Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Designing Women, Designer Darlings

We go to the movies hungry for the stories. Often we leave thirsting for the clothes. When they see The September Issue, R. J. Cutler's mesmerizing documentary about Vogue magazine's powerhouses editor Anna Wintour (the model for Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada) and creative director Grace Coddington, moviegoers are likely to spike a fashion fever. (Cutler's film, which contrasts Wintour's dictator style with Coddington's dreamy approach, opens here September 11.)

Designing Women, Designer Darlings

Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in "Funny Face."
Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in "Funny Face."

We go to the movies hungry for the stories. Often we leave thirsting for the clothes. When they see The September Issue, R. J. Cutler's mesmerizing documentary about Vogue magazine's powerhouses editor Anna Wintour (the model for Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada) and creative director Grace Coddington, moviegoers are likely to spike a fashion fever. (Cutler's film, which contrasts Wintour's dictator style with Coddington's dreamy approach, opens here September 11.)

Movies and fashion -- and movies about fashion -- have been hand in glove ever since the 1920s when producer Sam Goldwyn -- furious that the sudden drop of hemlines made his new releases look out of date -- asked Coco Chanel to design clothes for his female stars in order that his films look in vogue. Soon studios would sell the patterns to dresses worn on screen by Joan Crawford and, later, Elizabeth Taylor, to department stores which would sell thousands of copies. The voile gown Crawford wore in Letty Lynton sold more than 32,000 units for Macy's. The strapless number worn by Taylor in A Place in the Sun sold upwards of 50,000, boasted designer Edith Head, who said that she went to a prom in 1952 (the year after the movies release) and saw "17 Elizabeth Taylor dresses waltz past." More recently, the much-coveted emerald green slip gown worn by Keira Knightley in Atonement became a best-seller at vendors such as Red Carpet Prom.

There are at least four kinds of fashion films. There are those, like Lady in the Dark, Funny Face, The Devil Wears Prada, Sex and the City and The September Issue, that take places in the world of fashion mags There are those like Funny FaceDarling, Mahogany and Zoolander that have as their central characters fashion models. There are those, like Designing Woman and A New Kind of Love are about fashion designers. And then there are those starring the It Girl or It Boy of the moment -- Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Julie Christie, Warren Beatty, Diana Ross, Diane Keaton, Jude Law or Beyonce -- that make the moviegoer want what he or she is wearing. Edith Head always said that her most influential designs weren't the high-fashion numbers she confected, but the more vernacular looks, such as the black turtleneck, jeans and loafers worn by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, which established the Beatnik uniforn worn by everyone from coffeehouse habitues to Michael Jackson.

Your favorite fashion movie? Ensemble? Look? I love the way Astaire wore his necktie as a belt -- a design of his very own design seen in films such as The Barkleys of Broadway and The Bandwagon. You?

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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