Dedicated followers of the WORN blog know that we do not allow many art forms to escape our rigorous sartorial analysis, and film is no exception – in fact, it may be our preferred medium. So just imagine our excitement when we heard about the Fashion in Film Festival! An entire weekend where people discuss Michael Caine’s suits in Get Carter and William Klein’s sheet metal dresses in Qui Êtes-Vous, Polly Maggoo? Our hearts were a-twitter.
Marketa Uhlirova is the co-founder, director, and curator of FFF. She also lectures in fashion history and cultural studies at Central Saint Martins College in London, among other prestigious pursuits. But FFF didn’t start off as a festival; it began as a single presentation in 2006 in London and New York.
“It became apparent that there was no platform –at least no lively exhibition platform – where fashion and costume in film were studied with some sort of regularity or system,” said Marketa. “In our area, there was nowhere to provoke questions or a debate, apart from the odd conference.” The presentation, entitled “Between Stigma and Enigma,” grew into the bi-annual festival simply because, as Marketa says, they had amassed too much great material not to.
The second Fashion in Film Festival, “If Looks Could Kill” held in 2008, examined themes of disguise, delinquency, and the corruption of beauty in films dealing with crime and violence. Purple Noon, a French thriller from 1960 remade in 1999 as The Talented Mr. Ripley, is a portrayal of a gentleman-murderer whose Gucci slippers, white jeans, and tailored shirts represent the class to which he’s assimilated into and the twisted crimes he will later commit. Just as a black, shiny PVC raincoat comes to symbolize a knife-wielding slasher in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
Indeed, fashion in film often stands in for something other than its face value. But as Marketa points out, sometimes trendy or “pretty” costumes can deceptively straightforward.
“All costumes, and particularly the subtle ones, strongly establish a character. In fact, I’d say that obvious fashionability of a character can sometimes cast them as a bit one-dimensional,” says Marketa. “This idea is brilliantly inverted in Hitchcock’s Rear Window where the immaculate Lisa (Grace Kelly) is constantly fighting against the image of perfection and shallowness that Jeff (Jimmy Stewart) has of her, and that her costuming seems to reconfirm. Yet she gradually proves that “there is more to her.” She is highly resourceful and pretty smart (even though Hitchcock shows this as a very unthreatening kind of “female intuition”). What’s most brilliant, [is that] she also uses her understanding of fashion and dress to gain insights into the murder investigation that the cocky Jeff has no access to.”
The next Fashion in Film Festival will begin touring in early 2010. The theme is still undecided, but if you’re into whip-smart fashion commentary and terrific films – and I know you are – you’ll join me in asking Marketa to please bring this thing to Toronto. Please?