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The 18 Most Referenced Films In Women's Fashion of All Time

Chances are, you've seen a runway collection or five inspired by one of these chic, classic movies.
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Welcome to Pop Culture Week! While you can always find us waxing poetic about the hefty overlap between fashion and pop culture, we're dedicating the next five days to the subject of our favorite music, movies, TV, celebrities, books and theater, and how that all intersects with the fashion industry.

The interplay between fashion and film is a long celebrated dynamic, and the fall collections in particular tend to reference some of cinema's most iconic costume strategies. And as any fashion enthusiast worth her Gucci loafers knows, certain movies pop up in designers' collections as inspiration much more frequently than others. To brush up on our fashion-in-film basics, we tapped Fashion In Film author Christopher Laverty, fashion historian Sara Idacavage and Decades founder and author Cameron Silver to discuss their thoughts on the most stylish films of all time. Consider this your intro class to Cinematic Sartorial Scenes 101. Get schooled, below.

"Paris, Texas" (1984)

Wim Wenders's film is regarded as one of the most visually compelling narratives, ever. "The red angora backless sweater dress on Nastassja Kinski almost becomes its own character in 'Paris, Texas'," notes Silver. "It is sexy, yet solitary — perfect for the voyeuristic vision of Kinski behind the peep show."

"The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001)

"Margot Tenenbaum's oversized fur coat, Bass loafers, tennis dress, kohl-rimmed eyes and blunt bob are extremely recognizable, especially when paired with a cigarette," Idacavage says. The character's contradictory style resonates today: "Her clothing is a mix of demure country club member and innocent schoolgirl, which is an especially interesting choice of costume since she's been incredibly mature and rebellious since her youth." This is the film that gave us Gwyneth Paltrow as a fashion icon, Laverty says. "The Fendi mink coat and Lacoste tennis dresses belonged to Margot Tenenbaum, but Paltrow herself became synonymous with 'boutique vintage,'" he notes. "It didn't really exist as a concept until 'The Royal Tenenbaums,' but now it's customary for every fashionista of means to have some high-end vintage in his/her wardrobe."

"Funny Face" (1957)

"Funny Face" is essentially a satire of the fashion industry, which gives it the excuse to show off some incredible clothing from beginning to end, Idacavage says. "Audrey Hepburn's character is this intellectual free spirit with a waif physique that resonates with women who don't fit the ideal hourglass silhouette of Marilyn Monroe and other curvaceous stars from classic cinema," she says. "She's known for portraying characters that embody this spirit of youthful rebellion while also being dressed in the finest clothing, and so the fashion she wears in her films becomes closely associated with this idea of a free spirit," Idacavage explains. "Gap's choice to use her famous beatnik dancing scene from the film is fantastic because it's youthful and modern while still appealing to those who prefer things that are seen as timeless and chic."

"Breakfast At Tiffany's" (1961)

Silver says, "Audrey Hepburn in her LBD is a constant reminder that in any fashionable woman's wardrobe the little black dress is absolutely essential." Laverty notes that there are actually three different black dresses seen in the film and only one was by Givenchy — and even that was remade by costume designer Edith Head. "She redesigned the skirt (removing Givenchy's racy slit) and added the pearl necklace, Tiffany diamonds and long black gloves," Laverty explains. "It was a total collaboration, though history rarely remembers it that way."

"Charade" (1963)

"This was the most fun of Audrey Hepburn's 'fashion films,'" says Laverty. "The red and yellow wool coats, leopard print cloche hat... like the movie itself, the clothes are larger than life. Audrey was never a cool Paris fashionista — even with an enviable designer wardrobe, she was accessible to all."

"And God Created Woman" (1956)

This is the movie that made Brigitte Bardot a star — and catapulted her to fashion icon status. "Brigitte Bardot's costumes by Pierre Balmain are charged with erotic symbolism. Lots of fastened/unfastened buttons and soaking wet fabric," Laverty says. "The clothes don't so much chart her character's journey to adulteress as foreshadow it."

"Annie Hall" (1977)

The iconic aesthetic of this film brought menswear as womenswear to the forefront. "Diane Keaton borrows from the boys and Marlene Dietrich," Silver notes. "Wearing slouchy khakis, a loose tie, white collar shirt, vest and fedora, the look encouraged a new androgyny in women's fashion."

"Blade Runner" (1982)

So many films become influential for reflections on the past and present, but "Blade Runner" offered an apocalyptic vision of the future of fashion that profoundly influenced designers in the 1980s, says Silver. "Many of the predictions of how we will dress in 2019 seem prophetic," he adds. In fact, Raf Simons based his entire Spring 2018 collection on "Blade Runner," setting the show in a neon-lit market in Chinatown.

"Barbarella" (1968)

"Despite Paco Rabanne's name being so associated with the costumes, only one of his pieces actually appears in the film: Jane Fonda's green leotard covered in plastic tiles with acetate fringing," says Laverty. "Ironically, Rabanne has mined the Barbarella look for decades on the catwalk. We think of Paco Rabanne, we think of Barbarella."

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"Belle de Jour" (1967)

Laverty maintains that Catherine Deneuve's costumes in "Belle de Jour" are a disguise. "She plays an outwardly conservative housewife who indulges latent sexual desires by selling herself in a brothel," he says. "Her Yves Saint Laurent wardrobe represents a cold, neat, repressed persona." He adds that the film is a love letter to the beauty of Saint Laurent and yet, beyond fashion, the clothes also function as a readable storytelling device.

