Category Archives: Movies

Style on Film: Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rear Window (1954) is not only a masterwork of suspense; it’s also something of a fashion show with Grace Kelly/Lisa Freemont trotting out one gorgeous summer ensemble after another for both our and James Stewart’s delectation. After all, as James Stewart’s character points out: this is the Lisa Freemont “who never wears the same dress twice”.The costumes in this ravishing-looking film were designed by that doyenne of movie designers, Edith Head, and they had to highlight the differences between Lisa Freemont, socialite and model, and her relationship-shy guy, photo-journalist LB Jefferies. We know Lisa is a class act from the first moment we glimpse her in smouldering close-up, leaning in for a kiss – the simple, elegant single strand of pearls speaks volumes. If the pearl necklace and tasteful make-up didn’t immediately connote class and wealth, then Lisa’s description of her beautiful dress being “straight off the Paris plane” gets the message across. With its deep “V” neckline at the front and back,  and full, frothy skirt, it strikes the perfect Grace Kelly balance between sexy and chic, and was undoubtedly one of the most influential movie dresses of the 1950s. As you can see here, she wore it with a thin black patent belt, strappy black heels and a white cape and gloves.

According to Jay Jorgensen’s superb book, Edith Head – The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer (Running Press), Hitchcock’s brief to Edith Head was that Grace “was to look like a piece of Dresden china, nearly untouchable”. And yet, for most of the movie, it’s Lisa who is trying to seduce the incapacitated (he has broken his leg) Jeff … For her second seduction scene – where she’s thwarted by her man’s fascination with his neighbours and the possibility that one of them has bumped off his wife – Lisa is a vision of sophisticated sensuality in a black chiffon dress and the ubiquitous pearls, this time a triple strand necklace.

On the third evening of Jeff’s “last week” in his plaster cast, Lisa turns up looking suitably business-like in a sleek, mint-green skirt suit – after all, she is about to go into action as a detective, having been informed, by Jeff, that he saw their murder suspect going through a handbag stuffed with trinkets . As she unpins her veil and peels off her gloves, she explains to Jeff why this makes it all the more likely that he has done away with his wife: “Women don’t keep their jewellery in a purse getting all scratched and tangled up. And they don’t leave it behind either..”

For this scene, the single strand of pearls is back, along with plain, pearl disc earrings – but the whole effect is enhanced by Lisa’s beautiful satin halterneck top and, especially, the fabulous, clunkingly great, multi-strand pearl bracelet on her wrist. Not only does it add a bit of pearly pizazz to the elegant ensemble but it adds weight to Lisa’s case for the prosecution.. “Why, a woman going anywhere but the hospital would always take make-up, perfume and jewellery. .. It’s basic equipment. And you don’t leave it behind in your husband’s drawer.”Next, Lisa gives Jeff a masterclass in what else a woman would pack if she was going away for the night … an exquisite negligee. The story goes that when Hitchcock saw Kelly in this nightgown, he asked Edith Head to put in “falsies” to beef up her cleavage. But an indignant Kelly instead stiffened her back and stuck her chest out, and she and Head managed to convince the director that his instruction had been followed. The weakest link, in my view, in Grace Kelly’s wardrobe for Rear Window is the day dress she wears when Lisa goes snooping in the suspect’s apartment. It has always reminded me of curtains -albeit expensive ones.. See what I mean?I think the other issue I have with this frumpy frock is that I could equally imagine Stella (the wonderful Thelma Ritter), Jeff’s middle-aged, world-weary nurse, wearing it. I much prefer Lisa’s final look of the film – which is inspired by her man’s wardrobe, and which we see in a slow tracking shot, from the  Gene Kelly-style loafers up to the watermelon pink men’s shirt (which Head nipped in with a scarf ring at Kelly’s waist). 

