Fashion & Film: La Dolce Vita (1960)

Posted 11 years ago by myetvmedia

Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is arguably one of the most stylish films of all time. The film was greatly inspired by the sack dress created by the Spanish fashion house of Balenciaga. When the ‘sack dress’ was introduced In 1957 it created huge controversy because it was so radically different from the very constricting hour-glass shape that had influenced every aspect of fashion at that time. Suddenly here was an completely new type of freedom and fashion that women and men would embrace. Fellini brilliantly understood the huge significance of this new freedom and incorporated it into his films.

“It possessed that sense of luxurious fluttering around a body that might be physically beautiful but not morally so”. Fellini’s co-screenwriter, Brunello Rondi

The silhouette created by the sack dresses impressed Fellini because he felt it created a very gorgeous woman who might otherwise, in his view be “a skeleton of squalor and solitude inside.” Fellini created characters with an extravagant and glamorous style for La Dolce Vita that would cement Fellini’s place in history as a great influencer in the world of fashion. The costume design for the film was created by Italian costume designer, Piero Gherardi. La Dolce Vita went on to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Black & White). The impeccable, award winning design in La Dolce Vita presented a new atmosphere of a glamourous cafe society in post war Rome and Italy. It surprisingly also established an uber-cool fashion for men with Marcello Mastroianni’s short suit coat, thin lapels and ties and the iconic Persol sunglasses.(See Mad Men for an exceptional example of the period inaugurated by the Mastroianni cool). The style was understated and emotionally subtle, a fresh attire for a complex protagonist. The signature outfit of John F. Kennedy and the sixties became an artistic and social point of reference for Gherardi and Fellini.

It comes as no surprise that La Dolce Vita is Fellini’s most popular film among Americans. Fellini uses so many elements born of foreign influence in his film, from fashion and stardom to the narrative frame with its decidedly Americanized brand of journalism that leads to Fellini coining the term paparazzi, which is itself a sort of psuedo poke at the nature of the film and the way it turns the Hollywood ideal on its head. With each “episode” in the story we expect Marcello’s dante esque experiences to come to a sort of grand climax in the tradition popularized by western film. Shocking and true to its neo-realism the films vignettes slowly rob us of the conclusion we desire. Begging questions without answers the film retains its audience with its style from dialogue to wristwatches.

La Dolce Vita does an amazing job of casting such wide appeal and becoming an American favourite, all the while challenging the overbearing and maybe intrusive nature of American culture sprawl. The undecided tone applied to the consumerism flush throughout scenes and settings is never more realistically represented than in La Dolce Vita. All this glamour and freedom was juxtaposed against the ruins of post war Rome, providing a surreal quality of luxury, extravagant living and fun that was very appealing after years of war and deprivation.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Gherardi also worked with Fellini on the iconic film, 8 1/2 , where close attention is paid to both the costume design of the male and female characters. Style is used as a strong predictor of the character’s personalities. Using sleek and sophisticated Italian designs, Gherardi placed male characters in tailored pants and jackets. This was a massive contrast to the Americanized “Ivy-League” style of the time that consisted of loose jackets and pants. Gherardi’s females range from sophisticated glamazons to sirens clad in flowing dresses and decolletes. Gherardi’s costume designs for these films expressed a sensuality and immortal style.

Next we will look at the influence of fashion in Fellini’s film 8 ½.

-Lauren Schell & the Editorial team

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Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions TIFF Bell Lightbox Exhibit



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