"Clueless" (1995)

"Where would we be without the Crayola prep of Clueless?" muses Laverty, and rightly so. "In a world of Beverly Hills high school grunge, costume designer Mona May invented a whole new look of tartan minis, knee-high socks and hats that belonged at Ascot Ladies Day," he says. "The famous Calvin Klein dress worn by Alicia Silverstone was even re-released in 2010 in the exact same style," he asserts, adding that "Clueless" is one of the most important fashion films of all time. 

Idacavage agrees: "Similar to the arrival of Dior's 'New Look' after World War II, 'Clueless' happened at a time when women and girls were ready to embrace new, feminine fashions in order to counteract the grunge movement. The preppy plaids, slip dresses and sugary hues helped define the style of the time, and it has continued to have a great effect on what we associate with fashion from the 1990s." She adds that the film's influence in recent years makes sense, as those who grew up with the movie have now reached an age when they have become creative directors or leading designers. "It's definitely a nostalgic reference point for that generation," she says. Plus, it made cult industry favorite designer Alaïa a household name.

"Grey Gardens" (1975)

When you think of "Grey Gardens," it's impossible not to recall Little Edie's fur coat, makeshift skirts and ingeniously draped headwear, notes Idacavage. "The fashion industry often celebrates bold, eccentric and tragic style icons — Edie Sedgwick and Isabella Blow come to mind — so it's no wonder that Little Edie's adherence to glamour in the face of tragic circumstances has made her an inspiration for designers like Marc Jacobs and John Galliano," she says. Most importantly, Little Edie was disconnected from the fashion industry and consumerist society in general at the time when the documentary was filmed, which makes her intrinsic sense of style seem exceedingly pure and authentic. "Because of that, designers were enticed to to channel her authenticity, which can be rare in the world of fashion," Idacavage says. The documentary is well known, but still not mainstream enough to be recognized by every young person today, which gives "Grey Gardens" an extra caché of cool, she notes. Silver adds that the layered look is integral to this movie. "I can think of no other documentary that has consumed the fashion community more than this fascinating chronicle of two amazing real life DIY fashionistas," he says.

"A Single Man" (2009)

Apart from selected items of knitwear, the costumes worn by Colin Firth were all designed by the film's costumier Arianne Phillips and not Tom Ford, Laverty explains. "There is a language to the clothes in this film, such as one of Firth's jackets being a little too tight to suggest his character bought it several years ago and has since put on weight," he says. "The sparse early 1960s aesthetic is timeless and clean. After 'Mad Men' especially, it is a world we all yearn to live in."

"Taxi Driver" (1976)

This is the wrap dress movie, per Laverty. "Diane Von Furstenberg's 'Jeanne' wrap has never looked better or more appropriate on screen," he says. "Cybill Shepherd's independent twenty-something is the DVF wearer incarnate. She sums up everything the brand stands for: youth, freedom, style and comfort." The dress itself launched in 1974, just two years prior to "Taxi Driver." "It was groundbreaking then and remains so today," says Laverty.

"The Fifth Element" (1997)

"The Fifth Element" inherently has huge credibility in the fashion world thanks to its spectacular set of Jean Paul Gaultier-designed costumes, Idacavage says. "Milla Jovovich, who plays the film's leading lady Leeloo, was already recognizable from her modeling career, so it's no wonder that the film's outlandish costumes look like contemporary runway fashion when seen on her," she explains. She also points out that director Luc Besson understands the appeal of putting fashion models in sci-fi films, as Cara Delevingne stars in his latest one, "Valerian." 

"Leeloo's look is the most memorable, from her bright orange hair and white 'bondage' outfit to those gold leggings and ribbed cropped top," recalls Idacavage. "It's like punk, athleisure and high-end fashion all rolled into one, which is probably why the film can still serve as inspiration for a wide assortment of designers and brands." 

The film was released at the end of the millennium, when both fashion and music were infused with these super-futuristic vibes — TLC's video for "No Scrubs" is a favorite example of Idcavage's that embodies the same sartorial spirit. Still relevant, Gaultier's costumes for the film may seem like flights of fancy, but they do serve the loopy sci-fi narrative, says Laverty. "Gaultier's McDonald's uniforms glimpsed at the futuristic New York drive-thru were homaged by Moschino for their 2014 Autumn/Winter collection — swapping out the McDonald's arches for their own Moschino 'M,'" he recalls.

"Two For the Road" (1967)

"[This is] Audrey's most significant fashion film in my opinion because she left her beloved Givenchy behind and wore 'youth' brands such as Mary Quant and V de V," says Christopher Laverty.

"Dressed to Kill" (1980)

"Angie Dickinson in that cream skirt suit with coordinating gloves and trench coat becomes the innocent yin to her black trench-wearing murderer's yang," Silver says. "In addition, Nancy Allen's electric blue marabou feather coat becomes the epitome of the 'hooker with a heart of gold,' personifying a Times Square seediness and the disco decadence of 1980."

"Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978)

Everything about this film made Silver fall in love with fashion, he gushes. "Faye Dunaway's American working woman sportswear-chic — along with the the height of Studio 54 fashions on models being photographed by Dunaway's character — epitomized my fantasy of glamour as a child," he explains. "To this day, I reference looks from this film (especially Dunaway's split gauchos with boots) as it's one of the most influential fashion films of the decade." 

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