Dressed Cinema: An Introduction

There is […] no question that fashions would be far less influential without the medium of cinema […]” -Engelmeier.

I consider myself a cinéphile. Not the “I love movies” kind of cinephile, but the kind that can’t imagine a world without them. I’m interested in exploring how the aesthetics of a particular film helps tell the story as well as provoke certain emotions. I’m moved by a film’s color palette, its set, the cinematography, the direction, and its clothes—most of all its clothes. Stanley Kubrick once said, “A film is—or should be—more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme—what’s behind the emotion, the meaning—comes later.” Coming to America” costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis once said “if the first rule of screenwriting is “Show, don’t tell,” costume is a key to that process because it subtly telegraphs everything the audience needs to know about a character before one word of dialogue is spoken.” And that is certainly true for me, costume is the first thing I notice in a film and I have been inspired by film costume my whole life. Therefore, because a film’s story and its characters influence the audience, so do the clothes they wear. By the same token, fashion, more specifically fashion from the runway and magazines, also influence their “audience”.

Fashion designers and fashion editors are often influenced and inspired by motion pictures. Consequently, not only does cinema influence designers, this influence has fluidly and seamlessly reached past and present dress codes, from retail fashion to street fashion. The consumer – who is also a film’s audience – draws inspirations from film (and their costume designers) as well as from fashion designers and magazine editors (who are costume designers in their own right).

There are many people who would be against the interchangeable use of the terms “costume” and “fashion”, particularly when talking about costume design. Costume designers are generally inclined to think of them as distinct disciplines. They recognize that these terms share the common vocabulary of clothing and that costume designers and fashion designers often share mutual inspiration. However, they tend to think that fashion reflects the current vogue in clothing, whereas costume uses clothing to evoke a personality to support a plot.

I agree with the fact that costumes are designed for an actor in a specific role without being driven by public consumption as the end result, whereas this is the ultimate goal of anyone designing in the fashion industry. But I think that what drives someone to go buy something they see in a film (or something inspired by something they see on film) is often the same reasons for which they go buy something they see on the runway because I think of clothes as being an extension of one’s self. They ultimately influence us in the same way. Perhaps the distinction is that the clothes we see on film are more influential because they are attached to a more identifiable character than the clothes we see displayed by models on a runway, even though when put on our own bodies, they each will achieve the same end result, because they will then become associated with the wearer (the “audience”) and no longer associated with a film’s character or a model or a designer or a specific brand.

In short, both the clothes of a film and its characters and the clothes of runway and editorials are often what drives the public to use clothes as a representation of themselves. Therefore, we are all influenced by fashion designers as well as by costume designers, which also means that the fashion designers are influenced by costume designers and vice versa.

“Clothes are never a frivolity; they always mean something.” –James Laver

© 2011 – 2015, Louise Junker.