Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Significance for Costume Design

"In a millennium the old 'swords and sandals' epics will be seen as actual Roman films, dating from the Roman period, as true documentaries on antiquity… But this is already our civilization. It is already increasingly difficult for us to imagine the real..." -Jean Baurdillard, 1996, Screened Out

What Baudrillard suggests is that film costumes have the power to influence not only contemporary society or fashion but also history. The significance for costume in fashion and power can be understood in three main ways:
-the power of costume to influence society and history
-the power of costume to influence fashion
-the power of costume to function as art, where roles and conventional boundaries are tested

Above Annie Hall, costumes by Ruth Morely, influenced the Manhattan bohemian chic of the 70's.

Above, David Bailey and designer Mary Quant and below Blow Up based on the actual fashion scene in London but also built up the myth and power of the subculture.

Above a myriad of films influencing fashion and below Prospera influenced Prada Fall 2007.

Fashion and film are a two way dialogue. Above a fashion editorial by Unwerth based on Godard's Breathless and below popular films inspired by fashion.

The way women have been depicted in fashion films is conflicting. Above Diana Ross as an empowered designer in Mahogany, 1975 and below more common representations of models as in Downfall Child and Lipstick.

Above Wim Wenders early documentary on Yoji Yamamoto for the Centre Pompidou and below the recent popularity of fashion biography docs and films.

The master costume designer in history is Edith Head, nominated 35 times for Oscars. Below her sketch and design for To Catch a Thief, 1955.

Below notable costume designer Milena Canonera holding her Oscar for Marie Antoinette. She also designed for Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire and others.

Above Pat Field considers herself a "costume stylist." Rather than make the clothing, she selects top brands for Sex & the City, The Devil Wears Prada and others. Below, pieces in the films available for purchase suggest the films function to advertise.

Context is essential to costume, understanding not only the time the film is supposed to take place but also when it was written and when and where it is filmed, which all influence the style. Importantly a film does not look like only the year it is taking place. A film in 1980 must not only have things in 1980 but should show sliding context, items from before 1980, as reality would contain and emerging styles about to come. Below the Last Days of Disco of the 80s, from 1998.

Historic costumes recall the hegemonies associated with those eras, giving characters assumed strengths. Characterization can be very specific to one unique personality as in The Clockwork Orange below. The character transformation shows the lead in 3 phases.

Above and below characterization and subcultures with Robert Redford in more conventionally powerful WASP roles and below Al Pacino in subcultural styles of gangsters.

Above the character transformation of Working Girl shows the lead from secretary to corporate leader. Below postmodern characterization uses film references with Anna Karina and Bruce Lee influencing the costumes.

Above and below Coco Chanel's work in film. Above left her work on Tonight or Never, 1930 and right L'année dernière à Marienbad, 1961. Below her last film work was Boccaccio 72, 1962.

Above and below Belle du Jour, 1968 designed by YSL. The costumes were conservative and slightly seductive, to suggest a subtle empowerment for women of the era.

Above looks from Belle du Jour and below another Deneuve YSL collaboration for La Chamade. 1968. In the case below she leaves her aristocratic lifestyle and closet for a more sedate world.

Above Gaultier's work for A Cook, a Thief a Wife and Her Lover and below Pret-a-Porter featuring a variety of designers by Robert Altman.

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Film Costume: Heathers (1989)

By Chelsea Turner

Heather Chandler’s costume of a power shoulder blazer, red shorts over white tights, crisp white blouse with broach closure and her iconic red scrunchie are iconic in this movie. The first time we see Heather at her ruling ground of Westerburg High in her powerful clique. Her on trend (at the time) and loud jacket communicate her authority and influence, not only over the less loudly dressed students but also over the other 2 Heathers and Veronica. The traditionally business plaid and double breasted style are also reminiscent of a forceful business man. Her red scrunchie and skirt is the symbol of her leadership status, as she states during a croquet match later that day, “I’m always red.” Later in the film, Heather Duke takes the same red schunchie and wears it, making the statement that she is now the most powerful Heather.

Film Costume: Cleopatra (1963)

By Isabella Aballi

Probably one of the most influential costumes ever to be placed in a film is Elizabeth Taylor's, Cleopatra. The historical epic directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and released in 1963 gave way to an iconic costume that would influence fashion for the many years to come. What is so influential about Elizabeth Taylor's representation of the Roman queen after Caesar's reign is that is affects not only fashion in the clothing sense but also in the category of accessories and makeup. There is no doubt that Egyptian inspired snake rings and arms cuffs are all in response to the costume that was presented in this 1963 epic.

The gold jewelry and long maxi dresses with embelishments are still seen today in fashion igniting the image of an Egyptian woman (Cleopatra) or Roman goddess. The last element of Cleopatra's influence is the eye makeup. When women buy eye liner and mascara and eye shadows, the aim is to give the illusion of large rounded eyes which are a key aspect of Cleopatra's beauty. The long cat eyed lining around the eyes is a famous image that follows Cleopatra and is instantly ignited in woman's minds when concerned with eye makeup. Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra costume is probably one of the most influential costume to ever be put on screen and follows women in every aspect of fashion.

