Friday, March 6, 2015

Learning Curves

At the end of my first Los Angeles summer, I traveled out to Westwood to see Sunset Boulevard for the first time. The Billy Wilder Theater, housed inside UCLA’s Hammer Museum, was in the midst of presenting an Edith Head retrospective.

I did my usual once over of the room and noted that I was one of the youngest people there by a longshot. Unsurprising. I’m not sure many 30-somethings spend their Friday nights watching old movies in a quest to feed their obsession with a particular costume designer. Most of the seats were filled with people who appeared to be regulars of the theater’s programming. Snippets of their greetings to each other floated about the space before we all settled in for the introduction.

From the moment I first saw Ingrid Bergman appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious a handful of years earlier, I realized that I would need to make it a point to become well-acquainted with the work of Head. But I spent most of that summer making friends and learning this new city, so it should come as no surprise that I failed rather gloriously at my original plan to see all of the films being shown. But I didn’t want to miss Sunset Boulevard. It felt necessary, a way to understand the industry that runs this town.

After the movie ended, I stood waiting for the bus that would take me to Beverly Hills so that I could wait for the bus that would take me back to Silver Lake and home. I replayed pieces of the film in my mind and felt like I was finally in on a joke, my cultural competency on the rise. Oh that's why people say that phrase. And as it was after every instance of my first viewing a classic film, another thought flew into my head. Oh that's why people design those clothes.

Film and fashion live side by side, and sometimes intertwined, in my mind. Scribbled among the notes from that long gestating and still unfinished Prada project are the names of films that I need to watch. Grease and Bonnie & Clyde and La Dolce Vita. When searching for a way to explain the looks worn by many of my neighbors, I looked to those early 90s films that sought to dissect and define Generation X. I am a lover of stories in all their forms and these two forms of storytelling are among my favorite. It was these two, along with the books that have always played a dominant role in my life, which kept me afloat in the midst of the darkness that encompassed my long employment woes. I abandoned both for a time in the haze of adolescence, and because I came back to them at similar times, in similar distress, my understanding of them goes hand in hand.

There are gaps in my knowledge, gaps that leave me grasping to decipher what I’m seeing and feeling and touching, and because I hate not knowing I've spent the better part of the past decade trying to fill them. During those post-collegiate years lived at home, I waited for DVDs carrying films from a range of decades to arrive in the mail. I hid in the corner of bookstores reading heavy histories of Yves Saint Laurent and high heels. I visited museums and stood as close as I could to the couture gowns on display for special exhibitions. And when all else failed, I leaned on one to aide my comprehension of the other.

A couple of months ago my Swarm app clued me into the fact that I had checked into a movie theater at least once a week for four straight months. I inhaled deeply. It didn't feel like I had spent that much of my fall and winter in darkened rooms watching images flash across the screen while feeding my addiction to fountain Cherry Coke and dropping popcorn down various sweaters. But then there had been all those films seen for free at AFI fest. And that sleet-filled trek to one of my favorite theaters in the Boston area for a viewing of Force Majeure during my trip back east for Thanksgiving. And two showings of Gone Girl while it was camped out at the Vista. I finally ended the streak, I'd say fittingly, in week 20 with Jupiter Ascending.

It is a ridiculous, bombastic movie and I enjoyed every bit of it. I didn't let myself examine it too deeply. From time to time I allow myself that simple joy, the joy of loving something without tearing it apart and examining its guts. But I can't turn off my mind completely. It is always buzzing. So as we hopped from realm to realm, I felt something nagging at me. Near the end of the movie, I realized what it was. In the costumes of each world was embodied the work of a few of the designers I've spent so much of the last decade exploring.

Gareth Pugh, Fall 2010

Alexander McQueen, Spring 2012

Elie Saab Couture, Spring 2010

Elie Saab Couture, Fall 2014

And so as we floated from Saab to McQueen before reaching the climax of the film in the dark and sometimes twisted world of Pugh, I felt that I knew what to expect before the characters even opened their mouths to speak. And in that way, a dizzying, silly swirl of a movie felt grounded.

When all else fails, I lean on one to aide my comprehension of the other.

Runway Photos via

No comments: