Fashion and Film at the TCM Film Festival: Getting Audrey Hepburn, Kim Novak & Jean Seberg in Character

Last week I attended the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) festival in Los Angeles. Several fashion and costume designers, including Barbara Tfank and Janie Bryant, have commented on the role fashion plays in film.
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Pictured: Audrey Hepburn's Givenchy Gown from Sabrina (Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda)

Last week I attended the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) festival in Los Angeles. Several fashion and costume designers, including Barbara Tfank and Janie Bryant, have commented on the role fashion plays in film. Actresses like Kim Novak are also attending and commenting on how their film wardrobes helped them play their characters. During the panel discussion on the film Vertigo, Kim Novak noted that she didn't like the Edith Head designed gray suit she had to wear in the movie. "It felt like a strait jacket," said Ms. Novak. But she noted that it did help her play the part. That's why costume is so important to film, it let's the audience really understand the character in a way they can physically see, and thereby ultimately feel.

In the film Sabrina, fashion helps the audience visualize Audrey Hepburn's transformation from the chauffeur's daughter to a sophisticated, educated woman of the word after her trip to Paris. In Sabrina, Audrey wore Edith Head's wardrobe only for her early scenes in the film. The young designer Hubert de Givenchy designed Hepburn's wardrobe for her later scenes in the film, tailoring everything to enhance Ms. Hepburn's thin, slight frame. He created a special neckline for her to take the camera's eye away from her protruding collarbones. This become known as the"décolleté Sabrina." One of the beautiful gowns Givenchy made for Ms. Hepburn is available for viewing at Club TCM in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on the first floor. It's in pristine condition, featured alongside a still from the film of her wearing it (see picture above, courtesy of TCM.)

On Saturday, designer Givenchy was again a hot topic at the festival when designer Barbara TFank introduced the film Bonjour Tristesse (1958) starring Jean Seberg. Just as with Sabrina, the Givenchy gowns in the film are used to show the transformation of Jean Seberg's character Cecile's. In introducing the film, Ms. TFank noted, "Givenchy is the customer designer, which is so extraordinary. When you see Jean in the film's opening, it's the most perfect example of fashion and film." Ms. Seberg wears a beautiful Givenchy little black dress with a bow at the center in the opening nightclub scene, shot in black and white. This sophisticated black dress is in stark contrast to the colorful beach clothes and the white dress with flowers (also designed by Givenchy) that the character of Anne (Deborah Kerr) gives to Cecile (Jean Seberg) in the color sequence of the film, before the result of Cecile and Raymond's careless actions turn to tragedy. "The clothes are timeless," said Ms. Tfank. Indeed they are. The film was beautiful to see on the big screen.

One of the final films shown at the festival was The Women from 1939 with costumes by MGM's legendary costume designer Adrian. Fashion Designer Todd Oldham was on hand to introduce and comment on the film, which contains a technicolor fashion show sequence. "This is a total beauty bath with a fashion show in the middle of the film," said Mr. Oldham. It's interesting to see the influence of Paris designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the film reflected in Rosalind Russell's dress with the eye balls on the bodice. In the fashion show, there's another nod to the surrealist style of Schiaparelli with a hand placed on the waist of a beach wrap. Clearly Adrian wanted to show that although he was a studio costume designer, he was keenly aware of what was being shown at Paris fashion shows.

The great thing about the TCM Film Festival is the opportunity it offers movie lovers to experience film as art and participate in the film fashion experience. Many of the movies, particularly The Women featured the TCM audience paying homage to costumes by wearing their own vintage pieces. The festival audience gets to fully enjoy and participate in the film fashion experience. That's the great thing about bringing these movies back to the big screen with leading fashion designers offering insightful commentary. New generations can enjoy them and appreciate the art of costume design in film all over again.

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