Dir.: Jacques Becker; Cast: Raymond Rouleau, Micheline Presle, Jean Chevier, Gabrielle Dorziat, Françoise Lugagne; France 1944/5, 111 min.
Jacques Becker only completed thirteen feature films but still enjoys a near mythical reputation. Nouvelle Vague directors like Godard and Truffaut wrote enthusiastically about his dramas Goupi Mains Rouges and Le Trou in ‘Cahiers’, vaunting his work as far superior to the traditional French cinema offerings they often lambasted.
Becker started his film career as assistant to Jean Renoir, (Toni, Partie de Campagne), before finding his own style mainly in dark crime features mining his experiences in the Resistance in the South of France. He began shooting FALBALAS (‘Furbelow’ or trimming for a woman’s petticoat) in 1944 after the Liberation, but the release had to be postponed well into 1945.
Nineteen-year old Micheline Lafourie (Presle) has come from Reims to Paris to marry the much older business man Daniel Rousseau (Chevier). Whilst living with her ten (!) cousins in a Paris mansion, she meets couturier Philippe Clarence (Rouleau), a good friend of Daniel. Philippe is a womaniser, but worse, treats his nearly all female staff abominably. The mature fashion house manager Solange (Dorziat) is the only one who stands up to her boss, treating him like a little boy – a nasty one, at that. Not so lucky is Clarence’s ex, Anne-Marie (Lugagne), who is still in love with Philippe, even though he treats her like a doormat. Philippe is captivated by Micheline and seduces her – promising to elope with her. A few days later, he has changed his mind, encouraging Micheline to marry Daniel as planned. Micheline, scorned but determined not to let it show, decides to return to Reims alone. And her nonchalance towards Philippe makes him think again: he is once again infatuated and claiming to be in love for the first time. Daniel finds out about the affair, but it is too late. Micheline has made up her mind to teach Philippe a lesson on the launch of his new collection. The dramatic ending is one of the finest piece of noir cinema – the fashion world overall pictured as glamorous but shallow and empty. Falbalas plays out in the style of the sub-genre, so appealing with its ravishing sets and elegance it later convinced Jean Paul Gautier to become a couturier.
Rouleau is in his element as the suave and soulless perfectionist: a misogynist par excellence. DoP Nicolas Hayer (Orphee) conjures up immaculate black and white images of Philippe’s domaine: the physical and psychological exploitation in stark contrast to the beauty of the garments and the soigné clientele. Editor Marguerite Renoir (who took Renoir’s name even though they were not married) keeps up a breath-taking tempo, much more suited to a thriller than a graceful fashion feature. But the ending is one of the greatest achievements of post-war French cinema. AS
Dirs: P David Ebersole/Todd Hughes | US Doc | With: Hanae Mori, Dionne Warwick, Sharon Stone, Naomi Campbell, Hiroko Matsumoto, Jean-Michel Jarre, Philippe Starck | US Doc
P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes (Mansfield 66/67) look into the world of fashion icon Pierre Cardin (1922-2020) giving a real sense of who he was and how he shook things up in the early Sixties.
Cardin wasn’t just a fashion designer – he was all about futurism, transforming haute couture, watches, even sunglasses and cigarette lighters with a unique vision for the modern world in the late 1950s and 1960s. Always looking forward to the future and, crucially, maintaining control of his brand, and never selling out.
Born Pietro Costante Cardin near Treviso in summer 1922, his Italian wine merchant parents had fled to France to avoid Fascism, and Pierre grew up near St Etienne with his ten siblings, eventually drifting to Paris after the war to study architecture. Rather than designing buildings he was drawn to fashion tailoring eventually joining the Paris atelier of Paquin in 1945 where he was put to work on the fantasy costumes of Jean Cocteau’s classic Beauty and the Beast, and by 1947 he was heading up the tailleur atelier of Christian Dior. He was 25. Striking out on his own he founded the House of Cardin last three years later where his avantgarde designs focused on geometric Space age forms, rather like his fellow designer André Courrèges (1923-2016).
