We live in the age of aesthetics, where creating a beautiful and intellectual landscape in cinema is essential. However, at the same time, it is quite hard to achieve because not everything expensive and shiny fits in perfectly with the styling landscape of the story. Moreover, looks matter when it comes to designing a character.
Our physical appearance reflects our lifestyle, mood, the mental and emotional state of being much more than we'd like to admit. It's the same with fictional characters. For that very reason, I find Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to be a stylistic genius when it comes to fashion. Maybe it is my bias, still, for me, Joanna Johnston, the costume designer for the film, manages to capture the historically elegant, sophisticated and classy essence of the 60s and 70s fashion landscape.
With 4 most exquisitely dressed characters, the fashion choices for each is different, yet it manages to give them away at first glance. Napoleon Solo, our beloved C.I.A. Agent, is always adorned in tight-fitting suits with the lighter hues of blue, green, silver and black. These iconic suits paired with an Omega de Ville watch and a signet ring allows him to channel a dominant yet eerily calm and composed stance. Gaby, the alleged mechanic, flaunts an Audrey Hepburn stylistic sense and dresses in relatively fresh, bold colours and prints, establishing her into the role of a Soviet architect's fiancée. This Soviet architect, Ilya Kuryakin, matches style with comfort preferring to wear darker shades of turtlenecks and Harrington jackets. Victoria Vinciguerra, the heavy-set socialite, places herself apart by dressing in latest jewellery and distinguished black & white high fashion, courtesy of her rich Italian husband.
Fashion in cinema magnifies the hype of aestheticism when done right
Solo's style puts him into a lighter, sophisticated and formal position, which is contrasted by Kuryakin's darker, contemporary and casual fashion. Victoria maintains her villainous secrets by presenting a constant b&w professional and upscale demeanour which Gaby contradicts by posing in the most diverse range of bold colours, setting her apart as an informal and entertaining bait for the Vinciguerras. Fashion in cinema, therefore, magnifies the hype of aestheticism when done right.
Frank Oz’s 1986 version of the cult-classic, horror-comedy, musical extravaganza that is Little Shop of Horrors is undoubtedly a visual masterpiece. The costume design and stylistic choices throughout the entire film are exceptional, but Audrey’s iconic fashion is surely the most outstanding part.
Whilst Audrey 2’s foliage is quite something to look at, it is the original Audrey, played by the incomparable Ellen Greene, who I believe is without a doubt one of the most fashionable characters in film. Her wardrobe mostly consists of tight-fitting, low cut dresses in her signature palette of black, white, and animal print. Finished with a gravity-defying blonde bob, bright blue eyeshadow, and red lipstick, she looks like she has stepped right off the page of a fashion magazine. Audrey manages to look effortlessly glamorous throughout the entire film, whether arranging flowers, falling off the back of a motorcycle or into the jaws of a flesh-eating plant from outer space. However, it is the metaphorical quality of her outfit choices that intrigue me the most.
Audrey is clearly a woman who expresses her position and happiness in life through the clothes she wears.
It is evident that Audrey is someone who cares deeply about the way she dresses – this is emphasised when she reveals that in her so-called ‘terrible’ past she would ‘put on cheap and tasteless outfits, not nice ones like this’ when working in a night-spot aptly named ‘The Gutter’. Audrey is clearly a woman who expresses her position and happiness in life through the clothes she wears.
In one of the most iconic musical numbers, Somewhere That’s Green, we see that out of the grasp of her abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello D.D.S, Audrey’s fashion – specifically the line of her dresses – changes dramatically. Audrey lives out her domestic fantasy in a variety of wide-skirted, flowing dresses. She of course still maintains high fashion but seems to dress in a way she sees as representing being finally happy and free from the grasp of abusive men. In this fantasy she is, both physically and figuratively, allowing herself to take up space – she seems to use fashion to express the state of her psyche. We see her fantasy begin to come to life through her fashion at the end of the film, where she dons a stunning white, lacey A-line dress in preparation to run away with Seymour. This fantasy is finally realised the moment she steps over the threshold of the house of her dreams in a huge, tulle, lacy wedding dress.
Regardless of whether Audrey’s fashion does in fact reflect her inner psyche and position in life, or if it holds no deeper meaning than simply being beautiful, it cannot be denied that every single outfit she wears is absolutely stunning and that she will forever be a fashion icon.
