Madonna’s new movie, W.E. premiered in London last night and if it got anything right, it was the clothes. Her portrayal of the Duchess of Windsor came along with an interesting history. “I’m not a beautiful woman,” the Duchess of Windsor once admitted, “I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.” Clothes are central to the myth surrounding ‘That Woman,’ Wallis, a twice-married Baltimore-born social climber for whom an English king gave up his crown. From the moment she arrived in court circles she shocked; for her first party at Buckingham Palace she wore a bright, slinky, diaphanous gown. She was ice-cool and cutting edge before anyone even knew what that meant. Wallis’ clothes were couture and are now spread between the Met in New York, the Musee de la Mode in Paris and London’s V & A - so what did Madonna do? Well, had some more made of course by Dior, Galliano et al. Vionnet reproduced dresses including the sparkling, silvery dress Wallis wears for the Benzedrine-fuelled cocktail party scene. But this is not just a case of historical costume drama, Wallis lives on as her wardrobe continues to influence today; check the distinct reference to her 1937 Mainbocher wedding dress in Stella McCartney’s design for Nancy Shevell’s wedding to the Sir Paul McCartney last year.
But it’s later this year that the fashion stakes on the silver screen hit high - if Wallis Simpson is the epitomy of ’30s and ’40s haute societe fashion then Daisy Buchanan is the embodiment of Jazz Age chic - and arriving in style later in the year (when we’ve exhausted what we can get from the Windsor look) with The Great Gatsby. Carey Mulligan, who plays Daisy in the Baz Luhrmann production, is already tapped to co-host the Costume Institute ball for the ‘Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: On Fashion’ exhibition. Well, there’s nothing fashion loves more than a literary style icon and it doesn’t get much better than this. The collections are already awash with opportunities to channel one of Gatsby’s Long Island dances of 1922 and the filming hasn’t even wrapped - Lanvin and Gucci are not the only places to look for Art Deco drop-waist dresses. Madonna is going to have to share the stage this year of film inspired by fashion!
Contributing Editor: Richard Dennen