Fashion as Metaphor

“The world of fashion. I’m interested in the world, not in fashion! But, maybe I was too quick to put down fashion. Why not look at it without prejudice? Why not examine it like any other industry, like the movies for example?”

I resonate with these words from Wim Wenders’ unforgettable film, Notebooks on Cities and Clothes In the late 1980s Wenders was given a challenge by the Centre Georges Pompidou to explore the world of fashion, particularly as it pertained to Paris. In the course of his unexpected exploration into a world very foreign to him, Wenders constructed a cinematic bricolage that comingled two cities, Paris and Toyko, particularly as seen through the extraordinary life and work of Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. It is a visually mesmerizing film and one that I never imagined at the onset would become one of my favorites.

But what Wenders finds in his exploration of a world that could be easily dismissed by “serious” artists as superficial and elitist is extraordinary examples of creative brilliance, iniight and those flashes of genius that rise above the limitations of any particular category. In one scene in the film, Wenders lets the camera run while Yamamoto sits in silence on the floor of his studio, kneeling in front of one of his creations. He is thinking/feeling a connection with the way the fabric falls on the model’s body. It is a pure Zen-like moment—simple, focused, at one-ness. The intensity of Yamamoto’s presence in that sequence has never left me, and I have called up that image of him thousands of times since I first viewed it in the film 20 years ago.

Another treasure from the world of fashion: Valentino: The Last Emperor, by Matt Tyrnauer. Like Wenders’ film, this is a cinematic mille-feuille: deliciously layered, with pleasure to be found within every one.

For starters: The clothes. It is impossible for anyone who is visual to not be left breathless. Valentino’s Yamamoto moment happens early in the film as he approaches the final ornamentation of an exquisite fluted white gown that becomes a touchstone throughout the rest of the film. When Valentino is commemorated for his 45 years of work, an immense wall of sample gowns is assembled inside the Ara Pacis (which I have written about in an earlier post). It is a wall of utter spectacularness. I am still reeling from the eye candy of it all.

Then there is the relationship between Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti. The texture of their interaction is intricate, complex and fascinating. Giammetti comes across as the grounding rod that can steady Valentino’s emotional swings, particularly in dealing with his pre-show jitters. I’ve never seen a partnership quite like theirs—one that has been a day-to-day relationship for nearly 45 years—and that allows the energy to ebb and flow through connection, disagreements, business matters, personal issues, artistic/creative explorations. According to many industry observers, Giammetti is the secret to Valentino’s success, something Valentino (uncharacteristically) acknowledges when he accepts the Legion d’Honneur.

While the film is set in a world full of people who I find easy to dismiss as the idle (and fatuous) jet set—countesses, princesses and celebrities—the film is full of real moments that can belong to anyone. I loved every minute of it.

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