August 2, 2021

Does the devil always dress in fashion?

There is a scene, about half of Cruella, the new original Disney story about the evil of 101 Dalmatians, in which the baroness, a fashion diva played by Emma Thompson, sips champagne with her new employee, an aspiring designer named Estella (played by Emma Stone), and gives her lessons on what it takes to be successful.

“You can’t care about anyone else,” says the baroness., pursing her perfect blood red lips and showing her white teeth. “Everyone else is an obstacle. If you care what an obstacle wants or feels like, you’re dead. If I cared about someone or something, I could have died like so many brilliant women with her drawer full of never-before-seen genius and a heart full of sad bitterness. To create your own brand you have the necessary talent. The big question is if you have a killer instinct. “

As will be seen, the baroness literally refers to “murderer”, as does Estella (alter ego: Cruella), who in turn wrinkles her eyes and responds: “I hope so”, which gives rise to a epic battle to the last drop that is fought with spectacular dresses, punk leather jackets, fire and pointed pins.

Have you ever heard the expression devour the stage? The two devour it in one scene, just like moths. And so it goes on the demonization of fashion and its role as a synthesis of all that is morally corrupt and venal in the world. It’s one of Hollywood’s most beloved clichés, albeit increasingly insubstantial.

Emma Thompson, the Baroness of Cruella.

Damn fashion

Ever since movies set in the fashion industry exist, that world has been portrayed as a golden sewer of farces, grudges and occasionally criminality, with a twisted value system, far removed from the cornfield that is the heart of everyday life, regardless of whether the films in question are comedies, dramatic comedies, satires or a musical.

Consider what the prestigious journalist Bosley Crowther described as the “stubborn troupe of super people from the fashion magazine world” in his critique of New York Times on Cinderella in Paris, 1957 film with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, of which he also noted that it demonstrated that “there is nothing more illusory in our times than the costly beautification of women.”

Or consider aspiring designer Diana Ross, forced to choose between moral bankruptcy (represented by fashion) and true love (social activism) in the film. Mahogany, 1975.

The collection of sneaky and cocky narcissists that make up designers and editors at Ready to wear, 1994. In the idiot designer and agent turned mastermind killer of Zoolander, 2001. And the celebrated and autocratic magazine editor Meryl Streep plays in The Devil Wears Prada, 2006.

Even The phantom thread, widely praised 2017 work by Paul Thomas Anderson on the dynamics of power in relationships, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a Balenciaga-style mid-century couturier whose genius justifies all manner of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, uses fashion as a surrogate of abuse.

"Cinderella in Paris" (1957), a film that takes an acid look at the world of fashion.

“Cinderella in Paris” (1957), a film that takes an acid look at the world of fashion.

In pop culture we tend to think of bankers as avatars of evil, but fashion designers figure the same everywhere. If the former are denigrated for their cult of dirty profits, the latter are slandered for their cult of frivolity of the lamé. They are seen as false idols who ask to be taken down from the pedestal.

At the heart of the problem is the absurd idea that if you don’t change what you wear every six months, you’re in a way out of it.

Joanna Coles, productora de The Bold Type

Not very good look

“Fashion is a very easy target,” says Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, who claims to have taken an interest in the industry in part to understand why it was so “demonized.”

“In people’s subjective experience, fashion mixes with issues of popularity and being cool,” notes Steele, who traces these concerns back to high school and the issue of social acceptance.

Since on some level fashion reaches everyone, everyone has opinions about it. Often those opinions are tinged with irritation at the idea of ​​being told what to wear..

Will Ferrell as Mugatu, the ruthless designer of

Will Ferrell as Mugatu, the ruthless designer of “Zoolander.”

“At the heart of the problem,” says Joanna Coles, former content director of the huge publisher Hearst Magazines and executive producer of the television series The Bold Type, “There is the absurd idea that if you do not change what you wear every six months, in a certain way you are ‘out'”. That is to say that someone, somewhere, thinks that what you wear is not adequate enough.

Often, since fashion was for a long time one of the few activities in which women could rise to the top, those “someone” were women. And often his power was viewed with discomfort by outsiders, precisely because they were workers who had succeeded and had to be de-feminized or turned into the Wicked Witch, albeit with better clothes.

“Where are the cartoons of the most powerful and evil women in the world?” asks Wendy Finerman, producer of The Devil Wears Prada. He says it rhetorically because he immediately gives his answer: “In fashion.” That is, if you have the character of a woman who is supposed to be powerful and evil, the quickest way to convince viewers of her flaws is to make her a designer or editor. Like the current Cruella de Vil, who was not always a fashion designer.

For a long time, fashion was something unattainable. And when something is unattainable, you feel comfortable attacking it or making fun of it.

Wendy Finerman, productora

Design of a cliche

On 101 Dalmatians, Dodie Smith’s 1956 book, Cruella was the wife of a wealthy furrier, just like in Disney’s first animated film of 1961. It was only when Glenn Close played her in the 1996 acted version that she became a designer in her own right and director of Casa DeVil.

But the new film takes the plot to a new extreme, ditch the furs in favor of the fashion world at large, give Cruella a designer dream, and up the ante with her great rival / teacher, the Baroness, who runs a house. haute couture and walks around in stylish clothes, stealing ideas and hurling expletives.

"The Devil Wears Prada" (2006) and an obnoxious Meryl Streep.

“The devil wears fashion” (2006) and a hateful Meryl Streep.

The Disney production adds fashion shows, high society finery, vintage shops, Liberty of London, sewing machines and the idea that it is Through fashion as Cruella breaks free to reach her true, wicked self. In terms of harsh reviews, this is one of the biggest.

“From a thematic point of view, I thought it would be an interesting approach,” says Craig Gillespie, the film’s director, who also says he was attracted to the idea of ​​fashion as a form of self-expression and as a way of witnessing. Even if that testimony was aimed at destroying the system that exploited you through equally violent means.

“I remember designer Michael Kors once said that he found a beach so inspiring that he brought 35 kilos of stones in his suitcases,” says executive producer Joanna Coles. “The customs agent couldn’t believe it.”

And she adds that when creator Jason Wu previewed notes from a collection of hers that described styles inspired by the observation of a waiter in Venice grating truffles on pasta, she understood that many found it difficult to swallow.

Estella / Cruella (Emma Stone).

Estella / Cruella (Emma Stone).

“He’s an artist, so it means one thing to him – color or movement – but to any normal person it would seem ridiculous,” says Joanna. “In general It gives the feeling that these designers are not only pretentious and the clothes impossible to pay, but that they are torturing you with something that you cannot have.”

His fellow producer Wendy Finerman agrees. “For a long time fashion was something unattainable,” he says. “And when something is unattainable, you feel comfortable attacking it or making fun of it.”

At a certain point in Cruella, Emma Stone’s character says to Emma Thompson, “Are you going to kill me because I overshadowed you?” Predictably, Emma Thompson’s character responds in the affirmative.

But while fashion is a dazzling attraction for filmmakers, it is also a minefield. How to caricature something that is already on the verge of caricature without falling into the swamp of plain and simple nonsense?

“It’s a very difficult balance to strike,” says Wendy Finerman. And according to Valerie Steele it is the reason that “there have been so few really good movies about fashion.”

“Everyone forgets that, first and foremost, fashion is a business,” emphasizes Wendy Finerman. You might think that this makes her less attractive to Hollywood, but that would be a mistake. The fashion world of Cruella It is not the fashion world of reality but the fashion world of the collective mindset.

And in that collective mind, fashion still seems the evil one, despite – or rather because of – all the fuss.

Translation: Román García Azcárate

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