrative. It’s lengthy hallway shots, endless interiors, strange landscapes, and languorous story line have influenced everyone from Stanly Kubrick (especially in The Shining) to David Lynch (especially in Inland Empire). Peter Greenaway cites Marienbad as the film that had the most important influence on his body of work. In the fashion world, everyone from Marc Jacobs to Diane von Furstenberg have expressed their love of film, and as recently as Spring 2011, Karl Lagerfeld used the film as the theme for his collection for Chanel.
For his Spring 2011 show, Karl Lagerfeld re-created the black & white gardens of Last Year at Marienbad in the Grand Palais, Paris.
Stella Tennant in Chanel, Spring 2011. Inspired by Last Year at Marienbad. (Image from Style.com)
Of course this is fitting because it was Mademoiselle Chanel who dressed Delphine Seyrig in the character of the woman, apart from two feathered gowns by production designer Bernard Evein. The clothing is impeccable. Alternating between light and dark, the dresses are either ephemeral or funereal. Resnais looked to the style of Louise Brooks in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box for the woman, and even sought a special “silent film” film stock from Kodak in order to enchance the look of 1920s silent cinema. The look of the 1920s mixes well with the contemporary 1960s (both heydays of Chanel), or the 1960s looks are suited to the 1920s – either way, the seamless transition between eras creates some of the disorientation.
The famous mirror shot from Last Year at Marienbad.
Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box.
When re-watching this film, I gave myself over to the uneasiness that begins almost immediately. The whining organ music, empty hallways, sonorous voice-overs that fade in and out – the effect is like being drawn into someone nightmare from moment one, and in moment two you’re already looking for a way to wake up. The setting is elaborate and labyrinthine and the people posed here and there make them seem like bas relief figures on the side of a temple. People are silent or intensely focused, gossiping or watching. There seems to be a love triangle, but no one's actually very loving. There has always been a lot of discussion about a "rape" scene, and possibly a murder, but it's still difficult to tell what's really happening between the three main characters. Everyone else is socializing but no one’s really interacting. Drinks are imbibed, games are played, but it all has a menacing quality to it. There seems to be a lot of money around, but no one is happy and everyone is bored. Indeed, Last Year at Marienbad has been called one of the “most boring films ever made”, even as others hail it as a masterpiece for those very same reasons.
Seyrig in the white feather gown by Bernard Evein.
Carmen Kass in a blush-colored feathered dress from Chanel, Spring 2011. (Image from Style.com)
Beyond the time-warp-surrealist narrative and down-the-rabbit-hole-and-into-Hotel-California feel, this is a beautiful film to simply look at. Every frame is considered and composed, almost like paintings in their stillness and precision. A recent editorial spread by Outumuro in Spanish Marie Claire magazine capitalized on the look of Last Year at Marienbad in a gorgeous homage to the film. It's no stretch to see how the famous "broken shoe" scene translates to our modern love of footwear...
The famous "broken shoe" scene from Last Year at Marienbad, and...
...recreated in Spanish Marie Claire by Outumuro.
Outumuro images from Spanish Marie Claire from The Terrier and Lobster
I think it is this visual appeal that keeps drawing designers, photographers, art directors, and yes, film directors, back to Last Year at Marienbad. Strange and misunderstood, it’s confusing mix of narratives keep generations of people conjuring their own opinions, while its eternal Gothic style provides its own frisson that’s difficult to ignore…no matter how much you may want to.
So will it be showing at the San Francisco Fashion Film Festival? I'm still unsure. As much as it's influential and intriguing, my vote is still undecided.
I know that everyone has been thinking of Elizabeth Taylor since her death last spring, so I suppose an expectation for Taylor-flavored styles this fashion week isn’t too surprising. The fashion world loves an icon, and a recently-deceased icon surely needs her homage. But having just finished reading Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger’s biography of the Taylor-Burton romance, Furious Love, I find the rumors of a Taylor-flavored influence a little interesting.
It began with Vanessa Friedman’s piece for the FT two weeks ago entitled "Liz Taylor's Gift of Glamour", calling out the particular brand of Elizabeth Taylor’s style & glamour as a likely fashion influence for this Fall. Even V Magazine is sending out its September issue (on newsstands this coming Thursday,) with an homage to Taylor in over 70 pages of images styled by Carine Roitfeld. It seems the Elizabethan moment is verified, so I wonder if the predictions for this week’s runways will be true. I also wonder if these fashion insiders will get it right.
Cathy Horyn’s piece "An Alluring Beauty Exempt from Fashion’s Rules", from the New York Times last March 23rd - the day Taylor died, is the best (and truest) summation of Taylor’s relationship to fashion.
"Because of Ms. Taylor’s physical effect, which audiences surely registered in “Butterfield 8” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” when she appeared at her most dangerous, in a slip or a stolen fur coat or an unchaste white sheath dress, you tended not to notice the particulars of her wardrobe.
Instead you noticed the heavily penciled brows, the lipsticked mouth, the riot of hair crowned with fresh flowers or jewels (typically the work of Alexandre of Paris) or the head scarf when she was on a beach or relaxing with her family, oblivious of the chaos her star presence was causing."
Given this, I found it odd that while discussing the V Magazine spread, Carine Roitfeld is quoted as saying “She [Taylor] had the kind of elegance that went far beyond clothes.” Elegance? I don’t think that’s correct. That is so like the French to call everyone "elegant", even when they don't deserve it.
Elegance is a “refined quality of gracefulness and good taste” whereas glamour is “an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people seem appealing.” I don’t know that anyone has ever described Elizabeth Taylor as having good taste in anything but jewelry.
Elizabeth Taylor wears the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond (Krupp diamond) with Richard Burton at the 1970 Academy Awards.
While Taylor truly enjoyed the finer things, excess, food, drink, and a general fun frolic, she didn’t put much in mind for clothing. She did take a lot of chances (for better or worse), but between the furs and jewelry and extravagant hairstyles, the end result was mostly loud, distracting frivolity. It is almost as though she pursued a vulgarity in her look so that people would no longer see her ever-present beauty. This was certainly the case in her private language and manner. According to Furious Love, Taylor loved to swig beer, belch, and swear with the best of them, thereby downplaying her beauty and femininity by pointedly not acting like a lady.
