Films are a superb resource for observing fashion and costume. In some movies, the garments a character wears can play a major role; carefully considered costumes can enhance the mood, can help portray the past or the future, or express the zeitgeist of contemporary society. Although there are many films that use fashion effectively, this top five list are some of my personal favorites. Make some popcorn, dim the lights and enjoy!
1. Funny Face (1957)- directed by Stanley Donen, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire
One of the best fashion films of all time. In this lighthearted musical, a famous fashion photographer (Astaire) discovers a beautiful intellectual working in a Grenwich Village bookstore (Hepburn), and promptly whisks her off to Paris to be his model and muse. Fifties models Dovima, Suzy Parker, and Sunny Hartnett make an appearance, as well as the work of photographer Richard Avedon (whose photos appear in the film as Astaire's).
2. Blowup (1966)- directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave
Antonioni's iconic thriller has come to epitomize Swinging London in the sixties. David Hemmings plays a fashion photographer who revels in parties, pop music, drugs, and frolicking with models. With his mop hair, Cuban heeled boots and Modish clothing, Hemming's character is undoubtedly inspired by photographer David Bailey (who was a key figure in sixties fashion and was instrumental in creating the 'look' of the decade). Models Veruschka and Jane Birkin play in supporting roles, as well as the rock band The Yardbirds.
3. Barry Lyndon (1975)- directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Ryan O'Neill and Marisa Berenson
Barry Lyndon, one of Kubrick's best loved films, was inspired by Thackeray's novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844). Set in England and Prussia between the 1750's and late 1780's; the film is a beautiful and picturesque impression of life in the eighteenth century. Kubrick wanted every aspect of the film to be historically accurate- from the sets and lighting to the luxurious costumes. He described how he was inspired by the pastoral paintings of artists Watteau and Gainsborough. The result is one of the best period films ever, with costumes that are poetic, decadent, and very accurate.
4. American Gigolo (1980)- directed by Paul Schrader, starring Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton
American Gigolo is a quintessential 1980s film in which greed and excess are central themes. Richard Gere plays Julian, a handsome escort who makes a living from dating older (wealthy) women. Although the film was critically panned, it was a showcase for the work of Italian designer Giorgio Armani. Armani's suits for Gere were incredibly soft and unstructures, made from luxurious fabrics in subtle, earthy colors. Gere looked sophisticated and elegant in the supple suits, and the public went wild for the new Armani 'look.'
5. Velvet Goldmine (1998)- directed by Todd Haynes, starring Johnathan Rhys-Meyers and Ewen McGregor
A glam-rock extravaganza, Velvet Goldmine is loosely based on David Bowie's life during his Ziggy Stardust era. What is unique about the story is writer/director Haynes' unique spin on the glam rock style; he draws connections between Bowie's Ziggy persona, and the ideas of Oscar Wilde ( who was, in essence, a pop icon of the late nineteenth century). Oscar winner Sandy Powell's technicolor costumes are campy, dandified, and glamorous. You cant help but want to put on platform boots and glitter after watching this film!
Other notable fashionable films include Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Annie Hall (1977), Blade Runner (1982), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Cabaret (1972).