New Book Explains Film’s Finest Fashionable Touchstone

Ever found yourself watching cinema’s most titanic classics yet hopelessly distracted by the irresistible cut of the costumes? Daniel Craig’s immaculate suits in Quantum of Solace, or (haven’t we all?) that dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Then costume and fashion writer/consultant Christopher Laverty’s new book Fashion in Film is the one-stop guide you film buffs need to iconic designers in cinema.


Focusing on the fascinating category of designers whose careers have spanned both fashion and cinema costume (although not necessarily in that order), Christopher’s compendium provides profiles on key creatives, including a sketch of their career trajectory, followed by a sartorial analysis of some of their biggest contributions to cinema. These 224 pages are a natural complement to Christopher’s similar film-fashion website Clothes on Film.


Fashion in Film and Clothes on Film both work in tandem, because they look at the same craft from two different perspectives.” Christopher tells The Plus when we catch up with him. Using film stills, costume sketches, and fashion images, Christopher maps out the history and narrative significance of film’s finest frocks. So has he found the key to iconic costume?

The Plus: Your book Fashion in Film celebrates designers’ contributions to cinema. What makes an outfit memorable, in your opinion?
Christopher Laverty: One that tells a story. First and foremost a costume must feel true to the world it is inhabiting – I love the gorilla fur coat worn worn by Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild (1936), designed by Bernard Newman, not because it’s gorilla fur (which is frankly disgusting) but because it suits the story and world so well.


TP: How important do you think costume is to a film’s narrative?
CL: Costume can help a story, either overtly or sub-textually. I enjoy both. I love it when a specific costume is so vital to a film’s plot that the story would not make sense if it were removed; take Marlene Dietrich’s lightweight mushroom-pleated Christian Dior silk gown that she wore in Stage Fright (1950). It had to be flimsy enough that it could be hidden under her lover’s suit and sneaked past the police – it has a function beyond merely looking pretty.


TP: How important do you think historical accuracy is in creating costumes?
CL: It is not the be-all and end-all. These are movies to remember, not documentaries. For example, costume designer Joan Bergin famously didn’t use any codpieces for the TV series The Tudors. Why? Because they look ridiculous, and could have distracted from the story. I think pedants get way too caught up in the ‘period accuracy’ argument.


TP: Do you think fashions shown in cinema can influence fashions on the high street?
CL: Yes, though it’s quite difficult to know who is influencing who. When Letty Lynton was released in 1932 the dramatic white cotton organdie gown worn by Joan Crawford, and designed by Gilbert Adrian, was heavily copied by department stores and came to define the look of the era. However, Adrian most likely copied the style from Paris catwalks.


TP: So can we really talk about fashion ‘copying’ costume?
CL: With fashion being so forward in terms of seasons, what the screen offers has to be anticipated more than copied. Think of The Great Gatsby (2013). All the major fashion magazines promoted it with photoshoots showing costumes from the film. Then the release date got put back nearly a year, so by the time it arrived the 1920s fad had almost vanished. No-one cared any more.


TP: What is it about fashion in film that you find so inspiring?
CL: Fashion on film is really costume on film, but as a book title that’s a little dry… Really, it is a chance to watch clothes either complimenting or subverting their function.

TP: So it lets us consider how clothing is used, beyond just how it looks?
CL: It also makes fashion fun, which is what the industry desperately needs – we all laugh at the absurdity of its creations sometimes, and by transplanting them into film there is a reason to see the joke. Really, if nothing else, it just makes the fashion world that bit more interesting.


Fashion in Film is available now from Laurence King.