Taylor (with Burton) challenges the notion of "good taste" with white hot pants and go-go boots. 1971
She was consciously vulgar; she tried to be, and succeeded. She knew that flaunting millions of dollars in jewelry was a bit outré, but she appreciated their beauty for themselves and wanted to share it with the world. According to Furious Love, she wrote: "One day somebody else will have them...and I hope that new person will love the jewelry and respect it as much as I do...I've never, never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I'm here to take care of them and to love them."
As Vanessa Friedman said in her article:
“…She was the id unleashed, with an unapologetic joy in consumption that those tired of today’s hair-shirted mea culpas may find truly thrilling…Her sense that fashion and sparkles are for fun, and that there is value in that fun, helped make her so compelling as a style icon, then and now. She didn’t ask for anyone’s approval and she wore her diamonds with great joy, even in her hair.”
This earthiness contributed to her allure, because instead of being ephemeral and untouchable (and elegant) like her contemporary Grace Kelly, Taylor was firmly planted on solid ground; it was just the looks that were goddess-like. (According to Furious Love, Burton “usually felt awkward around Princess Grace, whom he described as rather dull and in the class of people who are ‘in a somewhat false position and know it…’”)
The taste of Taylor: In the world's most expensive fur coat & a bikini, with Burton, Look Magazine, 1970.
Taylor’s fiery glamour and passion is what is more appropriate than any “elegance” she may have shown. Her love of jewelry far outweighed any love for fashion. In fact, I would go so far as to say that fashion maybe made her feel a bit insecure. Taylor always reverted to classic designers such as Halston, but for her red-carpet events she usually asked Edith Head to design something for her. Other than a designer, she chose a costume designer – she was dressing to fit the part of a movie star and went right to the top. But a costume is not fashion.
Vanessa Friedman asserts that the Taylor influence will translate into jewel tones, belts, metallics, and touches of tweed and fur. To me, this doesn’t sound too far away from what's normal, but we’ll see what happens. Aren't we already expecting an emerald-green trend for Fall?
An Elizabeth Taylor trend in beauty, makeup, and styling is one thing, but fashion? Beyond an increase in furs and bosomy-necklines (which we’ve already seen swelling, ahem, in the past few seasons,) I’m not sure that a true style influence that translates to the runway is entirely apt. If it can be done creatively and with Taylor's own brand of shock and humor (and even a touch of vulgarity?) then perhaps it will be correct. But designers are so very conscious of what's in good taste that I think it will be stretch for them to let loose and take a cue from La Taylor.
Cathy Horyn said it best at the conclusion of her piece on Taylor, saying “this kind of style had nothing to do with luxury or imprisoning taste, but it had a great deal to do with living.”
Phyllis Gordon with her cheetah, shopping in London, 1939
I came across this image of actress Phyllis Gordon out shopping with her pet cheetah a number of months ago, but it's been on my mind ever since. I'm enchanted by the inherent insouciance of it all. Imagine trotting out to do a few errands in the neighborhood and bringing along your favorite big cat just for kicks! This is the essence of luxury and chic.
I'm not at all what one would term a "cat person". I'm cool with cats, but wouldn't choose to have one over a feisty and funny terrier. I've been known to cat-sit here and there which isn't altogether unpleasant, although I'd prefer a cold wet nose over a sandpaper-tongue. So it is interesting that I find myself completely jealous of those eternally-stylish women who through history have sported cats as an accessory. Not just any cat, but a full-grown cheetah or leopard. Hands down, this is beyond stylish and everyone knows it - no Yorkie in a Louis Vuitton bag could compete.
As Jessica Kerwin Jenkins writes in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, "by the twentieth century the cat's sexy, slinky reputation was appreciated by bohemians, intellectuals, and some extremely glamorous women, who upped the ante by taking in leopards as pets...As they proved, no animal makes a more stunning sidekick than a glowering great cat."
Women casually strolling with a cheetah on a leash sounds like something out of an old Hollywood urban legend. You know the scene: fur coat to the floor with a sharp cloche hat and five big cats on a chain, preferably while walking briskly down a train platform with the steam rising and a porter trailing with a mountain of trunks. My whole life I've longed to be this woman.
Marchesa Casati with her leopards, by Paget-Fredericks ca. 1920s
When I first started reading about the Marchesa Casati, I became enchanted with her pet cheetahs. According to legend, the Marchesa would take her private gondola across the Grand Canal late at night just to walk her pets through the Piazza San Marco. True to form, she would perform this ritual while completely naked but for a fur coat. Imagine running into that after too many Bellinis at Harry's Bar!
Marchesa Casati with her pet cheetah, 1912
Josephine Baker was also known to sport a leopard named Chiquita around Paris in the 1920s when she was the most flamboyant act in town. Diana Vreeland saw the pair out at the movies once and loved how Chiquita pulled Baker into her white Rolls Royce in a single bound: "Ah! What a gesture!...I've never seen anything like it. It was speed at its best, and style."
Josephine Baker & Chiquita
Gloria Swanson also seems like the type who would have had cheetahs close at hand. In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond seems to be surrounded by leopard skins in one way or another. Even the seats of her Isota-Fraschini are upholstered in leopard skins. This detail in the production lends itself to the once-glorious past of Norma Desmond, recalling glamorous days of dancing the tango with Valentino.
Desmond's character probably had some basis on one of the original movie starlets, the great Pola Negri. Although she made her mark in early silent film in Europe, Negri signed a contract with Paramount and came to Hollywood in 1922. (It was she, not the fictional Norma Desmond, who met Valentino at a classic Davies-Hearst costume party at San Simeon a few years later. The two became lovers until Valentino's death in 1926.) Like the Marchesa Casati, Negri also had a weakness for cheetahs and walked hers frequently down the real Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood's heyday.
