REPEATING THE PAST – HOW GATSBY WAS RIGHT, TWICE…

With party season upon us, Penelope Andrews looks at the ageless attraction of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age.

There is possibly nothing more innovative and avant-garde than fashion, a force which so often shocks. But at the same time there seem to be some things we never tire of. When it comes to a New Year’s Eve party, 20’s beads and feathers are never far away.

When the 2013 film “The Great Gatsby” from Warner Brothers, directed by Baz Luhrmann wasreleased, costume design was crucial. Luhrmann‘s touch with film always manages to catch the essence of the era he is representing and juxtapose this with the most modern music and design of the time of production to great effect, and perhaps it was this that made the fashion in the film oven-ready to go straight to the public.

Catherine Martin, Baz’s wife, has been costume designer for his films for the past 22 years. It was reported that the film required nearly 1,000 costume designs. Baz was conscious that the era of the story, whilst a little quaint for us, was fantastically modern and vibrant for F. Scott Fitzgerald, the writer of the original story that the film was adapted from. Baz wanted to bring this factor in to the film, so they worked with Miuccia Prada who had been his personal friend since 1996, when together they designed a suit for Baz’s previous film “Romeo and Juliet.” They adapted 40 dresses from Prada and Miu Miu recent archives that were subtly changed to fit the time.

Martin worked with Brooks Brothers on the men’s suits, and together they brought out a GreatGatsby Collection line. The effect on the fashion world was wide-ranging and seductive. Even before the film was released with just the premonition of the visual cornucopia leaking out in the trailers for the film, New York Fashion Week was unmistakably influenced. Georgina Chapman, Keren Craig, Marc Jacobs and Tory Burch all featured nods to the ghost of Daisy Buchanan. Dropped waists, strings of pearls, shift dresses, fringes, feathers and Art Deco designs were everywhere.

In April 2013,Tiffany & Co.created windows in Fifth Avenue with Luhrmann and Martin, and featured The Great Gatsby Collection line of jewellery before the film was released. Hackett, Canali and Alexander McQueen followed suit, if you will excuse the pun, with 20s inspired Spring/Summer shows in 2013, as did Ralph Lauren and Gucci in 2012, and Vera Wang’s bridalcollection the following year. What was wonderful was that, as in the 2013 film, the style was not nostalgic. In its heyday the flapper look was shocking and thoroughly modern, and the current day catwalks did not lose their cutting edge to mere cliché but caught something of that zeitgeist. Geometric jade coloured designs cut a dash along the runway, with fringes and dropped waists reworked.

Out of all these designers, however, only Lauren had been here before, and the previous occasion had helped launch his career.

In 1974, when Newdon Productions released Jack Clayton’s film version of the classic book, Punk, one of most authentically original fashion movements of the people was just emerging. Ziggy Stardust, Abba: funk and disco were the trend, and yet suddenly there appeared summer whites, cable jumpers, white ruffle high collar blouses throughout stores. There could be no doubt it was due directly to the release of The Great Gatsby. Costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge won an Oscar for her work in the film, and her designs were adapted for a Bloomingdales clothing line, but it was Ralph Lauren who was invited to design Robert Redford’s suits.

It was essential that these suits worked. The myth of Jay Gatsby was all about the look he created, as shown in the classic shot where he showers Daisy in his exquisite shirts. Fitzgerald describes these beautifully in the book, “stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue.” So getting the quality and exclusive ambience of this look right was essential to the telling of the story. This is shown even more clearly in the moment when Daisy Buchanan said to Gatsby, at the crunch point of the plot as he stood before her in a perfect pink suit, that “You always look so cool.”

Lauren himself favoured a traditional cut of suit, so this opportunity was a perfect match for his design. The rest of the male cast were dressed in clothing from his Polo line and the influence of these designs made the film the front cover of Time magazine in March of that year. Lauren went on to use fabric influences from the film in his womenswear for 1974, for which he won the Coty award.

Fast forward nearly 40 years, and in 2012, Lauren made sure he was ahead of the tide and released a Spring ready-to-wear collection before the Luhrmann’s film was released in the JazzAge style. Shimmering pastels were mixed with mid-range blues and greens to striking effect. Cloche hats and beaded bags were given a completely fresh look, while retaining an unmistakable reference to the 1920’s. The whole effect is incredibly feminine and full of youthful blossom.

He says in his book Ralph Lauren, “When I was a young man going to college I always loved the Ivy League look, its ease and tradition. My inspiration came from old yearbooks and images of collegians from Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. I loved the oldness, the custom mood of navy blazers, school crests, rep ties, flannels, and saddle shoes.” And so it is no wonder that Lauren’s Spring/Summer Collection this year had a host of Gatsby-esque designs. Working again with a classic loose trouser and high waisted look, this season was full of a nautical, classy style shimmering with blacks and gold complementing the simple whites. It shows much more of an angular Deco style. It becomes astonishing how Lauren can keep recreating from the same palette something essentially completely unique.

In Fitzgerald’s book, Nick comments to Gatsby that you can’t repeat the past. But Gatsby’s reply is telling.

‘Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’

If you’d ask Ralph Lauren, I think he’d think that Jay was right.

If you have enjoyed this article, you can find more of Penelope’s writing at peneloperuthandrews.wordpress.com

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