The Significance for Costume Design

"In a millennium the old 'swords and sandals' epics will be seen as actual Roman films, dating from the Roman period, as true documentaries on antiquity… But this is already our civilization. It is already increasingly difficult for us to imagine the real..." -Jean Baurdillard, 1996, Screened Out

What Baudrillard suggests is that film costumes have the power to influence not only contemporary society or fashion but also history. The significance for costume in fashion and power can be understood in three main ways:
-the power of costume to influence society and history
-the power of costume to influence fashion
-the power of costume to function as art, where roles and conventional boundaries are tested

Above Annie Hall, costumes by Ruth Morely, influenced the Manhattan bohemian chic of the 70's.

Above, David Bailey and designer Mary Quant and below Blow Up based on the actual fashion scene in London but also built up the myth and power of the subculture.

Above a myriad of films influencing fashion and below Prospera influenced Prada Fall 2007.

Fashion and film are a two way dialogue. Above a fashion editorial by Unwerth based on Godard's Breathless and below popular films inspired by fashion.

The way women have been depicted in fashion films is conflicting. Above Diana Ross as an empowered designer in Mahogany, 1975 and below more common representations of models as in Downfall Child and Lipstick.

Above Wim Wenders early documentary on Yoji Yamamoto for the Centre Pompidou and below the recent popularity of fashion biography docs and films.

The master costume designer in history is Edith Head, nominated 35 times for Oscars. Below her sketch and design for To Catch a Thief, 1955.

Below notable costume designer Milena Canonera holding her Oscar for Marie Antoinette. She also designed for Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire and others.

Above Pat Field considers herself a "costume stylist." Rather than make the clothing, she selects top brands for Sex & the City, The Devil Wears Prada and others. Below, pieces in the films available for purchase suggest the films function to advertise.

Context is essential to costume, understanding not only the time the film is supposed to take place but also when it was written and when and where it is filmed, which all influence the style. Importantly a film does not look like only the year it is taking place. A film in 1980 must not only have things in 1980 but should show sliding context, items from before 1980, as reality would contain and emerging styles about to come. Below the Last Days of Disco of the 80s, from 1998.

Historic costumes recall the hegemonies associated with those eras, giving characters assumed strengths. Characterization can be very specific to one unique personality as in The Clockwork Orange below. The character transformation shows the lead in 3 phases.

Above and below characterization and subcultures with Robert Redford in more conventionally powerful WASP roles and below Al Pacino in subcultural styles of gangsters.

Above the character transformation of Working Girl shows the lead from secretary to corporate leader. Below postmodern characterization uses film references with Anna Karina and Bruce Lee influencing the costumes.

Above and below Coco Chanel's work in film. Above left her work on Tonight or Never, 1930 and right L'année dernière à Marienbad, 1961. Below her last film work was Boccaccio 72, 1962.

Above and below Belle du Jour, 1968 designed by YSL. The costumes were conservative and slightly seductive, to suggest a subtle empowerment for women of the era.

Above looks from Belle du Jour and below another Deneuve YSL collaboration for La Chamade. 1968. In the case below she leaves her aristocratic lifestyle and closet for a more sedate world.

Above Gaultier's work for A Cook, a Thief a Wife and Her Lover and below Pret-a-Porter featuring a variety of designers by Robert Altman.

See more of fashion & film here