A few weeks ago, I was invited to an event exclusively for Los Angeles fashion bloggers by the Fashion Institute for Design & Merchandising (FIDM). FIDM is a special place for me, not the least of which because my beloved Edith Head helped shape and launch the costume department there, an achievement that she considered one of the greats of her life. I heard she was even said to cry at the department's dedication, which really says something. After all, she was a known stoic and seemed to experience winning every one of her 8 Academy Awards without shedding a tear. Of course those she lost was another matter...
Thanks to the ever informed FIDM faculty and staff, the party celebrating the FIDM Museum's current collections was exciting, educational, and inspirational. My first priority was to stop and admire the museum's collection of costumes from classic cinema. They didn't disappoint....the collection currently includes some seriously showstopping pieces. Fred Astaire's hat and dancing shoes from the 1930s could have easily been from Top Hat itself. An evening gown and dyed fur jacket from Marlene Dietrich were both made by Irene. Mae West's embroidered 38"-24"-38" corset and 5"platform shoes revealed both her assets and challenges (she was only 5' tall). And Jean Harlow's blue silk crepe short shorts by Adrian were from 1935's Reckless, the movie in which she met and fell in love with William Powell. Those are just some of the highlights.
Even with such treasures, the evening's real attraction was FIDM's special collection of costumes from this year's Oscar nominated films. As I've discussed at length during my Month (or so) of Art Deco, the trend toward Deco design from last Fall into this Spring has been inspired by all the current films that take place in the 1920s and 1930s. So there I stood before the best of those very costumes--W./E., J. Edgar, Water for Elephants. There was also the highly influential The Artist, which ended up winning award after award including ones for Best Costume Design and Best Picture. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures due to confidentiality agreements made with the studios and donors. But FIDM thankfully shared a few of their own, including the very colorful costumes from the (nearly) silent black-and-white Artist. Though Clothes on Film did an interview with its costume designer Mark Bridges and reported that most garments were made in "non-colors" such as black, white, and navy, you can see (above) that this is not necessarily entirely the case. In fact, the silk crepe dress that Peppy Miller--leading lady Berenice Bejo--wears when kissing George Valentin (above, left) happens to be orange.
Preparation for The Artist reportedly involved watching more than 300 silent movies and director Michel Hazanavicius has admitted inspiration from classic cinema heros like "Lang, Ford, Lubitsch, Murnau, Wilder," and Hitchcock (Bernard Hermann's love theme from Vertigo is even controversially included in The Artist's score). Yet he seems to neglect mentioning William Wellman, which seems odd considering how much the story seems to come straight from 1937's A Star is Born. This is, after all, yet another tale about an unknown girl who finds her star on the rise just as her movie star mentor (and love) finds himself in decline.
But more significantly, I feel one movie is stylistically even closer to the black-and-white Artist--the very colorful Singin' in the Rain. As directors, Stanley Donan and Gene Kelly were clearly inspiration to Hazanavicius since both pictures are all about the impact of sound on the silent days of Old Hollywood. There are many moments that are reminiscent of the earlier film from 1952. Even the casting seems inspired, particularly the choice of Dujardin...as you'll see below, he's the mirror image of Gene Kelly. And Mark Bridges' costume design seems to have taken a peek at Walter Plunkett's sketchbook for Rain as well.
Though I of course applaud everyone for embracing a (nearly) silent black-and-white movie with such affection, it's my hope that audiences of The Artist now go back and appreciate all the original inspirational films just as much. In fact, I wish they appreciated the classic cinema more since it takes such creativity to make them great the first time. Singin' in the Rain is considered AFI's Best Movie Musical ever, and it's surprising to me that I have not heard more about its influence on this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture. Perhaps you will start your appreciation here.
ABOVE: Mark Bridges' costume design for The Artist curated by the FIDM Museum
Modern Art Deco: 1980s (1920s inspired) black sequin dress,
1960s hot pink croco-embossed leather clutch, Nine West black leather stiletto boots
In The Artist, star George Valenin (Jean Dujardin) is kissed by stranger Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo)
who causes an immediate sensation
In Singin' in the Rain, star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is helped by stranger Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds)
who causes her own sensation when she jumps out of a cake and dances at a Hollywood party
George shares the stage with Constance (Missi Pyle)
and Don shares his with onscreen partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen)
There is an uncanny natural physical resemblance between Kelly and Dujardin...
...and the resemblance extends to the costumes, including a three-piece suit
that Kelly wears through much of the movie and while singing in the rain
Another similarity between the films is the use of inanimate objects,
such as coats to imitate a person
Malcolm MacDowell plays a Hollywood type in Artist and
looks very much like Millard Mitchell (below right) who plays the head of the studio in Rain
Even with success, tears happen for both of the movies' leading ladies
To start your movie collection of original classics, visit my favorite TCM Shop!