It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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Email: fashionmemex(at)gmail.com

I met Rachel Malcolm through a tweet, when the fashion company I work for was looking for an experienced sub-editor. She tweeted me, I tweeted back, she came for an interview… and she has been working three rows down from me ever since.

In addition to being incredibly detailed and able at her job, Rachel runs Francofille, a blog dedicated to French movies, old and new. She’s always aware of the latest releases, TV and cinema alike and has interviewed some of the biggest French actors and directors. 

She’s also incredibly generous with her knowledge of and contacts within French cinema. I owe her the discovery of Spiral as well as my attendance at a preview of Les Invisibles, which also happens to be the hundredth film she’s reviewed. 

How do you get your French cinema news and updates?

It’s a pretty random process. I’m a slightly obsessive Francophile so I read French magazines, subscribe to newsletters, visit France fairly often and follow a lot of French people on Twitter. I hear about new films in the course of this and blog or tweet about them when I can.

How did you come up with the brilliant title of Francofille?

It took me ages. The blog started off being called ‘French film challenge’ because the original goal was to watch 52 French films in 52 weeks. I was looking for a play on words and finally found one. Now I’m a bit older, and a mother, I don’t think of myself as a fille any more but never mind! I’m happy with the title.

Why did you choose Blogger as a platform? 

It’s ultra easy to use, which is essential as I am no techie. I like the clean layout too.

How do you combine being a freelance editor, a mum and writing Francofille? 

My daughter was born exactly a year after I started Francofille and my productivity nosedived – I only managed ten reviews in the second year of the blog, compared with 52 in the first. Things have picked up since then as I now get a reasonable amount of sleep and can stay awake through a two-hour film! Being unable to watch films, read books or write (due to exhaustion) made me realise how important the blog, and my creative life, is to me, and I value it even more now. Work wise, I’ve been freelance for six years, working in both magazines and online media. I love my job, but blogging gives me much more creative freedom as there are no deadlines, word counts, or clients. It’s enormously satisfying to get feedback from readers – I couldn’t believe it when I got my first comment, back in January 2010.

You’ve interviewed quite a few directors/actors for the blog - who was your favourite and why?

Clotilde Hesme. She was like a taller, cooler, more stylish version of me. She was friendly, open and considerate – at one point she got up to close the door because there was noise in the corridor, and she also offered to hold my Dictaphone to make sure it picked up her voice. She was about to start filming Les Revenants (The Returned) when we met, and it’s funny to see it now such a huge hit on Channel 4.

Your blog doesn’t just cover French cinema, it also dips into French series, particularly Spiral which you’re quite a big fan of. Why do you like it so much and also why do you think it’s working in the UK so well?

I love it because it’s gritty, raw, and has several strong female characters who aren’t defined by the fact that they are female. The cast also has a good range of ages and backgrounds. It doesn’t deal in clichés and all the characters are flawed in some way. I think it’s been a hit over here because it’s so different. There are certain scenes (like Pierre and Josephine outside the wedding in season 4 – regular viewers will know what I am referring to) that I’m pretty sure you would never see in a mainstream UK or US drama.

How do you want your blog to evolve?

I’d like to do more interviews and, of course, get invited to more premieres and previews!

And lastly could you please recommend your top five favourite French films?

La haine (1995) – my favourite film of all time, French or otherwise.

A bout de souffle (1960) – the first Nouvelle Vague film I fell in love with.

Le mari de la coiffeuse (1990) – a beautiful example of the way many French films focus on female desire and pleasure in a way that would be unthinkable in English-language cinema.

Intouchables (2012) – it made me laugh so much, and is almost ridiculously feelgood.

It was very hard to choose a fifth, but I’m going to go with Les émotifs anonymes (2010) – sweet, funny, quirky and typical of the low-key French films that I’ve come to love.

Blogger Adventure is a semi-regular column on Fashion Abecedaire where I interview bloggers I know and like about their inspiration, their creative process and their blogging habits. You can keep up to date with the most recent posts by previously featured bloggers by signing up to the Fashion Abecedaire newsletter

Posted at 8:14am and tagged with: blogger adventure, france, cinema,.

