Hubert Burda Media

Designer x Film: The Midas Touch

Unleashing their inner genius, creative forces behind some of our favourite labels lend their creativity and skills to the silver screen, and help transform performers into stars. Here we take a look at a few fine examples from films that we love and designers that we adore.

American Gigolo (1980)—Paramount Pictures

Giorgio Armani

Richard Gere as Julian Kaye

Admittedly we often associate the ‘80s with bad fashion sense: dad’s jeans, mullet, large gaudy plastic earrings, spandex, neon-coloured headband, etc.

But while the decade makes you cringe out of disbelief and shame, it was after all acceptable in the ‘80s, it didn’t start off badly. Certainly not when Giorgio Armani first turned Richard Gere’s (not birthday) suits into a sex symbol.

The movie tells the story of male escort Julian Kaye, who makes a fine living by pleasing women. However, he soon finds himself falling for a client and entangled in a murder mystery where he is accused of being the murder suspect.

In the suit and tie galore scene, Kaye, played by Gere, walks nonchalantly towards his closet while singing The Love I Saw in You was Just a Mirage. He then proceeds to pick out four suit jackets off the rack and lay them out on his bed—double-breasted, single-breasted, grey, light blue, brown and light grey. Rifling through drawers of polka dot ties and meticulously folded shirts of assorted colours, he selects four shirts and ties that match his Armani suit jackets.

The suit jackets on screen are known for their unstructured, half-lined and relaxed qualities, which complemented Gere’s tone body and amplified the character’s narcissistic personality. “I made the jacket unstructured because I wanted to accentuate the body,” says Giorgio in a Guardian interview. “See the sensuality.”

Giorgio Armani

The removal of restrictive shoulder pads and heavy interlinings also helped change men’s suit structure. “I have found myself in the position of a revolutionary. A revolutionary who has always defended the right to be normal, as an extreme mooring of sophistication, a point of arrival in which the details, above all, are important. Thus operating by subtraction, by removal, using ordinary elements, I have turned around the very concept of elegance. My revolution has not always been evident to all, perhaps because it was not as dramatic as most revolutions imagine themselves to be, but over time, it has proven to be much more incisive,” Giorgio said in the Emporio Armani Magazine in 1995.

Beyond American Gigolo, he has lent his skills to other movies, including The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, The Untouchables and Red Granite Pictures’ The Wolf of Wall Street.

The Great Gatsby (2013)—Warner Bros. Pictures

Brooks Brothers and Prada

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway; Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby; Carey Mulligan as Daisy Fay

Based on The Great Gatsby, a 1925 novel by author F. Scott Fitzgerald, the storyline is set in the 1920s, a time when women’s roles in society began a tectonic shift towards the level of empowerment and independence that we are familiar with today.

Back in the Roaring ‘20s and experiencing a mass migration of Europeans, the US was in the midst of social upheaval. While Europe was reeling from the devastation of World War I, the US was in full bloom economically thanks to increased domestic consumption, industrial output and financing Europe’s rebuild.

The Prohibition outlawed the production and sale of alcohol. But for many who were still keen to stay ‘wet’, they weren’t going to be stopped. And when there is demand, there will be supply.

Illegal production, smuggling and transportation of alcohol gave rise to the American Mafia. To keep operations smooth and quiet, bribes were offered to police and lawmakers, so that the rich and influential could continue to sip their whiskies in illegal speakeasies and throw booze-filled parties in their homes. They congregated and needed entertainment to amuse themselves, thus jazz music fanned out from the Louisiana bayou into glitzy ballrooms across the US, heralding the Jazz Age.

Women’s rights movement in the US reached a major milestone in terms of recognition for women’s suffrage on 18 August 1920. The ratification of 19th Amendment removed sex-based voting restrictions on both state and federal levels, hence allowing women to cast votes.

Fashion-wise, bob cut, tubular and flapper dresses began to gain in popularity in line women’s aspiration to be equal to men and to challenge norms and stereotypes. While for men, the suit jacket was moving away from sporting a long, below-the-hip appearance to being shorter in length.

