FILM REVIEW: Zoolander and Breaking the Fashion Film Format

Unlikely cult classic Zoolander is a breath of fresh air. You don’t have to know the 2001 season’s collections to get the jokes, and you don’t have to be particularly knowledge savvy of the industry to recognise the caricatures presented. It’s not pretentious, and doesn’t exclude an audience without knowledge of fashion.
There is undeniably a format each fashion film follows (N.B. I’m using fashion film to refer to feature films about fashion, not the short films that fashion houses produce to promote collections); the chick-flick, the biopic or the documentary. Sure, there are those that deviate from the norm, but overwhelmingly a fashion film will be about a plucky young upstart in the tough fashion-industry of the big city, or a stylish, sombre biographical story of a bygone designer that everyone coincidentally seems to adore this season, or a documentary. Oh, the many fashion documentaries, where we gain unprecedented access behind the catwalk to see designers are just fallible people like us… but are also geniuses… but also not as genius as the inevitable unsung ‘real’ hero the film chooses to focus upon.

I don’t want to sound bitter, I swear, I loved watching Dior and I last year, and The Devil Wears Prada always leaves me convinced that I too could goofily stumble my way to the height of New York glamour! There are some absolutely fantastic films about fashion, not simply because of their subject matter but fantastic films in their own right. What I am bothered by is that films based on fashion are generally marketed to, and subsequently only watched by, people who love fashion. I’ll admit this sounds obvious, but to paraphrase the Meryl Steep’s merciless Miranda Priestly, I consider fashion in some way to permeate through everyone, it’s part of everyone’s daily life, it dictates the decisions of what to wear as well as adorning every famous person they follow, whether actor, singer or sports-person.

A film about fashion has already alienated a large audience by its subject matter, regardless of its genre or storyline, and this leads to a more refined audience and less incentive to break the mould of fashion films, and so they reuse the established formats. I recently finished reading Rosalie Hamm’s The Dressmaker, reading because the cinematic release was so limited that it wasn’t possible for me to actually watch the film and was forced to actually pick up a book! While fashion acts as a backbone to the storyline, the events of the book were so wildly hilarious that I was surprised that it didn’t appeal to a much larger audience. Well, not so surprised, because it was heavily marketed as being about fashion, and therefore appears as for self declared fashion-lovers.

Again with Zoolander, the fashion industry is a backbone to the story, but everything else is just absurd humour that ranks this satire alongside other goofball films like Dodgeball or Anchorman. The upcoming sequel has been marketed alongside the fashion industry, with the 2 leads first appearing on the catwalk for Valentino last year and more recently modelled in the windows of the brand’s flagship store in Rome. The original film bombed at the cinema, and my heart drops as it may happen again, because we desperately need films that show fashion as something other than cultured, luxurious or sublime; Zoolander proves that fashion really can and does appeal to everyone.

Written By Sarah-Mary Geissler


Photograph Credit to @maisonvalentino

The Verse Staff

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