It might not be the most obvious choice since there’s a lot of popular historic films with stunning costumes, which are perhaps even more spectacular than those in The Favourite. It is, though, these ‘manly’ costumes of Sarah Churchill (portrayed by Rachel Weisz) that caught my attention and remained in my memory since the moment I watched Lanthimos’s film for the first time.
It is type of dangerous beauty that can’t be possibly mistaken with the charm of naïve ladies-in-waiting.
Lady Churchill’s dresses kept in black and white colour scheme are undoubtedly beautiful, but when I’m thinking about her as my fashion idol, I mean the ‘edgy’ outfits - trousers, blouse and knee-high boots. Add a threatening looking chocker, a hat with feathers and an eye patch in elegant pattern, leave the face without makeup and we get a character that looks forceful and emancipated but still not quite masculine. This pirate-like style emphasises her strength and wild aspect of her nature - we see queen’s right-hand woman who understands the political games and does what it takes to reach her goal. She looks stunning in her riding-inspired outfits, but it is a type of dangerous beauty that can’t be possibly mistaken with the charm of naïve ladies-in-waiting. It is especially these scenes when lady Churchill rides a horse or shows off her shooting skills that I couldn’t take my eyes off her (especially since I’m a great fan of long boots and coats).
Her outfits might differ from what we usually see on covers of fashion magazines, but they make the character look both fearless and attractive - and that’s why I call lady Churchill my fashion idol.
The late Anna Karina was one of the iconic faces of the Nouvelle Vague, appearing in eight of her former husband Jean-Luc Godard’s films. Her vitality and charisma captivated viewers across generations and to this day she is often listed as one of the greatest style icons to come from the silver screen. It is, however, the epochal costume in her role as Angéla in Godard’s Une Femme Est Une Femme that has persisted in its influence, a timeless example of the particular allure of French style.
Angéla is a stripper who becomes tangled in a love triangle between her boyfriend and his best friend in her desperate efforts to have a baby. In what Godard himself referred to as a work of ‘musical neorealism’, Angéla’s wardrobe exemplifies this contradiction between the everyday and the theatrical, from sporting plaid skirts, trench coats and berets to a kitschy bright blue, fur-trimmed ensemble and sailor costume (which would not be amiss in the Chanel 2019 Cruise Collection) that she removes during the memorable strip-tease scene to reveal a lace basque.
She is the original ‘French Girl’ whose elusive essence women around the world are always striving to capture.
She represents a complex and contradictory image of the modern French woman, the antithesis to the ever hyper-glamorous Hollywood starlet that are her contemporaries. Her girlish ringlets, bright primary colours and playful fur and ribbon trims compliment the child-like playful, spontaneous and at times volatile aspects of her nature, yet she also has the strong will and self-assuredness of a woman.
It is this complex and distinct portrayal of femininity that has resonated through the decades; her perfect cat-eye liner and effortless bangs replicated many times over by modern style icons such as Alexa Chung. Angéla is practically a walking tricolore in her uniform red pullover and blue eyeshadow making her an image of worship for francophiles, leaving no doubt that she is the original ‘French Girl’ whose elusive essence women around the world are always striving to capture.
Committed to making a superhero film that would feel distinct from the heavily saturated market, director Cathy Yan and costume designer Erin Benach produced a style heavily influenced by street fashion. While Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey have received much deserved praise for their costuming, it’s the villains – Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) – that struck me with their looks.
The main foe of the film, Roman Sionis is given as many costume changes as Quinn herself, exchanging suit for suit. And they’re all amazing. From the white two-piece paired with a fauna pattern shirt to the black and gold embroidery, Sionis’ style encapsulates the larger-than-life flamboyancy and confidence that most people would struggle to muster together. It’s not something you could get away with in your day-to-day life but would be quintessentially ravishing at a Hallowe’en party!
Victor Zsasz, on the other hand, has a much more everyday vibe to his outfit – he’s only really given one for the main plot. Best seen in the sunlight, Benach dresses Messina in a dark green short-sleeved shirt with vertical orange stripes; the shirt is neatly tucked into long black slacks. The look feels casual yet smart and very cool (or at least Messina’s character work models it that way).
As someone that tends to go for jeans and long-sleeve shirts, the combo wasn’t something that I ever greatly considered – I’ve always had the notion that short-sleeve shirts wouldn’t be doing my arms any favours. That being said, if 2020 has taught us anything it’s Fuck it.
Feature images: IMDb