Negri's love of cheetahs came full circle much later on when in 1964, Negri starred with Hayley Mills in Disney's The Moon Spinners as Mrs. Habib, a character with a pet cheetah named Shalimar. While filming this teenage caper flick in London, it is said that Negri caused a sensation walking the cheetah nonchalantly through a hotel lobby. It sounds as though Negri not only knew the essence of glamour, but that she also had a true sense of humor too.
Hayley Mills & Pola Negri in The Moon Spinners, with a cheetah in the background.
To seal Hollywood's fascination with the luxury of keeping a big cat, there's also Bringing Up Baby - an entire screwball comedy devoted to the antics surrounding a rich woman's pet cheetah.
Film stars with cheetahs seems to be a classic combination. If they didn't keep them as pets they were certainly photographed with the cats as props; I would guess it is because of the wild, exotic, and animalistic connotations. You can't really argue with that. Indeed, the earliest Hollywood stars seem to have been photographed with cheetahs time and again in their ultra-glamorous, fantasy-driven publicity stills.
Bebe Daniels and a cheetah.
Joan Blondell and a cheetah.
I suppose that it isn't entirely practical to aspire to keeping a cheetah in this day and age. But was it ever practical? No. It's their impracticality that makes them so very stylish. All of these women seem to have been a bit "unleashed" while accompanied by a big cat on a leash. The sexy, outrageous, glamorous, diva-ish behaviour just seems to go hand in hand with this type of indulgence. Anything that's so truly luxurious as a pet cheetah could only be utterly, exuberantly beautiful in itself.
For more images of starlets & cheetahs, be sure to visit this post from the Pictures blog.
All images from internet searches.
My, it's been a while since we had a good Bang Envy post around here! I'm not sure when Britt Ekland occured to me - I've been collecting her images here and there for some time and filing them away (as I do for all of my BE posts) and then coming back to them again & again to try to edit down to the best ones. While the Bang Envy category is full of French & Italian ladies of note, this may be our very first Swede...and the Swedes know a thing or two about allure - things we should all learn!
Although she was a model throughout the 1960s, it was her 1964 marriage to Peter Sellers that really brought Britt Ekland into the public eye. Although the marriage was short-lived, Ekland went on to be one of the original "IT" girls of the 1960s-1970s, dating rock stars and even doing her time as a a Bond Girl opposite Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974.
From the movies to the romances to the rock & roll, Ekland's life is a lovely mix of glamour, humor, style, and playfulness.
Classic Swedish glamour... modeling shots from the 1960s.
In one of the greater urban myths of 1960s Hollywood, Peter Sellers fell for Britt Ekland after just seeing her photograph. He then proposed to her after just one face-to-face meeting. After having daughter Victoria, the pair split in 1968. In 1973, Ekland had her second child, Nic Adler, with producer Lou Adler.
With Peter Sellers, circa 1964.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this look - the beret, the tunic with the pockets, and most of all the tassel necklaces. It's very Bonnie Parker meets Patty Hearst, with a little bit of Emma Peel mixed in. The perfect cocktail of so many different icons of the era, but reduxed and toned down for real life.
Ekland in a leopard cat suit, Vogue 1965 by David Bailey.
After a while (especially as the 1970s dawned), Ekland moved away from her classic "Swedish straight" hairstyles and signature bangs to a more natural, honey-blonde color & free-flowing style that was totally in tune with the new decade. In 1973, Ekland sealed her cult-goddess status in the folk horror film, The Wicker Man. Ekland's singing & slapping the wall while naked scene from the movie was considered so risqué that even now it's hard to find an original print in the United States.
Ekland on the cover of Esquire - a classic George Lois era - from 1969.
Ekland as one of the more provocatively-named Bond Girls, Mary Goodnight, from 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun.
Ekland met Rod Stewart in 1975 via mutual friend Joan Collins, and the pair lived together for nearly two years. After this, she went on to relationships with Phil Lewis from Girl & L.A. Guns, as well as Slim Jim Phantom, with whom she had her third child, T.J., in 1988.
Rod Stewart and Britt Ekland from Life.
Ekland still remains close friends with Sharon & Ozzy Osbourne, and remains a figure in the rock & roll scene. In the 2005 HBO biopic The Life & Death of Peter Sellers, Ekland was portrayed by Charlize Theron who invited her to attend the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
Today, Ekland raises funds for Osteoporosis and Alzheimer's charities, and makes an occasional appearance on television. What a life, eh? So many things I'd love to ask her.....
I owe this entire Bang Envy post to the soundtrack that plays at my job... Every so often "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" comes on the stereo and everyone sings along to Linda Ronstadt. This made me dig a little deeper. After all, if everyone knows this song there must have been a time when La Ronstadt was on constant rotation. When was said idyll of pop music? Probably in the 1980s sometime on a soft-rock station, but why judge? The fact remains that Linda Ronstadt is a bona fide legend in her own time, and one who continues to bring the talent well into her sixties. According to her Wikipedia page:
"In total, she has released over 30 solo albums, more than 15 compilations or greatest hits albums. Ronstadt has charted thirty-eight Billboard Hot 100 singles, twenty-one of which have reached the top 40, ten of which have reached the top 10, three peaking at No. 2, the No. 1 hit, "You're No Good". In the UK, her single "Blue Bayou" reached the UK Top 40and the duet with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much", peaked at #2 in December 1989. In addition, she has charted thirty-six albums, ten Top 10 albums, and three No. 1 albums on the Billboard Pop Album Charts."
Doing research on early Ronstadt I found some amazing pictures of her which show her as a fresh young singer capitalizing on the sweetspot between country, pop, and rock, and bringing the style to match. In her early days, Ronstadt seems to play up the look of an innocent young flower child, but within all of her cuteness there's an incredible amount of sex appeal. It's the best combination of the All-American Girl.
Born in Tucson, AZ of Mexican and German parents, Ronstadt began singing at 14 with her brother Pete and sister Suzy. At 17, she dropped out of college after just one semester and moved to Los Angeles where she met up with Bob Kimmel - a friend from home. Together they started a band called the Stone Poneys with Kenny Edwards in 1966. But just a few years later, in 1969, Ronstadt went out on her own.
