Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924)

Look sharp: support the Fashion in Film Festival 2017

Not all of Silent London’s best-loved festivals are devoted solely to pre-sound film. A longstanding favourite here at Silent London HQ is the wonderfully glamorous Fashion in Film Festival. This event’s focus on cinematic design and unforgettable visuals, plus its enthusiasm for digging into the archives, means that silents often feature, of course, but it is always a wide-roaming affair. And this festival is a beautiful thing, a jewel in the London repertory film calendar.

Le Costume à travers les âges – Reconstitué par le couturier Pascault, 1911

This year, the Fashion in Film Festival will take place in London venues from 19-26 March. The full programme has not been unleashed yet, but I do have reason to believe a silent or to may be on the cards. I’m posting today because the Fashion in Film Festival is asking for a little help this year. The organisers have launched a Kickstarter to raise £5,000 before the event begins. If you support them, rewards range from designer knick-knacks such as an Eley Kishimoto tote bag, a copy of the fantastic Birds of Paradise book and tickets and passes for the festival itself. Hurry, the festival passes are running out!

Here’s what the festival team have to say:

The festival celebrates our last ten years and EVERYONE who has been involved in making it a success, contributing or holding our hand. We have lined up an ambitious programme, co-curated with the wonderful Tom Gunning, including an exhibition and some 28 events, with fantastic speakers and some true archival gems we think everyone must see. But some of this is in danger due to a dire funding landscape in the UK. It has been a really tough year!


A Retrospective Look at Corsets, 1920s

And here’s a taste of this year’s programme:

Our programme features cinema’s well-loved as well as neglected masterpieces (Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates, Ophuls’ Lola Montes, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Leisen’s Lady in the Dark, Protazanov’s Aelita), artist films (by Joseph Cornell, Jane and Louise Wilson, Cindy Sherman, Michelle Handelman, Jessica Mitrani), fashion films (by Nick Knight and Lernert & Sander), industry films and many archival gems. There will be talks, film introductions and panel discussions. As special highlights we are staging two film-based performances – with Rachel Owen (at Genesis Cinema) and with MUBI and Lobster Films (at the Barbican).

If you can spare a little money for the festival, I am sure it will be hugely appreciated. Just think of it as paying for your ticket in advance. I did!

3 thoughts on “Look sharp: support the Fashion in Film Festival 2017”

  1. There are passages in Linda Arvidson’s When the Movies Were Young (1925) when she refers to the desperation felt at Biograph for fashionable and appropriate wardrobes:
    The “Jones “ pictures became very popular. Many persons well known in the movies to-day, played “bits”. Jeanie Macpherson, author of “The Ten Commandments”, was “principal guest” in “Mr. Jones at the Ball”. Miss Macpherson, who for many years has been and still is chief scenario writer and assistant to Cecil B. DeMille, got her first movie job on the strength of a pale blue crepe-de-chine evening gown.
    How funny we were when we moved in the world of brilliant men and beautiful women only we, who represented them, knew. Dress suits of all vintages appeared. A young chap whom we dubbed “the shoe clerk” – who never played a thing but “atmosphere” – got many a pay check on the strength of his neat, tan, covert cloth spring overcoat – the only spring overcoat that ever honored the studio. (An actor could get along in spring with his winter suit and no overcoat!)
    Clothes soon became a desperate matter, so Biograph consented to spend fifty dollars for wearing apparel for the women. Harry Salter and I were entrusted with the funds and told to hunt bargains. We needed negligees, dinner dresses, ball gowns, and semi-tailored effects. The clothes were to be bought in sizes to fit, as well as could be, the three principal women.
    In that day, on Sixth Avenue in the Twenties** [ **Arvidson is describing events at Biograph ca. 1908-09, so she must be referring to street numbering] were a number of shops dealing in second-hand clothing, and Mr. Salter and I wandered among them and finally at a little place called “Simone” we closed a deal. We got a good batch of stuff for the fifty – at least a dozen pieces – bizarre effects for the sophisticated lady, dignified accoutrements for the conventional matron, and simple softness for young innocence.
    How those garments worked! I have forgotten many, but one – a brown silk and velvet affair – I never can forget. It was the first to be grabbed off the hook – it was forever doing duty. It was unfailing in its effect. Arrayed in brown silk and velvet, there could be no doubt as to one’s moral status – the maiden lady it made obviously pure; the wife, faithful; the mother self-sacrificing.
    Deciding, impromptu, to elaborate on a social affair, Mr. Griffith would call out: “I can use you in this scene, Miss Bierman, if you can find a dress to fit you.” The tall, lean actresses, and the short ones found that difficult, and thus, unfortunately, often lost a day’s work. Spotting a new piece of millinery in the studio, our director would thus approach the wearer: “I have no part for you, Miss Hart, but I can use your hat. I’ll give you five dollars if you will let Miss Pickford wear your hat for this picture.” Two days of work would pay for your hat, so you were glad to sit around while the leading lady sported your new headpiece. You received more on the loan of your clothes than you did on a loan of yourself. Clothes got five dollars always, but laughter and merry-making upstage went for three.

    1. Thank you so much for that wonderful extract (and a reminder that I should find a copy of that book). Checking the index, it seems that these lines are not quoted in Hollywood Before Glamour, a v useful book on this subject, which I reviewed a few years ago on this site.

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