Adapted to the movie, narrator Nick Carraway relocates from the Midwest to Long Island, New York. Living in a modest house which he rents, Carraway witnesses the decadent lifestyle of a party-loving, wealthy neighbour Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who lives in excess.

Lavish parties, ostentatious display of wealth, flamboyant dressing, fancy vehicles, Carraway soon finds himself drawn towards Gatsby’s lifestyle. Gatsby himself goes to great lengths to woo Daisy Fay and that signals the start of a downward spiral ignited by love, jealousy, affairs, lies and murders.

To achieve the desired look, costume designer Catherine Martin sought help from Miuccia Prada. Although Fay herself only wore one Prada dress, many secondary female characters were clad in garments from the Italian luxury label’s archives, namely Prada and Miu Miu’s.

As for the dress worn by Fay, it was a sleeveless, shimmering chandelier frock. Martin explains in an Entertainment Weekly interview, “Fay’s party dress, when she goes to Gatsby’s party, was a redux of a Prada dress, a crystal dress that she had done previously.”

Miuccia says that when she originally designed the pieces, glamour wasn’t on her mind. “When I read the book, it was psychological; it was a real study of personality, very internalised,” she was quoted as saying in Vogue.

Miuccia Prada

Meanwhile, the guys were decked out in Brooks Brothers. For men’s dinner jackets, contrasting styles were on show. The dinner jacket with peak lapel worn by Gatsby marked the beginning of the modern tuxedo look, which was increasingly favoured as the decade wore on, while gradually fading out was the tailcoat with swallow tail.

To celebrate the success of The Great Gatsby, the American label launched a Great Gatsby collection in 2013, including a wooden walking stick. According to Brooks Brothers, the collection “channels the dreamlike world of pristine green lawns and lavish parties depicted in the original 1925 novel”.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)—Jurow-Shepherd 

Hubert de Givenchy

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly

Long before Riccardo Tisci converted the Givenchy label into his own kaleidoscope, founder of the fashion house, Hubert de Givenchy, mesmerised cinema audiences around the world in 1961 with a classic women’s wardrobe staple—little black dress.

Aspired to become well heeled, lead character Holly Golightly has a penchant for the high life. Played by Audrey Hepburn, she lands a lucrative job that requires little hard work. As part of her job, she visits convict Sally Tomato once a week to give a report on the weather.

However, her life is headed for a change when she meets her new neighbour, who is a writer.

As the melodic notes of Moon River ring out, the scene pans towards a deserted boulevard lined by dreary New York skyscrapers in a city that is still half-asleep. A yellow taxi quietly comes to a halt before a young, naïve socialite Golighty daintily emerges from the vehicle, dressed in a sleeveless black satin sheath gown. Her hair neatly twisted into a beehive with streaks of blonde highlights, she looks into the shop window of Tiffany & Co. through her dark, wayfarer-style sunglasses while holding a croissant and a cup of coffee, in an iconic moment that has written itself into Hollywood history.

The aesthetics of the little black dress captured Hepburn’s character in her entirety: enigmatic, glamorous and gregarious.

Hubert de Givenchy (photo by Robert Doisneau)

Commenting on the little black dress, Hubert says, “The little black dress is the hardest thing to realise, because you must keep it simple.” Meanwhile, Tisci opines that the dress itself is very ‘60s in a way. “The front is severe, elegant and very clean. But at the back, there is the very interesting neckline, somewhere between ethnic and Parisian; a softness that other designers in that time didn’t have,” he says.

Besides Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn also wore Hubert’s creations in How to Steal a Million and Sabrina. Clearly, Hepburn held Hubert in high regard, saying, “Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones I feel myself in. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality.”

The Fifth Element (1997)—Gaumont

Jean Paul Gaultier

Milla Jovovich as Leeloo

Starring big-name Hollywood actor Bruce Willis, Jean Paul Gaultier was hired to design the costumes for the 1997’s sci-fi flick. He was productive to say the least. In fact, he produced over 1,000 pieces of garment just for that movie. However, none is more widely recognised than the bandage- and bondage-inspired outfit worn by lead character Leeloo Minaï Lekatariba-Laminaï-Tchaï Ekbat de Sebat.