Ebersole and Hughes opt for a chronological structure and a punchy style of editing that pops with archive footage intercutting soundbites from Cardin’s catwalk models with collaborators from all over the world: this reflects how the designer pioneered international markets way beyond the West in a International branding furore that took in Japan, China and Russia where he was the very first to develop an easy style of ready to wear fashions with a keen eye to the global possibilities on offer.
Cardin’s triumph was to offer women freedom after the constraints of those corsets and tight-fitting styles of the early 1950s, with bright primary colours and futuristic fabrics that were cutting edge: the “bubble dress” was a case in point, fashioned on the bias over a stiffened base. These were not elegant pieces but flirty, fun and functional, offering comfort and flexibility, they still look ultra modern even today. Apart from his global branding initiative, Cardin was also one of the first to choose models from different ethnic backgrounds such as Naomi Campbell and Hiroko Matsumoto.
But there was a price to pay for all Cardin’s maverick desire to spread his brand far and wide: in 1959 he decided to make a range of designer dresses for those with style but a shoestring budget, and fell foul of the strict French federation of haute couture. This was seen as cheapening the designer ethos of the era – even today you will never see Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent in the sale.
Ever the enterprising innovator, Cardin moved on inexorably, branching out into new ventures such as cars, furniture and – in a musical twist – the Espace Cardin, a theatre in the former Cafe des Ambassadeurs in Paris which even featured Alice Cooper, and provided the springboard for Gerard Depardieu’s acting career.
Jean-Paul Gaultier is one of the most amusing talking heads, revealing how Cardin was turned away from Maxim’s restaurant for not wearing a tie in 1960, and duly brought the place two decades later, making it trendy and cool. In 2001 he acquired the former home of the Marquis de Sade, the Chateau Lacoste, where he ran a respected musical drama festival in the heart of the Vaucluse.
Cardin himself appears in footage as rather subversive and cheeky with a glint his eye and a ready quip: like a little boy he loved to be in the limelight, with the talent and foresight to back it all up. But we learn little of the man behind the persona, or of his love life beyond his surface popularity as a sexual conquest – by his own admission “I was very much in demand”. Openly gay, he also enjoyed a long affair with Jeanne Moreau in the 1960s and rather like his countryman Yves Saint Laurent he later became romantically involved with his business partner Andre Oliver. Still firing on all cylinders in his late 90s when this biopic was made, the legendary Pierre Cardin was more than just a designer, he was a major creative force to be reckoned with and is now a household name. MT
Dir: Reiner Holzemer | With Sandrine Dumas, Pierre Rougier, Lidewij Edelkoort, Cathy Horyn, Jean Paul Gaultier, Carine Roitfield | Doc, 90′
Early on in his transformative career elusive clothes designer Martin Margiela cottoned on to the fact that anonymity and exclusivity meant power in the fashion world. During his career Margiela reinvented with his innovative designs and revolutionary shows; never compromising on his vision. After abruptly leaving fashion in 2009 he is now regarded as one of the most influential designers of modern times. Reiner Holzemer’s (DRIES) film presents a never-before-seen, exclusive look inside the creative mind and vision of Martin Margiela.
This frank and fascinating new biopic is the third film to scope out the life of the 62-year-old Belgian maverick whose vision turned the tables on high glamour to offer a softly deconstructed version of Rei Kawakubo’s Avantgarde label Comme des Garçons.
We don’t meet him but we do get to see his graceful hands moving swiftly on the pattern cutting table (“I liked his hands,” comments one model, “When he dressed you backstage it was with finesse.”). Meanwhile his soothing narration conveys a slightly insolent, provocatively subversive figure. Margiela gives a reason for this reclusiveness, and we discover it was not a sales ploy: “Anonymity, for me, was a kind of a protection — that I could work. And the work was hard. And that I had nothing on my schedule, like all the appointments one can have with press. I’m not against those appointments. But I could not cope with them. They would bring me out of my balance.”
Using the usual talking heads approach combined with archive footage of the shows and the models, seasoned fashion documentarian Holzeme conveys Margiela’s subtle thoughtfulness as he prepares for the “Margiela/Galliera, 1989-2009” exhibition, a 10-year retrospective that took place in the Palais Galliera fashion museum in Paris.
