Wednesday, 27 January 2010

This Year of Grace


Thinking about Grace Kelly yet? Well, you certainly should be. On the train back from Paris I was pondering the fact that this year looks as if it is going to be the biggest Kelly fest since High Society was released in 1956, the year in which her marriage to Prince Ranier of Monaco made her everybody's fairy princess, until Princess Diana appeared. Coincidentally, the film was shown shown over Christmas on British TV as a curtain-raiser for what will probably be seen as This Year of Grace. The reason is an exhibition devoted to her at the Victoria & Albert museum – I know, I know, but they have to make money somehow and medieval iron strapwork hasn't really been a crowd-puller for at least six hundred years, now, has it?

And Kelly's influence is already showing itself in fashion, with Ferragamo jumping in with a parody of To Catch A Thief, Hitchcock's 1955 romantic thriller set in Monaco and the South of France pairing Kelly and Cary Grant for the first time. The Ferragamo advertising version features Claudia Schiffer Рthe 'face' of Ferragamo for Spring-Summer 2010 Рand a smooth young French guy whose day job is in real estate. Shot by Mario Testino in Monaco with Claudia looking soign̩ but not quite like Grace, who always had a a smile playing around her features that suggested that she wasn't necessarily taking all this ice-cool blonde-goddess stuff entirely seriously, any more than Cary Grant did. In fact, what seems to have been forgotten in this little exercise is that TCAT was a romantic comedy which was sending up the impossible perfection of the glamorous life of the times. None of this for Ferragamo, of course who treat the scenario with deadpan seriousness instead of the light-hearted irony of the original.

And that's the problem with re-creations of the past. They are lifeless, as pastiche always is, with none of the delicious feeling of dressing up and having fun that the original had. There must be more interesting ways of selling clothes.

Stefano Pilati of Yves Saint Laurent certainly takes a much more involving approach to getting us to buy his Autumn-Winter 2010 menswear. He barely shows any clothes at all in the promotional film made for him by Bruce Weber. And when I tell you that this short film is by Bruce Weber, you will know that barely is absolutely the right word. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing is very Bruce, with naked boys wrestling, snogging, diving and looking perfectly beautiful but arrestingly dumb. On the soundtrack, Bruce points out that ANLRT is the first film he has made that hasn't starred his dogs and Elizabeth Taylor (don't know which would have been given top billing), but it does have some fifties' footage of female nudes by Bunny Yeager, one of Weber's favourite specialists in nude photography. As an oblique way of getting guys to buy clothes, this film is attractively abstract and reflects the way that Stefano Pilati (thoughtful, cultured and subtle) thinks, every bit as much as it reflects Bruce Weber's life-long photographic approach. And, even if we don't see any clothes, isn't that the best way to get us thinking about them, through a vision that has at least a chance of engaging our imaginations?

Even so, in these times when fashion is slipping from so many people's radar, it does seem that a newer and more arresting approach to advertising, one that might really kick-start our enthusiasm again, is taking a worrying length of time to emerge.

(Paris couture coming up in the next couple of days.)

www.colinmcdowell.com

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