November 26, 2010 10:45 pm

Here come the sequins

If it’s late November, it must be time to embrace the sartorial cliché, both on screen and in the closet

Last week marked the official launch of the holiday season in the US, as the orgies of Thanksgiving dining and togetherness made way for orgies of shopping (Black Friday and the upcoming Cyber Monday). Little wonder, then, that it has also become the week of choice to launch big, glitzy movies featuring stacks of sequins, calculated – in theory – to get everyone in the party-going, and party-dressing, mood. If it’s late November, it must be time to turn off all critical faculties and embrace the sartorial cliché, both on screen and in the closet.

So, last year we had Nine, complete with Swarovski-trimmed La Dolce Vita numbers, and this year we have Burlesque, complete with Swarovski-trimmed la-la land numbers. Instead of Nicole Kidman, there is Cher; instead of Kate Hudson, Christina Aguilera; instead of Fellini’s imaginary stage, an imaginary Los Angeles club.

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Vanessa Friedman

That makes the film sound like a copy of a copy, which it is, to a certain extent; the story is awfully reminiscent of such artworks as Coyote Ugly and Showgirls, let alone Cinderella.

Be that as it may, Cher is pretty appealing – she’s on the cover of December’s Vanity Fair, in all her surgically enhanced, ageless fabulousness – and Aguilera has a terrific set of pipes, not to mention an exciting personal life that keeps her in the news. And, despite what the critics say, there is also a reason why certain stories keep getting remade: we’re suckers for a happy ending. Especially when it comes bedazzled and bedecked.

So, no matter where you are, prepare yourself for the Burlesque blitz. More than that, prepare to be faced with rack upon rack of tight, body-con dresses, or short, spangly frocks.

Indeed, the onslaught has already begun – and not just thanks to movie tie-ins, which include Smashbox cosmetics’ Burlesque beauty collection, OPI’s limited edition holiday nail lacquers and Aguilera’s fragrance. Just check out your nearest news-stand.

The cover of the December issue of UK Harper’s Bazaar features Natalia Vodianova in gold, sequin-encrusted Balmain – a dress that has also appeared on the covers of October’s Vogue India, November’s Spanish Vogue, 10’s winter issue, and December’s British Elle.

Meanwhile, December’s Tatler has Prince Albert’s fiancée on the cover in white feathers and incalculable carats of bling, while inside there is super-shiny multi-page story featuring 50 gold dresses. Similarly, on December’s American Harper’s Bazaar: Katy Perry in ... silver!

It seems magazine editors have the supersonic rise of precious metal prices in mind. Maybe they’re all investing in commodities (or maybe they hope their readers are).

The stand-out (excluding US Elle, which seems to have lost its seasonal way and inexplicably has Jessica Alba in shorts on the cover) is British Vogue. It is notably more restrained with Emma Watson in white Valentino – but, perhaps to cover their bases, or because they didn’t quite have the courage of their convictions and didn’t believe readers could envisage a holiday season without the sparkle, they covered the photograph with little gold stars, like pseudo confetti.

. . .

It’s too bad because in her simplicity, Watson – and I never thought I’d say this, as anyone who follows this column would know, since not that long ago I wrote about finding her unconvincing as a fashion figure – actually looks spot-on for this season, when the appeal of minimalism has been hammered home again and again.

Ditto Angelina Jolie, on the cover of American Vogue in a white gown open to reveal the lacing of a black corset, not a bit of bling in sight. All this has got me wondering why, come this time of year, we the rest of the people have so much trouble breaking out of the sparkly trap.

Is it sheer orneriness? “Shut up about minimalism you silly fashion industry. If I feel maximal, I’ll wear maximal.” Possibly, but I’d like to think we’re all a bit more mature than that.

So is it a sneaky plot on the part of the fashion world to get us to buy more stuff by swinging the style pendulum wildly from one extreme to the other: now plain; now decorative; now grey; now gold? Perhaps – this is a popular retailer theory, though they wouldn’t put it quite the way I did.

But once you have one (or two, or five) sparkly party dresses in your closet, do you really need more? Aside from the occasional sequined jacket to dress up your jeans, glitter-encrusted clothing is a fairly niche dress item.

Rather, I think the answer is more atavistic than either of those: as the bleak midwinter looms, we find ourselves attracted to shiny things that reference the sun. And how much better if we can dress up as our own sun, and avoid having to invest in one of those anti-SAD lamps. It’s not a style thing, it’s a primal thing.

Or, to paraphrase the Burlesque tag line (“It takes a legend to make a star”): it takes the weather to sell the spangles.

vanessa.friedman@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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