MELISSA BLOCK, host:
There is sort of an on-screen sewing circle going on at the multiplex these days. The title character in "Coco Before Chanel," which opened this past weekend, is a budding fashion designer. The leading lady of "Bright Star" is a poet's muse who designed her own clothes a century earlier. And for accessorizing, you can't top the editors of Vogue in the September issue.
Bob Mondello says that while Hollywood often falls for fashion, the fall this fall feels a little different.
BOB MONDELLO: Perhaps because movie stars love fashion, films love fashion. Films like "Clueless."
(Soundbite of film, "Clueless")
Mr. DAN HEDAYA (Actor): (As Mel Horowitz) What the hell is that?
Ms. ALICIA SILVERSTONE (Actress): (As Cher Horowitz) A shirt.
Mr. HEDAYA: (As Mel) Says who?
Ms. SILVERSTONE: (As Cher) Calvin Klein.
MONDELLO: "Confessions of a Shopaholic."
(Soundbite of film, "Confessions of a Shopaholic")
Unidentified Woman #1: Gucci boots.
Ms. ISLA FISHER (Actress): (As Rebecca Bloomwood) I saw them first.
MONDELLO: "The Devil Wears Prada."
(Soundbite of film, "The Devil Wears Prada")
Mr. STANLEY TUCCI (Actor): (As Nigel) Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahnik.
MONDELLO: Not to mention, "Bruno."
(Soundbite of film, "Bruno")
Unidentified Man: What type belt is that, candidate?
Mr. SASHA BARON COHEN (Actor): (As Bruno) D&G.
Unidentified Man: What is D&G?
Mr. COHEN: (As Bruno) Dolce and Gabbana, hello?
MONDELLO: Name dropping, though, is what those of us who watch movies do. Designer gowns created for high society have always been something most folks could only dream about, and that's where Hollywood comes in - it is a dream factory, remember? As early as the Great Depression, long before "Project Runway" or even TV, Tinseltown brought the fashion runway to your neighborhood cinema.
(Soundbite of film, "The Women")
Unidentified Woman #2: A little peep into the coming season and a glimpse of the future, too. Lumiere, musique.
MONDELLO: As she stepped away, curtains parted and 1939's black and white comedy, "The Women," exploded into color for a six-minute fashion parade. There were lots of movie moments like that for a while. Jane Russell sang her way down the runway in "The French Line." Audrey Hepburn struck poses for fashion photographer Fred Astaire in "Funny Face."
And for a really bizarre variation on the theme, Federico Fellini offered up a people fashion show in "Roma" - nuns parading in basic black, roller-skating cardinals in red and fur-trimmed, jewel-encrusted, electric-stained glass robes for the Pope looking to make a really bold fashion statement.
(Soundbite of film, "Roma")
MONDELLO: All of this was mockery of one sort or another, as were most movies centered on fashion models. The 1970s thriller "Lipstick" didn't mean to ridicule its leading lady, but it was hard to take Margaux Hemingway too seriously as she raced around in a scarlet evening gown she had accessorized with a rifle.
(Soundbite of film, "Lipstick")
MONDELLO: She was bringing down a rapist who had been freed by the courts. But while there is an occasional model-as-social-crusader flick - think Diana Ross railing at an all-white fashion industry in "Mahogany."
(Soundbite of film, "Mahogany")
Ms. DIANA ROSS (Singer, Actress): (As Tracy) I wouldn't tell you what I can't do, where I can't go and why I can't be different from anybody else.
MONDELLO: The more usual approach is to show models as the dimmest of dim bulbs, as in "Zoolander."
(Soundbite of film, "Zoolander")
Mr. BEN STILLER (Actor): (As Derek Zoolander) Do you ever think that maybe there's more to life than being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking?
MONDELLO: All of which suggests that Hollywood assumes audiences don't take fashion very seriously. But in recent years, that assumption has been changing. The 1990s documentary "Unzipped" surprised even its producers by raking in millions while making a pop figure of designer Isaac Mizrahi.
This year's "Valentino: The Last Emperor" and "September Issue" look at the business strategies that rule fashion world because fashion is big business. Big enough that Hollywood wants to piggyback on its appeal, especially after a blockbuster has offered a tutorial in why people should care, as "The Devil Wears Prada" did when Anne Hathaway let slip to fashion editor Meryl Streep that she wasn't much interested in couture.
(Soundbite of film, "The Devil Wears Prada")
Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actress): (As Miranda Priestly) I see. You think this has nothing to do with you? You go to your closet and you select, I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.
But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002 Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St. Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here.
And then cerulean quickly shot up into collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs.
And it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.
MONDELLO: Clear? Well, if not, you must not have been watching TV's "Project Runway" or caught the $400 million migration of "Sex and the City" to the multiplex. The fashion industry may be taking a recessionary hit at the department store, but on screen it's boom time with audiences apparently as intrigued by couture as these stars who walk the red carpets on Oscar night.
I'm Bob Mondello.
(Soundbite of film, "Funny Face")
(Soundbite of song, "Think Pink")
Ms. KAY THOMPSON (Actress): (As Maggie Prescott) (Singing) Red is dead, blue is through, green's obscene, brown's taboo. And there is not the slightest excuse for plum or puce or chartreuse. Think pink, forget that Dior says black and rust. Think pink, who cares if the new look has no bust. Now, I wouldn't presume to tell a woman what a woman ought to think, or tell her if she's got to think. Think pink…
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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