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Designer Clothes in Movies: Catwalk Catfights

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Paola_Bassanese_itcher_contributorDesigner clothes in movies: A punchy and gob-smacking fashion assault on the senses? Check. A triumph for the fashion industry? Check. Catwalks and catfights? Check and check. ~ Paola Bassanese

I am totally biased having attended the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition in London in 2014 but you will have to indulge me while I talk about him as he provided the costumes for some pivotal films like Peter Greenaway‘s The Cook, the Thief, the Wife & Her Lover and Pedro Almodovar‘s Bad Education.

A punchy and gob-smacking fashion assault on the senses

The Cook, the Thief, the Wife & Her Lover takes the baton in a virtual relay race from Belle de Jour by Luis Buñuel (more on that later), and you could watch both films back to back for a punchy and gob-smacking fashion assault on the senses.

Dame Helen Mirren purrs her way through the film with her Amazonian physique, the perfect canvas for Gaultier’s extraordinary creations.

Almodovar‘s Bad Education stars Gael Garcial Bernal as the cross-dressing Catholic confused boy Ángel by day, Zahara by night. Zahara‘s scintillating body-con catsuit dress, studded with thousands of crystals, is a fashion feat and triumph for Gaultier.

“Fashion does have a much longer history than film costume design, but since the beginning of moving pictures, both industries have nurtured an intimate relationship” (Clothes on Film)

Costume design for film was inspired by the catwalk – and fashion designers have been involved in film projects for decades. Creations worn by Hollywood stars got copied by the high street.

Fashion designers like Coco Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Jean-Paul Gaultier have collaborated with film studios (with varying degrees of success) and also cemented lasting working relationships with Hollywood icons.

For example, Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn worked together on various projects successfully, most notably Breakfast at Tiffany‘s (and that black dress!).

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Fashion Icon + Film Icon = Success

Among the most iconic names in fashion, one of the most memorable moments was Yves Saint Laurent‘s collaboration for the film Belle de Jour (1967).

Luis Buñuel cast a real goddess for the lead role, the statuesque Catherine Deneuve, who looks like a fashion model and teases with her powerful sex appeal.

She is “absorbing to watch”, as online forums reviewers cleverly put it.

“Catherine in (and out of) Yves Saint Laurent”

“Catherine in (and out of) Yves Saint Laurent” says this promotional video – and that says it all!:

Sometimes you wonder how much these collaborations between studios and fashion houses are more publicity stunts than anything else.

For example, Baz Luhrmann‘s The Great Gatsby, the film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s novel, comes to mind: all glitz and glamour courtesy of Prada, but where is the substance?

Oh, wait: the costume designer for The Great Gatsby was Catherine Martin, who just happens to be the film director’s wife. Baz Luhrmann asked Miuccia Prada to work alongside his wife – a true “family affair”, it seems.

“Can’t you see who this guy is? With his house, his parties, his fancy clothes?”

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

The Prada-Luhrmann combo also includes Romeo + Juliet (1996), again starring Leonardo di Caprio like The Great Gatsby, and commercials for the fashion house Prada. I can smell a lucrative multi-million dollar deal.

Better Prada than nada.

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Fashion Divas Fisticuffs

Fashion in films can sometimes go all “handbags at dawn”: cue catfights, catsuits and catwalks.

Even the infallible Giorgio Armani didn’t quite follow the brief for The Untouchables and most of the costumes had to be re-tailored or weren’t used on set.

Coco Chanel tried to use Hollywood as an advertising platform for her creations, but things didn’t always go to plan and studios could not always use her dresses.

Amy Westcott, BAFTA nominated costume designer for Black Swan, was hardly mentioned during the publicity tour, while all the credit for the actors’ costumes went to Rodarte. Oops. (Meow).

We shouldn’t forget a whole host of films blending homage and mockumentary of the fashion industry: from the self-celebratory Lagerfeld Confidential (Rodolphe Marconi, 2007), to the absorbing Valentino: The Last Emperor (Matt Tyrnauer, 2008) via the rather unimpressive Prêt-à-Porter (Robert Altman, 1994).

What to Look out For

You may want to start looking at films differently now – observe the tailoring, colours, shapes.

Any Suggestions?

Please, leave your comments below!

I am Paola Bassanese, and I love twitter – I think in slogans! I am a contributing author at itcher mag covering mainly quirky movies that I like and that I hope you′ll like too. [n-e-x-t] I have written a few books including The Foraging Home Cook, and also write about health and lifestyle for the Huffington Post. I consider myself to be a Londoner even though I was born in Italy. I love 80s music and foreign language films, but I also enjoy going to the opera and ballet.
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