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Style on Film: Laura

Apart from David Raksin’s lovely theme tune, I’m not much of a fan of Otto Preminger’s newly re-released 1944 noir melodrama Laura – about the investigation into the murder of a beguilingly beautiful young woman played by the luminous Gene Tierney (above, with Vincent Price) – but I do love most of its heroine’s style. The wardrobe sported by Tierney, and designed by Bonnie Cashin, is much softer and less tailored than the clothes worn by other 1940s female characters in film. Here’s how Laura looks when her admirer, the acerbic newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) recalls first meeting her, when she was 17.On the night that seals Laura’s “doom” – when she meets smooth-talking southerner Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price in an especially annoying performance as an especially annoying character) – she’s a vision in a cowl-necked, hip-hugging, vaguely Grecian-style evening dress which is accessorised with  a brooch on one shoulder and an elegant cuff.Here it is again, this time in a studio publicity shot … A successful advertising agency executive, Laura might be expected to be kitted out for the office in sharp suits and angular hats – but, as if to reinforce her image as a gentle, kind-hearted creature, she is only seen wearing almost informal workgear (simple sweaters and skirts) and floppy, cloche-like hats. Here she is getting ready to leave the office wearing the hat which Shelby tells her he “approves of”. When she visits the jealous Waldo shortly afterwards, Laura wears this stripy tunic top with a peplum – how 2012 is that? From the start of the film, everyone thinks that Laura has been murdered. The cop investigating the case, McPherson (Dana Andrews), becomes so obsessed by her that he is sleeping in her apartment when she turns up alive after weekending in the country – an angelic vision in a white raincoat and another coquettish, floppy cloche hat. Weirdly, Laura seems more dressed up in the morning, when she’s making breakfast – in her broad-shouldered kimono jacket, palazzo pants and high heels – than she does for going out to work… Another unusual outfit is the pencil skirt and tunic ensemble Laura wears for a little soiree in honour of her homecoming, towards the end of the film. The top with drawstring, peasant-style neck, bracelet-length sleeves and is tightly fitted over the hips and tummy – and it’s quite unlike anything the other female characters are wearing in this film, or any other of the era. Laura wears it with only a diamond ring and a sparkling cuff – and outshines every other dame (as McPherson would say) in the room. When she’s taken to the station for questioning, she throws a matching shawl round her neck.There is one rival in the style stakes in this movie: Laura’s socialite aunt, Ann Treadwell (played by Judith Anderson, best remembered as dowdy and creepy Mrs Danvers in Rebecca). When we first meet her, she is sporting a sarong and a black top accessorised with a series of surrealist-style brooches. 

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My City of (Stylish) Stars Exhibition

Judy Garland in Balmain, Empire Theatre, Glasgow, 1951 (c) The Herald and Times Group

I’m afraid I’ve been a bit of an absent blogger these last couple of weeks because I’ve been completely immersed in a last-minute commission to put together an exhibition based on a book I was trying to get off the ground – about the stars who passed through Scotland from the 1930s onwards.

Gene Kelly on Gordon St, Glasgow, April 1953 (c) The Herald and Times Group

The idea came up in a conversation with the director of music of the concert halls in Glasgow. We were chatting about the Glasgow Film Festival (currently underway) and the fact that Gene Kelly was to be the subject of its retrospective. I told him that Gene Kelly had come to Glasgow on a flying visit in 1953, to seek inspiration for the forthcoming MGM film version of the Broadway show Brigadoon. And that I had researched his visit – along with those of other great stars.  And, most crucially, that there were beautiful, rarely seen, photographs of the occasion in the photo archive of The Herald and Times.

Back in the 1950s, and earlier, Glasgow was the often the first port of call for big entertainment stars performing in Scotland. Indeed, it was often their only port of call north of the border – and some venues, notably the Empire Theatre, were viewed as the testing ground for acts. If you could survive the Empire, you could make it anywhere – that was the philosophy.

Hollywood stars would come to Glasgow to publicise their films with personal appearances (as Cary Grant did no fewer than three times at the peak of his career), to appear onstage (as Mae West and Marlene Dietrich did) and for social reasons (as Elizabeth Taylor and Danny Kaye did).