The cover of Evergreen, Volume 2 by the Stone Poneys from 1967.
On the Johnny Cash Show in 1969. At 22, Ronstadt was invited for her first appearance on the Johnny Cash Show; during the rehearsal, June Carter Cash noted that the singer wasn't wearing any panties. Ronstadt's tart reply? "I sing better bare-butted."
Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and Jim Beam in 1974.
Blazing a trail for "girl singers" in the 1970s, Ronstadt experienced the pressures and difficulties of relating to men musicians on a professional level. In a 1969 interview in Fusion magazine, she said it was difficult being a "chick singer" with an all-male backup band. But, finding her stride, she went on to become the most successful female singer of the 1970s with such albums as Heart Like a Wheel, Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, and Simple Dreams.
All of her albums offer solid pop tunes that crossover easily into Country. Her mix of genres shows her complete vocal and stylistic versatility which was furthered later on in her career when Ronstadt recorded a number of albums of traditional Mexican folk and Ranchera music.
Also notable for her public romances, Ronstadt dated then California governor Jerry Brown, and was also engaged to George Lucas in the mid-1980s. Ultimately though, she adopted two children in the 1990s by herself and has never married. She remains a steadfast supporter of women's rights, gay rights, and is a vocal advocate of national arts programs. Most recently, Ronstadt spoke out against her home state of Arizona's controversial SB1070 illegal-immigration law, participating in a National Day of Action in January 2010.
On a trip to Africa with Jerry Brown in 1979.
The famous Rolling Stone cover from December, 1976. Image by Annie Leibovitz.
And what about "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"? Well, I ended up downloading Ronstadt's Simple Dreams album and have been listening to it on constant rotation. It is indeed a classic album for the ages, and if you don't have it, you should get it. To offer you another quote from Wikipedia:
At the end of 1977 Ronstadt surpassed the success of Heart Like A Wheel with her album Simple Dreams, which held the #1 position for five consecutive weeks on the Billboard Album Chart. It also knocked Elvis Presley out of #1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart. It sold over 3½ million copies in less than a year in the US alone. The album was released in September 1977, and by December, it had replaced Fleetwood Mac's long running #1 album Rumours in the top spot. Simple Dreams spawned a string of hit singles on numerous charts. Among them were the RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou", a Country Rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison song, "It's So Easy" – previously sung by Buddy Holly – and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", a song written by Warren Zevon. The album, garnered several Grammy Award nominations – including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for "Blue Bayou" – and won its art director, Kosh, a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, the first of three Grammy Awards he would win for designing Ronstadt album covers.
Simple Dreams became one of the singer's most successful international selling albums as well, reaching #1 on the Australian and Canadian Pop and Country Albums charts.Simple Dreams also made Ronstadt the most successful international female touring artist as well. The same year, she completed a highly successful concert tour around Europe. As, Country Music Magazine, wrote in October 1978, Simple Dreams solidified Ronstadt's role as "easily the most successful female rock and roll and country star at this time."
A flash of red, Belle Epoque architecture, and a vintage SNCF train engine in deep green are the opening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterful min-film commercial for Chanel No. 5. The filmmaker sets his favored palette immediately (red, green, black, and amber), and washes it in his signature sepia-tint, making the film appear perfectly, romantically aged.
This is the look of Jeunet. Despite his place among modern French auteurs, his mise-en-scene always shows this specific palette and elements of times gone by; and if those elements no longer exist, he re-creates them to perfection. His stories are fantasy-based, even the more realistic such as Amélie and A Very Long Engagement, allowing him the freedom to create his own complete worlds. Of course, most filmmakers do this anyway, but very few except for Wes Anderson, actually do it to the extent of Jeunet. Even in the entirely fantastic films of Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection, Jeunet’s aesthetic remains intact. His arsenal of technicians and actors rarely changes helping with this consistency, but each story is so wholly unique that it is clearly the director’s own vision driving the style.
It is to Chanel’s credit that the firm allowed Jeunet to create their latest marketing film within his own stylistic preferences while honoring the product it showcases so completely. (They did the same for Baz Luhrmann’s version a few years ago as well, but that work was such a flagrant rip-off of Moulin Rouge that it doesn’t stand on its own as well as Jeunet’s does.) In fact, Jeunet’s style is the perfect lens for the lore and romance surrounding Chanel No. 5. Invented in 1921 as the first perfume to feature synthetic aldehydes, the scent was a complete departure from the floridly sweet scents of the era. Another change was its packaging; most perfumes at the time were encased in wildly sculptural etched glass flacons, while Chanel No. 5 emerged in a clean-lined, geometric bottle. The difference was like a spotlight on the vanity table. In 1959, the Museum of Modern Art New York inducted the bottle into its packaging exhibit.
Since its creation, Chanel No. 5 has been among the most popular scents in the world, and is certainly the best-known. The Jeunet mini-film is pitch-perfect in its reserve: since everyone already knows the product, he understands that it doesn’t need to be given a heavy hand. One of the best moments of the film is when the light shines through the bottle of No. 5, casting a gorgeous, glimmering shadow across Audrey Tautou’s train berth. The moment is doubly witty as Toutou lies in her bed nude, recalling Marilyn Monroe’s famous quote about Chanel No. 5 being the only thing she wore to bed.
Apart from the actual look of the mini-film, there are also plot elements that are classically Jeunet: romance among strangers, missed encounters, voyeurism, and irony. Yet with all its stylistic beauty, Jeunet smartly brings home the product as a fragrance of eternal modernity. The girl (Tautou) is young, hip, casually dressed, and packed for easy travel, but she still chooses a scent that is over eighty years old. (The film was released on May 5th, or 5/5 – the eighty-eight years to the date from the fragrance’s release in 1921.) This is a gentle but genius stroke of the artist successfully communicating the product in an exciting, approachable way. This is similar to Sophia Coppola’s young ye ye girls in her recent commercial for Miss Dior Cherie – youthful, fun, vintage-inspired, but entirely modern.
