Visual media have played an enormous role in the development of fashion in West Europe. Fashion imagery emerged within print journalism, more specifically women’s magazines, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The development of popular cinema in the first half of the twentieth century had a momentous impact on the global fashion industry, especially in the star system, the “tie-in,” and the involvement of both couturiers and ready-to-wear designers in film. From the radical changes of the 1960s, when fashion became youth-dominated for the first time, until the early twenty-first century, a celebrity culture has emerged that has changed contemporary visual culture. One of its impacts is the rise of alternative fashion icons, such as musicians and models.
In the play She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith’s robust and successful comedy of 1773, Mrs. Hardcastle, the vain, self-deluded wife of a country squire, wishes continually that her life were more exciting and, indeed, more metropolitan. Although she has never actually been to London, she does her very best to keep up with its fashions. For written information, she depends upon “The Scandalous Magazine” and what other facts reach her in letters from the “two Miss Ricketts of Cripplegate.” Her hair she styles herself, using images seen in the Ladies’ Memorandum Book, first published in 1769, to guide her. In 1770, the Ladies’ Magazine had also been launched, to offer its readers helpful tips on sartorial matters—together with embroidery patterns. Twenty years later, Mrs. Hardcastle would have been captivated by The Lady’s Monthly Magazine; it offered a “half-yearly cabinet” of colored engravings, seemingly the first important visual images of fashion, allowing its readers to keep up with the changing styles of London and Paris.
Yet these publications were, of course, very selective in their reach, because Mrs. Hardcastle, although a foolish woman, is nevertheless a member of the landed gentry and, therefore, literate. Most women, however, could not read, and mass education was not to arrive for another hundred years at least. The magazines of the next century across West Europe were more domestic in their content; they targeted the bourgeois housewife, and one of the most successful English offerings was the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, edited by Mrs. (Isabella) Beeton of cookbook fame. It went still further, presenting its readers with paper patterns so that they could make for themselves the fashionable garments for which they yearned. In nineteenth-century Philadelphia, the publishers of Godey’s Lady’s Book not only offered its readers “hand-tinted pictures of Paris modes,” but specifically employed women to do this hand tinting.
“High fashion” magazines began to appear in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1867, Harper’s Bazar (as it was spelled at that time) was launched, a U.S. version of the German Bazar; Vogue followed in 1892. These magazines did not at first use the new medium of photography for technical reasons; daguerreotypes, which first appeared in the 1830s, were not suitable for mass printing.
No photographs appeared in women’s magazines until the first decade of the twentieth century. Even then, the fashions they displayed were far from democratic. The earliest fashion photographers were themselves either aristocratic—like Baron de Meyer and George Hoyningen-Huene—or rich young men like Edward Steichen and Alfred Steiglitz, who both worked for Condé Nast. The models they portrayed were usually anonymous, but the image they invariably conveyed was one of haughty elegance. Cecil Beaton, the first successful English practitioner within the new medium, created images designed to please those women of the upper middle class, like himself, who turned the pages of Vogue. Fashion photography did not become a truly democratic medium until the 1960s.
The new moving pictures of silent cinema offered women from all walks of life a chance to glimpse high fashion. The early nickelodeon theaters were at first seen as unsavory and unsuitable places for respectable women—and so it was in a clever move to attract a wide female audience that short “fashion films” were introduced across Europe and in the United States.
These films not only showed the latest styles from Paris, but also offered glimpses of more everyday accessories that could be copied or that were easily available such as gloves, hats, and lingerie. These films—which might be called infomercials today—were so popular across Europe and the United States that they remained a cinematic staple for half a century or more. In England, some of the last generic offerings showcased the sensational new miniskirts and the radical, sharply bobbed haircuts of the 1960s created by Vidal Sassoon.
The Pathé newsreels, created in the early days of cinema, would always comment on notable new fashions—however briefly—and continued to do so for years to come. Early newsreels also screened the public appearances of the royal, the aristocratic, and the rich and famous; thus, they made desirable both the new “tailor-mades,” popularized by Redfern, and the very voluptuous female figure of the era, exemplified by the Gibson girls seen in the popular, widely circulated illustrations of U.S. artist Charles Dana Gibson.