Keira Knightley’s dress in Last Night

To celebrate Keira Knightley’s wedding, l decided to revisit her style in Last Night, one of my favourite films featuring her.

Focused on love and desire, on marriage and temptation, Last Night raises the question of what is worse: physical or emotional cheating?

Knightley is married to Sam Worthington, her university sweetheart. Over the course of a night apart, she reconnects with her French ex Guillaume Canet while Worthington doesn’t fight his attraction for Eva Mendes much.

Although she starts the movie in a simple black trousers-oversize jumper-on white vest combo before moving on to casual track pants, the attire Hollywood thinks all freelance magazine writers wear, the real wardrobe star is Knightley’s navy blue dress worn on her date night with Canet. 

Considering that three quarters of the movie play out in this dress, costume designer Ann Roth must have spent quite a bit of time sourcing or designing it. 

The dress is first introduced in a classic Hollywood getting ready scene, one that’s not too different from the makeover trope, considering Knightley’s move from casual to evening style.

Adjusting her bra, putting on a touch of Touche Eclat, Knightley’s character doesn’t just don a dress; she abandons the self-confidence and physical comfort she displays with her husband. She’s both excited and uneasy with the idea of meeting up with her ex and this pivotal scene suggests they might have unfinished business.

In an interview with Interview magazine, director Massy Tadjedin describes the dress choices as “participatory”. Knightley’s is as different from Mendes’ as their respective body shapes and character personalities. 

A while back, ELLE UK published a feature about the perception of women based on their curves. It opposed Mendes’ and Knightley’s chest sizes as Hollywood examples of the other woman and the wife, as an evidence of how women are stereotyped based on their silhouettes. 

The dresses mirror these prejudices. Knightley’s falls below the knees, with a ribbon belt and a small décolleté whereas Mendes wears a wrap dress. Tadjedin explains that

You know if you’ve ever worn a wrap dress, you sort of have to be conscious of when it’s opening when you’re walking, when the cleavage is getting too low, when the belt needs to be tightened—you’re always engaged with it. And also for a lot of women, like me, it requires a slip under it, and if you’re worried about too much of the space between your legs being evident, if the sun hits it at the wrong angle…

Knightley’s dress isn’t just a clothing choice, it’s an argument on her character’s hypocrisy. 

For Tadjedin, Mendes is the character who really owns up to her morals whereas Knightley, despite an earlier fit of jealousy at her husband and a demure dress, stops short of sleeping with another man but doesn’t consider any of their emotional connection cheating. 

Posted at 10:33am and tagged with: Classy film, dress, keira knightley, cinema,.

US Vogue cover or cinema poster? 

Carey Mulligan is covering the May issue of US Vogue looking suitably 1920s for someone about to impersonate The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan on the big screen. 

Mixing a real-life actress with the character she plays is nothing new for Anna Wintour, oft credited with starting the film star as cover girl trend.

From Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pots to Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the Vogue covers seem to be dictated by the actress with the biggest film out, and Wintour is never scared to spell out in the styling and titles where the inspiration came from. 

Posted at 9:01pm and tagged with: us vogue, cinema, Anna Wintour,.

Conan O’Brien called it “nonsensical ramblings”, Saturday Night Live parodied it and Tumblr has got its own Fuck Yeah! Inevitable Brad! page. Brad Pitt’s Chanel No 5 ad is probably the actor’s most criticised film to date, far ahead of Troy, The Mexican and Mr & Mrs Smith. Yet this very pan is what has made the ad so successful.

Immediate reactions to the ad ranged from the mocking to the lukewarm with the actor, rather than Chanel, bearing the blunt of criticism. Reviewers are questioning the rationale of the move in terms of image and career for Pitt, only a few wondering whether its quality can affect the French fashion house. The industry seems more worried by the EU threatening to ban tree moss, a key perfume ingredient, for being allergen, than by Pitt’s performance.