When Billie Holiday’s “I’m a Fool to Want You” comes over the soundtrack, Jeunet’s stylish irony comes forward. The decades-old song is romantic and mysterious, the perfect accompaniment to Toutou, but is she singing of the romance between the boy and girl, or the romance between the girl and Chanel No. 5? Or, is it saying that we (the consumers) are all fools to love such beautiful, ephemeral things of indulgence and luxury? The inclusion of this song goes a lot further than simple soundtrack.
Overall, this is an excellent bit of marketing from Chanel that unites artistry and messaging in an entirely engaging way. It is lovely that the luxury houses still spend time and expense on these types of media. It is almost a new art form entirely, limited to a select few firms such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel, but the cost is so well-spent. As art foundations continue to diminish and advertising gets less and less creative, the luxury brand commercials continue to excite and inspire. More please!
Visit the Chanel website devoted to Jeunet's film for a high-resolution playing. It is worth seeing this way! Special thanks to The Luxe Chronicles for suggesting that link.
Note: Personally, Chanel No. 5 is not one of my favorites, but I am especially fond of Coco... - Ms. P&C
When The Traditionalist and A Continuous Lean wrote about Bert Stern's 1960 film Jazz on a Summer's Day last summer, I immediately added it to my Netflix queue. Of course, being a bit of a movie maniac, my queue is rather long, so I only watched this film this week. I should have known better. Based upon my own experience when writing about films, when someone blogs a film, it means watch it - now.
Let me just say that this little documentary is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Filmed during the 1958 Jazz Festival in Newport, RI, the film captures a weekend of American style, music, and relaxation that is just as vibrant fifty years later. In fact, I am surprised that this film isn't more of a stylistic touchstone, a la Grey Gardens, Petulia, or BlowUp. The style is just amazing, capturing a time of fresh-faced beauty and casualness that was still untouched by the Kennedy-era polish. Two days of music, sunshine, green grass, rocks, ocean, old cars, sailboats, beer, and cigarettes. If anyone has ever looked for a record of mid-century American sportswear, this is the film to watch. The hats, eyeglasses, colors, haircuts and even lipstick shades are clean and stylish, and while clearly of their own time, there is still a strong relevance today.
Still Image from A Continuous LeanIndeed, Ralph Lauren's entire body of work could be based upon this film.
Bert Stern adapted his experience with fashion and advertising photography to create a film that's really "moving still pictures," as he explained in the short feature on the DVD. It certainly shows. For me it was the colors that were so vibrant - a shot of a little girl running on a lawn in red shorts with a blue innertube is just gorgeous. A panning shot of a young woman in a turquoise blue-on-blue polkadot sheath with a yellow tweed hat and straw basket takes her in from foot to head, and literally made me gasp with delight. I also loved the colorful, wavy, moving water shots at the beginning which look strikingly similar to the Abstract Expressionist paintings being created at this time. Every frame is artistic, composed, balanced, and beautiful.
But with all of this beauty, there is still a relaxed easyness that captures the pure fun and enjoyment of the festival. People were there for the music and the togetherness. There is a staged segment of film that's a bit incongruous: a "party" with people dancing on a rooftop, and while it captures the overall mood of the weekend, I'd trade this bit of staged film in for more candid shots of the musicians and the audience.
As a fan of jazz however, the musical part falls a little bit short. Anita O'Day's set is fantastic, but most of the others, including Louis Armstrong's, have been shown to better advantage elsewhere. (True, some of my favorites, like Gerry Mulligan, did not get nearly enough screen time to merit a better judgment.) But this film is much more about the look and mood of a late-1950s summer day in America, and the music is more background to the visuals.
It's wintertime now, but if you want that summertime mood, I highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of this movie! It's a lovely cure for the winter greys...
I must say, the darling Miss Dior "Cherie" advertisements have been the highlight of my magazine flipping lately... A girl with beret on a bicycle with be-ribboned Dior boxes - because it's so charmant to shop the Avenue Montaigne on a bike. Or, the pastelled balloon bouquet lifting Maryna Linchuk high above Paris which puts the ending of Le Ballon Rouge in mind, but for chic, grown-up, fuschia-pink bubble dress-wearing big girls.
Sigh! Le irony, le insouciance, le charm, le tongue-in-cheek...
Then, tonight I was in the middle of Gossip Girl... wait, what's that? Why is Brigitte Bardot singing one of her ye ye songs on the television? Chestnut trees, a vintage magazine, a girl with bangs, white cyclamen, and balloons...either it's my favorite era of French style or... Ohmigosh! It's the Sophia Coppola ad for Miss Dior "Cherie"!!! I was so flustered with delight I didn't know what to think. But, my first notion was: "Damn, I should have gotten that DVR box forever ago! Please rewind!"
The perfume was launched in 2005 - as a commemorative for Christian Dior's 100th bithday by John Galliano. A review of the perfume is available on the Now Smell This blog, which cites Galliano's inspirations as Stevie Wonder's "My Cerie Amour" and a vintage Dior gown from the archives called "Cherie". However, while the scent may be reminiscent of the classic 1947 "Miss Dior" perfume, it is entirely modern. So, a modern ad campaign with the modern, simple glamour of Ms. Coppola is entirely appropriate.
Pink, pastel, soaring, and with a 1960s French girl-pop soundtrack - what's not to love? Also, as a film student, I love that this one little 30-second bit of film totally fits in with the greater body of Sophia Coppola's work. The look is very similar to the decadent pinkishness of Marie Antoinette, while the Diana-camera saturated cinematography is perfectly in tune with The Virgin Suicides. It shows a knowledge of Masculin Feminin and Un Homme et une Femme, with a little dose of Roman Coppola's CQ. The chain of aesthetic influence makes me giggle with delight!
Overall, the whole campaign is pitch-perfect, full of ladylike optimism which is sorely needed right now. Unfortunately, there's no clip yet on YouTube, but visit Fashionologie (and its fabulous OnSugar capabilities) for a taste of delicious.
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...
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."
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
breakthrough moment: realizing that there's more in the coffee than cream
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
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
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."
