Can a film ever be too beautiful? Most critics raved about the dazzling visuals of Tom Ford’s sleek thriller Nocturnal Animals when it was released in November, but in response to anyone who thought it too stylised, Ford said, “I think if I didn’t have another life as a fashion designer I wouldn’t be hearing that”, going on to describe how Alfred Hitchcock “was notorious for spending weeks on his leading ladies’ hair, makeup, look, clothes”.
Ford is right – Hitchcock’s meticulous attention to detail is legendary. The iconic British director of classics like Vertigo (1958) and Rebecca (1940) regularly worked with costume designer Edith Head (winner of a record eight Oscars), who helped him cultivate his “icy blondes” (think Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954). Hitchcock dictated colours and costume features through his scripts, choosing muted tones of taupes and greys to avoid detracting from the action; Head claimed he used colour like an artist to create particular moods.
The 1940s was such a glamorous time period for fashion; I think people intentionally dressed like that during the tumultuous time period just to keep their spirits up.
So while Ford’s spectacular second film has been celebrated as a key player in the return of the Hitchcockian thriller, this winter the 1940s setting of films like Allied and A United Kingdom suggest that Golden Age styling and settings are once again in vogue. January’s La La Land, although set in present-day L.A., has a distinctively Old Hollywood feel to it too.
So here’s a round-up of the gorgeous films to catch this winter that are channeling that classic silver screen style:
Ford collaborated with two-time-Academy-Award-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips on Nocturnal Animals, who he also worked with on A Single Man – and is perhaps more widely known as Madonna’s stylist. Susan (played by Amy Adams) is a chic gallerist whose polished appearance acts as “a veneer to mask this inner turmoil”, Philips said in an interview. “I stuck with neutrals [for her character] so that it would have a timeless classic quality.” Philips also happens to be working on an opera of Marnie, the same novel Hitchcock committed to film in 1964 – bringing a touch of classic noir to the stage as well as the screen.
Nocturnal Animals is out now; get times and tickets here.
Brad Pitt and Marian Cotillard star in this sweeping romantic tale set against the backdrop of World War II. Costume designer Joanna Johnston spent many hours studying noir classics such as Casablanca and To Have and Have Not as well as the style of stars like Katharine Hepburn and Gary Cooper. "The 1940s was such a glamorous time period for fashion; I think people intentionally dressed like that during the tumultuous time period just to keep their spirits up," Johnston told The Hollywood Reporter.
Allied is out now; get times and tickets here.
A United Kingdom
A United Kingdom tells the extraordinary true story of the prince of Botswana (played by David Oyelowo) who fell in love with a white Brit (Rosamund Pike) in the late 1940s. The film features stunning shots of post-war London and 1940s Botswana, as well as beautiful period costumes by Jenny Beavan (who won an Oscar for A Room with a View and Mad Max: Fury Road) and Anushia Nieradzik (Belle).
A United Kingdom is out now; get times and tickets here.
La La Land
La La Land comes from director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz, two self-professed lovers of classic Hollywood musicals, and tells the story of an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a dedicated jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who fall in love. Costume designer Mary Zophres said of her key inspiration for Stone’s look in the film: “there’s a dress that Judy Garland wears in A Star is Born (1954) – it’s this beautiful green dress, and that’s the hue we were going for because it was magical in that film.”
La La Land is out 13 January.
Amber Butchart is a fashion historian and author of The Fashion of Film.