There are a handful of ways to enhance a mood or a scene in a film. It can be the striking performance of an actor or the intense lighting from the production crew. But, there’s a special effect when fashion comes into the equation of cinema. Whatever the actor is wearing, it’s a reflection of their whole character within the film. It conveys who they are—both inside and out. To us, the audience, ultimately making a much more compelling cinematic experience for everyone.
From Parisian Chic to Italian Excess, and everything in between. These are some iconic films essential for any fashion enthusiasts:
1. Michelangelo Antonioni’s “La Notte” (1961)
In the smoldering second film in his “trilogy of decadence,” Antonioni continues his journey of alienation in a much more fashionable manner—emphasis on ‘fashionable.’ It stars iconic actors like Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, with muse Monica Vitti. The film is as elusive and enigmatic as its prolific director.
The movie follows a day in the life of a slowly-deteriorating couple. Moreau and Mastroianni push and pull away from their dying love for each other. Being engulfed by the vastness of a desolated Milan, their alienation from each other consumes them even more.
Because of this, they cheat on each other just to feel excitement and euphoria. But, this is cut short when Vitti enters the scene and enlightens them about their antics. She is introduced on all fours wearing a one-of-a-kind Valentino dress. The great couturier made it just at the beginning of his career. The dress and its simplicity reflect the innocence as well as the awareness of Vitti’s character.
With slip dresses, suits, and lace all in black, like empty voids, these all contribute dramatically to the emptiness in La Notte. Fashion can convey an actor’s subjectivity in a film—and this elusive work is one of its most enduring examples.
2. Jean-Luc Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie” (1962)
One of the most defining cinematic works in the director’s career and even during the La Nouvelle Vague. A journey of one’s aspiration crumbling into desperation, then-wife, and muse Anna Karina takes us into this grim, cinematic descent. And, fashion played a key role in her character’s tragic downward spiral.
Karina’s character, Nana, is met with heavy adversities throughout the film. A break-up, financial issues, and a dying dream of becoming an actress all lead her to a short-lived career in prostitution. With costume design by Christiane Fageol, the film captures Nana crumbling in billowing trench coats and furs. The film uses it to hide her many insecurities caused by desperation.
Topped with the now-iconic hairstyle of Nana that inspired Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction, the fashion overflowing in Vivre Sa Vie is more than just an aesthetic choice. It is part of the sorrowful narrative.
3. Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” (1965)
Defining work in the famed Italian director’s filmography marked a new, more vibrant, and extravagant era for him. Being his first color film, Fellini heightens his eccentric vision through the perspective of a woman. The woman in question? None other than his wife Giulietta Masina!
Depicting, or rather, parodying his marriage with Masina, Fellini presents a journey of self-discovery in a fantastically surreal world made just for, and even, by his wife. Not only that, but the iconic film is jam-packed with otherworldly women in the most outlandish of outfits, courtesy of Piero Gherardi.
Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits is a feast for the eyes, and a source for one’s inspiration—whether it’s for film or fashion. And also, this is one of Anna Sui’s favorite films of all time!
4. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (1972)
Considered by many ones of the most stylish and glamorous films ever. Fassbinder’s crushing tale of love and hatred is devastatingly real and fabulous.
A notable fashion designer and her assistant are in an S&M affair. But, their relationship is tested when the former falls in love with one of her models. With costume design by Maja Lemcke, rich furs and vibrant outfits cut through the intensity of this all-female cast masterpiece. These extravagant designs worn by the whimsical women juxtapose the very real, hard truths of the film.
Decades after its cinematic debut, The Bitter Tears still manages to provoke and inspire both the worlds of film and fashion. One of the most notable examples of its enduring influence is, first, Tom Ford’s Yves Saint Laurent F/W 2003 show.
And another famous one was Prada’s F/W 2014 collection.
5. Irvin Kershner’s ”Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978)
Taking a page (or two… or 10) from the works of the iconic fashion photographer Helmut Newton and even commissioning him for the actual images of the film, Kershner presents a thrilling mystery story. Eroticism and glamour fuel the twists and turns of this controversial film.
Starring Faye Dunnaway as Laura Mars, one of the most sought-after photographers in the business, she fuses women and violence with fashion as her canvas. Soon she discovers that her images recreate actual crime scenes, and her photographic vision sees through the killer’s eyes.
With a ferocious take on the Italian Giallo genre, Eyes of Laura Mars is also a fierce representation of 70s fashion. Free-flowing dresses, kinky lingerie, and voluminous fur coats all exude sex, and the hard, pleasurable kind—courtesy of Theoni V. Aldredge.
It is also wildly influential, even becoming the main inspiration for the Lanvin S/S 2011 campaign, taken by the godfather of fashion photography, Steven Meisel!
Whether simplistic in style, or excessive in glamour, fashion is crucial to a character’s journey, and a film’s narrative.
So, to any and every fashion enthusiast out there, may you be inspired by these amazing and influential cinematic works!
A fourth-year fine arts college student in the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in advertising. Nathan usually does extensive research on fashion and runway history, film, music and pop culture, with a strong eagerness to learn more.