Tag Archives: Vertigo

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)



Filed under Movies, Style

My Week in Beauty


A trip to Paris has eluded me so far this year – much to my chagrin (I lived there for a year as a student). My withdrawal symptoms are even worse now, thanks to the utterly exquisite new eyeshadow compact which I was sent recently, and started using on Monday. Why the increased withdrawal symptoms for Paris, you may ask?  Well, because the eyeshadow comes from Guerlain’s autumn collection, entitled 68 Champs-Elysees – the address of the flagship Guerlain boutique in the French capital.

Guerlain Ecrin 6 Couleurs (£51) is almost too pretty to use. The silvery, solid-feeling, compact was designed by India Mahdavi with an exotic, eastern design carved into the lid. Inside, there’s a mirror which opens out to the side and snaps back into place. Oh, and there are also some gorgeous eyeshadow colours – all of which have moonstone as a common ingredient.

There are five colourways to choose from, and each is named after the Parisian address of a Guerlain boutique. For a lovely, neutral, easy-to-wear palette go for 93 rue de Passy and for a bolder colour scheme which can take you from day to daring,  it’s got to be 68 Champs-Elysees, with its central deep violet shade.


My nostalgia for Paris continued on Tuesday as I washed my hair with Melvita Blonde Hair Shampoo (£9; www.melvita.co.uk). As soon as I started lathering my locks, I was back in France in 1992 when I swore by a strikingly similar shampoo which counted lemon and vinegar among its ingredients. Lemon, of course, is reputed to be able to lighten blonde hair (in our teens, a schoolfriend and I compiled a beauty manual which was full of recipes for homemade products, and lemon always loomed large in my experiments).  After a few days of using this new shampoo I noticed that the light-coloured ends of my hair looked much more blonde; unfortunately, this emphasised the fact that the roots are in dire need of coverage.. So if I use this shampoo again, it will be nearer the start of a colour cycle!

I don’t think, however, that I’ll be rushing back to use the conditioner which I was sent at the same time.  After using the shampoo, my hair felt very tuggy and even a generous dollop of Melvita Tired Hair Conditioner (£9) failed to detangle it. It’s a shame because I loved the smell: geranium is one of my favourite scents.

I won’t let it put me off trying some of the other products in the vast Melvita range. This is an organic range which, in France, is sold in pharmacies  and over here, is available in John Lewis and online. But watch out for a dedicated store opening in Covent Garden in November.


I seem to be having a bit of a Hitchcock Blonde obsession at the moment… and I’m not just talking about Grace Kelly. While I’m not bowled over by any of the individual outfits that Kim Novak (left) wears in Hitch’s 1958 classic Vertigo, I love the line of her clothes and the way she marries ladylike with sexy.

On Wednesday, I tried on a 1950s-style wide-collared, knee-length, bracelet- sleeved, leopard print coat in Topshop (having just posted a celebration of leopard print on this blog, I thought I’d better check out what was available), and I fell in love. What swung it wasn’t the cosiness of the fake fur, the gorgeous print, or anything remotely practical about the coat; it was the fact that when I tried it on, with my hair pinned back with a bit of a quiff on top, the look was pure Vertigo-era Novak.

Now, you can’t do the Novak look without an impressive pair of eyebrows, so the recent arrival of not one but two eyebrow pencils was very timely. Both the brand-new Lancome Le Crayon Sourcils Pro (£14.50) and Sisley Phyto-Sourcils Perfect (£29) are great for grooming brows – thanks to the little brush they have at one end – and both come in an ideal shade for blondes (Hitchock or otherwise…).


A night at the theatre with my fiercest beauty critic – AKA Mum – was the occasion for the first public outing of my new Tom Ford Private Blend Lip Color in Pink Dusk (£35), which is apparently the most popular shade in the collection of luxury lipsticks.

Being a Monday’s child (“fair of face”), I have always tended to go for brightish reddy-pinks but since a beauty epiphany at Space NK a couple of years ago, I’ve always had a flesh-toned, paler pink in my collection – for use with a strong, smoky purple eye and a 1960s look.

This Pink Dusk shade is perfect for that, and, on Thursday, worked beautifully with a smoky eye made up with a couple of the light shades from the Guerlain Ecrin 6 Couleurs in rue de Passy, plus the eyeshadow that has become an essential in recent months – Estee Lauder Pure Color Eyeshadow in Tempting Mocha (£15; www.esteelauder.co.uk). Put it this way, not once on Thursday evening did Mum ask if I was feeling alright – the usual question I’m asked by family members who are tricked into thinking I look pale if they see me without a bright lipstick.


I’m thrilled that there are so many purple options out there again for autumn and winter 2010, and I’m certainly going to be making full use of them.

I was sorting through all the purple possibilities on Friday and came to the conclusion that my two favourite nail varnishes of the moment are Chanel Le Vernis in Paradoxal (£16.50), a pewtery shade of purple, perfect for evening wear, and Estee Lauder Pure Color Nail Lacquer in Surreal Violet (£12; www.esteelauder.co.uk) which has turned out to be the polish that I’ve worn most over the last couple of months. I particularly like the fact that it dries fast, lasts well and – as a near-neutral – goes with just about everything.

Of the purple make-up for the face, I love the new shades of lipstick from Dior (the Serum de Rouge  in Smoky Pink Serum would be lovely on a sallow skin) – though purplish lipsticks don’t work on me – and the two Dior 5 Couleurs compacts (£39), Pink Design and Misty Mauve. Mum had her own beauty epiphany recently, and it also revolved around the colour purple. She is now a convert to purple eye makeup, and I sent her off on her trip to Paris on Friday with two treats: Clinique Color Surge Eye Shadow Duo in Blackberry Frost (£18.50; www.clinique.co.uk) and the gorgeous new Sisley Phyto Khol Star in Dark Amethyst (£29), which has a subtle sparkle.

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