“I’m sure she (Anna Wintour) agreed in the end (to cooperate with the documentary “The September Issue”) only because she wanted to show that Vogue is not just a load of airheads spouting rubbish. By then we had all had enough of ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ with its portrayal of fashion as utterly ridiculous.”
This is by Grace Coddington in her divine memoir, “Grace” from Random House. She persuasively defends fashion as art. I paid for this book and it is a gem full of witty anecdotes and wonderful sketches and photographs.
Let’s just think about how fashion has become dominant, especially on television, as we approach the Academy Awards on Feb. 24 in Los Angeles.
If you think the Oscars are useless, self-congratulatory occasions, think again. They are big business. And it is about half having to do with filmmaking, actors and movie people being judged. The rest of it seems now to have everything to do with that thing we sometimes deplore – and call – fashion. People only dress up these days for four reasons:
One is sentimental. It’s for weddings and big occasions. The one and only Vera Wang helped this to happen! She realized how romantic most people are and that they still like to “get in drag” for a legitimate wedlock.
Two is for Charity. We’ll spell it with a capital C. You know, fundraising, or trying to avoid it from others for their good causes. Take for example, again, Anna Wintour’s annual Costume Gala now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It saves the museum for the world and keeps this grand place open the rest of the year for “the people.” Let’s include the opera here; people dress up for that and it benefits the artistic endeavor. But a lot of it is just about what people are wearing.
Three is for annual awards, benefit galas, ceremonies where VIPs and others are honored. Like the many awards – the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Emmys, the Tonys, the SAG Awards, the Director’s Guild, the Grammys, the People’s Choice and the many, many music honors. We haven’t begun to name them all. But this is where actresses, screenwriters, directors, producers and famous men’s and women’s partners get all dressed up and put the rouge into the red carpet.
Fourth is a less-effective occasion where maybe a new perfume, an artist, a designer, architect or even seasonal fashion is being launched. I suppose debutantes are still included in this category.
Otherwise, there is no more going to Harlem in ermine and pearls, as Lena Horne once sang. There is no Mrs. Astor anymore for you to dress up formally and attend a private dinner. So without our four reasons, fashion might perish. Society, when there used to be a society, began dressing down. If you are watching “Downton Abbey,” you know that after World War I, men still wore white tie to dinner at home, then black tie and now just an old sweater, unless the Queen is in attendance.
So, the big three red carpet occasions seem here to stay. Actors make news every year, just like Jennifer Lawrence’s dress from Dior did at the SAG Awards where it appeared to fall down and then rescued itself. You will notice that many stars on the carpets come in long gowns but then flip them aside to show their legs (Angelina Jolie and Sofia Vergara.) Jokey things like wearing an entire swan or a dress made from American Express cards show up less and less. The red carpet seems the last gasp of elegance left. (And I don’t buy that stuff about how much men hate to dress up, put on a tuxedo or a version of one. Men like to dress up as much as women if they have any sense.)
So, believe it or not, fashion is important. It is the No. 2 business in New York, after Wall Street. And while I don’t see any of my very rich friends dressing up much except for one of the above “occasions,” it seems to me the red carpet is more urgent than ever. Even if it doesn’t have much of the following – it reminds us of culture, art, civilization, class, beauty and charm. (It’s not just always Levis or showing yourself half naked on the street.)
Tribune Media Services