November 21, 2012

Never mind that I’m the opposite of a theatre person and so watching Joe Wright’s playful adaptation (literally a play, as in curtains, rigs and other stagecraft) of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was like being forced to relive the angst of an obligatory 130 minute student council-led high school assembly. Never mind the hit-you-over-the-head-with-it (a train) symbolism. Never mind that Anna K., a righteous slut challenging the impotence of patriarchal Russia, is one of the greatest tragic heroines of great literature. Never mind that this means a more meaningful and deserved (and wouldn’t it be great) adaption by, say, a Lars Von Trier or a Catherine Breillat won’t be greenlit for years. Never mind all that. We’re here to talk fashion.

Anna Karenina is the third installment in the Joe Wright/Keira Knightley historical fiction film franchise. Their pleasing cherry, Pride & Prejudice (2005), actually turned me on to Mr. Darcy (but more so Keira, those eyes, that boyish chest). Their second, Atonement (2007), was also pretty persuasive. Their latest, Anna Karenina, is not to my taste but it could be to yours–if you’ve never read the novel and/or like musical theatre–but that’s not really the point. The matters of taste at hand are fashion and costuming. And Karl Lagerfeld.

For Anna Karenina, Joe Wright brought back team player Jacqueline Durran, who was responsible for the period frocks of Pride & Prejudice and the stunning green dress of Atonement. I like it when costuming is anachronistic (the flash of pastel Converse in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Keira’s boyish chest in everything). Joe Wright directed Durran to style her costumes after 1950s couture. The 1870s skirt shape is preserved but the bodices look more like early Balenciaga and Dior, and all that is beautiful. Wright and Durran have breached an anachronistic limit, though, in using contemporary Chanel jewelry–$2 million of it–that sparkles on Keira Karenina’s clavicle throughout the film.

“Once we decided that she was going to be wearing diamonds and pearls a lot,” Durran explained, “we approached Chanel, with whom Joe and Keira have a relationship. And they were more than willing to help us.” The relationship: Keira is the face of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume; Joe recently directed a Brad Pitt Chanel No. 5 ad. So, Durran and Keira and the team go to Paris to visit Chanel. “They really gave us free reign to choose any pieces that we wanted. From the contemporary collection, we chose all the pieces which I thought avoided being modern and had a more baroque or more period or more feminine look to them.” Like the distracting Camellia necklace ($20750 – $32100 – price upon request).

Fashion films are the industry’s latest claim at artistic legitimacy. It looks good for a brand to have an arty ‘film’ (i.e. a long commercial, designed for the web more than for tv), just as it looks good for a designer to make it into a museum, like Lagerfeld at the Met. I have nothing against fashion films. Some are absolutely remarkable, a better use of a budget than perfume inserts in magazines, and an opportunity for interesting directors to do interesting trials. I have a problem with not knowing the difference. And Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (“In the morning, Keira would be presented with a tray of diamonds from which to chose what to wear for the day… That exact excitement about luxury and glamour feds into the idea of Anna.”) looks like a £31 million Chanel ad.

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