Emperors of the needle and streaming

“Think pink!” The exclamation of Kay Thompson, the fashion editor of the film An Angel Face (Stanley Donen, 1957) echoes throughout the facilities of Quality magazine.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:37
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Emperors of the needle and streaming

“Think pink!” The exclamation of Kay Thompson, the fashion editor of the film An Angel Face (Stanley Donen, 1957) echoes throughout the facilities of Quality magazine. Cinema and the fluctuating universe of fashion reached their happiest alliance bathed in a sparkling pink color. Almost seventy years later, the communicating vessels between fashion and the screen have experienced a new renaissance for some time now thanks to television platforms and channels. From tragedy to epic sewing. The premiere of the series The New Look (Apple TV) and Balenciaga (Disney) once again puts the designers' union at the forefront.

In the first, Christian Dior and his antagonist, Coco Chanel, and Cristóbal Balenciaga, the alchemist of tailoring in the second, as the new heroes of television fiction. Only a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for the figure of a couturier to compete for prominence with the exploits of a gladiator or the medieval fantasies of a kingdom populated by dragons.

As a precursor of this plot interest, the figure of Coco Chanel always appears, revisited on different occasions on the screen in that attractive sisterhood – for fiction – of anti-conformism, glory and adversities that intersect the life of the inventor of the petite robe noire. It is not strange that the menacing figure of Mademoiselle Chanel stands out among the flares of the designers' skirts, especially in the series about Christian Dior as a fierce adversary of the creator of the New Look. Faced with a Coco Chanel under suspicion and in decline after the Second World War waiting for better times, Dior's shadow grows until the outbreak of the New Look, the name given by the editor of Harper's Bazaar, Carmel Snow. , the collection presented by the French couturier in 1947 establishing a new feminine silhouette.

Played by the actor Ben Mendelsohn, very far from that figure of the “gentle priest made of pink marzipan”, as Cecil Beaton describes him with his malicious verb in The Mirrors of Fashion, the series covers those decisive years in the life of the couturier, Paris occupied by the Nazis, a sister of the Resistance deported to a concentration camp and the beginnings with the couturier Lucien Lelong until the explosion of the New Look bomb and his enthronement as the monarch of the French fashion renaissance.

The figures of Dior and Balenciaga emerge as survivors of a Europe in ruins and a France with the rationing corset where fashion illuminates that need to live again. Two creators who compete, one, from the triumph of exuberance, the other, from the tireless search for perfection. A premature death for Dior, and a professional death for Balenciaga with the arrival of ready-to-wear, will close an era in which fashion creators became the emperors of pins and needles.

From a more transgressive angle – the character collaborates – the series about the American designer Halston (Netflix), here played by Ewan McGregor, transforms the creator into a hero of contemporary tragedy, a kind of King Macbeth of glamour, excess, and sex. and drugs, whose dramatic ending seems written in advance. Rise and fall of a visionary, victim of a carnivorous industry for which creativity must be subordinated to business. As Halston himself says in the face of his decline, “I am no longer a person, I am a brand.” From that mirror of self-destruction we must situate the biography of the designer Yves Saint Laurent made by Bertrand Bonello. Saint Laurent (2014) delves, between the mid-sixties and the seventies, into the hells and paradises of the designer, his creative frenzy, alcoholism, addictions, sadomasochistic passion for the dandy Jacques de Bascher, a fatal attraction that he shares with Karl Lagerfeld.

On that darker side of the front row and the black chronicle, there are also The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime History (Netflix) or The House of Gucci (Ridley Scott), two fictions that delve into that cocktail, here deadly, of luxury , sex and power that pierces haute couture. On the one hand, the martyr figure of Versace, a serial killer in the conquest of the American dream. For their part, the residents of The Gucci House, a somewhat stereotypical image of Italy, conspire in a production that could well be an update of those series from the eighties, Dallas or Dynasty.

Outside of fiction, the fashion documentary continues to show some of the best essays on that stage, between the monastic workshop and the opulence of the catwalk. The French director Loïc Prigent and his already exemplary Signé Chanel (2005) immersed himself in the Chanel fortress to break down the interlinings of a collection under the mandate of Kaiser Karl Lagerfeld. A research work that has served as a reference for other documentary filmmakers.