Fashions of 1934 Pre-Code. Based on the story The Fashion Plate by Harry Collins and Warren Duff. Directed by William Dieterele. Musical numbers by Busby Berkeley. Stylish con man Sherwood Nash (William Powell) meets fashion designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis, in a platinum blonde wig the actress hated). During their conversation, he has the idea to sell illegal photos of original creations to discount stores for copying. When the driver is caught, Nash lies his way into a meeting of store owners and proposes that he go to Paris and work for instead of against them.
Mason and Nash’s good right arm, Snap (Frank McHugh), set up abroad and visit couturiers carrying a hidden camera. When he discovers that designer Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen) gets many of his ideas from old costume books, Nash begins selling Mason’s original work based on old drawings and prints. These he signs with the names of current fashion houses.
Caught again, he pivots, blackmailing Baroque’s mistress, Grand Dutchess Alix (Veree Teasdale), an old acquaintance now passing herself off as titled. A grandiose salon is established and a stage show is produced. Once again, the gendarmes are a step behind. No matter what happens, Nash comes through to the expected happy ending. Frothy. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Roberta 1935 Adapted from the Broadway musical based on the novel Gowns by Roberta by Alice Duer Miller. Directed by William A. Seiter. John Kent (Randolph Scott), his buddy Huck Haines (Fred Astaire), and the latter’s dance band travel to Paris for a gig but are rejected and stranded. John turns to the only person he knows in Paris, his Aunt Minnie (Helen Westley) aka the couturier Roberta. When Minnie dies without leaving a will, John takes over the salon with the help of designer/romantic interest Stephanie (Irene Dunn).
Meanwhile Huck reconnects with hometown sweetheart Lizzie Gatz (Ginger Rogers), now an entertainer going by the name Countess Scharwenka. Lizzie gets the band a job at the club where she’s headlining. An amorous doorman complicates John’s life while the mercenary girl he left behind shows up to complicate that of Huck. There are lots of clothes, a fashion show, and musical numbers. Slight, but sweet. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Funny Face 1957 Directed by Stanley Donen. With songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Beautiful Audrey, beautiful clothes, beautiful Paris. All three actors are splendid. Fashion magazine editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) conscripts a dingy Greenwich Village bookstore for a photo shoot, wrecking it in the process. Photographer Dick Avery, based on Richard Avedon (Fred Astaire), stays to help clean up and takes a second look at upset store clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn).
Enlarging a surreptitious photo he took of the girl, he convinces Maggie that Jo is just the right model to add character to their next issue featuring an important Paris collection. The editor orders an arbitrary stack of books. Jo delivers and the magazine staff literally chase her through the office. She thinks fashion is ridiculous. Dick points out the job includes a free trip to Paris and Jo reconsiders in hopes of meeting with the philosopher Professor Flostra.
She and Dick shoot the collection all over Paris and fall in love. The night of the collection premiere, however, Jo is with Flostra. He reveals himself to be a womanizing fake only after Dick argues with her and leaves for the airport. Enchanting. Unlike My Fair Lady, Hepburn sang her own songs. Astaire was 58, yet seems just right for her. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Devil Wears Prada 2006 Based on Lauren Weisberger’s novel/roman a clef. Directed by David Frankel. Andrea “Andy” Sachs (Anne Hathaway), an aspiring serious journalist, takes a job as #2 assistant to Editor-in-Chief Miranda Priestley aka Anna Wintour (Meryl Streep) at Runway Magazine (aka Vogue) when no other work can be secured. She knows nothing about fashion, cares less, and thinks of the work as a placeholder. #1 Assistant, Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt) is sure Andy will be gone in a matter of days.
Much to the surprise and annoyance of her chef boyfriend, Nate Cooper (Adrian Grenier), Andy throws herself into the job, loses ten pounds, and with the sympathetic help of Art Director Nigel Kipling (Stanley Tucci -wonderful) becomes an extremely efficient swan. When Emily has an accident, Andy accompanies Miranda to the Paris shows and learns firsthand about backstabbing. The film is full of cameos by major designers and models and likely not too far from an ongoing truth. Fun, with good clothes and a classic moral. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Phantom Thread 2018 Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. For this film, immersive actor Daniel Day-Lewis studied with a couturier and actually made a dress for his wife. Atelier details are scrupulous. Iconic designer Balenciaga inspired Anderson to take on the subject. The protagonist’s fastidious/ obsessive nature was modeled on Charles James.
1954. London fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his salon/home are watched over by his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville – terrific). Inference is that their beloved mother preceded Cyril in the role. When he brings home waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps), installing her (separate bedroom) as muse, Cyril rolls with it. There have been others. Alma falls in love, an emotion of which the designer is incapable. He’s cruel to her, she poisons Woodcock, then nurses him back to health. They marry; the honeymoon is short lived.
Woodcock’s designs fall out of favor and he blames Alma, but she’s not about to be discarded. Further retaliation creates a perversely unhealthy codependence. Dark and discomfiting. It’s almost unsurprising that Day-Lewis declared his retirement shortly after its production. To have lived inside woodcock’s mind! Acting is first rate. Inconceivably the clothes are uniformly ugly. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Somewhere Between Fact and Fiction:
The Assassination of Gianni Versace 2018 the second season of the FX true crime anthology television series American Crime Story – 9 episodes. Based on Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth. The story of designer Gianni Versace’s (Edgar Ramirez) murder by spree killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) who insidiously wormed his way into his victim’s opulent life and bed. Well done and tacky at the same time. With Ricky Martin, and Penelope Cruz. Free with Netflix.
Top photo: Bigstock