Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Catching Fire and Fashion

***Note: If you have not read the book or seen the movie, there are some spoilers below.***

Yesterday I discussed in depth why I loved the fashion in the book trilogy The Hunger Games (fashion as rebellion, costumes drive the plot, costume designer main character), and why I was therefore disappointed with the film version of the first book (lame costumes).  Today I discuss the second film, Catching Fire, which came out last Thursday, and my love of the movie.  I will also discuss the concurrent marketing campaign that took what should have been a mirror to ourselves and put it in a department store dressing room.

I have nothing but praise for Trish Summerville's work on Catching Fire. The District citizens were impoverished looking, wearing natural fibers and animal skins, but the silhouettes were not necessarily of "our" time in fashion.  These warmer earth tones and soft fibers contrasted nicely with the stark white manufactured fabrics on the Peacekeepers, terrifying guards sent in by the Capitol to control the general populace.

And the Capitol citizens were brilliant.  Huge unwieldy costumes, swaths of bright colors and rich fabrics galore, and the most impractical footwear.  Historically, unwieldy fashion has always been reserved for those who can "afford" to mince around on scrunched toes and in giant contraptions designed to work against the body to create an artistic and eye-catching shape, rather than to perform the everyday motions of the poor.  Capital fashion, like the high-heeled French bourgeoisie, corseted Victorian English, bound-feet Chinese upper class, and our modern surgery-inspired wealthy fashion, is designed to scream "I don't do manual labor."

Effie Trinket, Katniss's Capitol liaison and resident Miss Manners, wears elaborate uncomfortable ensembles that reflect each season, which was a brilliant way to incorporate the throwaway nature of Capitol fashion trends and do a practical bit of storytelling, showing the long, arduous process of the first year in spotlight after winning the Hunger Games.  In both films, the uniforms for the actual Games were portrayed very accurately: simple, practical outfits with manufactured fibers built to withstand extreme heat or cold, but with no creature comforts.  This is, after all, a battle to the death.

The portrayal of Cinna's creations in this film are perfection: once again dressing Katniss and Peeta up to look terrifying and angry that they are being forced back into the Games.  And then there is The Dress.  The wedding gown President Snow forces Katniss to wear in her interview to prove her submissiveness and complicity with the Capital is designed by the ever-crafty Cinna, and has a surprise for the viewing audience.  Once she starts spinning, the gorgeous but awkwardly heavy bejeweled wedding gown befitting a princess literally catches fire, turning black and unfolding into wings.  For a brief moment, she is the mockingjay, her token pin and a burgeoning symbol of the resistance.  This moment is the moment that inexorably links her to the resistance, and ensures her leadership in the full-scale rebellion, and the gown shoulders the responsibility stunningly.

It is not difficult, however, to ascertain that the wealthy, insensitive, over-indulgent Capitol citizens, who enjoy their opulent lifestyles on the backs of the impoverished District citizens, are an allegory for the United States and its first-world brethren.  We root for Katniss because she is the main character, and the underdog, and just totally badass, but not because we can relate to her.  Each of the twelve Districts in the book is dedicated to producing one vital aspect of the Capitol citizenry's cushy lifestyle: coal, lumber, textiles, weaponry, luxury items, etc.  The Capitol produces very little and consumes the majority of what is produced in the Districts; for example, in District 12 nearly every citizen is dedicated to work in the coal mines, and yet lights flicker and people freeze to death in winter.  What one would hope should come out of the popularity of this series is a sensitivity and sympathy for those in less fortunate circumstances, particularly when we directly benefit from their labor, as in the fashion industry.

We still live in a world in which hundreds of people can die in a factory fire making luxury items they will never own themselves.  What I would have loved to see in the marketing for these films is a recognition of this fact through PSAs, public discussion, or publishing supplemental material.  Instead, a fashion marketing campaign was run that not only accepted the fact that we are Capitol citizens but embraced it full on, encouraging us to buy "Capitol Couture," to emulate the fictional consumers by becoming them ourselves. Instead of elevating a relevant and sensitive subject to do good in the world, we are left with this lame attempt at "we're not the bad guys, really!" marketing.  As a story-telling device, the costumes in Catching Fire were spot on: perfectly framing the opulence of the Capitol vs. the forced poverty of the Districts.  But this kind of high fashion escapism is exactly what is wrong with the people we consider ourselves intellectually above in the films. This marketing campaign could have learned from our past and done something interesting and inspired, but instead chose to perpetuate established norms.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hunger Games (I) and Fashion

**Note: If you have never read or heard anything about this series there are some spoilers**

We often listen to YA books in the Studio when we are working on large scale projects; it is a great way to keep focused and productive when you may be doing the same exact costume item 16 or 27 or 52 times in a row.  Between our third and fourth revisiting of Harry Potter (we're not obsessed... we just keep getting new contractors in who have never read them before and we have no choice...) we listened to the Hunger Games series.  