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..."
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."
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
essential prop: getaway car
essential atmospheric film effect: a Bernard Hermann score
breakthrough moment: pulling off the highway to find a motel room
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
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.
actress: Tippi Hedren
role: Marnie Rutland
leading behaviorism: compulsive behavior derived from childhood trauma
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...
Astrid Kirchherr, self-portrait, 1960Can one woman’s personal style actually change a generation? In the case of Astrid Kirchherr, it did. Yesterday’s episode of Fresh Air on NPR featured an interview with Ms. Kirchherr which should not be missed.
In 1960, Astrid Kirchherr met a group of young (some even underage) boys who were playing in a rock band on the Ripperbaum in Hamburg, Germany. According to Kirchherr, this was not an area of town where nice girls went out at night, but she went with her then boyfriend Klaus Voormann. The band she saw was The Beatles – popular culture and fashion has never been the same.
Kirchherr was attending art school at the time and was practicing as a photographer. The story goes that she gathered up The Beatles one morning, took them out to an abandoned fun fair and took the famous iconic images of the band in its early days. The Beatles then featured Harrison, McCartney, and Lennon of course, as well as Pete Best on drums, and “the fifth Beatle” – Stuart Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe was a painter by trade and talent, but sold a painting to buy a bass guitar at the request of John Lennon who really wanted Sutcliffe as part of the band.
The Beatles by Astrid Kirchherr, 1960 - Best, Harrison, Lennon, McCartney & SutcliffeAfter a few weeks in Hamburg, Sutcliffe and Kirchherr fell in love and became engaged. Sutcliffe left The Beatles, McCartney moved over to the bass, and a few years later Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr.
Kirchherr is credited as giving The Beatles their “mop top” hair styles, which she insists wasn’t so unusual in Hamburg at the time. She states that she originally gave Klaus Voormann the haircut to cover his protruding ears. Stuart Sutcliffe liked the style and was the first of the group to adopt it – Kirchherr says that the cut was relatively easy for him as his hair was already long to accommodate the Elvis-style rocker pompadour. It was simply a matter of washing out the brylcreem and even-ing things up. The next Beatle to get the style was George Harrison, who had such “beautiful hair that it turned out great and he was very pleased.”
Kirchherr states that Stuart Sutcliffe matched her in height and build; when he moved in with her he began to wear her clothes and adopt her style. She states that at the time in Hamburg there were many different youth subcultures designated by their different uniforms – “the rockers, the exis, the mods…” Influenced by Jean Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau, she and Klaus Voormann were a part of “the exis” – short for existentialists – styling themselves after Parisian university students with capes, berets, long scarves and lots of black. Kirchherr recalls “we had to do our own clothes if we had weird ideas,” - knitting the long maxi-scarves herself since no one sold them, and stealing an over-sized sweater from one's father to try and look like “the Sartre people in France or Juliette Greco.” Kirchherr states: “we looked a bit weird, but we all thought it was great to be different.”
Sutcliffe went on to borrow a collar-less corduroy suit from his girlfriend which she had made herself after seeing a high-fashion version by Pierre Cardin in a magazine. John Lennon initially made fun of the look, but later on adopted it along with the band to create one of their signature styles.
Klaus Voormann's "Revolver" cover - 1966Klaus Voormann went on to create the famous cover art for The Beatles’ Revolver album in 1966, and The Beatles went on and became history.
After leaving The Beatles, Stuart Sutcliffe went back to art school in Hamburg. In 1962, Sutcliffe collapsed and died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21. Astrid Kirchherr states that he was, and is, the love of her life. She says that she still wears black, cuts her hair short, wears long scarves and leather pants, and is looking forward to her 70th birthday this year.
Imagine it: the contents of your closet, your personal style, one day gets “borrowed” and blown up by some close friends who become mega-stars. How would your style change the world?
Listen to the full interview between Terry Gross & Astrid Kirchherr on NPR. The story of Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe and The Beatles is captured in the 1994 film Backbeat with Stephen Dorff as Sutcliffe and Sheryl Lee as Kirchherr.
Yes...these are the ones...Sheesh! I've been looking at my posts, and so many of them have been so self-indulgently...well, non-style-oriented, that I felt I needed to get back to some fashion. And while nothing current is really racing my motor, I thought I'd dig out one of my favorite old stories...
This post was originally written about a year ago, about a real evening I was having with my friend Lee... This is a true story, every word, and it's so good that I've dug it out of the archives to share with the current P&C crowd. Okay...so P&C wasn't even around a year ago, but I was doing some writing, and it was good! This one is actually about some really great shoes - the kind I can't wear lately, so it's indulgent just to think about...
On Friday night I was sitting in Gold Alley, just outside of Bix, having a cocktail with a close friend. People were gathered for the after-work drink, and since it was a nice night for February, people stood, drinks in hand, on either side of the narrow alley. On the opposite side, a group of friends enjoyed each others company, and soon a fabulously chic couple approached and were welcomed by all.
“Look at those shoes she has on…” my friend said to me. The woman in question was wearing incredibly steep stiletto heels, very bare – just a toe strap, and for that extra bit of sex, a strap of leather circling the ankle. Either the shoes were steeper than her usual, or this woman was a bad heel-walker – she could barely make the five steps from the cab to her friends without showing her shaky, uncertain footing to the entire street.
“Well, she can hardly walk in them.”
“Yeah – but look at them!”
“Yeah, they’re hot, but someone should have told her they’re the kind of shoes one only wears at home.”
“YEAH! With NOTHING ELSE on!”
“Exactly!” We both laughed. “I have a pair of shoes like that – my first *real* high fashion shoes I bought at a sample sale when I first started with the company. A pair of John Galliano corset-pumps. Remember those? They lace up the toe? So hot.” Ah yes. My John Galliano corset-pumps in sultry soft black leather with a delicate, skinny, little sharp heel. Sex on a stick. I went on to tell my friend the story of the shoes. The John Galliano pumps were in size 9 ½ and had been worn by a model during a fashion shoot, and due to the scuffs, could not be sold. But they could be sold to me at an employee sample sale for only $40.00. I admitted that I was afraid of them at first – they were so high, such skinny little heels, so vampish, I didn’t know quite what to do with them. I was new at my company and this had been my first sample sale, and my first pair of uber-expensive shoes (albeit purchased at considerable discount.) I think I may even have blushed at the thought of not only having them in my closet, but actually putting them on and wearing them. Our in-house fashionista-shop-aholic giggled at my uncertainty about the Galliano corset-pumps.