H&M Designer Collaborations

By Isabella Aballi

In studying the democratization of fashion, the emergence of high street fashion and "masstige" are current day contributors to it. There is an increasing ability to redefine the meaning and image of luxury. The fashion industry has developed the power to redefine luxury by creating a whole different branch of fashion: “new luxury.” New Luxury is what results from high fashion luxury brands extending their companies to a wider consumer base through different strategies, the most effective one being: brand collaborations (Ginman). Through the examination of H&Ms designer collaborations, it becomes clear how the fashion industry, and specifically H&M as a brand, is attempting and successfully achieving to break from the high street branch of fashion and transcending into the realm of luxury fashion during the circulation of these collections while still maintaining their previous brand image that categorizes them as either high fashion or high street fashion.
While discussing the reproduction of fashion for the masses in the way H&M does, Benjamin offers insight into the destruction of the aura. According to Benjamin once an art work is reproduced for the masses it loses its aura. However, these designer collaborations present much more than an aura to its audience. Through H&M's designer collaborations with designers like Lanvin, Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, it allows the consumer to access brands that he/she would not normally purchase whether it be foe economic reasons or disinterest and hesitation.
The reason why the designer collaborations are so successful for both H&M and the luxury brand is because the collection only happens once a year available for a limited amount of time and a designer is never repeated. The designer never fully attaches itself to the name H&M and therefore never loses the exclusive brand image that it has developed over the years. The collaboration generate attention to the brand and show its ability to appeal to the greater audience.
There is no doubt however that the major beneficiary of these collaborations is H&M. H&M is a global retailer known for its well priced fashion conscious clothing lines and when it collaborates for an annual collection with a luxury brand, the name of the brand itself is what gives H&M a temporary step up in the fashion world. Suddenly consumer that purchase products from luxury brands are willing to buy at H&M and consumers that buy at H&M on a regular basis can finally associate with luxury fashion.

The Rise of the Fashion Blogger: Actual Democratization of the Fashion Industry?

- Barbara Leung

Bryan Boy front and centre; image courtesy of fashionbombdaily.com

In the discussion of the democratization of fashion, one cannot help but immediately refer to the emergence and acceptance of bloggers in the main current of the fashion industry. Blogs, in general, simply serve as an online format to communicate and present ideas, and have been on the rise of creation since 2005, with over 80 000 created per day during that time (Cantone). This insurgence of blogs has unveiled not only a subculture, but also hierarchical disruption in information dissemination and a new level of visual vicarious consumption. All of which leads to the question as to whether or not the fashion industry has been democratized, and has it been with the aid of the fashion blog.

The discussion of subculture leads back to the early work of British media theorist Dick Hebdige. It is not so much the actual subculture that is of interest, but rather, the incorporation/recuperation of the fashion blog subculture into the hegemonic culture. Recuperated in both commodity and ideological senses, the fashion blog has become a prevalent part of the press circle. Examples recall famed blogger Bryan Grey-Yambao of Bryan Boy quickly ushered to his seat with minutes to go until the start of the AW11 Costume National show.

Example of a street-style blog, The Sartorialist; image courtesy of http://thesartorialist.com

It is not to say that the recuperation has no results or effects on society. Vicarious consumption, as proposed by Veblen in the early 20th century, has been reformed in this context so as to include the age of the Internet. Visual consumption of the more leisurely and “in-crowd’s” experiences is possible what with photos from street style and meme blogs. But it is with this new form of visual vicarious consumption that a disruption of the hierarchy of information dissemination has occurred. Where the line of communication was once clear, from designer to journalist to consumer, it is now convoluted with the addition of the blogger who openly doubles as journalist and consumer. Recalling the example of Bryan Grey-Yambao being quickly ushered to his seat, it can be noted that Taylor Tomasi-Hill of Marie Claire arrived only minutes earlier but was only shown to a standing spot.

The question of actual democratization can then be examined by taking a closer look and redefining the leisure/in-crowd. The fashion blogger can be included in the population of the higher middle class when noting slow return on investment in creating a popular online persona. Therefore, it is not a fair representation of everyone that participates in the consumerism component of the industry. But with that said, the blog platform has allowed for the participation of the average person through commenting, and the collaboration of bloggers and brands illustrates that the “more normal” person can earn a place in the industry.