One thing that struck me, while sifting through the pictures I’d selected, was that two of the biggest female stars I was featuring were wearing gowns by Balmain when they were photographed in Glasgow – and, of course, Balmain is a fashion house that is very much back in vogue. Here’s Katharine Hepburn looking gorgeous in one of the dresses designed by Monsieur B for her character in The Millionairess. Check this picture – and 22 others – out at the City of Stars exhibition at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from Saturday, February 25 until September…

Katharine Hepburn, King's Theatre, Glasgow, May 1952 (c) The Herald and Times Group

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Style on Film: Vertigo

Like Jimmy Stewart’s character, I’m a bit obsessed with Kim Novak’s wardrobe and look in the mesmerizing 1958 psychological thriller Vertigo. Appearance is everything in this haunting tale of obsessive love from Alfred Hitchcock – and this black and white ensemble not only reflects the simple elegance of the woman for whom our hero falls; it also suggests her split personality. Novak’s clothes were designed by the great Edith Head – but she had a very specific remit from the notoriously hands-on Hitchcock. Here’s the sumptuous evening gown Madeleine wears – with antique jewellery – when she knows she’ll be seen for the first time by Scottie (Stewart).The redoubtable Edith Head once said: “To be a good designer in Hollywood, one has to be a combination of psychiatrist, artist, fashion designer, dress-maker, pin cushion, historian, nurse maid and purchasing agent too.” For Vertigo, her inner psychiatrist had a good work-out as Kim Novak wasn’t the most compliant of stars and was particularly unhappy with some of the clothes she had to wear while playing Madeleine. In particular, she hated the dove grey suit which Head designed according to Hitchcock’s instructions. Head later said that she hoped that Novak would be so taken with the evening gown that she would agree to compromise on the grey suit. Here’s how that contentious suit started life .. This suit (which Novak wore without the hat) is what Madeleine is wearing during the most crucial scenes at the beginning of the film – and it is this ensemble which the pathologically obsessed Scottie recreates for the Madeleine look-alike, Judy, whom he makes over in Madeleine’s image. Novak hated the grey suit, believing that the colour washed her out and claiming that the style was very restrictive (she didn’t like wearing a bra and this suit required the correct upholstery..) She even objected to the footwear – “I don’t wear black shoes,” she explained. Head promptly referred her to Hitchcock.Hitchcock asked Novak what her problem was with the black shoes. According to Jay Jorgensen’s excellent book  Edith Head – The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer (Running Press), she said: “Black shoes always sort of make me feel I’m pulled down . I’ve always felt that your feet should be the same as the top of your head, so that you’re connected. Wearing black shoes would make me feel as if I’m disconnected.” Hitchcock listened and allowed her to ditch the shoes when playing Judy, but insisted that she wear them as Madeleine. Novak agreed. Hitchcock wanted the suit to be grey because it was washed-out and he was keen that the character look as if she had just emerged from the San Francisco fog.

Novak is quoted in Jorgensen’s book saying: “I thought, ‘I’ll live with the grey suit.’ I also thought, ‘I’m going to use this. I can make this work for me. Because it bothers me, I’ll use it and it can help me feel like I’m having to be Madeleine, that I’m being forced to be her. I’ll have it as my energy to play against.’ It worked. That suit and those shoes were a blessing. I was constantly reminded that I was not being myself, which made it right for Madeleine.” It seems that Novak did win on the shoes front when it came to famous black and white ensemble that Madeleine wears when she and Scottie share their first kiss… Check out the neutral (tres 2012) footgear:Winter white coats are so chic – and this outfit is the one which seems to best represent the elegant Madeleine. Here’s another shot: Ironically, given the usual stereotype of the brassy blonde, Madeleine is a class act while it is the brunette Judy – the other character played by Novak – who is the more vulgar of the two women, in terms of personal style. Once Scottie has moulded Judy into a Madeleine doppel-ganger, they decide to launch her “new” look with a night out. For the final scenes of the movie, Judy slips into this gorgeous black chiffon halterneck dress, the deep neckline of which evokes the 19th century fashions worn by Carlotta, the subject of the portrait which so fascinated Madeleine. Confused? You will be – but I don’t want to give anything away in case you’re going to go and watch this beautiful film for the first time.The single-most influential aspect of Kim Novak’s appearance in Vertigo wasn’t one of her outfits, however: it was her pinned-up hair – which, as Scottie realised, helped define her look. Text (c) Alison Kerr (2012)

