5 films | back in fashion

October 19, 2013 in costume party, stop look & listen by editor

Got some time on your hands and a hankering for some vintage movie style?

Then throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave, pour a glass of chardonnay and check out these fashion-themed movies,
all streaming online right now.

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It (1927)

Synopsis: Clara Bow stars as Betty Lou, a plucky young department store clerk who has the hots for her handsome boss, Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno). The budding relationship has a tumultuous start, riddled with the usual rom-com mishaps, but ends as one would expect: happily ever after. It became a blockbuster of the silent film age and solidified Bow as a bankable Hollywood star. The film also put the now overused buzzword it — a term coined by Edwardian novelist Elinor Glyn to define a certain, irresistible quality — into the English vernacular, making Bow the very first “It Girl”.

The clothes: Drop-waisted dresses and cloche chapeaus for the ladies and three-piece suits and fedoras for the gentlemen. The highlight of the film: Betty prepares for a date and upon realizing she has nothing to wear, takes a pair of scissors to the frock she is wearing and shears it into slip dress perfection.

Where to watch: Netflix

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Funny Face (1957)

Synopsis: A brainy beatnik who works in a Greenwich Village bookstore, Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) finds herself face-to-face with high style when Quality magazine editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) and photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) ambush their way into her shop to shoot a fashion editorial. After they bully Jo into posing with their model, Ms. Prescott is impressed with her on-film charisma and shortly thereafter, anoints the lanky scholar as the “new face” of Quality. Jo, of course, resists (“an unrealistic approach to self-impressions as well as economics” is her view on fashion magazines). But when promised a trip to Paris, she relents.

The clothes: Legendary costumer Edith Head designed the wardrobe for the film and, along with French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, turned Audrey Hepburn from mousey bookworm to high fashion heroine. (Givenchy designed all of Hepburn’s Parisian looks.) Photographic genius Richard Avedon served as “Special Visual Consultant”, helping director Stanley Donen inject a bit of glossy mag authenticity into the picture, in particular the cinematic photo-set shot all over Paris.

Where to watch: Amazon

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A New Kind of Love (1963)

Synopsis: Another wacky New York-to-Paris love story, this time, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman star as clothing designer Samantha and sports reporter, Steve. She is a no nonsense, all-business type, he’s a womanizing playboy who teases Sam for her tomboy-ish ways. When both parties end up in Paris on business, she gives herself an extreme makeover — new face, hair, clothes — to fit in with the stylish, local ladies. When she is mistaken for a prostitute, she runs with it, adds on a bad Austrian accent, and exacts revenge on Steve, enticing him with faux tales of lust and debauchery which he turns into a newspaper column. Oh, and they fall in love, too.

The clothes: Although there are similarities to Funny Face — the fashion industry, the Parisian setting, the era — A New Kind of Love gets far fewer accolades for the costumes. Which is shameful, because the clothes here are spectacular. Another Edith Head production, the women in the movie are outfitted in a parade of chic pencil skirts, swingy coats and bracelet sleeve jackets. When Sam and her bosses attend runway shows, it’s a fashion history masterclass with models sashaying in authentic Christian Dior, Lanvin and Pierre Cardin. Favorite scene? A split-screen edit of catwalk models side-by-side with strippers decked out in similar, but briefer, versions of Parisian couture.

Where to watch: Amazon

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Qui Êtes-Vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966)

Synopsis: Photographer William Klein made his directorial debut with this satirical look at the fashion universe. Model Dorothy McGowan plays model Polly Maggoo, an American ex-pat living a Twiggy-esque existence abroad in Paris. The subject of a TV documentary, she is followed throughout the picture by French journalist, Grégoire Pecque (Jean Rochefort) who finds that the life of his subject is bittersweet at best. Klein skewers the fashion world as only an industry-insider can, poking fun at the ridiculous editors, cover girls, and all their sycophantic hangers-on. Like Maggie Prescott in Funny Face, Maggoo’s Miss Maxwell — an opinionated editor-in-chief with war paint for eye make-up — was inspired by the duchess of Vogue, Diana Vreeland.

The clothes: Klein’s wife Janine served as costumer, overseeing a fascinatingly absurd wardrobe of aluminum dresses, Arabian Nights finery and Cleopatra baubles. The most enduring image to come from Polly Maggoo, however, is the matching op-art striped dresses worn by Polly and her model crew, a legacy that Marc Jacobs poached last spring and Janelle Monáe co-opted for her ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ video earlier this year.

Where to watch: Hulu

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Mahogany (1975)

Synopsis: Diana Ross is Tracy Chambers, an aspiring fashion designer living in the projects of Chicago’s south side and dating community activist, Brian Walker, played by handsome devil Billy Dee Williams. When she is fired from her day job at the city’s biggest department store, she leaves her dead-end life behind and flies off to Rome, invited by sociopath photographer Sean McEvoy (Anthony Perkins) who puts her to work as his model/ muse. But it’s all downhill once sex, drugs and ego enter the picture.

The clothes: Mahogany was slayed by critics for its clichéd script and soapy acting but Ms. Ross, all eyelashes and lip gloss, sure did look good. Ross was also credited as the film’s costume designer and apparently, caused the film to lag behind in production because she took so long to finalize the wardrobe’s designs. It’s doubtful, however, that she worked on any costumes other than the get-ups Tracy ‘designed’ on-screen — the mostly tasteless, space-agey Japanese-styled robes and gowns. But her street clothes, dramatic hats, and glossy page frocks are all first-class, worthy of the nearly two hours you’ll spend sitting through this camp-fest.

Where to watch: YouTube