Film and fashion are perennially entwined, and now Turner Classic Movies is fastening that bond with a new limited series “Follow the Thread.”
The run gets underway June 4 with weekly Saturday evening films through July that will focus on the link between fashion and film. Inspired by the “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, the new series takes a deep dive into the history and influence of film and fashion. Viewers will get a glimpse of the famed Fifth Avenue museum, too.
Film buffs will indulge in the 1942 “Woman of the Year,” the 1949 “The Fountainhead” and the 1954 version of “Sabrina.” But the series won’t just glance back at favorites from years gone by, it will also trace the influence of fashion in film as it relates to the present and future of our culture.
To give the series a contemporary spin, designers Jeremy Scott, Zac Posen, Bob Mackie, B Michael and Zaldy will offer their insights, as will Tim Gunn, costume designers Sandy Powell, Isis Mussenden and Mark Bridges. Authorities like Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the Costume Institute’s Wendy Yu, curator in charge Andrew Bolton, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Lawrence A. Fleischman and the museum’s curator of The American Wing, Sylvia Yount, will also weigh in.
The series host Alicia Malone praised TCM’s programming department for culling the list of films and pairing them with designers, fashion historians and commentators. “For example, B Michael, who had a great collaboration with Cicely Tyson throughout her career, talked about the collaboration between Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, and Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent. It was fun for me as a host to see how their work paralleled the films that they were talking about.”
“Follow the Thread” is meant to be a really great overview for people, who might not be so fluent in fashion and film history, Malone said. Another incentive for the programming was to show not only how fashion and film inspire each other, but also to demonstrate the fundamental professional differences between being a costume designer and a fashion designer. “Diehard fashionistas” will love hearing about Old Hollywood costume designers but also people working today like Bolton and Yount. The TCM team liked how The Met teamed up with nine leading filmmakers for “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.”
After the June 4 TCM debut, “Follow the Thread” will also be available on HBO Max, as of June 17. Some of the other flicks that are on the roster are ’50s favorites like “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Funny Face,” ’60s classics like “Belle de Jour” and “Blow-Up,” as well as ’70s-era ones like “A Star Is Born” and “Saturday Night Fever.” From the ’80s, “American Gigolo” and “Risky Business” are in the mix. More recent titles include the 2013 version of “The Great Gatsby” and the 2018 film “Crazy Rich Asians.” Cultivating a greater appreciation for the craftsmanship of fashion, fashion design, costume design and filmmaking is one of objectives of the series.
“Fashion can communicate to the world whether you are a character on screen or you are walking down the street. Sometimes people might think, ‘I’m not into fashion.’ I just put on whatever is comfortable. But you are always telling the world something about yourself by putting on an outfit,” Malone said.
Her hope is that by watching the series, viewers will not just think that fashion is frivolous and fun, “which it definitely can be,” but that “there is real art involved, too.” A similar takeaway can be found in The Costume Institute’s current exhibit, which plays up some of the designers who have not been written into fashion history, the host added. TCM is not cooking up any projects or films with The Met, or any of the high-profile directors who are featured in Anthology. There was some crossover though, as TCM has worked with Martin Scorsese, Tom Ford and others in the past.
As for whether film or designer fashion shows are more influential now, Malone said it is hard to pinpoint, as well as which medium influences the other. One of her favorite elements of the Met Gala each year is seeing which stars turn out on the red carpet in looks that were inspired by classic Hollywood. Ralph Lauren’s runway shows that are inspired by Old Hollywood are another favorite of hers.
Noting how the new film series highlights the fashion trend-generating film “Bonnie and Clyde,” Malone said, “It’s interesting because costume designers often don’t want costumes to be noticed in the films. They’re not trying to make things into a fashion trend. Film probably has a wider reach in terms of the global audience than some of the fashion designers. That’s why we continue to see collaborations between fashion houses and films like Kristen Stewart wearing Chanel in ‘Spencer.’ It’s a way to reach the history of that house out to a wider audience.”
Despite fashion’s ever accelerating what’s-next speed, film still provides lasting inspiration. “There’s something so timeless about the fashion from the past. They’re able to be updated — Billie Eilish’s British Vogue cover shoot was inspired by the ’50s blonde icons and Maude Apatow dressed like she was in the ’20s and ’30s at the Met Gala.” Malone said, adding how Audrey Hepburn’s classic styles remain so timeless that you could envision her walking down the street today. Ditto for James Dean’s signature cool. “It’s classic American simple, chic elegance that has lasted throughout all of these different trends — up and down. I enjoy seeing how people reinterpret the fashions of the past. They nod to them but take them into the future.”
To that end, “Follow the Thread” touches upon the menswear worn by actress Diane Keaton in Woody Allen’s 1977 film “Annie Hall” and “now we see men in women’s wear. Those lines are becoming more blurred about what is men’s wear and what is women’s wear,” Malone said.
As “a lover of cinema and movies,” Posen said, “It’s a big part of my life and inspiration. Film and movies have always been a great source of pleasure and inspiration.”
Having done a few on-air appearances for TCM in the past, the designer said when he was approached about “Follow the Thread,” he jumped right in. “It’s a pretty easy topic for me to pick up with pleasure,” Posen said. Having not yet seen the final edit of his input, the designer said he discussed character development, as well as the role and archetype of women’s identity through costumes. “What’s really interesting is the way that women were perceived [in films] had such huge global impact in the way that we were dressed. Often when we think of the glamazon or the Hollywood look — which also was very prevalent in work that I’ve made in the past, it also was a really strong look about our femininity and womanhood. There was this interesting dialogue back and forth to Europe and European fashion,” Posen said.
TCM has been a resource for the designer for as long as he has had cable. Its app and library are also amazing, he said. “For new people, who are interested in being entertained and also learning about the history and timeline of the last 100 years of clothing, film is a great entry way into that. Fashion looks great on film. Sometimes more than it does on a runway.”
Distinguishing how films can resonate with people from a fashion perspective in a way that clothing can’t, Posen said, “Not everyone always has the occasion to dress up. Obviously wearing a piece of clothing is different than viewing it.” he said. Costuming comes down to supporting the character of a performance and adding to the overall story, whereas dressing in your own life is about creating your own narrative for your life in reality, according to the designer.
As for any favorites, Posen said he was inherently raised on “Singin’ in the Rain” — so much so that he feels that it is in his blood and definitely in his work. His inklings span from Hollywood classics, to European cinema (as in work by directors Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini) and “you name it,” Posen said. In terms of fashion, Gilbert Adrian and Edith Head top his fandom.
He also spoke highly of film producer Robert Evans’ films from the ’70s and more of-the-moment filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. He noted how Anderson has been able “to build an incredible language and very rich world that is diverse and very signature.”
Having worked in costume design, Posen said he potentially could be doing more in film, theater and dance. Right now he is focused on custom one-of-a-kind pieces and special projects, and “looking for the next big opportunity.”
Malone, meanwhile, said she really stepped up her on-air fashions, thanks to two stylists and expects that people “are really going to love what I got to wear. We had fun. Wearing them makes you appreciate how you feel, when you wear something that is well-made and well-crafted,” Malone said.
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