Quarantine has made technological and cinematographic escapism almost obligatory, with fantastical and imaginative storylines, sets and costumes providing comfort to all of us stuck at home, daydreaming about the sky, the sea, the grass, or simply the pub.
Although some have called this movie overrated, the fashion historian in me can’t deny having a soft spot for LaLaLand (2016), the Academy Award winning movie from 2016. This critically-acclaimed work might not have been received as well as originally hoped by the general public, but it remains impossible to deny Damien Chazelle’s magical cinematographic touch in creating a contemporary Golden Age masterpiece.
His ode to Hollywood musicals doesn’t go unnoticed, with his subtle references to movies such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), West Side Story (1961) or The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) shaping set design, filmography, and most importantly (and the reason why some might be reading this post) costumes!
Despite the story being set in modern-day L.A., costume designer Mary Zophres draws inspiration from classical timepieces that have flooded the screens since the 1920s when dressing our main character Mia. Not only does she act out Audrey Hepburn’s fashion shoot from Funny Face (1957), her pastel pink halter-neck dress appears to be a clear reference to Ingrid Bergman’s early screen tests, whereas the stunning emerald dress worn by Emma Stone’s character in the planetarium is unfailingly similar to Judy Garland’s in A Star is Born (1954), with its classical neckline and sleeves reminiscing of 1950s Hollywood.
According to Zophres, One of the most striking (and time-consuming) pieces made for the film was Mia’s white chiffon dress. Its doubled layers enabled the fabric to move perfectly with her body as she waltzes away into the sky with her beau, both of them becoming as iconic a pair as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The movie’s tight budget was clearly no issue in creating dazzling cinematographic references and costumes as Zophres’s timeless designs become a true homage to Golden Age Hollywood actresses.
This production is a treasure for film aficionados, as Zophres’s beautiful use of stark primary colours are highlighted thanks to Cinemascope, creating 120 minutes of pure colourful bliss. In ‘Someone in the Crowd’, the combination of red, yellow, green and blue dresses against the regular pavement in L.A. adds a fantastical touch to the everyday, whereas the ensemble of costumes could hint towards Cyd Charisse’s performance in Singin’ in the Rain, as the striped cut from her emerald green skirt bears a resemblance to this red one. Interestingly, these strikingly colourful outfits gradually seem to fade into monochromatic shades of black and white as tensions arise between Mia and Seb, clearly demonstrating the somewhat obvious symbolic power of clothes in film.
The team’s incredible filmography is probably most apparent in the iconic tap-dancing scene between Mia and Sebastian. Perhaps my favourite outfit of the movie, Mia’s retro marigold yellow dress flows so fabulously well with her movements and is complemented with L.A.’s colourful sunset and nightfall, which would eventually lead to that incredibly aesthetically-pleasing film cover.
Ryan Gosling’s understated-yet-incredibly-sexy (there is not point denying it) character was inspired by Marc Michel in Lola (1961), also a source of inspiration for Chazelle. Although his wardrobe remain pretty neutral throughout the movie, his two-toned tap-dancing shoes remain iconic. Not only are they also worn by Mia when she makes a (very relatable) point of switching her high heels to flat shoes, they become clear references to past dancing stars such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. This sense of nostalgia for Golden Age actors and Old School Jazz becomes apparent in Seb’s style, with combos of tweed jackets, white shirts, slim ties and rolled-up sleeves clearly reflecting his reminiscent personality. Throughout the movie he oozes a sense of effortless classiness which truly reflects his old-school tendencies.
In a society where athleisure is being hailed like the Holy Grail and lockdown has only reinforced this with pictures of Anna Wintour in sweatpants appearing on the internet, I believe LaLaLand (2016) shows the value of dressing up and looking presentable. The editor-in-chief of Vogue US, by posing in such a garment, has demonstrated that in these periods of uncertainty it is ok to not look or FEEL like being on top of our game. But when things eventually, and hopefully, start returning to normal, I hope that people will not have forgotten how to look presentable to the outside world as it does not take much. I’m not saying we all need to walk around wearing frilly skirts, dresses, or suits on a regular day, but I truly believe that in these mentally strenuous times you need to look good to feel good.
Then again, this might just be my French side speaking.