“You know,” she whispered to me with a conspiratorial smile, “they never even need to leave the house!” At the time the idea made me blush even harder, but I was younger then, and didn’t know so much.
Somehow or other, this shoe-y anecdote led to another and another, and I fondly remember some shoes I had purchased when I was studying in France, almost ten years ago. The first was a pair of Sketchers sneakers. Yes, I will admit to owning and wearing Sketchers in my student days – I’m not above it. (I also had Airwalks when I fancied myself a “skater girl”, but let’s leave that out, shall we?) Well, these Sketchers I bought in London, somewhere on Carnaby Street but I don’t really remember. They were lavender, but opalescent lavender, and very shiny. Sneakers were huge in the late 90s, and I saw these and had to have them, my “Euro-Club Barbie” sneakers.
Obviously, being the girl that I am now, and was then, I shopped a great deal when I was a student in Paris. I knew where to find stuff, like the best selection of vintage leather jackets on Rue du Temple. The Temple area is the part of town where one shops for either vintage clothes, club clothes, or drag queen clothes. It was at this time when the trashy club girls at the Sorbonne were wearing these crazy sneaker-pumps one could purchase in the Temple area. Huge sneakers with big wedge heels. All the girls were wearing them. I thought they were the ugliest things I'd ever seen.
I met a good friend while I was there, Lora, who introduced me to all of the sophisticated Bohemian things I truly needed to learn about while living in Paris. Things like hashish, great sex, clubbing, and Miles Davis. For hours we would sit in each other’s rooms and talk about culture, politics, our friends at home, books, music, and men. All while smoking endless Marlboro Lights, drinking wine, and listening to “Ascenseur pour l’echafaud” – even to this day, I cannot listen to that album without being completely transported. Lora and I had a friendship of the kind that develops in these kind of study-abroad situations. Deep, rich, fulfilling, and intense. She knew me so well, while hardly knowing me at all. The shopping was therapy for me, she could see it, and she disapproved. Lora had also seen the sneaker-pumps in the Rue du Temple and warned me that if I ever came home with a pair, she would be slapping me on the first flight out of CDG so fast my head would spin. "If those ever start to look good to you, it's time to go home!"
It was a difficult time for me then, I was sad to be away from my friends, and I was going through a heavy-duty 20-year-old dose of “what does it all mean?” while lodging in a large, empty, old dorm room of the Cite Universitaire. (Lora dared me to pull myself out of my funks *without* going shopping…sometimes it worked.) I grant you, this dorm room was larger than my first apartment, but never so warm. It did look out on the Parc Montsouris, but it was full of drafts and street noise. I do think of it fondly though, just as I think of our fellow dorm residents from around the world. There was Mehdi – an Algerian living across the hall from me with a collection of hookas that were put to good use on the weekends, and also Lora’s neighbor Kuaku – an utterly stunning African man who nearly puts Taye Diggs to shame. Kuaku was from Central Africa, although I don’t remember his country, but he had also lived in London, and practically everywhere else. Lora also had an in-dorm boyfriend at the time who lived the coolest of cool lives: photographer by day, DJ by night. At one time on a rainy day he asked me if he could take a nude photo of me. He said he got inspired, me, the rain, he couldn’t resist. Of course, Lora would come with me for moral support. I thanked him, but demurred. It was a strong will I had to resist a charming French photographer, asking to take sexy photos of me. One of the biggest regrets of my life. Why wouldn’t I want pictures of myself, naked, in the middle of a parc in Paris at age 20? Like I said, I was much younger then, and didn’t know so much.
Anyways, back to the shoes. I visited London and of course went to Carnaby Street and got my Euro-Club Barbie Sketchers. I also went to Underground Shoes and purchased an absolutely TO DIE FOR pair of funkadelic London swinger shoes. Picture it: stacked four-inch heel with a slight flare at the bottom, a half-inch platform, and a lace-up Oxford style…and, wait for it, they’re pony leather, in a zebra print. So fabulous. (This was a good few years before Austin Powers too, so it wasn’t like everyone was buying them then.)
I still have these shoes, by the way. They’ve made it though the past years tucked safely in their original Underground Shoes box. They’re so outrageous and utterly precious (and not to mention slightly small) that I never wear them above once a year.
I returned to Paris just before flying back to the States, and quickly went to Lora’s room to show her my new shoes from London. Instead I found Kuaku. I was so excited about my new shoes I had to show him…
“Look Kuaku, I bought them on Carnaby Street!”
“Well, I could tell you bought them on Carnaby Street…”
“What do you think – aren’t they great?” I asked him, whole-heartedly and eagerly waiting for some kind of validation on the outrageous shoes from the beautiful African.
“Well, Ann Marie?” He began in his sweet accent, “Well, they’re zebra…” I waited a beat and considered what he was saying. He held one of the shoes in his hand, staring at it in semi-horror. I didn’t put two and two together to realize that he probably thought I’d killed his childhood pet from the bush and made a pair of shoes out of them. Being the oblivious and insensitive budding fashionista that I was, I replied with:
“Yeah! Aren’t they fabulous!”
I have an Austrian princess on the brain. She’s in my head, singing me songs, diving through my closet and crawling out of my handbag. She’s everywhere, and I might as well get used to it. I’ve been immersed in Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion – What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution for weeks, and now I’ve seen what all the fuss is about: Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette.
Like that other sumptuous period drama of a few years ago about a big boat meeting an iceberg, we all know how this movie is going to end. Yet who knew it would be done with this exuberance, decadence, and style? For a brief few seconds in the opening credits, you’re treated to the ultimate summation shot: la reine, in dishabille, coiffured with an extravagant pouf, having her new pink shoes put on her feet as her fingers dive into a gigantic pink cake. Cakes, coiffures, shoes, and pink. The end.