However, it was the development of narrative cinema and the U.S. star system that were absolutely crucial to the display of fashion in all its forms—clothing, accessories, hairstyles, and, significantly, makeup. The prudery of the late nineteenth century had left a profound legacy; makeup, once worn by the aristocracy across Europe, was now seen as the stigmatizing mark of music hall actresses, courtesans, and prostitutes. The cinema would change that forever.
Early film stock had the effect of rendering even the most perfect complexions mottled and blotchy, while the exaggerated acting demanded by silent cinema meant that the eyes and lips needed to be emphasized. The founder of Max Factor cosmetics was, in fact, originally a Polish wig maker who became a theatrical makeup artist and manufacturer and, sensibly enough, moved to the emerging capital of cinema, Hollywood, to ply his trade. His work with the studios was very successful, and he hit upon the notion of marketing the makeup he had created so that women everywhere could emulate the looks they saw on screen.
Cinema has always influenced fashion and vice versa; as the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli remarked, what Hollywood did today, fashion would do tomorrow. The movies have been also deeply influenced by fashion. Hollywood, for example, instantly dropped its hemlines following the vogue for longer fashions set by Paris couturier Jean Patou in 1929, and throughout the 1930s Madeleine Vionnet’s bias-cut styles dominated women’s fashion, as epitomized by the evening dresses worn by Jean Harlow. Once Hollywood has found a fashion it likes, it tends to stick with it.
Fashion—or rather the fashionability of film—has always been an important element of cinema’s appeal. There are numerous examples of garments having had a direct impact on off-screen fashions and sales; one of designer Adrian’s robes for Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton in 1932 was widely copied, as was Edith Head’s white party dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951). Head herself once declared that she had seen more than thirty copies of the dress at a single party. Later, one could point to the notable effect films such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Annie Hall (1977) had on contemporary fashions. Faye Dunaway’s 1930s wardrobe for the former was credited with relaunching the beret and cardigan and making sure that the new “midi” skirts of the period caught on. Diane Keaton’s androgynous ensembles as Annie Hall—created by Ralph Lauren—were swiftly copied in both the exclusive pages of Vogue and on main street, where the wearing of masculine trousers, shirts, and waistcoats by women became the epitome of chic.
Similarly, in contemporary cinema one can see the same pattern of mimicry when it comes to both clothes and accessories—a crucial difference being that in the early twenty-first century it is more often the male stars who have become fashion icons, in keeping with a heightened awareness of men’s fashion that has been evident since the early 1990s. Aviator shades made a comeback after Tom Cruise wore them in Top Gun (1987); after the success of Quentin Tarantino’s movie Pulp Fiction (1994), the black suits and monochrome outfits of French designer Agnès b. became synonymous with masculinity and cool. In the early twenty-first century, one could point to the fashionability of The Matrix trilogy (1999 onward), with Keanu Reeves’s long, swishing black coat, mobile phone, and dark glasses.
Fashion’s relationship to film extends beyond the domain of film’s fashionability. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, few fashion designers did much work for films, the notable exception being Coco Chanel, who in 1931 went to MGM. Her Hollywood film work was not deemed a success; Chanel was too meticulous and precise (insisting at one point on making several copies of the same dress, one for each individual scene), and she soon elected to return to Paris, designing costumes for Jean Renoir’s films La Marseillaise (1936) and La règle du jeu (1939). Delphine Seyrig later chose to wear Chanel in Alain Resnais’s L’année dernière à Marienbad (1961). The most important fashion designers have not always been those who have become involved in film and film costume design. Christian Dior, for example, despite the universal influence of the New Look, only lent his designs to a small and eclectic series of films, including René Clair’s Le silence est d’or (1947), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Les enfants terribles (1950), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950).
It was Hubert de Givenchy’s collaboration with Audrey Hepburn that fundamentally changed the relationship between film and fashion. In Sabrina (1954), as in Funny Face (1957), the distinction between the costume designer and the couturier co-opted into costume design is signaled ironically in the films’ Cinderella narratives. In both, Edith Head, the films’ costume designer, produced the drab, ordinary clothes that Hepburn wore as the still-immature chauffeur’s daughter or bookshop assistant, but her work was marginalized by Givenchy, who designed the show-stopping evening gowns that Hepburn wore once her character had metamorphosed into a sophisticated, glamorous woman. The joke in Funny Face—in which Hepburn’s character models clothes on a Paris catwalk—is ultimately that, for all the appeal of high fashion, Hepburn is happiest (and most iconic) when dressing down in black leggings, turtleneck, and ballet pumps. And this particular look—a smartened-up version of the new beatnik style to be seen on the Left Bank of Paris and in the jazz clubs of New York’s Greenwich Village—was emulated by younger women, for the 1950s saw the young demanding styles of their very own.
