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Fashion In Film

By Molly Rowe on Apr 11 2014

As a Costume Designer I am fascinated by style in film. I have always been more drawn to styling within film and television than on the runway, and certainly more than on celebrities. I suppose having styled numerous celebs myself I find it less inspiring, as you know that the person has been styled simply to look good. Whilst within a film a designer has indeed put everything there, but the clothes are telling a story and creating a character from the very first time they appear on screen, and nothing is more interesting to me than that.

For my first post I wanted to look at my favourite styles within film and pick out for you my top five stylish gals. As designers we create a wardrobe for the characters, when I recently designed the last series of E4’s ‘Misfits’ I created capsule wardrobes for each of the recurring characters. This way all their pieces work together, and in my mind it is the reappearance of pieces that cements the audiences belief that a character is real. Of course there is a place for pure fashion fantasy {Sex and the City an obvious example}, but I wanted to look at more subtle character costuming, and explain women who have excited me stylistically on screen throughout my life.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and as I could not decide an order of relevance or love, I have simply listed them in film date order. I’d love to hear your film favourites, get into conversation with me on twitter @missmollystyle and remember to include @getstylsh.

Jean Seberg_ as Patricia Franchini in A Bout De Soufflé {1960}

In 1960 Jean Seberg appeared in the Jean-Luc Goddard directed, Francois Truffaut penned ‘A Bout De Soufflé’. This was Goddards premiere feature film, and is regarded by many as the true birth of French New Wave cinema. The film simply oozes style, and Sebergs costumes are nothing short of an inspiration. The French have always been championed for chic dressing and this film certainly back up that notion, Seberg smoking nonchalantly throughout. Hepburnesque cigarette pants worn with that New York Herald Tribune tight fitting white tee and ballerina pumps was set to become the staple look in every girls wardrobe, continuing even now as the simplest, most easy to achieve of looks.

Her chapeau is worn jauntily to the side, worn with a textured vest top (texture being so important when shooting in black and white) and white briefs – far predating Carrie Bradshaw in the wiles of sexy cool fashion bed dressing.

Her outfits continue to Pre-Bradshaw Carrie, as we see her in a striped dress complete with white wrist gloves, and a very famous look compromises a jersey Breton tee, pleated midi length skirt, an ever popular trench coat, all bottomed off with ankle socks and loafers. Shift over Alexa.

Michelle Pfeiffer _ as Elvira Hancock in Scarface {1984} & Stephanie Zinone in Grease 2 {1983}

Now Michelle Pfeiffer is an anomaly. There are two films of hers that I go CRAZY for in the style department and they are worlds apart.

Starting of course with the outfits she donned as Elvira Hancock in Brian De Palmas 1984 mob hit ‘Scarface’ (courtesy of Patricia Norris, also responsible for the Twin Peaks pilot, Fire Walk With Me and more recently 12 Years A Slave), everyone remembers the barely there, plunge front disco sex filled strappy Halston style gowns that predated American Hustle by some 30 years sure, but it was that white tie front power suit that intrigued me. She rocked oversized sunglasses WAY before Rachel Zoe claimed them as her own LA style revelation. Clothes signifying power, control, sex appeal, glamour and cool.

The year before this style slam dunk she donned a reversible silk satin version of the ubiquitous Pink Ladies jacket in the Grease sequel. I still obsess over her look in this film, taking it as my work wear inspiration every day. Skinny black cigarette pants with a loose fitting black v sweater slipping sexily off the shoulders, adding her bomber inside out for extra cool. Cropped bowling shirts, oversized mens shirts with rolled sleeves and tucked into waistbands. AND she was a mechanic before Kylie played Charlene in Neighbours too, the ultimate and original cool tomboy chick.

Patricia Arquette _ as Alabama Worley in True Romance {1993}

True Romance is my all time favourite movie. I love everything about it. The cast, script, production design, locations, but above all the costume design, and specifically that for Alabama Worley played by Patricia Arquette.

Alabama starts the movie as a hooker, and the start of this film was the start of my now twenty year crush on leopard coats. I actually managed to find my holy grail of giant cat coats in a thrift store in New York back in January for only £65, and I am not exaggerating when I say this ends a TWENTY YEAR search. This is obsession, and this he power of this film, this girl and this styling.

