La Vie en Rose wasn’t always a blog. It started out in print many moons ago. So when I had the opportunity to see it in ink again and in a sumptuous glossy magazine that I can hold or download (on iTunes, of course!), I was game. Robert Barr, my former assistant at my previous life at WWD, served as features director on the new magazine, 7Hollywood, which is the labor of love of Alix Malka. Paris-born photographer-creative director Alix was right hand to Thierry Mugler forever, and has since toiled behind the lens for magazines and ad campaigns worldwide…and now at the helm of his very own magazine. This is one of two features I did for the inaugural issue, out this first quarter, and the one under the La Vie en Rose banner. My column appears in its entirety here…
“HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD”
Season after award season, the triumph lauded ad nauseam among spectators of this tournament of glad rags is the anodyne gesture to that grand tried-and-true muse, Old Hollywood Glamour. Even the new kind, the kind personified by the stratospheric likes of Pretty Young Things such as Carey Mulligan, Elle Fanning and Emma Watson are always given “Best of Show” when channeling something their stylists spotted late night on “Turner Classic Movies. Just don’t tell the French that…
“Glamour: the which (sic) I would like to know the meaning of,” Marlene Dietrich wrote crisply under the section titled “G” in a 1961 booklet irreverently spelling out her take on the alphabet.
Glamour, of course, can be so very many things. As I still process what showed during fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris, the topic has threaded some recent chats even among friends who have no interest by way of paycheck or personal wardrobe in either fashion or glamour. One inescapable conversation starter is my latest book, a quasi-anthropological study of the subject with its foremost practitioner Dita Von Teese, whose consummate devotion to living according to the elaborate styles and manners of another more, well, seemingly glamorous time is a constant point of fascination among strangers and friends alike (“Yes, even behind doors, she always looks that good…”).
Some of the talk came about because of the lavish documentary on Diana Vreeland (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel) by her granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland. If you were waiting to catch it on DVD that really is too bad: it’s a visual binge worthy of the subject and deserves a viewing on a screen matching her personality. In the courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, following an advance screening there, Peggy Moffitt and Jacqueline Bisset—two glamour beacons in their own right—shared with me over pencil-thin cigarettes and inky merlot their own wacky tales of meeting D.V. (I forwent both vices for that glamour standard, champagne). The director joined us and soon confided to me that despite being married into the family, she didn’t think the legendary editor would have cared much for her. “I’m not exactly her idea of glamour,” this tall and beautiful and brilliant woman said with a self-effacing smile. She was probably right.
Glamour is certainly part of the job description for the moderately blessed so-and-so’s living within a 10-minute drive from LACMA to their agent’s office. With the award season now underway and so many premieres in the next weeks for the “serious” nominee hopefuls, only to be followed by more parties bookending each of the countless ceremonies and finally climaxing with Oscar, there will be reasons galore for these stars, aspiring and established, to get their glam on. Honing in on what will elicit a barrage of paparazzi flashes and editorial pages is the name of the game.
The most formidable contender in this turf war would have to be Paris. That is the sense I get when I’ve dared to slip among my Frenchie pals in the fashion industry that what regularly marches down the runway owes so much to Travis Banton, Irene Sharaff, Walter Plunkett, Robert Kalloch and the other wizards of silver screen style. Without them, where would so many contemporary fashion designers be?
Oh sure, what designer doesn’t name-check Adrian or Edith Head as inspiration. Certainly, too, the Hollywood cinema owes much to ateliers far outside its imaginary borders. Any fashion student worth his or her salt knows that one of Paris’ own Hubert de Givenchy was instrumental in defining Audrey Hepburn’s look in just about every one of her films, including fitting her in the most iconic LBD of all time: that endless column topped with strands of pearls in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Yves Saint Laurent would similarly act as a collaborator with Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour. (Forget even citing Gabrielle Chanel’s much ballyhooed yet inevitably ill-fated stint in Hollywood to dress Gloria Swanson. That it’s a footnote, and barely that, in both Hollywood and Chanel’s history proves the point.)
But where would Saint Laurent be without Banton’s creation of a tuxedoed Dietrich in 1930’s Morocco, let alone her subsequent gender-bending looks on and off screen? They remain standard bearers of the height of sophistication. Despite decades of lax reporting that Givenchy dressed Hepburn for “Sabrina,” as with most other fashioncentric films since then—with press machines touting a fashion designer’s involvement over that of the costume designer doing the heavy lifting—the couturier contributed some looks to Ms. Hepburn’s overall wardrobe. It was Ms. Head who mostly costumed Ms. Hepburn in that 1954 gem, including those black toreador slacks and flat ballet slippers that have become another staple combo of the chic wardrobe.
Yet to suggest that so much of the glamour coming out of French fashion houses owe Hollywood’s costume designers props? What Gaul. I may have as well declared that anyone other than one of France’s native sons invented haute cuisine. Likewise, my French pals are steadfast that while they might adore cinema, it is the costume designers since the dawn of time who owe their art to the birthplace of haute couture. To that I say, while haute couture can epitomize glamour, glamour doesn’t have to be epitomized by haute couture.
