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Dressing for doomsday

Emma Stone in “Poor Things” (2023). PHOTO: YORGOS LANTHIMOS

The big question is, when faced with existential risk, what should you wear? The most obvious choice is to channel Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and kit yourself out in an astronaut’s jumpsuit, complete with bells, whistles and plug-ins for cryo sleep. But boilersuits are a terrible pain when it comes to train lavatories and besides, Marilyn Monroe sang for the troops in Korea, Betty Grable posed for “nose art” on a Flying Fortress in WWII, and in the face of extinction my own 21st-century morale boost is: colour.

Putting the apocalypse aside for ten minutes, though, it’s been a long grey winter, and before that we had a tracksuited pandemic and a good decade of grey, beige and navy-blue “quiet luxury” (with the occasional tawdry sequinned blip for Christmas), so we’re ready to have our spirits lifted.

Rosamund Pike in “Saltburn” (2023)

If our film choices are anything to go by, the public is behind me because 2023’s movies were both inspiration and catwalk. One of the many secrets of Barbie’s (dir. Greta Gerwig) success was that it gave man, woman and dog licence to get dressed up in pink for a night at the cinema: even my austere oldest daughter opted for a cerise cross-body bag, and the youngest was in a petal-pink mini dress. Pedro Almodovar’s movies are saturated in colours and steeped in fashion: check out Penelope Cruz’s outfits in Parallel Mothers. One thing to be said for the egregious Saltburn (dir. Emerald Fennell) is that it piqued our appetite for teal four-posters, fuchsia sofas and Rosamund Pike in sparkling caped lilac. The costumes sported by a sublime Emma Stone in Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos) – orange Pierrot capes, lemon tap-shorts, pink and powder-blue leg-of-mutton sleeves – dazzled even those (not me) dubious about the film’s sexual politics.

Curator Pippa Brooks celebrates mellow yellow at M Goldstein Art and Antiques

Perhaps safest to leave Oppenheimer (dir. Christopher Nolan) out of the fashion debate, although it’s less light on female characters than his usual films and its austerity palette did in fact use colour judiciously and effectively. Florence Pugh, for example, as the uncontainable first girlfriend, smoulders in burgundy – and part of the power of the Trinity test scene is our thirst for the blinding colours in that desert explosion, after so many men in grey.

We need colour in our lives – why else in this grey-skied country are we such a nation of gardeners and florists – and at regular intervals in fashion colour has burst through the runway curtains and carried all before it.

Colour is a gift to ourselves and to those around us

Marie Helvin by David Bailey on the cover of Vogue.

I can tell you when and where (lying on the floor of the sitting room in front of the fire, aged fourteen, spring 1976) I first opened my mother’s copy of Vogue and was blown away by David Bailey’s photograph of Marie Helvin in red bikini, green stockings, green sunglasses and yellow turban. Think of punk, a riot of scarlet and orange, glittering with safety pins, think of its high priestess, Vivienne Westwood, with her pinstripes shot through with lurex and pink, think of Paul Smith with his crombie coats lined in red satin. In 1991 Thierry Mugler had his models in matching velvet suits in pink and eau de nil, turquoise tights, red pumps, pink bouffants. In 1997, Matthew Williamson stormed the fashion world with his first collection, the legendary “Electric Angels”, Kate Moss walking for him in coral and turquoise, Jade Jagger in lilac and yellow. And our passion for brights is going nowhere: first stop for a colour hit is the French firm American Vintage, whose boutiques are all about the rainbow, but you can also channel Carmen Miranda at Farm Rio, Rita Hayworth at Rixo or goth glamour at The Vampire’s Wife.

Because colour dispels gloom, it excites and energises, it gets people talking and looking at each other – and where better to start on a new world vision?  Colour is a gift to ourselves and to those around us, it’s positively utopian. Why save it for parties or weddings? We need to start working on how to wear it right now.

Christobel Kent is a Gold Dagger-nominated author. Her latest novel “In Deep Water” is out now

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April 2024, Arts & Culture, Style Maven

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