Born on the 9th of April 1957 in Leuven, Belgium, Martin Margiela remembers watching his dressmaker grandmother cutting patterns and then making them up. She was the most important influence in his life, but he also impressed by the Courreges models at a show on TV in 1966 – they wore opaque white glasses and white toeless boots with a white cotton summer dresses and that captured the young Margiela’s imagination. Attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp he graduated in 1979 just a year ahead of the design collective known as the ‘Antwerp Six’ which included Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester. From the early 1980s he developed his distinct concept and vision and after a spell with Gaultier’s mentoring (“Martin you don’t realise you have a style and a taste, and you should stick with that taste for your future”) he went on to found the ready to wear label Maison Martin Margiela with fellow Belgian Jenny Meirens in 1987.
The first show in 1989 embraced the label’s deconstructed aesthetic, taking place in an abandoned kids’ playground in the suburbs of Paris where fashion luminaries mingled with ordinary locals hanging out and cheering in a rock concert ambiance (echoed here by a offbeat soundtrack by the Belgian rock band dEus). Margiela models wore heavy make-up and messy hair and were heavily scented with Patchouli when they took the catwalk.
Rather than concentrating on intricate couture and exquisite fabrics like Dior and St Laurent, he focused on the look and image and the message he was sending out to his fans: One iconic design involved photographing a garment in black and white and then printing the flat image directly onto the fabric to achieve a tromp l’oeil look. Another was his cloven hoof “Tabi” high-heel boots. Often he shot black-and-white cinema verité-style short films to showcase his collections.
Margiela put the counter-culture on a pedestal and made it cool. But the often violent reaction against his rebellion was another factor that sent him behind closed doors, shunning the press and avoiding interviews. In this way his anonymity became vital to his work, helping him to retain his integrity of vision which he felt would be dissipated by negative reactions if he allowed the outside in. In the end, his lack of a public persona became irreverent because of the strong message of his work. Other standout shows would see his models wearing masks or with wigs covering their faces giving them a ‘back to front look’ that somehow evoked insularity. Garments were often fashioned from bits and pieces of socks made into tailored garments. The silhouette was long and wide at the bottom, with a focus on the shoes. “When you look at the shoulders and the shoes, they dictate the movement of the body, and that’s what I’m interested in.” Mixing second hand clothes with new designs – his 1991 collection involved long dresses often worn coat-like over teeshirt and jeans, and left open at the back.
Paris allowed him to experiment and be free. Rather like Prada’s little red tag, the calling card of Margiela’s brand was the invisible label framed by four whites stitch marks. Margiela would enjoy working with a number of fashion houses, one in particular was the supremely classic house of Hermès where he was creative director for six years from 1998. Seeing the big picture, he went to the essence of the brand and managed to create something unique but at the same time classically elegant; balancing grace, comfort and timelessness in subtle tones and hues.
During the 1990s the label generated a keen celebrity following of Cher, Gwyneth Paltrow and Amanda Peet and there were flagship boutiques in Los Angeles. But he suddenly stepped back claiming he had drifted away from his focus: “By the end, I became, in a certain way, an artistic director in my own company. And that bothered me, because I’m a designer. I’m really a fashion designer, and a designer who creates, and I’m not just a creative director who directs his assistants.” His abrupt parting with the brand in 2008 meant he was unable to say goodbye to his collaborators and contacts. And this film is another tribute them.
Today Margiela paints and sculpts and continues to live in solitude. But the takeaway from this informative film is his response when asked if he is done with fashion. The answer is a firm’No’. MT
Kate Novacek cuts André Leon Talley rather too much slack in this glowing portrait of the first black fashion editor of Vogue who rose from a modest upbringing in North Carolina to become the driving force of changing the face of fashion in Paris and New York, during the Jim Crowe era. The Gospel According André is very much that, with Talley projecting his own self image and Novacek rarely getting behind it.
