Film, Fashion & Appearance As Resistance

My muses are always the difficult ones, the troublemakers – the ones out for vengeance. In the first post, I introduced you to my long-time favorites: ladies I have taken inspiration from time and time again in the quest for continual reinvention. In this edition, I want to talk more about the negotiations between makeup and the fashion and entertainment industry in film, and how it’s so often a tug of war, one of satire and push and pull. I would not say any of these are perfect films, or that any of these characters are even entirely likable, but that’s not the point. Ultimately, the characters that I find most illuminating are the ones who frustrate me, and push me to think more critically about myself, and what I would do in their shoes, and what I myself am really made of. Truthfully, these women were not given the chance to be complex characters to the public– all we have to go on are the images we’ve put above their words. This is kind of shameful. So in resistance, I suggest remembrance of the context in which these images were produced.

Who Are You, Polly Magoo? // Marc Jacobs Spring 2013

Appearance as resistance

Finding Twiggy inspired makeup on the runways is similar to shooting fish in a barrel, the real point of this combination is the movie. It’s a visually stunning satire on the fashion industry and how it fetishizes the image of women. It is built on irony; it is built on references to industry insiders (the fashion editor in the movie is quite clearly based on Diana Vreeland), and the main character is played by a Vogue-cover star. It touches on many things: the idea of real womanhood, the predatory nature of men, and the pain that comes with glamour. But what I find most interesting is this particular scene from the screencap above (top left): Magoo is somewhat vacant, her ascension to cultural relevancy frustratingly easy. But in between the nonsense cuts they make of her, filming her like an object, she says some really amazing things about image making and cultural values. And the filmmakers themselves are the ones flattening her as a person in the end, even if she is genuinely exploring what being a model — a public figure– even means.

This film is mostly posturing, the too-cool for school variety that comes from being a jaded fashion insider watching the absurdity from the front row. But I still love it, because even if it’s joking, even if it’s absurd, because it’s not saying anything that isn’t true. It’s scathing and it laughs at everything and it is right to do so. When your work is a reference of a reference of a reference, when we’re so consumed with the new and exciting and the shiny and the metallic and the glamour, what are we left with but gloss? There’s nothing human in the theatrics. It reminds me of this one Nan Goldin quote that haunts me endlessly:  “I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost.” I think about this quote all the time, but even more so when I’m watching a show at fashion week, or trying to (but some asshole is taking a blurry runway photo with their iPad and blocking my view). We get it, you’re here, you’re lucky. Try to enjoy the moment.

I don’t think it is at all surprising that this movie marked the end of the modeling career of Dorothy MacGowan, who has previously been the muse of William Klein and a cover star. She never acted or modeled again. I can’t forget this film or the makeup in it because the actual labor involved in all of the beauty hasn’t changed much at all.  There are so many rules, and so many false projections.

I chose Marc Jacobs Spring 2013 as comparison not only for the quite obvious link to the 60’s aesthetic but also Jacob’s implicit and important part in the satire of fashion and how he balances high-brow references with, you know, Miley Cyrus as his campaign girl. He knows all about iconography and false idols, he makes his bank on making them.

Cleo from 5 to 7 / Hussein Chalayan Fall 2013

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 11.58.48 PM

Cleo is one of my favorite films, it is about resistance as refusal and that refusal helping her become, finally, at peace. I identify most with this film when I need a change in myself, when my environment is stifling. You know those moments where you’re just disenchanted by what you have? I think this is an incredibly lucky problem to have, but it’s still a problem. You can distract yourself from loneliness for a long time if you shop enough, but you still go to bed alone at night, aching from absence. That’s real. You know that moment? That’s this entire film. It’s about fragmentation and the slow evolution of a woman who sheds the material trinkets of her oppressors, who dares to be an entirely new person just by being herself.

This is a killer film for reminding yourself that change is good and necessary and part of the process to the next version of you. People get scared of change because they think it will hurt to do so. Of course it will hurt – but it might kill you to not bother.

Appearance as resistance

I’m picking an unexpected but literal comparison for this film: Hussein Chalayan’s Transforming Dresses. Chalayan’s premise for Fall 2013 was to “rise:” to make more meanings, to go further than you have before. You end up with something more fearless and pure than what you could initially have ever imagined.

While this edition has less to do with makeup, it has everything to do with appearance being a tool of resistance. I think whatever makes you uncomfortable can be good for you, so my suggestion is to dare to be different. Recognize what you’re used to and change it up. Find meanings in the mundane and recognize the absence in the excess. Know that you’re more than your face but also that there is so much possibility in just the surface. Don’t let people talk for you or over you. Cut the fat from your life and do the hustle.

Arabelle Sicardi

I wear and write about things I like. Those things are usually tacky and goth. Rookie Mag staffer and freelance troublemaker. I co-edit this jumble of pixels in space.