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Movies: The '20s roaring again

In 'The Artist' and 'Hugo,' Hollywood visits the era when fashion entered the modern age.

December 18, 2011|By Booth Moore | Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic
  • "The Artist" costume designer Mark Bridges created Brnice Bejos dress by incorporating a panel of gold lam and black satin brocade he found in a store
"The Artist" costume designer Mark Bridges created Brnice… (Peter Iovino, Weinstein…)

Cue the flappers, the fringe, the beads and the bobs.

The Roaring '20s are back in fashion — on the runways and on-screen.

It started in September at the spring 2012 fashion shows, with Ralph Lauren's "Great Gatsby" gowns, Tory Burch's sportswear inspired by Coco Chanel and 1920s Deauville, and Frida Giannini's Art Deco black-and-gold fringed flapper dresses at Gucci.

Those clothes won't be in stores for another month or so, and Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age novel "The Great Gatsby," sure to be a costume extravaganza, isn't due out until next Christmas.

But the trend has already hit Hollywood, with the films "Hugo" and "The Artist," both of which are set in the late 1920s to early 1930s.

So why is that time period resonating in 2011?

Sandy Powell, the costume designer for "Hugo," cites the popularity of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which is set in 1920. "It's been pretty influential," she says. "It's funny how these things turn around and suddenly a certain look becomes fashionable and it's in every film. It's bizarre. It's the zeitgeist."

When it comes to retro fashion, the 1920s look is "simple and sexy and romantic at the same time," says Mark Bridges, costume designer for the silent film "The Artist." "It's easy to wear but exclusive in that you need to be slim. And because the shapes are so simple, they are a blank slate for embellishment. It covers all the bases one wants for a successful fashion moment."

The 1920s were the beginning of the modern age in fashion, when women ditched their corsets, cut their hair and started wearing shorter, body-conscious dresses and skirts that allowed them the freedom to kick up their heels. It's also when women started to turn to Hollywood for fashion cues.

Whereas "The Artist" is about Hollywood glamour, "Hugo" is about the everyday glamour of ordinary people. The film, based on Brian Selznick's 2007 book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," tells the story of an orphan boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) living in a Paris train station, who unlocks the mystery of an abandoned automaton and discovers a forgotten filmmaker. His tale is intertwined with the stories of the everyday visitors to the train station — the florist, cafe owner, cafe patrons, bookseller and station manager.

"[Hugo] was set in 1931, but it really has the look and feel of Paris in the late 1920s," says Powell, who scoured the Paris flea markets for inspiration pieces, such as an Art Deco-style evening gown that was remade into the striking rose-colored dress worn by Hugo's friend Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) in the final scene.

Director Martin Scorsese "also had 'The Lavender Hill Mob' screened for me — the old 1951 Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness — and that was really about the level of stylization within the costumes for each of the characters," she says. "Because, although this is about real people in real-life situations, everything is sort of seen through the eyes of a child, so you have to heighten it a little bit. Even the views of Paris are a little bit storybook, so I tried to do that with the costumes."

This was Powell's first 3-D film, and she found the medium enhanced her work. "You have to be careful that there's no loose thread hanging — off a button or a cuff for example — or it's going to look like a rope. And you need to be careful about woolly textures and the way wool goes a bit nubbly or furry. In 3-D, it can look hairy. But in general, 3-D makes things a lot more beautiful — especially textures and patterns like a tweed, which filmed normally, would disappear completely."

"The Artist" puts '20s fashion on display in black and white, which posed a different set of challenges for costume designer Bridges ("There Will Be Blood," Boogie Nights").

The film takes place in 1927, and centers around silent movie star George Valenti (Jean Dujardin), who must cope with the arrival of talkies, and the possibility of being

replaced by a new generation of talent,

epitomized by young dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).

"With costumes, you're always trying to tell the story subliminally," says Bridges, who was nominated for a Critic's Choice award for his work on the film. "So in the medium of black and white, we used a lot of textures and high contrast when the characters were at their pinnacle and more monochromatic looks when they were down on their heels. It was all about whether there was enough separation in tone because once it goes to black and white, it's mush. You lose definition."

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