Robert Tashman

Hollywood has not covered fashion, as a theme or subject, as well as one might hope, given the importance of American movies in mandating and legitimising styles of dress. The notable exception is Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957), a Pygmalion story of Audrey Hepburn’s bookshop clerk transformed, under the guidance of Fred Astaire’s Avedon-like photographer, into a supermodel. It is a musical with lovely Gershwin tunes, and it is not realistic; but the characters are somehow convincing as types. Astaire’s character is efficient and professional, but he is also – he is Astaire – amiable and unselfish; Hepburn is incorruptible; the fashion editors and designers are tough but endearing. Fashion is shown as it was then: a big business, but not, as it is now, a corporate power that crosses national and class borders. Robert Altman’s new film, Prêt-à-Porter, is like La Dolce Vita grafted onto Funny Face. The unaffected and trusting Hepburn and Astaire would be marginalised or crushed in the fashion world portrayed here.

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[*] Boxtree. 187 pp., £16.99, February, 0 752 20617 6.