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Style on Film: Sabrina

This stunning yet simple black cocktail dress which Audrey Hepburn wore in the 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina is – believe it or not – one of the most controversial frocks in cinema history. It helped to make Sabrina one of the most stylish films of the 1950s – and to establish its young star’s famous chic gamine look. It also marked her first collaboration with Hubert de Givenchy, the French couturier, with whom her style would be inextricably linked for the rest of her life. Being a Cinderella-style love story, Sabrina opens with its heroine dressed in rather dowdier attire, however …

Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe in Sabrina was originally to be designed by Paramount Studios’ costume supremo, Edith Head. In the film, Sabrina, the chauffeur’s lovesick daughter, goes to Paris as an awkward adolescent and returns transformed into an elegant young lady. Edith Head was put out to learn that, after their first meeting, Audrey had asked director Billy Wilder if she could wear “a real Paris dress” in the film. Mrs Wilder suggested Audrey go to Balenciaga but when the young star turned up, the couturier was too busy see her and sent her to his young friend, Hubert de Givenchy.

Givenchy later recalled: “When the door of my studio opened, there stood a young woman, very slim, very tall, with doe eyes and short hair and wearing a pair of narrow pants, a little T-shirt, slippers and a gondolier’s hat with red ribbon that read ‘Venezia’. I told her: ‘Mademoiselle, I would love to help you, but I have very few sewers. I am in the middle of a collection – I can’t make you clothes.’  Audrey asked to see the collection – and ended up choosing all of Sabrina’s post-Paris capsule wardrobe from it, starting with the super-elegant ensemble with which she wows her childhood crush when she arrives back on Long Island from France.


For Sabrina’s first-ever date with David Larabee (the dashing William Holden), the playboy with whom she has been besotted all her life, Audrey (for it really was her choice) selected from Givenchy an exquisite strapless evening gown with a boned bodice and flowing, full, ankle-length skirt. She asked the designer to alter it to that it would hide the hollows behind her collarbone. He later said: “What I invented for her eventually became a style so popular that I named it ‘decollete Sabrina’.”

Needless to say, Sabrina is the belle of the ball in her black and white Paris dress. It certainly opens the otherwise-engaged David’s eyes, prompting him to say: “Oh Sabrina, if I’d only known…”. But the “if I’d only known” dress isn’t my favourite from the film; I love the cocktail dress and cute catwoman-like hat that our fickle heroine wears when she’s being romanced by David’s brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart). What made this cocktail dress so controversial? Well, here’s a clue:

You would assume that this sketch, by Edith Head, is evidence that she designed the dress which sums up Sabrina’s seductive blend of playfulness and elegance. But that isn’t actually the case – though Head herself allowed the misconception to go uncorrected for the rest of her life. The truth – as explained in Jay Jorgensen’s superb book, Edith Head – The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer (Running Press) – is that Head’s department was supposed to make this dress, with its distinctive bows on the shoulder and boat neck, from a sketch by Givenchy. Jorgensen explains: “Confusion about the designs in the film began as sketches were done in the wardrobe department to execute all the clothing needed. Edith began sending the sketches out to publicize the film, leading to the assumption that all the clothes were her designs.” Here’s Sabrina wearing it on her pre-theatre dinner date at The Colony with Linus.

The boat neck of what became known as “The Sabrina Dress” – the design of which was translated into a best-selling dressmaking pattern when the film was released – became a hallmark of the Hepburn look. As did the black legging-like trousers and pumps which she wore, along with a slash-necked top, for a casual visit to Linus’s office.

It’s only when Sabrina removes her coat – a collarless number which anticipates the Givenchy coats she sports in their classic 1960s collaboration Charade – and turns around that we see the sly sexiness of the ensemble:

There aren’t that many different outfits in Sabrina – just enough to immediately establish it as a must-see for style lovers. Which must help explain why Edith Head presumably kept quiet about the extent of Givenchy’s involvement in the film and the fact that, with Audrey, he created Sabrina’s Parisian-inspired look, the look that dominates the movie. Not only did Givenchy’s name appear nowhere in the credits, but Head accepted an Oscar for Sabrina and didn’t even acknowledge the French designer’s contribution to the film.

According to Jorgensen’s book, Head even had the gall to parade the original dress down the runaways of her fashion shows. It was only after Head’s 1980 death, that Givenchy, a true gentleman, finally confirmed that the dress had been his design but had been made under Head’s supervision at Paramount…

 

 

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Book Review: Fifth Avenue, 5am – Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I hope none of my girlfriends reads this review. Why? Because it’s about a book which should be in the Christmas stocking of every chic movie lover and every Audrey Hepburn admirer – and I know a few.

