Mar 19th, 2020, 10:28 AM

A Movie That May Cure Your Cabin Fever

By Leila Roker
Pret-a-Porter, Image Credit: Pret-a-Porter
If you're a fashion enthusiast or Robert Altman fan, Ready-to-Wear might be the right movie for you

Ready-to-Wear, directed by Robert Altman is a film that was way before its time. Not only did Altman’s 1994 production snag fashion icons like Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, and Sonia Rykiel (just to name a few), he transformed the world of fashion, and packaged it into a cinematic experience. To bring a little extra star power to the film, the director included famous actors like: Julia Roberts, Sophia Loren, Kim Basinger and Marcello Mastroianni. Altman, famous for movies like Nashville and M*A*S*H, with complex multiple character storylines, was the perfect fit to direct a movie focusing on the interwoven world of the fashion industry.

Julia Roberts, Image Credit: Pret-a-Porter
Screenshot of a Fashion Show, Image Credit: Pret-a-Porter

AUP's very own Associate Professor, Madeleine Czigler, was present for some of the filming, while the cast attended real fashion shows in the '90s. "As the Paris based producer of the international TV show 'Fashion File' during the '90s, I was covering the Paris fashion presentations during  Altman's filming of Pret-a-Porter." Madeleine explained, "It was a head-scratching moment for my journalist, Tim Blanks and I. One of our main tasks in fashion show coverage was to get reactions from editors and celebrities afterward. But this time, Robert Altman had a devilish scheme up his sleeve: he scattered his actors such as Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni et al, playing various fashion characters, amongst the real audience. When the lights came on, and we rushed to get reactions, we could not figure out that the film characters such as Kim Basinger playing the reporter Kitty, or Forrest Whitaker playing a fashion designer were giving us responses as the film characters or as themselves: bona fide celebrities.  In any case, we had fun!"

Sonia Rykiel, Image Credit: Pret-a-Porter

Although the catwalk is an aesthetically pleasing spectacle of the movie, the center of the story revolves around the “murder” of Olivier de la Fontaine, president of the French Fashion Association. It's the unfolding of other characters that give insight into the fashion world.  Multiple characters are comparable to modern examples, like Cy Bianco (played by Forest Whitaker), who many could say is akin to Virgil Abloh, a designer who is always changing designs, directions and attempting to innovate as much as possible. He even uses the storyline of a cross-dresser's journey, which is particularly relevant to now with the advocacy of trans rights and unisex clothing.

Forest Whitaker, Image Credit: Pret-a-Porter

However, it’s the subtle themes that truly make the film a timeless classic. Altman depicts two fashion houses with two co-creative directors that are both quite literally “in bed” with the rivaling fashion house, without knowing it. This is a metaphorical commentary on how many creative directors move from one house to another. 

In another storyline, three magazine editors-in-chief battle it out to seduce acclaimed photographer, Milo, into a contract for their respective magazines. He pretends to humor each one and asks them to do embarrassing things, and in some cases sexual acts. He photographs each editor doing so, without their consent, and finds himself signed to none of the magazines. Considering recent accounts of sexual harassment by photographers like Mario Testino, the storyline is right on the nose. 

Additionally, the movie follows journalist Kitty Potter, an eager American journalist from the south, who fittingly reports for “FAD” TV. Not well-versed in the fashion industry, she is repeatedly called out for asking only superficial questions. 

Exasperated with the fashion industry, Kitty passes the baton on to an eager, young fashion journalist, who is actually knowledgeable about the fashion industry. She contextualizes the surprising “naked collection” by a trendy designer,  where stark naked models strut down the catwalk: “in May 1968 the great couturier Balenciaga, closed his atelier forever because he said there is no one left to dress. I suppose Simone (the designer) goes on to say she has just shown us a celebration of fashion… she has made a statement here today that will influence decades to come. It will influence designers everywhere, and has spoken to women everywhere.” This is a perfect example of what many seasoned fashion journalists are attempting to uphold: the preservation of fashion as an art. Not only are the trends and materials important, but their significance, history and meaning are as well.

Kim Basinger, Image Credit: Pret-a-Porter

Lastly, Altman was one of the first to depict how fashion would transform in the digital age.  The movie came out in 1994 and he shows two journalists in a hotel room getting all their information from the fashion presentations on TV rather than making the effort to attend the shows. This was not an ethical practice in those days. A wise prediction, considering Giorgio Armani live-streamed their show, just last month. The two journalists have access to all their sources from the comfort of their hotel rooms, something that has also become an increasing reality in recent years with our smartphones. Robert Altman’s insightful slice of the fashion world addressed many issues that are still relevant today.

The film will be a reference point for evolving technology and how it affects fashion and journalism for years to come.