Film Costume Reviews – Leatherheads, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

(Originally blogged October 19, 2010)

Speakeasy scene with Zellweger in 1925 - the dress is passable, but that hair?

As I am down with a cold right now I am watching a lot of movies and from this past weekend I saw two costumed films that are worthy of comment: Leatherheads, and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. You might not think these two movies have much in common other than being set in the 1920s, but they share one more thing – sloppy costuming.

The hair is hidden beneath the correct hat now, but the coat is old fashioned for 1925

Leatherheads uses a 1930s screwball comedy genre to tell the story of the creation of the American national football league. Set in 1925, the costumer (Louise Frogley, who often works with George Clooney) paid great attention to detail in the creation of the original football uniforms. The crowd scenes are also well decked out in tweedy belted coats and caps or homburgs. However, when it comes to Renee Zellweger, there were massive costuming and grooming problems. Renee looked dead on perfect in Chicago, so she knows what she should look like in the 1920s, and clothing and hair people should also know the difference between a 1920s fingerwave and a 1940s set, but for some reason in leatherheads she has flowing locks in the style of Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur but otherwise wears dumpy tweed coats belted at the waist which are only worn by out-of-date matrons in 1925.

Stagey black and white set and costuming for Coco and Igor, set in 1920

A film with similar problems, albeit more style, is Coco & Igor. The first scene from 1913 shows Chanel cutting herself out of a corset, suggesting this is something women had to do (not true.) The next scene is the best of the entire film – a recreation of the evening in May 1913 when Ballet Russe debuted Rites of Spring to a Paris audience that booed the production off the stage for being too vulgar and simplistic. This scene is used to show Chanel’s introduction to Igor Stravinsky, the composer of the music for Rites of Spring. The rest of the film takes place in 1920, the year Chanel developed her No. 5 perfume, but the entire film is costumed for Chanel like its 1925 – as if she is wandering about Paris five years ahead of everybody else. In 1920, Chanel was still barely known as a couturier and had been open in Paris for only a few months. She had worked as a milliner during the previous decade and had gained some fame for the jersey seaside clothes she sold at shops in Deauville and Biarritz during the FIrst World War.

The wife of Igor Stravinsky is shown wearing realistic 1920 fashions, but as this photo proves, the look doesn't blend well with the Chanel look created for this film

The motherly madonna-like wife of Stravinsky is portrayed wearing 1920 fashions but as matronly attire in comparison to the avant-garde black and white garments of Chanel. The costumer has borrowed ideas from Chanel fashions from the 1920s, 30s and later, suggesting Chanel’s style was already defined by 1920. This is simply not true. In all fairness, I know of only three extant dresses by Chanel that predate 1925, so there isn’t much to look at to understand what she was doing at the time. This film has an overall artistic look, but in a very stagey kind of way.

For Leatherheads I can only give the film a 4/10 for the football outfits and crowd scenes, but Zellweger’s look is so distracting it brings the rest of the film down. Coco & Igor I will up the ante to 6/10 because the Chanel clothing is artistic, even though it bears no resemblance to what real fashion was doing in 1920 or what Chanel herself was doing in 1920. The Rites of Spring scene is costumed well as are most of the audience at the opera house in 1913.

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