A few days ago, someone asked me how I felt about fashion being oft-ridiculed as a frivolous and superficial subject to analyse. It was a couple of days after I had had a heated discussion with an old teacher, who insisted there are only two subjects worth writing about: politics and economics.
Fashion at the movies
Ironically, fashion is all about politics and economics. It’s a world where everyone knows each other, where alliances are built to survive in a cruel climate, and where everything revolves around money. Because – and put it however you want – designers want to be able to live from their profession.
In the last year, this fashion condescension has been given a fresh burst of ammunition: the movies. We’ve been bombarded with fashion-themed films of late – most of them rather uninspiring chick flicks.
Fashion played an important role in the Sex and the City television series and last year’s film. So important in the movie, in fact, that half the audience didn’t noticed the dull dialogues and predictable story lines, busy as they were staring at those Manolo Blahniks and revolving, outrageous outfits put together by costume designer Patricia Field.
Unfortunately, the critics did notice.
Is that the reason why Pat is no longer on the payroll of the SATC sequel? Maybe the makers want to shift attention from clothes to substance? We – film lovers and fashion lovers alike – can only hope so.
The Devil Wears Prada did a little better as a fashion flick, though at least it delivered a somewhat accurate portrayal of the fashion magazine industry. Which can’t be said of the more recent Confessions of a Shopaholic: so contrived and shallow that it can only be regarded as a truly escapist form of entertainment.
It seems that, in order to be taken seriously, films about fashion have to masquerade as a biopic. No less than two new films zoom in on the legendary Gabrielle Chanel: Coco avant Chanel, which focuses on her life before she became famous, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, about her passionate relationship with the Russian composer.
Valentino: The Last Emperor, which played the festival circuit last year and opened in March in the US, is a documentary about the life and work of the famous Italian designer that proves there is a pure and simple formula to make a film about fashion: without pretence, without resorting to brainless plotlines or over-the-top styling. An honest and moving film, perhaps it can help change the minds of a few critics who still believe fashion is only for compulsive shoppers or naive young girls.