Early reviews focused on Pitt’s shifty gaze and the intensity of his delivery rather than the ad script or Joe Wright’s direction. Media outlets which would normally have little interest in Chanel kept reporting the story because it attained the holy grail of 2010s marketing: it went viral, supported by a strong media buy. People made it theirs, embracing the asset in their own way.

For a brand like Chanel, which has in the past taken strong steps to protect and enforce its trademarks such as a full page ad in WWD warning editors against the inappropriate use of the term Chanel jacket, there seems to have been very few, if any, cease and desist letters. The fashion house is letting the buzz run its own course, which is the only way to sustain it. Would Chanel have preferred the short to be lauded as an oeuvre d’art of cinema and marketing? Probably, but it wouldn’t have had the same result. Having a go at the perfect professional, perfect husband, perfect dad is an integral part of the Jolie-Pitt narrative played out in media outlets, and with its less than perfect ad, Chanel has gotten itself on that bandwagon.

By hiring a name with brand power equal, if not above its own, Chanel has not only generated interest and earned media beyond the fashion sphere, it has taken an insurance that its most lucrative and best known product would be left unscathed. It’s too early to see which effect the ad is having on No 5 sales in the key Q3 festive period but in terms of online success, Chanel is one step ahead of its competitors in the Christmas ad race.

Posted at 1:44pm and tagged with: chanel, Brand communication, advertising, marketing, cinema,.

Take advantage of the week left to visit the Glamour of the Gods exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery because it will change the way you see Old Holywood. Mixing iconic portraits with more candid pictures, big names with forgotten names, Clark Gable’s good looks with Michelle Morgan’s eyes, the show displays pictures from the John Kobal’s Foundation collection. There are glamourous and iconic shots of Marlon Brando in his white tee-shirt, Marlene Dietrich in a perfect white shirt and Louise Brooks with the longest strand of white pearls, photos so ingrained in our collective memory they now define our vision and understanding of glamour. This is the glamour the magazines keep telling us about, bygone years when the studio ruled the game, when being gay could get you kicked out of Los Angeles, when lips were bright red and photography black and white. Those perfect pictures aren’t as true to life as many anti-Photoshop campaigns would have you believe: on display is a series of photos with the before, the after and everything that got changed in between. Some of the pictures are haunting or spooky, like Mary Pickford photographed in her wedding dress looking like she’s on her death bed or Vivien Leigh sporting Scarlett’s mad eyes. Yesterday just like today, pictures of stars aimed at capturing perfection, be it staged or not.

Picture from The Daily Telegraph

Posted at 6:56pm and tagged with: exhibition review, cinema, photography,.

A Kathy Reichs bender, an American classic and low-brow summer literature this August.

Cross Bones; Bare Bones; Break no Bones; Death du Jour; Monday Mourning, Kathy Reichs

Anyone who churns and sells as many books as Katy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell or Agatha Christie has a recipe. Try spending an entire summer reading Christie’s novels on the bounce, and by the end of July you’ll guess the culprit before either Poirot or Marple has his/her Eureka moment (and yes, it also works with Ten Little Niggers). Now eight books in Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series, I can exclusively reveal the following ingredients:

  1. Reich’s chapters are around 10 pages long. They end with an annoying sentence of foreboding. Example: “Within hours we’d crossed an event horizon that changed my dig, my summer, and my views on human nature”. What happened to show, don’t tell?
  2. Brennan’s world is black an white. Reichs describes characters through short sentences centering on opposing personality traits: Brennan orders non-alcoholic beverages, her co-worker beer; when policemen work in pair, one dresses well, the other badly.
  3. Brennan is obsessed with eye rolling and hand gestures.
  4. The culprit is introduced in a passing manner, as a person no one suspects, then disappears when things start heating up before coming back, preferably violently, in the final act.
  5. Winters are extra cold and summers extra warm. There is no middle ground.
  6. Although most deaths within a book are related, throwing one in with no real link to the case, but enabling Brennan to work things out, doesn’t hurt.
  7. Stories work out better if you throw in an endangered family member or best friend, for heightened stakes and emotions.
  8. In the last act, Brennan ends up in the hospital where a policeman nicely recounts all she missed. Since she always misses the case resolution, it’s also a good, but not too sleek, narration trick for the reader.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