In the wake of Givenchy’s collaboration with Hepburn, it became far more common to use couturiers alongside costume designers, the former often being given virtual license to use the films on which they worked as showcases for their offscreen designs. There is little sense here of costume’s traditional subservience to character and narrative. The incorporation of classic as opposed to outrageous fashion designers into film increasingly predominated. In European cinema, one can point to the example of Yves Saint Laurent, whose muse was the French actress Catherine Deneuve. Saint Laurent’s designs for Deneuve as Severine in Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) epitomized his approach: Her clothes are straight and muted, notable for their unsexy elegance, much like Saint Laurent’s own classic-with-a-twist late-1960s lines. Severine is enigmatic and unobtainable; her wearing of an Yves Saint Laurent capsule wardrobe in Belle de Jour confirms the use of fashion as a means of maintaining this distance and representing her exclusivity, wealth, and class.
In contemporary Hollywood, the most prolific couturier–costume designer is Giorgio Armani, whose costumes work to define character and narrative. Other designers who have worked on films include Nino Cerruti, with whom Armani trained; Ralph Lauren; Donna Karan; and Calvin Klein—all quintessentially classic designers. Lauren’s most important film as costume designer besides Annie Hall is The Great Gatsby (1974). These two films together defined the retrogressive and romantic trends in U.S. fashions that would begin to predominate off as well as on the screen in the 1970s. The significance of fashion designers’ contributions to film should perhaps be judged by their ability to manufacture a pervasive image and to evoke a lifestyle. Lauren achieved this with his films of the 1970s (the class aspirations encapsulated by Gatsby, or the feminist aspirations represented by Annie’s adoption of Keaton’s androgynous look), although recently he is probably better known for having dressed Gwyneth Paltrow in pink for her Academy Award Best Actress acceptance speech in 1999.
Fashion is often considered more of a craft than an art, and self-consciously artistic, spectacular fashions have been reserved for self-consciously spectacular art-house movies. Jean-Paul Gaultier has been the most prolific of these designers, doing costumes for various non-mainstream films, including The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), Kika (1993), and La cité des enfants perdus (1995), as well as producing all the costumes for Luc Besson’s more mainstream sci-fi extravaganza, The Fifth Element (1997). In all of these, Gaultier’s designs are exaggerated versions of his signature fashion styles in the way they make underwear into outerwear and juxtapose asymmetrical cutting with classic tailoring. In Kika, the smooth surface of classicism—exemplified by Victoria Abril’s black, bias-cut dress—is ruptured by radical flourishes, such as the prosthetic breasts bursting out of it. Gaultier, unlike many other fashion-designers-turned-costume-designers, immerses himself in the films, designing costumes for all the characters, not just the protagonists, and reputedly checking all costumes before they go on set. Just as his designs are fantastical rather than wearable (his designs for The Fifth Element include Gary Oldman’s asymmetrical suits and Milla Jovovich’s minimal bondage gear), so Gaultier’s personality is important. Unlike Armani or Lauren, who have taken their involvement in film extremely seriously, Gaultier has not been averse to sending himself—and by implication, the fashion world—up. Gaultier’s personality has demystified high fashion; he has appeared as himself in Robert Altman’s parody of the Paris fashion scene Prêt-a-porter (1994), mixing white and red wine together to make rosé, and, from 1993 to 1997, he fronted the TV show Eurotrash, a broadcast that, as its title suggests, sought out and edited together examples of trashy, gross, and comic European television.
The accessibility of fashion in film has become a hugely significant factor in its appeal. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), which inspired the design of London department store windows and led to an increase in the wearing of dark suits and shades among younger men, is an example of film’s democratization of fashion. The costume designer Betsy Heimann bought the film’s suits cheaply, and, when the film became successful, so did the clean-silhouetted French gangster look, which Tarantino readily admitted was inspired by the look created by French director Jean-Pierre Melville for his gangsters. Reservoir Dogs offered style on the cheap because it offered a look, not an exclusive range of garments.