To be honest, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the 1961 film which transformed Audrey Hepburn from stylish gamine into style icon, is not this movie fan’s favourite Hepburn movie. With a heroine, Holly Golightly, whose “kookiness” irritates and enchants in equal measure, its outrageously offensive and ill-judged portrayal of a Japanese character (by an OTT Mickey Rooney) and its slightly wooden leading man (George Peppard), it’s far from perfect but, as author Sam Wasson points out, it was still a gamble which paid off – for almost everybody concerned – and a film which bridged the gap between the prudish Hollywood output of the 1950s and the more relaxed movies of the sexually-liberated 1960s.

In Fifth Avenue, 5am, Wasson skilfully weaves together all the many strands of the creation of this much-loved movie into a book which is, at times, irritatingly kooky itself (he even adopts Holly Golightly’s habit of dropping des mots francais into the prose) and sometimes unfairly dismissive (he writes off Hepburn’s subsequent film Charade in one line, while the Alastair Sim comedy Laughter in Paradise is, he says “regrettable” apart from the short scene which introduced the beguiling Hepburn to the world.

Nevertheless, the story of the film is a rivetting one: considered simply too risque (Holly is a happy-go-lucky hooker) for audiences who were used to seeing bad girls being punished and only good girls getting the guy and the happy ending, it faced all sorts of obstacles. And one of the major ones was in persuading the practically perfect Audrey Hepburn to take a chance on playing a part which author Truman Capote had wanted for his friend Marilyn Monroe.

Wasson takes as his starting point the story behind Capote’s creation of the original novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Capote’s flighty mother, Lillie Mae, who routinely abandoned him in their native Alabama as she was lured back to the bright lights and rich men of New York, was part of the inspiration for the character of Holly  (nee Lula Mae) – along with some of the once wild, now tamed society women whom Capote counted as friends and confidantes.

Alongside the gradual evolution of Holly’s story and the birth of Breakfast at Tiffany’s the movie, Wasson describes the asteroid-like early career of Audrey Hepburn who shot to fame and won an Oscar for her first Hollywood film, the sublime Roman Holiday. While her career was on the ascent, her personal life in the 1950s was punctuated by miscarriages and disappointments – and her husband, Mel Ferrer, as sketched by the anecdotes included here, was a control freak who was jealous of his wife’s success and scolded her in public if she didn’t behave as he expected her to.

Their relationship – his dominance and influence over her; her capitulation and deference to him – moves centre stage late in the book when Wasson reveals that Ferrer’s opinions about Holly Golightly and his wife’s portrayal of her began to interfere with Hepburn’s own instincts, and those of director Blake Edwards.

Indeed, as well-documented as Hepburn’s life and career may be, hers is a particularly compelling strand of Wasson’s book, and his description of how she must have been feeling – an evocation drawn from a number of reliable sources (there is a vast, and extremely readable, notes section at the end of the book) – when she began filming outside Tiffany’s at dawn on October 2, 1960, is quite moving.

A new, first-time mother, she had had to leave her ten-week-old baby on another continent to play a part she wasn’t sure she could pull off and which could, potentially, tarnish her carefully constructed and trusted screen image once and for all. Where we see an impossibly elegant swan
gliding around the pavement of Fifth Avenue, Hepburn herself was a bag of stomach-churning nerves.

That’s just one of a tidal wave of behind-the-scenes insights in this chatty, highly enjoyable book which sheds light on every aspect of Breakfast at Tiffany’s – from the fashion, for which it is legendary, and Hepburn’s relationship with Parisian couturier Hubert de Givenchy, to the ways in which Capote’s story had to be adjusted and altered to fit the requirements of a 1961 Hollywood film.

