Culture corner: Twenties fashion in ‘The Artist’ – and on the catwalk

It’s the age of high unemployment, economic uncertainty ... and monochromatic silent movies. Strange as it may seem, the world now bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1920s, not just thanks to economic realities but to the Weinstein brothers, whose silent film The Artist, from French director Michel Hazanavicius, has been surprising the box office and setting off cloche-hatted fashion trends.

Set between 1927 and 1932, The Artist stars Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, a Joan Crawford-esque, false eyelash-fluttering, chorus girl in search of superstardom who tap dances to catch the eye of a powerful Los Angeles studio executive (John Goodman) and the heart of George Valentin, a suave silent heart throb (Jean Dujardin). To do so she sports delicate hip-skimming, washed silk, scoop-neck blouses worn long over knee-length pleat skirts as well as several Balmain-style sequin-embellished black knit dresses.

“I used the textures of sequins to try to tell the story, as there’s certainly a glitter about Hollywood,” says the film’s costume designer Mark Bridges.

Thus, as Miller’s “talkies” career takes flight, so do her clothes, especially a black satin dress that is stitched from four panels of original 1920s material. Adorned with faux jewels in strong diamond-shape deco patterns, it’s finished with a period monkey fur collar coat and dark glossy cuff.

“The vintage coat was very movie star,” says Bridges. “I wanted her to be really high contrast in the period, from very naive in the beginning.”

Accessories also communicate the desire for professional and romantic glory in the silent film, particularly Miller’s silver-sprayed Capezio Mary Jane shoes and close-fitted white cloche hat with a brim tipped seductively over one eyebrow. Indeed, the 1920s period hats were carefully refurbished by Harry Rotz of Western Costume, Hollywood. “Every choice is trying to be flattering and fit the moment, and fit the actress and say something dramatic,” says Bridges, citing the hat Miller wears as she catches Valentin’s eye, as well as a black lacquered straw hat adorned with cloth gardenias worn by Miller to demonstrate that “Peppy always represents flowers and freshness and love to George.”

Hazanavicius’s film pocketed six Golden Globe nominations last month and is tipped for Oscars glory in February. Expect a run on Christopher Kane’s sparkling silver pleated, knee-grazing lamé skirt as well as the head-hugging hats featured on catwalks from Marc Jacobs to Stella McCartney and Christian Dior.

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