Cinema was forced to share its role in shaping fashion after the ascendancy of youth culture during the 1950s and 1960s and the consequent domination of the new music scene—which meant changes within the media, even for the newly ubiquitous television. The demographics of the period are partly the reason for this shift. In the 1950s, the new teenage consumers emulated the leather jackets, jeans, and T-shirts worn on the cinema screen by Marlon Brando, James Dean, and the sensational rock and roll singer Elvis Presley. Music was central to the new patterns of teenage consumption; young people now had their own singers and their own pin-ups, who were young like themselves and utterly different in their self-presentation from the “crooners” who had previously dominated popular music.
In the 1960s, the full effects of the postwar baby boom were finally felt, causing a seismic shift in the world of fashion. Diana Vreeland of American Vogue christened this phenomenon the “youthquake,” with London and its new music scene at the center.
Very young women—like Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy—were chosen as fashion models, while new youth-oriented magazines were launched. The phenomenon of “swinging London” lasted four years, from 1963 to 1967, when new British bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones dominated the music scene across Europe and the United States. Later, they ceded supremacy to the new bands from the West Coast of the United States, where the hippie lifestyle and look emerged and took over.
Television programming changed completely to accommodate youth; new music series were swiftly commissioned, while The Avengers, whose heroines wore “kinky boots,” leather trousers, and jumpsuits, became a cult series. It made knee-length boots a fashion staple.
The Beatles’ distinctive haircuts and Cuban-heeled boots were copied everywhere; so was the more subversive styling of the Rolling Stones. As the decade closed, these bands adopted the hippie look, which not only raided the dressing-up boxes of the past but combed other cultures for inspiration: Caftans, Afghan coats, filmy scarves, and floral tattoos were even seen in the pages of Vogue.
This eclecticism was reflected on the catwalk, with Yves Saint-Laurent’s famous Ballets Russes collection. Now the trickle-down’ theory of fashion was joined and at times replaced by a new system, quickly christened “bubble-up,” where fashions were actually created on the streets rather than simply emulated there and then replicated at high-fashion level. In the 1970s, the confrontational androgyny of punk was sold directly to the public by designer Vivienne Westwood; in the 1980s, the couture copycat phenomenon continued. While the black style of the South Bronx popularized by rap singers was copied worldwide, putting people everywhere into sportswear and sneakers, a more bizarre spinoff was a Karl Lagerfeld collection for Chanel that emulated the characteristic look of U.S. rappers Run-DMC. This featured quilted “bumbags” retailing for well over a thousand pounds.
In the 1990s, Marc Jacobs put the grunge look, associated with the new Seattle bands, onto the runway in New York—and promptly lost his job. Grunge nevertheless permeated high fashion; waiflike models such as the fifteen-year-old Kate Moss became popular, portrayed with the gritty realism created by photographers Corinne Day and Juergen Teller. President Clinton felt the need to speak out and condemn what he christened the “heroin chic” infiltrating even the glossiest of magazines.
The 1990s saw the ascendancy of another phenomenon, celebrity culture, of which Moss herself is an example. In the early twenty-first century the media create their own icons, rather than automatically accepting the images offered up by designers, stylists, and all those professionally involved in promoting fashion. The media love a glamorous image and so publicized both the Amazonian supermodels of the 1980s and the television series Dynasty and Dallas. They deified the late Princess Diana, whose face on any magazine cover guaranteed its sales.
Model and actress Elizabeth Hurley is a typical media-created style icon. In the early twenty-first century, she is a very successful designer with her label, Elizabeth Hurley Beachwear, while she has been photographed for countless magazine covers, including British Vogue, and secured a multimillion-dollar contract with Estée Lauder. Her career took off at the London première of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, to which she accompanied her boyfriend, Hugh Grant, in a dress borrowed from the London offices of Versace. The black dress was short and revealing—held together by large, strategically placed safety pins. The following day, she appeared on the front page of most newspapers in Britain. Unsurprisingly, Versace offered Hurley clothes for every subsequent photo opportunity. One of these dresses was slit so high up the thigh that it revealed a pair of underpants in a leopard-print fabric to match the dress.
