Considering how inexorably fashion and film are connected, you’d think there would be more movies about the world of high couture.
While thousands of Hollywood movies have been set in the corporate pits of advertising, law or show biz, surprisingly few films make use of this very dramatic — even melodramatic — backdrop. “The Devil Wears Prada” is an exception to the rule, as are the following 10 fashionable flicks.
10. “Prêt à Porter” a.k.a. “Ready to Wear” (1994) Robert Altman’s look inside the nastier side of the fashion world is widely considered an overloaded, unfocused mess. Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Julia Roberts and Kim Basinger play designers, models, magazine reporters and photographers, meandering through a disjointed non-story at a Paris fashion show, looking great but having nothing of consequence to say — which may make the film a perfect metaphor for the fashion industry (ooh, snap!).
9. “Zoolander” (2001) Ben Stiller co-wrote and directed this satire about the New York fashion world, based on a 1996 VH1/ Vogue Fashion Awards skit. Stiller plays the title character, an imbecilic, narcissistic model who joins forces with his modeling archenemy (Owen Wilson) to battle an evil fashion designer named Mugatu (a hilarious Will Ferrell, always ready to make himself look foolish for a laugh). The movie is hit-or-miss and not nearly as savage as it could be, but it’s worth a look for Jerry Stiller’s riotous turn as modeling-agency owner Maury Ballstein and a really good piano-tie joke.
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7. “Unzipped” (1995) This documentary about celebrated fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi is chock-full of models and celebrities kissing Mizrahi’s butt as he plans and unveils his 1994 line, inspired by ” ’50s cheesecake” and “Eskimo fake fur.” The film’s sycophantic tone may have something to do with the fact that it was made by Douglas Keeve, who was Mizrahi’s lover at the time. Still, fawning aside, it’s probably the best depiction of the inner workings of the fashion world.
6. “Designing Woman” (1957) While visiting Los Angeles, New York sportswriter Mike (Gregory Peck) meets New York fashion designer Marilla (Lauren Bacall) and after a whirlwind romance, they spontaneously marry. Always a great idea. Of course, once they settle into “real life,” it turns out that they have nothing in common and really don’t know anything about each other. Will the blue-collar joe and his socialite jane work it out? It’s a ’50s romantic comedy, unabashedly playing into the most stereotypical male/female stereotypes ever put to screen, so what do you think?
5. “101 Dalmatians” (1996) No doubt PETA-supporting parents love the 1996 live adaptation of Disney’s stylish 1961 animated film, starring Glenn Close as the quintessential anti-animal villain, fashion designer Cruella De Vil. Not content to merely swath herself in the fur of minks and rabbits, she covets the spotted coverings of employee Anita’s (Joely Richardson) enormous litter of puppies. Luckily for animals everywhere, Cruella didn’t inspire a real-life fashion trend, or we may have seen Disney Store tie-ins of puppy pelts hanging next to the Little Mermaid seashell bras. Phew!
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4. “Gia” (1998) Has it really only been eight years since Angelina Jolie first burned herself indelibly into the public consciousness in this, her first starring role (and for an HBO film at that)? As Gia Marie Carangi, the drug-addicted, HIV-infected supermodel who gave the world “heroin chic,” Jolie is heartbreakingly tragic. But just as painful is the glimpse into the fashion world’s mind-set that considers deathly thinness something to which women should aspire.
3. “Mahogany” (1975) Diana Ross plays Tracy, a Chicago girl whose one dream is to get out of the ghetto and make it as a top fashion designer. Her genius takes her through fashion school and to the top of the design world, despite being beset by all manner of creeps and users out to bring her down. Anthony Perkins plays a different kind of “Psycho,” as a photographer with sexual identity issues and an artistic vision that’s ill-advised at best. It’s over-the-top ’70s melodrama, highlighted by Tracy’s “high-fashion” designs, which were actually done by Diva Queen Ross.
2. “Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978) Faye Dunaway plays the title role, a controversial fashion photographer who stages scenes of violence and death in her shoots. Her work comes to haunt her as she begins to experience visions of murders from the perspective of the killer. Enlisting the aid of the police, Laura soon realizes she will be the next victim. Chock-full of campy performances and a permeable, sleazy atmosphere, the movie actually utilizes many real figures from that era’s fashion world. Based on a story by John Carpenter, “Eyes” is a great, creepy ’70s flick that’s begging for a remake (mark our words, it’s inevitable).
1. “Funny Face” (1957) Loosely based on the story of ’50s model Suzy Parker and her muse-like relationship with photographer Richard Avedon, “Funny Face” is a lavish musical fantasy set in New York and Paris. Fred Astaire plays Dick Avery, a fashion photographer who discovers shy, reserved Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) hiding behind glasses at the bookstore where she works. Avery sees Jo’s immense potential, and she’s whisked to Paris where she becomes a modeling sensation, falling in love with the City of Lights and the ultra-suave (if twice her age) Astaire. With music by George and Ira Gershwin, “Funny Face” — one of the last great musicals of its era — is a perfect distillation of the elegance and fantasy inherent in the concept of high fashion.
Now if only Hollywood would get off its well-tailored rear and give us “America’s Next Top Model: The Motion Picture” …
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