The ever-symbolic Mockingjay pin

I was already well obsessed with Katniss and her violent, post-apocalyptic world: I have read the series multiple times and rabidly attended the first movie showing at midnight.  The series takes place some indeterminate amount of time in the future, after terrible wars and famines have reduced the human population to that of one terrible North America-spanning country, Panem. Years earlier there had been an unsuccessful rebellion led by the oppressed Districts against the tyrranous Capitol. After the war, the Capitol invented The Hunger Games as a way to ensure the Districts would never rise again. Every year each District is forced to offer up one boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 17 to fight the others to the death on a widely televised and talked about reality show.  Capitol citizens do not participate, except in betting on winners, voting on clothing choices, and the like.  The kids are dressed up in garish Capitol costumes and forced to parade around looking for sponsors in the weeks leading up to the games.  Cinna, Katniss's assigned designer, utilizes his talents to tell a story about Katniss, whether it's to make her look fierce and terrifying to the other participants, or sweet and unassuming to the evil President after she commits an ultimate act of rebellion at the end of the Games. 

Capitol vs Distrct

As a costume designer, I was in love with the use of  fashion not only to separate the classes, but as a mode for subtle rebellion, and I could not wait to see Cinna's designs played out on the big screen.  Unfortunately the first movie did not deliver what I had built up in my head, and I was sorely disappointed. There are so few opportunities for costumes to affect the actual plot of a film, and I felt that the opportunity was squandered in this case.  The differences between the garish Capitol garb and simple District clothing was felt well enough, but I thought there could have been more extremes.  In the book the District denizens are malnourished and work hard manual labor their whole lives, often starving or dying in terrible industry-related accidents before they can reach old age, whereas those in the Capitol are so stuffed with plastic surgery and covered in tattoos and dyed skin and hair that they are unrecognizable to their original selves.  This is why Cinna, Katniss's personal designer, stands out as a Capitol person, and Katniss feels she can trust him: he is dressed simply in all black, with close-cropped hair and only a hint of classy gold eyeliner.  In the first movie the costume silhouettes of the Capitol citizens were larger than life, but I felt they did not look as extreme or "futuristic" as they could have.  Capitol citizens have every technological advancement available to their fashionable whims and desires, and I felt that these costumes were simply not *enough.*

Spoiled Capitol citizens looking like present day fashion show patrons

My real disappointment lay in the portrayal of Cinna's creations, however.  They looked... lame. These gowns are supposed to be breathtaking, making her glow, smolder, and blaze enough to earn her the moniker "the girl on fire," which follows her throughout the series.  In a world of extremes, she is supposed to (quite literally) burn and crackle to the point that everything else falls away.  These gowns are supposed to lay the beginning groundwork for what she ultimately becomes: an unwitting but effective leader in a full-scale rebellion. Instead, they looked like, well, prom dresses. I was not impressed or inspired, and therefore didn't understand as clearly what was so great about this girl from District 12.  I recognize that budget probably had a lot to do with this, but that does not change my disappointment or wish that it could have been dealt with in a more effective way.

Credit where credit is due: this moment was awesome
All that said, I approached the opening of Catching Fire with equal parts excitement and trepidation.  In the second book, which is my personal favorite of the three, Cinna outdoes himself to the point of putting himself squarely in the Capitol's crosshairs and Katniss is officially launched as the Leader of the Rebellion.  Last Thursday at 8pm, we Studio Girls took a field trip to see Catching Fire, and I was excited to see what the new designer, Trish Summerville, would do with it. This time, thanks to many factors and I know budget was one of them, I was NOT disappointed.  Tomorrow I will go into biased detail about what made me love these costumes so much, and criticisms on the diluted message these clothes portray outside the world of the film.

Monday, November 25, 2013

#What'sUpToday October

Happy (almost end of) November!  Can you tell that October was a crazy busy month??  Between finishing up the new studio for our Open House on October 16th, building Halloween costumes, and costuming local schools' theater productions, we had a full schedule!  Most of our tweets from October highlighted our costume stock and all of the characters we are able to create for Halloween!