This epistolary novel is the reason this reading list post is so overdue. I enjoyed it, but think it would have resonated a lot more had I read it ten years ago. I thought it described emotions perceptively, but wasn’t that well written. A quick Internet search shows it has acquired something of a cult status online thanks to easy soundbites along the lines of “I feel infinite”. Not devoid of smart analysis delivered in a matter-of-fact tone reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, The Perks of Being a Wallflower went straight to my list of books to gift to my goddaughter when she becomes a teen, but didn’t make my favourite books list.

Blind Submission, Debra Ginsberg

Since The Devil Wears Prada, finding love hasn’t been enough for chick lit success: you also need an horrible, demanding, crazy-wacky boss. Presented as “The Devil Wears Prada of the publishing industry”, Blind Submission is the first person narrative of Angel, an assistant in a literary agency hardly representative of what a literary agency does. Throw in two see-through side plots in the form of a love story and a mystery author and you have a forgettable novel which, page after page, asks why anyone thought publishing it would be a good idea in the first place, beyond the slight mise en abîme irony of a bad novel criticising bad literature.

How Starbucks Saved my Life, Michael Gates Gill

A sweet and hopeful book which doesn’t always ring true, How Starbucks Saved my Life hesitates between autobiography and promotional exercise for the coffee company without ever making up its mind. Michael Gates Gill, son of a New Yorker editor, met Hemingway and Jackie Kennedy before losing his high-earning position with ad agency J. Walter Thompson. Although his redundancy came a decade before the recession, his book is well-timed and its New York Times bestseller position likely owes a lot to how easy it is to identify with his job struggles. By inserting flashbacks to his high-powered agency position and childhood in between Starbucks training, store cleaning and till struggles, Gill also delivers a book on how cut off from the world advertising can be. Of course, it would be easier to take his narrative at face value if, despite claiming to be proud to be called Mike by Starbucks Guests (that’s right, we’re not customers at Starbucks, and we’re even entitled an upper case), he hadn’t signed his book as Michael Gates Gill. Social status by New York Times best seller list.

Posted at 8:41am and tagged with: book review, TV series, cinema,.

Paris Vogue isn’t exactly known as a hub of hard-hitting, objective journalism free from advertiser pressures. One section which never fails me to impress for its frankness, however, is the double-page spread on film reviews.

Written, month in, month out, by Yann Gonzalez and Jean-Sébastien Chauvin, those pages stand out thanks to their emphasis on words and their writers’ wit. Whereas cinema critics often self-restrict to summarising a movie and throwing in a few pseudo-cultured references, Gonzalez and Chauvin advise their readers. If they dislike a film, you’ll know from the first line. Despite their target public, they never write at length about wardrobe, focusing instead on the writing, the acting and the directing.

As an example, Gonzalez’s verdict on Water for Elephants:

Faced with this thin love story between a young vet and a circus girl, even the wild beasts are bellowing with boredom while the two stars shine by their haircut - a Jean Harlow-worthy blondness for Reese Witherspoon and sexy hair cream for Robert Pattinson.

Gonzalez and Chauvin’s reviews are often harsh, but I have come to trust them. Theirs are the first words I read in the magazine each month, long before the editor’s foreword.

Vogue Paris, May 2011 - Translation my own.

Posted at 7:16pm and tagged with: magazine writing, Vogue Paris, cinema,.

1 - Mr Porter

Natalie Massenet & Richemont’s latest online venture launches early this year. Seeing how tuned Massenet is to her customers, I’m sure the store will stock enough small sizes to allow women to shop and wear menswear too.

Mr Porter

2 - Chanel launches its online store


Chanel should launch its first transactional website this year. How is the French luxury brand going to translate its black and white minimalism and giant lion catwalk eccentricities on a digital platform?