While Caroline Weber’s book paints a more realistic portrait of the misunderstood queen, the confection on film is much more fun to endure. Barring a few slip-ups in casting and cut-aways, (do we really need the fantasy shot of Count Fersen on a rearing horse? I mean, he’s hot, but that’s a bit heavy-handed Mademoiselle Coppola…) the entire thing is a gluttonous delight of striped nosegay silks, little dogs, glittering gems, ruffles, ribbons, and feathers. A whole film of not a whole lot, but when it looks this good and is set to a soundtrack of punk rock, who cares?
The crowning achievement of this film is that it was filmed at Versailles. Once one visits that indulgent place, one sees exactly what the revolution was all about. The immediate impression is that someone simply went to town on the gilding of every surface, while the slow-to-apprehend reality of Versailles is that there is practically zero private space anywhere in the entire monstrosity. This is what Coppola captured: the wedding night and later childbirth in the queen’s bedroom absolutely packed to the rafters with people. Imagine that – two of the most intimate moments of your life, and there you are on display for people you don’t even want to talk to when you have your clothes on. The procedures, the protocols, the honors of the toilette – Marie Antoinette was said to have hated all of this pomp and formality of Versailles, preferring the casual informality of her native Hapsburg household wherein she could dress herself.
And boy, could the woman dress! The panniers, the robes a la françaises, the jewelry, the chapeaux… “Which do you like, the sleeve with the ruffles, or the plain?” she asks her advisor from Austria. Every girl dreams of wearing a dress like this, just once, because after five minutes you realize its pure torture. The queen herself preferred a loose-fitted gaulle dress of simple muslin for her days in the fields at the Petit Trianon, yet eventually this attire was deemed inappropriate for the queen. How very different from her earliest days as dauphine when upon her arrival at the French court, her beauty was noted by all with more than a little envy. It seems her natural complexion was so fine that she did not need the enhancements of the usual powders and rouges. Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, who painted the queen more than twenty times described her thus in her memoirs of 1835:
Marie Antoinette en Chemise, 1783 - E. Vigee-LeBrun“ But the most remarkable thing about her face was the splendour of her complexion. I never have seen one so brilliant, and brilliant is the word, for her skin was so transparent that it bore no umber in the painting. Neither could I render the real effect of it as I wished. I had no colours to paint such freshness, such delicate tints, which were hers alone, and which I had never seen in any other woman.”
This kind of youthful vitality is perfectly captured in Kirsten Dunst as the young queen, especially when presented in counterpoint to Asia Argento’s delightfully disgusting Madame du Barry. Yet, by the end of the film, the queen has barely aged, and seems overwhelmingly poised in the faced in inherent dangers and terrifying unknowns. The one time Dunst’s dauphine is allowed a well-deserved crying jag is only after the little ladies in fichus cast aspersions on her barrenness. This, on top of her mother’s complaints about her “waistline” takes her over the edge. Caroline Weber talks about Queen Maria Teresa’s harangues about this waistline issue as an ongoing one from years of correspondence between the mother and daughter. Too little a waistline shows the dauphine is still child-less, while too large a waistline is unbecoming a proper lady of the court. In other words: get yourself pregnant, but don’t stop wearing your grands corps - a highly-restrictive corset. (It is always refreshing to hear that the motherly badgering of “you’re too thin, you’re too fat” is one that’s gone on forever.)
Caroline Weber’s lengthy tome discloses all of the ins and outs of Marie Antoinette’s sartorial evolutions. Newly-invented styles turn into maddening fads among the aristocracy who ape the queen to their own financial ruin. A few years later, the queen’s fashion choices lead to her derision and downfall. It’s a familiar story to those of us who know the history of lady politicos. A later French queen (since the French can never decide if they want one or not,) Empress Eugenie, was nicknamed “Empress Crinoline” because of her clothes-horse ways, while years later women such as Eva Peron, Jackie Kennedy, Imelda Marcos, and even Nancy Regan were derided for their closets-full of excess. But Marie Antoinette is the woman whose indulgences taught everyone else how it’s done, the singular point brought home by Coppola’s film.
The film’s tagline of “The party that started a revolution,” is indeed true: much of the film is devoted the party Marie Antoinette is having while she spends years simply waiting for her husband to touch her. Once the Versailles party of the century begins to wane however, Coppola’s film accelerates and tends to overlook the ravages the queen faced late in life, not to mention the ravages of all-night parties. According to Caroline Weber, the fresh-faced girl that had arrived in France had gained a hardy amount of weight due to finally delivering three children, and had also lost the better-part of her hair. These physical manifestations of the stress of life at Versailles are glossed-over completely, and well they should be in order to keep pace with the film. However, the woman’s life was no fairy tale, so the ending pathos in the golden dawn is lost on most of the audience – we never really bought that it was all fun and games anyway.
Gentlemen be warned: this is one helluva girlie flick. Not a chick-flick per se, but girlier than girlie. The montage of Marie with her two best gal-pals the Princesse de Lamballe and the Duchesse de Polignac (viva Rose Byrne!) going shoe shopping to Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” is absolutely visceral in its brightly-colored indulgence. I’ll just say it, the sequence is girl-porn in the best way: shoes that Manolo Blahnik would weep for, diamonds, fluffy pink pastry, you and your best girlfriends downing magnums of champagne along the way. Sofia is no fool – she knows what girls want. (Is that why Marc Jacobs loves her so much?)
Despite its little fumbles, Marie Antoinette is my new favorite film, and I’m already pre-ordering the DVD from Amazon. I’m a sucker for a costume piece, and this is one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen in years. Perhaps because real life for la reine Marie *was* such a costume-drama, the frothy interpretation in film cannot rightly be classified as a guilty pleasure. A pleasure it is, but who is guilty of enjoying it? It brings a smile to your face, quickens your pulse, and makes you want to paint the chateau pink.