In the film Alabama wears a lot of electric blue accenting many of her costumes with this pop of colour. Her and Clarence {played by a swoony Hawaiian shirted Levi 501’ed Christian Slater} have raunchy roadside sex in a phone box which we may all aspire to {or is that just me?} whilst Alabama strips down to a cow print mini skirt, blue patent wide waist belt, metallic blue sunglasses and electric blue bra. She kills James Gandolfini in an outfit reminiscent of doyenne of style herself Patricia Field {responsible for Sex In The City, enough said}, resplendent and confident in pink leopard print leggings with a sheer off the shoulder butterfly embroidered Heidi top, with that blue bra and belt making another appearance. This repeat of pieces helps us to believe the story that Alabama is real; a real girl who has only a minimal wardrobe with her as she is on the run.

Alabama gets married in an overtly sexy red halter dress, clashing pink mini suitcase handbag finished off with her leopard - a look I fully intend to inspire myself with should I ever walk down an aisle. She ends the film responsible for THE coolest wearing of a dress with a hoodie of all time. Its costume designer Susan Beckers 1950’s inspired choices within her styling which makes her so pin up fabulous rather than her be seen as awful and slutty. She is fun and cute, and sexy to men as well as women. She is not frightening or vile; she is a peach, and even tastes like a peach according to Dennis Hopper within the film.

Gwyneth Paltrow_ as Margot Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums {2001}

Its quite hard for me to believe that this film is now over ten years old, the ideas and styling use are still so fresh and modern. Take Ben Stiller and his Adidas 3 stripe tracksuited Chas, Luke Wilson and his suit jacket over tennis whites with a sweatband managing to look incredibly cool. Then there was Margot, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, also adopting sportswear but giving even posh girls a laid-back boho look that has lived on and on.

Wes Anderson is known for creating hyper real worlds, often looking to the past to create a future, which is a method I use when costuming characters too. For The Royal Tenenbaums, costume designer Karen Patch clearly looked to the 60’s and 70’s, vintage sportswear the most obvious point of reference.

I think Margot appeals to my inner teen middle class grunge girl, her character allegedly loosely based on Nico; sulky pouts, Courtney Love style plastic kids hair clips holding back a simple sleek GHD’ed to within an inch of its life bob, black kohl rimmed eyes and pale flawless skin. Her striped polo dresses by Lacoste worn with manly loafers adding insouciant practical cool to a woman who chooses to sport pink woollen mittens with a classic brown Hermes Birkin and tan fur coat - signifiers of wealth and pieces often seen as rather an old glamour, worn by women of a different time within these rich circles. Margot however breathes modern life into these vintage classics and her look is aspirational, easy and quirky. The toffee mink wrap over belted coat itself was Fendi. Dressing Margot in this coat, extravagant glamour nonchalantly thrown over thrift store dresses gave Fendi an indie coolness they never imagined.

Her wardrobe proves that you don’t need to become a clotheshorse to set trends, Margots look spawning hundreds of copycats for over a decade now. Her pieces were character driven, and Paltrow uses her coat throughout the film, it appearing in the majority of her scenes.

Audrey Tautou_ as Natalie Kerr in Delicacy {2011}

Continuing my fascination for French style, Audrey Tautou in Delicacy is contemporary style perfection. Emmanuelle Youchnovski created the most covetable, chic, feminine yet strong wardrobe for women I have yet to see. The silhouettes feel very Cos, with strong block colours and shapes playing out across the design. High waisted trousers, midi skirts, felt coats, light round neck buttoned up cardigans worn as tops, and oh the jumpers. The jumpers deserve a fan site of their very own. What struck me about this wardrobe is it very very attainable, making it inspirational.

The film itself, set in Sweden, is very, well, beige. And wooden. The delicious production design is very Scandinavian and natural allowing Tautous clothing to dominate subtly and beautifully every scene. The film takes place across a decade of her life so whilst we get to see a development in her personal style, we are also treated to a very realistic reuse of clothing. Natalie works in an office, she wears the same clothes again and again. What struck me when watching the film was that she wore the same pair of divine yet classic sandals pretty much throughout the entire movie. I’d love to know the reason behind this, every item we put on screen has a reason and a {sometimes very convoluted!} back-story, and the one for these shoes really fascinates me.

So she really does have a wardrobe. This is very refreshing and something I always strive for in my work, I feel that creating a wardrobe for a character helps you to achieve the audiences belief in that character, creating realism that can go unnoticed but because it is woven into the tapestry of the storytelling.