While there are still fashion celebrities who have been selected for their ability to look stylish, most celebrities in the early twenty-first century are seen as legitimate targets for sartorial criticism. A weekly staple of journalism, in the early twenty-first century is a roundup of the past week’s fashion triumphs and disasters; if a celebrity wears a particularly unbecoming or unsuitable outfit, an appearance in the papers or on the Internet is guaranteed.
Part of the Internet’s contribution to fashion has been the circulation of these same celebrity images. This frenzy of media activity is radically different from the carefully controlled deployment of stars that characterized the heyday of Hollywood. Interestingly, it has meant huge shifts in the fashion industry, which seem to have gone at times unremarked. Traditionally, in fashion journalism, the opinions of fashion writers had an effect on the success or failure of a new collection or a particular look, and the journalists themselves, if prestigious enough, have assisted the careers of new designers. Some journalists are still sufficiently well known to be photographed as celebrities in their own right—for example, Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue and Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune. However, these are the exceptions; arguably, the photographs from the early-twenty-first-century collections focus on the celebrities sitting in the front row, and it is their choice of designer or outfit that makes for commercial success. Julien Macdonald’s success is arguably aided by the fact that he was asked early on to design for Kylie Minogue. Donatella Versace has ensured the continued good fortunes of the house for which she designs through her shrewd, continued use of different celebrities—she organized a wedding party for Jennifer Lopez, for instance.
Music and film award ceremonies, above all the Oscars, have arguably replaced catwalk shows as the most important media events within the fashion industry. The fight to dress women stars for the red carpet has intensified, while men actors too are offered tuxedos by top fashion houses. In the early twenty-first century, many fashion advertising campaigns use celebrities in preference to models. Meanwhile, fashion public relations representatives have created the phenomenon of the “It” bag by supplying free copies of their latest handbags to young women stars whom they know will be constantly photographed. Fashion houses have also exploited other avenues and ensured the return of luxury branding. The television series Sex and the City made Manolo Blahnik a household name, while two episodes were structured around the new It bags: A coveted Birkin bag formed one plot line, a fake Fendi another.
In the early twenty-first century, celebrities from every sphere of activity are recruited. Since the “menswear revolution” of the 1980s and the new patterns of men’s fashion consumption, there are as many media images of men as of women. Calvin Klein underwear campaigns have been consistently notable, using rap stars, an obscure young surfer, many well-known models, and, in autumn 2003, Arsenal soccer star Fredrik Ljungberg. While Nike perhaps owes its current global dominance to its former use of basketball star Michael Jordan, more recently the company has recruited international soccer players.
Perhaps the most peculiar development in the media during the 1990s was this link forged between fashion and soccer. Eric Cantona appeared on the catwalk for Gaultier, and younger stars have modeled in men’s fashion magazines. Many of their wives and girlfriends have become fashion icons in their own right: Alex Curran and Coleen McLaughlin have fashion columns in a tabloid and a magazine, respectively. Above all, David Beckham’s enormous popularity has meant that he has moved from magazine shoots and fashion-related advertising for sunglasses, watches, and children’s clothes to becoming a global brand in himself, together with his wife, Victoria, formerly a Spice Girl and later a fashion designer with her own range of jeans and other apparel.
Some celebrities may take no part in direct advertising, but they can nevertheless endorse products simply by wearing them when snapped, unawares, on the street. Thus, young stars have unwittingly popularized Maharishi trousers, Birkenstock sandals, Juicy Couture tracksuits, and Crocs neon-colored plastic clogs.
Celebrities in the music industry have been courted, too. Tom Ford’s early designs for Gucci were modeled by Madonna. She appeared in a Versace campaign photographed by Herb Ritts and has lent her celebrity to the high street, starring in a Gap television commercial and designing for the Swedish firm H&M. Rap stars have benefited, too; the singer P. Diddy launched his own range of casual wear, and, in another attempt to give expensive brands a still broader appeal, Missy Elliot has been used as the face of Garrard, the royal jewelers.
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See also Fashion Designers; Fashion Photography; Fashion Journalism; Cosmetics and Skin Care; North American Influences on West European Dress; Body and Beauty; Music and Dress; Snapshot: Historical Dress in French Film; Snapshot: The Dandy in French Film; Art and Dress.