A few weekends ago I went to a birthday party with the theme of film. There were offerings of popcorn, and an array of masks to choose from of famous movie-star-faces, from Marilyn Monroe to Johnny Depp. They were as creepy as heck, with their eyes missing and of course when we wore the masks it was just an excuse for a carry on, pretending to snog each other and declaring Audrey Hepburn an awful slut. I got very carried away as Steve McQueen and when we were getting shifted from the venue, I abused my McQueen status to boss everyone around, shouting, “Steve wants you all to make like The Great Escape, and GET OUT!”
A friend of a friend asked me if I’d ever actually seen The Great Escape, “Yes, of course I’ve seen it!” I proclaimed, “I’m in it!” (Only half of that statement is true). As the conversation went on, it was apparent that between us, we could only name about three of McQueen’s films. I thought to myself, “this is a disaster” – “I describe myself as a film enthusiast, and yet I’ve only seen ONE film starring Steve McQueen!?” I decided to end the discussion abruptly, with, “Well Robert Redford is better looking anyway”, as I flounced away.
Don’t get me wrong, I do watch old films fairly regularly, and since this minor panicked incident, I have realised that I have in fact seen more than one of McQueen’s film, having recently watched Papillon and thoroughly enjoying it. In fact, I would highly recommend seeing it, plus it also stars Dustin Hoffman, who is also bloody brilliant.
The most recent old film I watched is To Catch a Thief. This Alfred Hitchcock classic from 1955 is Hollywood glamour at its prime. I fell in love with it instantly, especially the aesthetic of the film. Of course Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are easy on the eye, but what I prized the most were the colours, the costumes and the overall production design.
The costumes were designed by Hollywood legend, Edith Head, who won a record eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and is well known for her close working relationship with Hitchcock. She worked on 11 Hitchcock movies, including Rear Window, Vertigo and The Birds, and if it wasn’t for her, I wonder if these films would have such a powerful influence.
For one, Hitchcock’s, The Birds had a major impact on British fashion designer Alexander McQueen (not to be confused with Steve McQueen), and In his 2005 A/W collection, it is clear to see that this Hollywood classic attributed to the look, as women parade the runway in outfits that resemble Head’s costume designs. Bearing in mind A. McQueen’s outstanding contribution to fashion, that he should have found core inspiration from Edith Head’s costumes, just goes to show how smart and brilliant she was.
Alexander McQueen Fall 2005 Collection inspired by The Birds
However it is no surprise that A. McQueen would draw vision from Hitchcock’s movies. As artists, they comparably connect the haunting with the stylish, the evocative with the chic. In some strange parallel, they have a lot in common as they both represent something that is peculiar and dark about humanity. They were both storytellers that crafted worlds and their worlds collide because audiences are drawn to their provocative creations and their extraordinary minds alike.
In another strange parallel, it seems that both film director and fashion designer were closely acquainted with eccentric women. Hitchcock, as we’ve established worked closely with Head, a woman not only famous for her artistry, but also her straight-talking character. As for A. McQueen, he formed a complicated friendship with acclaimed fashion stylist Isabella Blow. Now, is it just me – or do Isabella Blow and Edith Head look alarmingly similar? Both women styling a blunt black fringed bob and uncanny accessories…
Lookalikes: Isabella Blow (far left/left) & Edith Head (right/far right)
“So what?! You’re thinking… Yeah well, it probably is a pointless observation, but it wouldn’t be a pointless observation to note that both women had a huge influence on the fashion industry. If it wasn’t for Isabella Blow’s persistence after seeing A. McQueen’s 1992 graduation show — ‘Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims’ – he may never have gained the recollection he has today. It is well documented that Blow was totally enraptured by A. McQueen’s collection and insisted on buying the whole lot. At first, the designer was reluctant, but Blow wore him down by repeatedly ringing him. This was to be the beginning of a fractured but significant companionship that ultimately led to A. McQueen’s position at Givenchy, and inevitably guided his reverence in the fashion world.
Blow is also renowned for being a muse to milliner Philip Treacy – an exceptional designer who has fashioned hats for numerous clients, from Madonna, to Victoria Beckham, to the Royal family. In an interview for The Telegraph, he speaks highly of Blow, who died in 2007, stating, “She gave so much and worked so hard. She supported the careers of many young people who didn’t stand a chance without her, yet she never won a single award“.
As for Head, she got tonnes of awards, THIRTY-FIVE Oscar nominations in total with EIGHT victories for Best Costume Design, she actually powered many of the classic looks of the 1950’s. She stirred a sensation in 1951 when she outfitted Elizabeth Taylor for A Place in the Sun. The stunning white, full-skirted layered chiffon gown worn by Taylor is said to be the first strapless dress to be worn on film. The style was widely copied by designers – dominating high school proms and weddings all over America.
As well as creating costumes, Head also dressed many of the stars for award ceremonies, however her most favourite star to dress was in fact Grace Kelly. She once said, “I’ve dressed thousands of actors, actresses and animals, but whenever I am asked which star is my personal favorite, I answer, ‘Grace Kelly.’ She is a charming lady, a most gifted actress and, to me, a valued friend.” (Of course Grace Kelly was her favourite…she is beautiful and became a princess).
So behind these men were two very influential and talented women, and without them, who’s to say if their icon status would have been as formidable. After all there is the saying that, ‘Behind every great man there’s a GREAT woman’. So when I put on the Steve McQueen mask, I was actually making a very profound, metaphorical and philosophical point… ….Pretty clever eh?