Paris is commonly considered the world capital of fashion, but very few films have taken on the intriguing world of Paris haute couture. Among them are these gems:
Falbalas (Paris Frills) Jacques Becker, 1945
Philippe (Raymond Rouleau) is a successful Parisian fashion designer and an unbridled womanizer. When he meets his fabric supplier’s fiancée, Micheline (Micheline Presle), he cannot resist seducing her. Micheline falls desperately in love with him, and soon Philippe realizes he has been caught at his own game and is in love for the first time in his life. But Philippe’s past comes back to haunt the two lovers, with tragic consequences. One of Becker’s darkest and most poignant films, Falbalas contrasts the dreamlike artificiality of the fashion world with the harsh reality of true romance.
Le Couturier de Ces Dames (Fernandel the Dressmaker) Jean Boyer, 1956
A modest tailor (the irresistible comic star Fernandel) unexpectedly inherits a nearly bankrupt fashion house from one of his former mistresses. He accepts the bequest and fantasizes about transforming the company into the most exclusive establishment in Paris. Fearing the questions of his jealous wife, Adrienne (cheeky actress and singer Suzy Delair), he decides to keep the news from her. Of course, Adrienne soon finds out and starts making trouble for her unfaithful husband. This entertaining if predictable movie showcases the marvelous on-screen chemistry between two of France’s greatest comic performers.
Qui Etes-Vous Polly Maggoo? (Who Are You, Polly Magoo?) William Klein, 1966
After nearly a decade as American Vogue’s most subversive fashion photographer, William Klein, a US expatriate in Paris, made his debut feature film in 1966 with Qui Etes-Vous Polly Maggoo?, a caustic satire of two worlds he knew intimately: high fashion and the media. A French journalist (Jean Rochefort) is making a TV documentary on Polly Maggoo (Dorothy McGowan), the latest supermodel of the Twiggy era. Followed everywhere by his camera crew, Polly is also pursued by an obsessed prince (Sami Frey) who wants to abduct her and take her home to his kingdom. The journalist interviews the designers, photographers, editors and philosophers of haute couture, revealing behind its glittering facade an arrogant and hollow world. Indie cult actress Grayson Hall (Dark Shadows) co-stars as an American publisher—a character closely based on Diana Vreeland, the controversial editor-in-chief of Vogue in the 1960s.
Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times and Yves Saint Laurent, 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris David Teboul, 2002
The first half of this two-part documentary, Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times, traces the life of legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died almost two years ago. Via interviews with Saint Laurent himself and his intimate circle of friends (including partner Pierre Bergé and “muses” Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux), it takes us from his happy childhood in Algeria and his short stint as head designer at Christian Dior at the age of 21 to the creation of his own fashion house in 1960 and his retirement in 2002. The second section is the most fascinating, focusing exclusively on Saint Laurent’s creations and following his last collection for women, in 2001, from conception and preliminary sketches to the meticulous final fittings.
Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) Anne Fontaine, 2009
This biographical film tells the story of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (Audrey Tautou) before she rose above her humble and troubled beginnings to become the most influential woman in fashion. In a small provincial town, two sisters just out of an orphanage, Gabrielle and Adrienne (who was in reality Gabrielle’s cousin), work as seamstresses by day and cabaret singers by night. The sarcastic Gabrielle, nicknamed “Coco” after a song she performs each night, dreams of becoming famous on the Paris stage, but unfortunately lacks the requisite talent. One night she meets Etienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde), a rich aristocrat as cynical as she is, and the two begin an affair. Balsan’s mansion and milieu will become the launch pad for the woman we remember today as a symbol of success, freedom and style.
TIED FOR SIXTH
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky Jan Kounen, 2009. Drama/romance.
Prêt-à-Porter (Ready To Wear) Robert Altman, 1994. Comedy.
Rose et Noir (Fashion Victim) Gérard Jugnot, 2009. Historical comedy.
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Originally published in the February 2010 issue of France Today
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