Rebecca had it all. She was tall, thin and beautiful, had more money than she could spend, a dream stately home and the respect and admiration of her peers. In Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier created a woman who wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of Vogue.
The novel’s title character is only present via her clothes and the memories of her contemporaries. The nameless narrator, Mrs de Winter, spends most of the story scared of her husband’s deceased first wife, imagining what she must have been via the clothes she finds in her wardrobe. Rebecca’s ghost is never more present than in her room, which Maximilian de Winter consciously abandons but which his second wife can’t help creeping into. Everything, down to “a satin gown on a chair, and a pair of bedroom slippers beneath” is as Rebecca left it, the house ready to welcome back its mistress. Where Mrs de Winter wears “an ill-fitting coat and skirt and a jumper of [her] own creation,” Rebecca’s wardrobe is full of evening gowns in silver, gold brocade and soft, wine-coloured velvet.
photos from Victoria and Albert Museum
Colours fascinated Elsa Schiaparelli. Her autobiography, Shocking Life, is paved by her colour discoveries, from the blue and red uniforms she designed during the First World War to the oranges and turquoises of Kremlin treasures.
In the first third of her book, however, the colour pink only comes up only to describe her new-born daughter, Gogo. Schiaparelli’s early career was, much like her contemporary Coco Chanel’s, defined by black and white. The first garment she created, in 1927, was a jumper with “a white bow against a white background.” Her first evening dress was, again, monochromatic.
The shocking-pink came thanks to Schiaparelli’s first foray into fragrances. In 1937, while struggling to name her upcoming perfume, she remembered a pink Tête de Bélier Cartier diamond owned by her friend, client and Paris editor for Harper’s Bazaar, Daisy Fellowes. In her autobiography, Schiap (as she nicknamed herself) describes the jewel colour as “bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world but together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West – a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.” She asked Surrealist designer Leonor Fini to create a perfume bottle imitating Mae West curves in that very shade. The perfume was named “Shocking”.
With Prêt-à-Porter, Robert Altman filmed a self-conscious, grotesque portrait of the fashion industry in an inaccurate, messy, but rather enjoyable manner.
In the first half of the movie, fashion is a playground for men. Olivier de la Fontaine (Jean-Pierre Cassel) runs the Chambre de la Mode. Designer Simone Lowenthal’s son (Rupert Everett) licenses the family brand to a Texan boot maker behind his mother back. Photographer Milo O’Brannigan (Stephen Rea) ascertains his power by blackmailing the holy trinity of fashion editors (ELLE, Vogue, Harper’s).
Women, however, quickly regain control. De la Fontaine dies and his statuesque wife Isabella (Sophia Loren) becomes the focal point of every front row. The editors put their publishing competition aside and team up against the golden boy of photography. Lowenthal shocks the industry by sending naked women down her runway.
(heads up for nudity under the cut)
Diana Christensen, the fictional head of programming for the also fictional Union Broadcasting System (UBS) in Network is one of the strongest lead female characters in 1970s cinema. As the neurotic, power-hungry Christensen, Faye Dunaway won an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role.
In retrospect, Christensen’s satirical obsession with ratings, reality TV, and angry shows was prophetic. The first show we see her sell is based on a lefty revolutionary group. Her argument? People are angry, and we need to mirror their anger on TV: “I want counterculture, I want anti-establishment.”