Abstract: The Business of Fashion on Film

Jill Fields


The film business and the fashion business have long held a critical relationship. Whether featuring lavish period costumes or glamorous contemporary styles, screen images have promoted and launched fashion trends. Some Hollywood movies make the connection between the film and fashion industries even more apparent. Set within the fashion industry, these films are akin to "backstage musicals." The appeal and foibles of the "fashion-industrial complex" propel the plot, and costumes assume heightened importance. Since the silent era, audiences have viewed sweatshops, department stores, fashion magazines, and couture salons as conflicted arenas of commerce filled with pleasures and dangers. Three films, "Lady in the Dark" (1944), "Funny Face" (1957), and "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), feature fashion magazine editors who are difficult, demanding, and very successful. The first two especially evoke the backstage musical, as they are musicals themselves, whereas the last two incorporate the Cinderella theme central to many films about fashion. In addition, all three resemble the newspaper film genre, and, of course, the woman's film or chick flick. Though comparison does not yield a narrative of progress for female editors, each film addresses the complexities of gender, fashion, and sexuality for these iconic female professionals.