Born in 1948, Talley’s grandmother was the abiding influence in his upbringing. Early interest in fashion came during Sunday’s church meetings, “the only time when Afro-American identity was re-affirmed. It was like a fashion show”, says Talley, who was particularly impressed by the hats worn by the female congregation members. An MA at Brown on a scholarship, led Talley to New York in 1974, where he was taken under the wing of Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue. He became a regular at Andy Warhol’s Studio 54 “the only person not interested in sex or drugs”. But Talley’s love life is a blank: he is quoted “the work left him little time for a partner”, and he chuckles when recalling how Vreeland was suspicious “that he’d slept with a white woman”. “If only she’d known”. This comment regarding his sexual orientation is a leading one.
Nearly two metres tall, Talley stands out in any crowd, and his love of capes and kaftans gives him an air of an African prince. His was a meteoric rise through the ranks from Women’s Wear Daily and W between 1975 and 1980, he then became Fashion’s News director at ‘Vogue’ between 1983 and 1987 and its creative Director until 1995 when he moved to Paris for Vogue and W meeting Carl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent. In 1998 he became Vogue’s Editor-at-large until 2013.
‘Operatic best’ describes his taste. He loved Visconti and one of his film-subjects, Sissi but also experimented with Gone With the Wind creating the first black Scarlet O’Hara. He wrote at length about Sandy Crawford’s appearance in a black veil, reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy. We hear a lot from other celebrities like Woopi Goldberg, Diane von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour, but somehow Talley is absent from this portrait – apart from what he wants to give away. Only once does Novack find an emotional moment, when Talley talks about being called “Queen Kong” in Paris; that seems to imply he could only make so many connections in the fashion world by sleeping around. Somehow a true trail-blazer like him deserves a more demanding approach, even if it means re-questioning him. And that would be another film. AS
In early black and white news footage of Christian Dior and his creations, shown in the opening sequence of Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary the designer comes across as a timid, elegant, family-loving man who “hated noise”. But this is all we really discover about a legendary icon who founded the House of Dior in 1946, only to work there for 10 years. Tcheng then shows how the brand still lives on with its clear and powerful mission to create ultra feminine designs.
In the contemporary Paris atélier we meet Raf Simons (ex Gil Sander) the new creative director and a minimalist who started life as an industrial designer, and who is now set to take over the house, attempting to modernise the haute couture side while also staying faithful to the Christian Dior ethos. He has just 8 weeks to prepare for the premiere launch.
As Raf steps up to the grand stage, it is hoped he will embrace this feminine image with all its embellishments while taking it into the 21st century. Tcheng intercuts his documentary with frequent news footage of the Dior’s early years, showing how he created the “New Look” celebrating the end of rationing to create a full-skirted female silhouette as couture took on a more womanly and floaty profile in the post war fifties’ return to voluptuousness after the austere, masculine, structured look of the forties.
We see how Raf Simons works quickly and formally to create his vision for a new dynamic woman, producing 12 looks that are then taken up by each of the seamstresses, who each chose their favourite design and then get to work on the launch. This is a stressful, pressurised time, running to deadlines and balancing creativity with practicality: but the house has ample finances to draw on thanks to its ownership by Bernard Arnault (billionaire Chairman of LVMH).
Raf Simons feels an increasing empathy with the late designer: reading his memoirs and even visiting his childhood home for inspiration. Dior and I works best when focusing on this theme of creativity and the essence of fashion genius, giving valuable insight. Sadly this fascination fades as Tcheng draws his focus towards the hurly burly of the premiere and to pleasing Dior’s illustrious clientale and members of the Press. This is a process we’ve seems many times before in his recent Diana Vreeland and Valentino outings, and the Carine Roitfeld documentary Mademoiselle C in 2014. Although Simons appears confident and in control during the design process, he quails away from Press interviews and claims he ‘would faint’ if required to walk down the catwalk.
While starting promisingly Dior and I descends into a clichéd affair of air-kissing celebrity. Insight into the conflicts, personal dynamics and professional relationships are buried under a deluge of tears, Champagne and roses once the premiere is underway and Tcheng draws the focus away from the more engaging topic of Simons’ creative strategy and the real Mr Christian Dior, who sadly remains an enigmatic character. That said, this is an upbeat, well-paced and compelling introduction to the elegant and sophisticated House of Dior. John Galliano is nowhere to be seen. MT
| DIOR AND I on DVD courtesy of Dogwoof Films | Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival 2014