If you missed its glory on the big screen, Baz Lurhmann's sparkling adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' is soon to be released on dvd; and amongst the hype and excitement leading up to this date, I happened upon a fantastic article debating the accuracy of the films sumptuous costumes. The article can be found here, on one of my favourite websites Collectors Weekly- if you treasure times gone by and all things antique, vintage or just down right old, this website is for you!
The main argument throughout this piece questions the costume's period accuracy; regarding cut, silhouette and probability during the early 20's- verses creative flexibility on screen. Talking specifically... Cleavage.
If you've yet to catch the film or read the book, I won't give too much away, but the basic jist of the plot goes a bit like this: Looking back on his life, the story is narrated by Nick Carraway, leading us to one very significant summer in 1922, where Nick meets and befriends his mysterious neighbour Gatsby. The name on everyones lips. The ever elusive, legend or myth, party magnate Jay Gatsby. Magnificent parties, glamour and glitz, Nicks life becomes entangled in the awe surrounding Gatsby, and the sticky web of a long lost love affair becomes apparent as the story unfolds. The complex relationship between the characters, the thick plot with a depth of twists and instability develops as the cracks in the perfect elusion appear. I really really enjoyed this film, as a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I felt the complicated struggle and hardship of the roaring 20's, despite the appearance of carefree abandon. And if anyone can grab you from reality and throw you into another world, its Lurhmann. This film is a visual treat. As for the costumes...
As much as I agree with the opinion of historians in the article, with points such as;
“ In the 1920s, there was definitely a flat-chested ideal, and it was fashionable to have your clothes fit very loosely and slither around you, which was its own kind of sexiness without showing off the exact lines... Not everybody’s figure would lend itself to the androgynous look,” she continues. “It was an ideal, though, for very young, trendy, fashion-conscious women even to the extent of wearing ties and other masculine details and, of course, the little boy haircuts. It was thought of partly as boyish and androgynous but also as youthful.” Alice Jurow, board secretary and office administrator of the Art Deco Society of California.
"These new styles were an explicit rebellion against the constraining Victorian and Edwardian fashions of previous decades, when women used corsets to push their breasts upward and outward and pinch their waists down into hourglass shapes. The Roaring Twenties party scene viewed the release of women’s bodies from constraining undergarments as wildly sexy.
Dresses featured legs, arms, hips and faces, not cleavage,It meant a woman was no longer bound by convention—she was liberated from the confines of traditional femininity because she could think for herself, dance and drink and smoke and swear, and that is sex appeal.” Jonathan Walford, co-founder of the Fashion History Museum.
You can't question Martin's design process, for The Great Gatsby;
“If you look at the fashion illustrations, as opposed to what actually ended up being made, you will see that the ’20s were all about sex. It was the first time that women basically wore no undergarments and not even a [garter] belt. There were a lot of backless dresses, a lot of deep Vs. And you’re very conscious of the nakedness of people under the clothes... I think what we chose to do was to take that spirit and make sure that the drama was still in the clothes.”
Of course, historians and fans of that decade will notice the more modern aspects of the designer, Catherine Martin's, costumes, but surely, if you can't embrace the nature and individuality of the characters, the all encompassing environment and decadence of that time and tailor your story to an audience via familiarity and relativity, in the form of film... Then how can one create a complete tale of escapism at its best? I truly believe, from seeing almost all the work from powerhouse couple Lurhmann and Martin, that they do not set out to achieve a historically accurate, stitch for stitch lesson in time- but to tip their hats to the era, to allow the audience recognition of where and when, but to also add their own personal elements, building a place you want to escape to over and over. As seen in other productions from this team, such as Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet. Oh man, I am a sucker for these movies! Just beautiful costumes, each time. Thought out, character based, making exceptional use of fabrics, materials and colours... Catherine Martin delivers every time.
Taking an idea, a time or place or theme, and using this as a creative starting point, to map out your design- but then using this and other inspiring elements, is a highly used method. Not just for costume designs, but this technique of dramatic misdirection, inaccurate but hugely creative image, transcends beyond the format of film, and can be seen in fashion, art and music. As shown below by the insanely over the top but master of haute couture beauty Christian Dior. These are just two shows picked from a lifetime of talent, the first showing a geisha inspired collection from SS 2007 and then a pierrot like collection in AW 2011. This fashion house is still going strong today, thanks to forward thinking and risk taking, allowing the designers to dream big, reaching obscure new horizons. Of course this is not the most realistic of trends, but like it or not, the river runs deep and you and I are no exception to the trickle of couture led fashions.
When mentioning boundary pushing, limitless artistic daring and the not so everyday fashion... It would be rude of me not to include this little lady... All hail the queen of taking an inspired idea and running with it!! Gaga, you rule!
I hope you read the article, it really is interesting to see the two sides to the argument, oh... And the pictures are lovely too! Please let me know if you have seen The Great Gatsby, or any other 1920's films or if you have a Baz Lurhmann favourite.
To play us out, Lana Del Rey's haunting track from The Great Gatsby 'Young and Beautiful' click me!
All images sourced through google.com