In 2263, when a great evil strikes a spacecraft that belongs to earth, aliens known as the Mondoshawans hurry to earth to pick up a weapon that is capable of defeating the great evil. The weapon is consist of five elements, with the fifth in the form of a human. However, the Mondoshawans are ambushed en route. The only item salvaged is a hand of the fifth element. From that, scientists construct a powerful female humanoid named Leeloo.

Played by Milla Jovovich, the slender, acid orange-haired Leeloo escapes from a science lab and emerges from a vent, precariously standing on a ledge atop a skyscraper. She dons a white ‘thermal bandage’ that barely conceals her nudity and is seemingly befuddled by the dystopian future New York. Following her own instinct after being cornered by the police, she jumps from the building and plummets past the many flying cars below, before crashing into a yellow taxi driven by Korben Dallas, portrayed by Bruce Willis. A colour harmony is born as Leeloo’s hair complements Dallas’ orange tank top as they meet each other for the first time. Director Luc Besson shares why he had chosen Gaultier as costume designer. ”I wanted the best and that is Gaultier,” says Besson. ”He knows the colour; he knows the flavour of New York.”

Jean Paul Gaultier

While the final cast is nothing like the original actors and actresses who were envisioned to take up the roles, there is little doubt that the costumes were initially sketched with them in mind. In particular, Prince who was being considered for the role of androgynous Ruby Rhod, before it went to Chris Tucker. Gaultier reveals, “I showed Prince my drawings, but he didn’t say a word. I had an idea for a really funny costume with netting, which quite long body hair would pass through, and I had done front and back versions of it.”

According to Gaultier, Prince didn’t utter a word and left. He only found out later from Besson that Prince thought Gaultier had directed the F word at him. To which Gaultier says, he was referring to the costume’s “faux cul, faux cul”.

Skyfall (2012)—Eon Productions

Tom Ford

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Always the dapper womaniser, martini sipper and licensed killer, James Bond equates cool, calm and an impeccably tailored suit for all occasions. However, never before was British most eligible secret service agent appeared so vulnerable from his enemies.

In a mission that went horribly wrong, Bond was presumed dead. In the aftermath, Bond’s superior M comes under intense scrutiny. Even more so after M16’s IT infrastructure was hacked and part of the headquarters was destroyed by explosives. Bond learns of the attack and returns to London. Despite falling a series of tests, M approves Bond’s return to the field.

In the third performance by Daniel Craig as Bond, the movie opens with a fight scene atop a train. As the carriages zoom past Turkish countryside, Bond wrestles with mercenary Patrice for a stolen hard drive, which contains details of undercover agents. When the train emerges from a tunnel and crosses the Varda Viaduct, Bond’s fellow agent Eve receives the go-ahead to shoot Patrice from a great distance with a rifle. However, Eve misses, and Bond is hit twice by the bullets and falls into the river below, immaturely presumed dead, allowing Patrice to escape.

The inconceivable death of Bond added a different level of dimension to his mystique. Speaking to GQ, costume designer Jany Temime says Craig wanted a suit that viewers would forget, but it had to move with his body. He wanted “a tab trouser, slim fit and a light jacket with little padding,” she says, adding that she wanted flat front trousers and “belts are so ‘90s”.

Tom Ford

Temime collaborated with designer and director of A Single Man, Tom Ford, for the onerous task to dress Bond for the 23rd James Bond film. As someone who is no stranger to Craig, Ford knows how it needs to be done. “I have been dressing Craig for some time and know that he looks best when simply dressed, so we did some beautiful suits, tuxedos and daywear. We didn’t really modify our suits, as James Bond is a bit like our guy—classic and extremely elegant,” reveals Ford.

Ford’s touches can be seen on the lapel, which ends just below the top button of the jacket. Meanwhile, the two flaps are closer when buttoned, resulting in a smaller cutaway. Hence, the shirt ‘triangle’ underneath is not visible. While it isn’t a ‘closed quarters’ look, the inverted V is noticeably less pronounced than the jacket in Spectre.