Fifth Avenue, 5 AM – Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Aurum, £14.99), by Sam Wasson

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Style on Film: Bell, Book and Candle

It’s not a Christmas classic of anything like the calibre of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, but Bell, Book and Candle – the 1958 romantic comedy about a Manhattan witch who falls in love on December 25th – is one of my favourite festive season films. It may have been James Stewart who attracted me to the movie in the first place, but nowadays I love it not just for his performance as the publisher who falls under the spell of a sultry sorceress – but also for the stylish, beatnik wardrobe slinkily worn by Kim Novak  – and designed by Jean Louis. Here’s how she looks when we first see her, in her character Gill’s primitive art shop – wearing her black polo neck and trousers and red tunic.

The film begins on Christmas Eve when Gill tells her cat Pyewacket how she yearns for a man – before she knows it she’s falling in love with new neighbour Shep Henderson (James Stewart). Later that evening, at the Zodiac Club where she and the rest of the Greenwich Village chapter of the sorceress sisterhood hang out, she discovers that Shep is about to marry her old school nemesis – and suddenly, using witchcraft to get the guy doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Here she is coming home in her velvet hooded cloak, scarlet muffler and bright red gloves which match the red satin shoes she showed off in the club.

Later that evening, as if by magic, Shep stops by Gill’s place – and they get to know each other.. The romance begins on the settee where Shep gets an eyeful of Gill, whose slashed-neck, long-sleeved maroon evening gown looks fairly conservative – until she turns round to reveal that, like many of the dresses that Kim Novak was photographed in during this period,  it has no back.

After the spell has been cast, the couple spend an enchanted night which climaxes with a swoonsome love scene at the top of the Flatiron Building on a snowy Christmas morning. Admittedly, some of the colours in the film are a little dreary (including Kim Novak’s hair which looks slightly pinkish on my DVD) but the simplicity of the clothes and the fact that they all work together makes it super-stylish. Easily the best outfit in Gill’s wardrobe of blacks, maroons and reds is the one which features a tomato-red snood and matching gloves, plus a show-stopping leopard-print cape which is just as fashionable now as in 1958.

Snoods, hoods and cowl necks are Gill’s signature shapes and when she visits Shep at work , she ditches the sexy leopard-print cape in favour of a black one. Or does she? Look closely at the outfit she’s wearing as she enters his office ..

Yup, it’s lined with leopard print; in fact, as the next photo shows, it is actually the reverse side of the leopard print cape.

The leopard print is the most obvious example of why this film is so very now, and such a treasure trove for those of us who like to pinch ideas from the past. There’s also the matter of the make-up: red lips and nails (see the first picture) are the height of chic this Christmas. If you’ve never seen the movie and feel like some festive romance, check it out – there’s lots to enjoy.

 

 

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Happy (and Stylish) Hallowe’en


My favourite screen sorceress is also one of my favourite actresses and beauty icons – the wonderful Veronica Lake, she of the “peek-a-boo” hair and cheeky, knowing smile.. In 1942, she starred in I Married a Witch, playing an impish witch named Jennifer who wants to wreak revenge on the ancestor of the puritan who had her burnt at the stake a few hundred years earlier.

Unfortunately for Jennifer, her permanently tipsy wizard father is a bit of a liability on the revenge front, and events don’t go quite according to her centuries-in-the-making plan.


I’ve been thinking about I Married a Witch a lot lately – not just because it’s appropriate viewing in Hallowe’en week, but also because it features in a superb new book which I’ll be writing about in the next few days: Edith Head, The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer (Running Press).

The legendary Miss Head designed the chic chiffon number that Veronica wears in this picture – along with the rest of la Lake’s gear plus the gowns worn by her love rival, played by fiery redhead Susan Hayward. The film is available on DVD so check it out – and watch out for my celebration of Edith Head, who kitted out Grace Kelly, Barbara Stanwyck, Tippi Hedren, Elizabeth Taylor and dozens more during Hollywood’s most stylish decades …

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Style on Film: Now, Voyager

The onset of winter always makes me think of the fashions of the 1940s, perhaps because some of my favourite 1940s films are set at Christmas-time. We’re not quite at Christmas yet, so the stylish 1940s film I’m celebrating today is the legendary Bette Davis’s Now, Voyager (1942) – a fashion film if ever there was one, and one which emphasises the power of clothes. After all, the sack-like dresses that the troubled Charlotte Vale wears reflect her psychological state, and as she is transformed from browbeaten nervous wreck into a worldly woman with a newfound confidence, her wardrobe  – designed by the great Orry-Kelly – goes from dowdy spinster to chic fashion-plate. So much so that she attracts a suave man on her maiden voyage as a new woman…