Ms. Vreeland was the first to celebrate cinema’s impact on the fashion world with her third post-Vogue exhibition, “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design,” in 1974. “Diana, why are we dragging Hollywood into the Metropolitan,” the museum’s director demanded, according to her breezy bio, D.V., published a decade later. “I’ve been looking at French couture for the last 40 years,” the Paris-born legend wrote as her reply, “and I can only tell you that I’ve never seen clothes made like these.”
Like Ms. Vreeland, my friend Deborah Nadoolman Landis has made it her life’s mission for the world to see the clothes that inspire dreamers in movie theaters, as well as on the runway and red carpet. Nearly four decades after Ms. Vreeland’s landmark show at the Met, Deborah has spearheaded a spectacular examination of film costumes and their impact with the release this fall of three weighty tomes for the Harper Design imprint, including (just out in time for holiday gifting) Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration. The trio of books is tied to the sweeping exhibition Deborah curated at the Victoria and Albert Museum that also opened this fall.
“Costume designers have many advantages over fashion designers,” Deborah tells me by phone from London, late, late night on the eve before the opening night gala of her grand show. The Oscar-winning costume designer and academic is tucked in bed following a press day more grueling than anything she or her husband, director John Landis, ever underwent for a film premiere, she contends with a laugh.
“Every single costume created for a movie is seen in both a narrative context and a visual one,” she continues. “It is always seen within a perfectly framed image, always, with everyone else there to make that featured character look good. The whole movie is built for that moment. There is an emotional context too, because the very essence of story telling in a film is that you have to fall madly in love with the people in the story. As viewers, we are also being directed to look at this object of desire. This emotional context that is such a part of the film experience can’t happen in a split second on a runway. Life is not a catwalk. Neither are the movies.”
To wit, recreating that perfect moment when the audience falls for the heroine is what drives red carpet regulars and the army behind them—their stylists, managers, agents, publicists and, oh yes, the fashion designers creating the frock—to relentlessly recycle Old Hollywood during awards season. That is also behind the tidal wave of vintage gowns that have become by now a banal badge of individual style and cool.
“What is glamour but power,” adds Deborah. “For us in films, who work as collaborators, it’s about making a moment so irresistible to the viewers that it evokes emotion, memory. The dress becomes more than a dress, more than surface. It’s absolute soul. It’s an epiphany, a cathartic moment.”
This brings to mind something Salma Hayek told me once upon my first book project: “In the not so distant past, glamour was about being an unapproachable, distant, creature of beauty. To achieve that look required overwhelming artifice in every respect.” For Ms. Hayek, the very meaning of the word was about its etymology, a derivation of the Latin grammatica, meaning scholarship: to learn, to think. That definition shifted during the Middle Ages to mean something of the occult, the science of using ones own inner power, aka magic. “To me,” continued the actress-turned-cosmetics entrepreneur, “this original idea applies equally today. We cast a spell of allure and charm by learning who we are and by expressing ourselves.”
For those whose very raison d’etre relies on worship by legions of fans, be they actresses or the fashion designers who dress them, that means tapping the inner goddess.
The ideals of Old Hollywood glamour remain irresistible because they are such a part of the American mythology, tells me Arianne Phillips, an indefatigable talent, whose flair for creating character—goddesses or otherwise on screen, on stage or on the red carpet—has meant a striking career as editorial and rock stylist and costume designer. As the latter, that includes 15 years with Madonna, including five world tours and the pop icon’s directorial debut with W.E., for which Arianne was nominated for her second Oscar in costume design. She also collaborated with Tom Ford on his outing in filmmaking, along with shepherding the careers of countless designers she’s championed (notably, for the purposes here, Madonna’s turn at the Oscars in then-relatively unknown Olivier Theyskens).
“The heritage of Hollywood and the creation of glamour is integral to what we think of as movie magic, especially that magic age of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, which was a more innocent time in movies than reality,” observes my friend. “Audiences were introduced to the bias cut gown and other signatures that personified ultimate glamour, ultimate femininity. The Oscar statue itself is a glamour icon of Hollywood. These are the hallmarks of American style, unique to America’s heritage, American mythology.” In other words, goddesses such as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe shining atop Los Angeles’ own Mount Olympus, the Hollywood sign. “Of course, these timeless archetypes keep echoing in fashion on the runway and on the red carpet.”
Ultimately, we agree, the relationship between fashion and Hollywood is a conversation. “It’s always been about seizing a moment in time,” Arianne says, sounding as if she were thinking aloud. She is still referring to the idea of clothes on film and what motivates designers and actors on the red carpet. She could also be speaking about the French way.
Given that it’s not so much that my French friends decry Hollywood as much as they prefer to think of glamour as something Hollywood could not know anything about without their contribution and guidance, let’s just say for the sake of argument that examining its source and meaning in New Hollywood is a conversation that will continue. As for who will best channel the legendary sirens of the silver screen in the hopes of becoming the icons for the next generation to worship, we will have to tune in for the pre-shows to find out.
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