Monday, July 14, 2008

Clothes on TV

A dress you won't see on "Say Yes to the Dress"
Christian Lacroix couture, Fall 2008

This is an exciting week for TV-addicted clothesaholics (oh, those dual dependencies!). The second season of TLC's Say Yes to the Dress premiers Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 8:00 p.m. and the fifth season of Project Runway (and its last season on Bravo, if the Weinsteins get their way) premiers Wednesday, July 16 at 9:00 p.m. But, as they say, check your local listings.
Notice, I say these premiers mean joy to clothesaholics, not fashionistas. I don't regard the parade of white, strapless, puffy dresses on SYttD as fashion. The show is fascinating because it gives the audience the opportunity to watch brides pick out what many regard as the most important single article of clothing in a woman's life -- her wedding dress. (We'll ignore for the moment that for some of the shoppers this might be the second or third most important dress). I'm also transfixed by how often women from completely different backgrounds and of completely different sizes choose the same dress as "the one." Shopping for a wedding gown is like having sex in the head; reality is superfluous.

A dress you won't see on Project Runway V
Elie Saab couture, Fall 2008

Well, at least I sincerely hope that this season of Project Runway is exciting. Last season turned out, ultimately, to be a bore. There were no big personalities like Jay McCarroll (I'm not counting the caricature that is Christian Siriano), no real villain, and hence none of the drama that made previous seasons such good TV. Even the garments were mostly boring.

PR is in transition; its producers, the Weinsteins, want to move the show to the Lifetime channel and relocate the designers to Los Angeles. Both of those proposed changes make me shudder: How will Lifetime, home of the weepy-woman Movie of the Week, treat the bawdy and gay-friendly PR? And why film a fashion program so far from America's undisputed fashion capital, New York? One of the producers explained the move by claiming that it provided "more context for our challenges involving celebrity culture." Given how celebrities often dress (i.e., badly) a concentration on celebrity culture does not bode well.

For vintage lovers, the second season of Mad Men premiers July 27, 2008. I think that series got off track with the unbelievable Dan Draper plotline (don't waste the Draper, people!) but dayum, the costumers get the look right.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Clothes on Film: Roberta

Lucille Ball before she became a professional housewife.

The 1935 movie Roberta is about an American football player who inerits a Parisian fashion house and falls in love with the designer, who just happens to be a Russian princess in exile. There's a lot of "just happens" in Roberta.

The football player (henceforth FBP)/Russian princess (henceforth RP) story is a snore. Concurring in that opinion an online reviewer wrote "[t]he plot's fashion angle is also boring -- far too muchtime is devoted to models displaying the latest dresses of the day, although if your curious about 1930's fashion you might enjoy gaping (or laughing) at the outlandish fashion." To which criticism I can only reply, no, no, NO!!! The fashion, and, oh yeah, a subplot involving a romance between two entertainers played by some kids you may have heard of, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, are what make the film worth watching at all.

Can you believe these two got second billing?

I usually do my laundry when Roberta is broadcast; I've seen it often enough so that I can load the washer and drier during the FBP/RP scenes and be back in front of the TV in time to catch a fashion show or a musical number. However, there is one bit of the main storyline I like: FBP's snooty ex-girlfriend "just happens" to show up in Paris and she's determined to win FBP back. She goes to Roberta's to pick out a gown for her reunion date with FBP, RP arranges a fashion show (hooray!), girlfriend rather insultingly rejects all the outfits chosen for her by RP (ex-girlfriend has somehow divined that FBP is attracted to RP). Fred Astaire, FBP's best friend who just happens to be at Roberta's while ex-girlfriend is shopping, uses reverse psychology to get ex-girlfriend to purchase a revealing dress FBP had previously ordered out of the collection. Ex-girlfriend appears at the date wearing the vulgar dress, FBP gets angry, ex-girlfriend, who really likes the dress, leaves, and presto! no obstacles to the union between FBP and RP remain. Well, none but FBP's bad taste -- the dress he disliked was really very hot.

Roberta's costumes and fashion were designed by Bernard Newman. Newman had been the house designer for Bergdorf Goodman, the New York department store. He only spent a few years in Hollywood before he returned to Bergdorf's, but not before he designed a dress that has become part of Hollywood lore: the blue feathered dress Ginger Rodgers wore while dancing "Cheek to Cheek" with Fred Astaire in Top Hat.

Roberta was remade in 1952 as Lovely to Look At, a movie so turgid that not even multiple fashion shows of extravagant New Look clothing designed by the fabulous Adrian could save it. Here's a hint of how bad it is: the Astaire/Rodger's roles were played by Red Skelton and Ann Miller. Sacrilege!

Anyhoo, the makers of the Robert a got a clue by the end of the movie and left the audience with a performance by Fred and Ginger. Here it is. Enjoy!