Reinventing herself, she has to play the part of the sophisticate very consciously and deliberately to begin with, using her stylish new outfits as props. When she dresses in the evening wear shown below, she uses notes from her fashion-savvy sister-in-law to direct her as to which accessories to team with the gown. “Silver slippers and silver evening bag will be found in accessory chest,” advises the handwritten slip of paper pinned to the chiffon dress…

Luckily, Jerry (Paul Henreid) spots and removes another note, pinned to the cape, before Charlotte heads off down the deck…

The daywear Charlotte wears during her cruise is nothing much to write home about, in my view, but yowser!, the nifty little monochrome outfit she wears as she disembarks for a reunion with her astonished relatives is fabulous – my favourite in the film. Indeed, finding a similarly squishy and capacious black leather clutch bag was an obsession of mine two winters ago … I eventually  found one, and I use it at every opportunity.

When Charlotte’s monstrous mother claps eyes on her new look, she is horrified and, desperate to re-assert her authority and to prevent her now glamorous daughter from stealing the limelight, she tells her to put on one of her old frocks for a family dinner. But the new Charlotte stands up for herself and defies ma by knocking the relatives dead in a simple, elegant black gown which she customises with the camellias sent from New York by her admirer..

For her debut on the Boston social scene, Charlotte wears another exquisite gown, this time a sparkling white and silver beaded number – no wonder she takes Jerry’s breath away when – to the strains of Cole Porter’s Night and Day – they’re reunited, though only briefly.

By the end of the film, Charlotte is a confident and self- assured woman- and her final outfit, in which she sashays about during a tea party, is another winner.. Here she is, posing with her cigarette from the celebrated “Don’t let’s ask for the moon – we have the stars” speech which ends the film and cements her never-to-be-consummated relationship with Jerry.

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Style on Film: Charade

‘Tis autumn, and if ever there were a stylish, autumnal film it’s Charade (1963), the super-sexy thriller-cum-rom com which stars Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Paris, Henry Mancini’s wonderful music and a fabulous array of Givenchy clothes – far more than we see in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Here’s our first glimpse of Audrey’s character, Reggie – sporting ski-wear, sixties-style. (In case you’re wondering, she’s sitting outside an indoor swimming pool!)

Reggie returns from her ski trip to find that her apartment as been stripped of all her possessions. Luckily, she had obviously taken all her new season outfits on holiday with her.. Here’s the first of the 12 ensembles we see her in during the rest of the film.

If you’re in the market for a new coat, and you like the streamlined, unfussy 1960s look, Charade is a great source of inspiration. My own favourite ensemble from the film is the one Reggie wears when she visits Walter Matthau’s character at the American Embassy for the first time: the coat is tomato red, funnel-necked with bracelet-length sleeves and it’s teamed with a leopard print hat, long black gloves, black kitten heels and a black patent bag. You can glimpse it in this trailer:

For a post-funeral night on the town, newly-widowed Reggie is a vision of elegant simplicity – a little black dress and little black bolero jacket, and minimal jewellery. You can’t see it in the only photo I could find of the frock, but it has a sparkling black peplum waist and matching trim round the hem..

Doing her damnedest to be inconspicuous as she follows the Cary Grant character, Reggie dons that well-established uniform of the private eye – the raincoat. But few private eyes ever looked as chic (or conscipuous!).

The beige dress with the deep black waistband which Reggie was wearing under her raincoat sums up the sublime simplicity of her Charade wardrobe.

I’m not mad-keen on the white hat in the next outfit but Audrey carries it off beautifully, of course. Here’s the ensemble she wears when she drops her ice cream cone during a stroll along the banks of the Seine.

For the famous chase scene through the Metro and the Palais-Royale, Reggie sports another lovely coat, this time in a mustard shade, with a matching dress underneath.

Who said navy blue and black couldn’t go together? Reggie shows us how to do it in style in the final scenes from Charade, where her navy suit is accessorized with black shoes and a black bag, balanced out by the white hat and gloves  from before. You see – Charade is not only an exercise in sparkling comedy; it’s also a master-class in style.

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