There’s a moment in Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” when seamstress Fanny Brawne sternly declares to John Keats and friends: “My stitching has more merits and admirers than all your scribblings put together. And I can make money from it.”
Is it a fist pump for the value of fashion or a kidney punch to the selling power of stanzas?
Hard to say. But it’s clear that Brawne — played by Abbie Cornish — isn’t the only film character asserting herself through the art of fashion these days. Gabrielle Chanel maneuvers from orphan to countess of couture in “Coco Before Chanel,” while Vogue slyly lifts its skirt to reveal the underpinnings of a fashion magazine in “The September Issue.”
Call it the year of the fashionable woman. But in these instances, she earns respect for her ability to create beauty rather than just radiate it.
“In that time, it was tough for a woman to express herself creatively, and the role of the painter or the poet was very much male-dominated,” says Cornish, who studied Brawne’s journals — which included fabric swatches and sketches — for inspiration. “For (Fanny), making clothes was a passion that allowed her to be an artist.”
One of the most surprising reactions to “Issue” is the fascination with Vogue’s creative director, Grace Coddington, rather than editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
Coddington, with her wry observations and tsunami of saffron-colored hair, dictates the aesthetics and creates the playful storylines behind many of Vogue’s best fashion spreads. Her sensible black ensembles and practical wedge shoes only endear her more as an artist rather than an arbiter of style.
“Her work is breathtaking,” says the doc’s director, R.J. Cutler.
All this attention focused on fashion’s brightest stars has only elevated the field, as well. Cutler admits that he didn’t have an appreciation for fashion as art before filming at Vogue.
“Coco Before Chanel” director Anne Fontaine, a former model, is still torn between what she calls a “paradoxical” industry, both “artistic” and “mundane.”
Still, the message between the seams prevails. Women have become empowered and recognized through fashion. “As a seamstress/would-be courtesan, Chanel achieved independence by using the very tools that symbolized the dependent condition of women in those days,” Fontaine says.