The public and bloggers expressed their disappointment with retailer Zara and their use of a fellow blogger's designs on their t-shirts, which resulted in the retail chain to pull the designs from the racks; image courtesy of DailyMail.co.uk

Amongst all of these observations, perhaps it is most important to state that the democratization of fashion has not truly been achieved. Admittedly, the rise of the fashion blogger amongst the ranks of industry has proved some sort of democratization. But the voice of the more common person is yet to be heard fully. The non-blogger can participate in democratization through commenting on entries; so it is best to say that the blog serves as an intermediary, as opposed to as a symbol of democratization of the industry.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Film Costume: American Psycho (2000)

by Anne Grant

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), the protagonist of Mary Harron’s 2000 film adaptation of American Psycho, charmed both women and men with his lifestyle, good looks and sleek wardrobe. Bateman obsesses over his appearance, as made evident in his voice-overs throughout the film. In the iconic “raincoat scene,” Bateman slaughters his business acquaintance, Paul Allen, with an axe:

Patrick Bateman: Paul Allen has mistaken me for this dickhead Marcus Halberstram. It seems logical because Marcus also works at P&P and in fact does the same exact thing I do and he also has a penchant for Valentino suits and Oliver Peoples glasses. Marcus and I even go to the same barber, although I have a slightly better haircut.

Resolute to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and scrupulous with his presentation, Bateman embodies the consumerist 1980s Wall Street man. Though his actions are monstrous, he manages to look good—even when soaked in Allen’s blood. His wardrobe—the Valentino suit—is a classic symbol of male authority. The designer label adds further value to the symbol. Bateman, though psychotic, also seems to act independent of any higher authority. His apparel, then, reflect his self-perceived untouchable status.

Film Costume: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

By Nicolle D'Onofrio

In the film Napoleon Dynamite, the main character Napoleon truly marches to the beat of his own drum. An unconcerned outcast, Napoleon's fashion consists of jeans and a graphic t-shirt featuring various mythological creatures. Wearing this "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt, Napoleon is standing up to the popular kids by supporting his equally outcasted friend, Pedro, in the run for class president. This t-shirt empowers Napoleon not only as a symbol of rebellion against the cool-crowd, but also as a symbol of solidarity. It is much easier for two pariah's to stand up to a bully than one, even if that bully seems to be the entire student body. Wearing this t-shirt, Napoleon shows his support for Pedro and feels empowered by this solidarity enough to do a final dance on Pedro's behalf in front of the entire student body. This costume represents the democratization of fashion by allowing even the most atypial character to express himself through fashion.

Film Costume: Do The Right Thing (1989)

by Michelle Marques

Radio Raheem is an iconic character in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. His character in the film is a symbol of Black pride as racial tensions continue to mount during a sweltering summer in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Radio Raheem is never seen without his trademark "Bed-Stuy, Do or Die" t-shirt, "Love and Hate" four finger rings, African pendant, and oversized boom box.

Radio Raheem's t-shirt and African pendant represents his unwavering pride for his hometown of Bed-Stuy and his African roots. This pride can be seen as he acts as a revolutionary in his neighborhood by protesting the lack of Black faces on the "Wall of Fame" at Sal's Famous Pizza. In the film, Radio Raheem uses his rings as a metaphor of the continuous struggle between Love and Hate in life. His rings also reflect his own inner struggle between the love he has for his neighborhood and black heritage and the hate he feels towards the racism of Sal, an Italian-American, and his sons. Radio Raheem's look is not complete without his oversized boom box that constantly blasts "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy.

As he walks through Bed-Stuy blasting this prophetic anthem Radio Raheem is the voice of African Americans who are tired of remaining silent in the face of discrimination.

Film Costume: Atonement: The Green Dress

In the 2007 movie Atonement, each costume was carefully designed to not only embody the character’s personality, but also the period of the 1930s-1940’s in which the majority of the film takes place. The costume designer Jacqueline Durran designed all the costumes for Atonement as well as for the film Pride and Prejudice, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for both films. The most infamous costume from Atonement is the emerald green dress that Keira Knightly so elegantly wears close to the start of the film. The color, the style and the fit are all important in order to portray Keira Knigtleys character and perhaps foreshadow later changes in the film. It is important that the viewer remembers this dress, because it is the dress Cecilia Tallis wears the night her entire life changes along with the tone of the film. The emerald green color is striking, and the green and silk evoke connotations of wealth and aristocracy. One of the many theories is that the green also reflects the envy that her sister Bryony Tallis has at the start of the film. Durran also said she chose the color because green symbolizes temptation which is a major theme throughout the film, especially during the events that take place while she wears the dress. This is the last time that we see Cecilia Tallis wear a dress that is as youthful, vibrant, sexy, and elegant. It reflects the character’s transformation from a naïve “child” to a an adult. Durran states: "instead of being constructed around Keira's body, the dress skimmed her [frame] and added to a feeling of semi-nakedness." This dress further evokes the ideas of temptation, youthfulness, playfulness, and sexiness all while remaining completely elegant. The costume also reflects the time period as seen in the slim fit, low back and long train. These were all characteristics commonly seen in dresses during this period. This is an example of how one costume can reflect a wealth of information about a character and further enhance the writer and the director’s vision.