3 - More luxury brands and magazine apps on the iPad/iPhone
The next logical step in the fashion industry taming the online world: brands and magazine will launch transactional, interactive apps on the Apple store, following again, Massenet’s lead. Expect pop up apps for one-off collections as well as stronger links between printed magazines and their online alter egos. I also see luxury brands including QR codes in their clothes labels so that customers can see how garments are made - playing the heritage and skills card on smart phones.

In 2011, fashion brands will keep embracing social media - or reject them altogether. The time for middle ground is gone.

4 - Black Swan

Rodarte costumes, Vincent Cassel as the ballet director and Natalie Portman as Odette. Not to mention actual ballet scenes on the big screen.

UK release announced for 21 January 2011

5 - YSL, l’Amour Fou


A feature-long documentary on Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, the making of their fashion house and their private and professional partnership. If you’re as fascinated by Saint Laurent as I am, it is a must-see.

L’amour Fou is rumoured to be released in the UK this year.

6 - Sherlock, season II and the Untitled Sherlock Holmes Sequel by Guy Ritchie

Neither is technically fashion-related but both the first series and first film had a strong wardrobe department, be it Millford coat and Spencer Hart suits or modern spin on Victorian menswear. Add to that beautiful cinematography and strong acting.

Sherlock season II is announced on the BBC for the summer

Untitled Sherlock Holmes Sequel released 16 December 2011

7 - Indutrie magazine, Monocle

Print isn’t dead - it is just changing. The launch of Monocle, Industrie and other The Gentlewoman over the past few years showed there is a market for high end, specialised magazines with more brain than gloss.

8 - A new direction for Paris Vogue

Although it is hard at the moment to imagine who is going to take over from Carine Roitfeld, and which direction s/he will take the magazine in, I hope to see amazing editorials alongside well-researched and well-written articles. On my list of favourites for the job, mostly men: Loic Prigent, Olivier Lalanne…

The new rédacteur en chef should be announced at the beginning of the year

9 - Yohji Yamamoto at the V&A


After Margiela at Somerset House, the V&A fashion department tackles another fashion pioneer. Yamamoto’s menswear will be displayed alongside womenswear for the first time. Let’s hope the exhibition isn’t as big a let down as the Grace Kelly one.

12 March 2011 - 10 July 2011

10 - L’art de l’automobile: An exhibition of Ralph Lauren’s cars at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris


Beautiful cars +  Ralph Lauren, what more can I say? Of course, I would be even happier if there were Ralph Lauren garments on display, but I’ll settle for some Ferraris, Jaguars and Bugattis.

28 April 2011 - 28 August 2011

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

11 - The Burma Conspiracy


Largo Winch was my favourite graphic novel growing up, the one which taught me all about hostile takeovers and share prices. Jérôme Salle’s first Winch film was worthy of the original character. In this one, he cast Sharon Stone as an international lawyer accusing Largo of crime against humanity, most likely to get the W group share price down.

Largo Winch 2 is out in France 16 February 2011 

Pictures: Screencap of Mr Porter; Chanel store from Popsop; Black Swan from Blogspot; Yves Saint Laurent from Screen Daily; Sherlock Holmes from Screen Crave; Yamamoto from the V&A; Ralph Lauren from Vanity Fair

Posted at 6:37am and tagged with: Classy film, Sherlock, Vogue Paris, chanel, exhibition, magazines, online shopping, ysl, yves saint laurent, cinema,.

In his US Vogue November 2010 profile of Anne Hathaway, Adam Green doesn’t mention her role in The Devil Wears Prada a single time. He lists at length her theatre, musical and big screen roles but Andrea Sachs is notably absent. I thought this odd for two reasons: Devil was the first Hathaway film to generate close to $125 millions in domestic lifetime gross (over $325 millions worldwide) and for thousands of Vogue readers, this is the film she is most closely linked to. UK ELLE took a much more expectable approach, not only naming the movie but using one of her references to it as a pull out quote.

Post title inspired by Anna Wintour’s interview on Letterman.

Posted at 9:27pm and tagged with: Vogue, cinema, magazine writing,.