THE MOMENT: John Galliano’s Madame Butterfly

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic collection, person or collaboration, and explores its influence on style and pop culture. Above, John Galliano’s Spring 2007 couture show for Christian Dior.

Love, pain, desire, and despair. It’s the story of Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera, Madame Butterfly. The tale has been retold many times since its inception—Pierre Loti’s 1888 novel, Madame Chrysantheme—but remains most recognized in its operatic form.

Set in Nagasaki, Japan, it tells the story of an American sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries and then abandons a young Japanese geisha named Cio-Cio-San, more famously known as Madame Butterfly.

It must have been the histrionics of classical opera that attracted John Galliano. He was most famously inspired by Madame Butterfly, or in his own words, “by Pinkerton’s affair with Cio-Cio San, Madame Butterfly.” And why not? The designer is no stranger to theatricality.

For his Spring 2007 couture collection for Christian Dior, Galliano’s presentation was all about sumptuous silk and couture kimonos.

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THE MOMENT: Françoise Hardy

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights a fashionable person, iconic item, or collaboration, and explores its influence on style and pop culture. Above, the Parisian chanteuse Françoise Hardy.

Françoise Hardy has fond memories of Paris during the ’60s and ’70s. “I am very passionate about the artistic and literary world of that period. So, obviously, for me Paris is the people who lived here in this period, all the great intellectuals and artists like Picasso, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Marcel Proust,” she told INTERVIEW magazine in October 2001.

France gave the world its share of style icons too—Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and of course, Françoise Hardy herself. Born in 1944, the chanteuse began her career quietly and then quickly rose to prominence. She was a part of the yé-yé movement, France’s answer to the Beatles, led by young female singers who sang about love and longing. Hardy’s body of work also included film, modelling, and astrology (a hobby which resulted in published books).

An ethereal beauty with wispy vocals and perfectly pretty bangs, Hardy became an icon during the sixties. She was the opposite of blonde bombshell, Brigitte Bardot. Hers was a quiet beauty, which she wore with subdued confidence. Hardy also had a good relationship with clothes—whatever she wore, she wore it well.

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THE MOMENT: Annie Hall

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic fashion film, item, or collaboration and explores its influence on style and pop culture. Above, Annie Hall‘s Diane Keaton (in Ralph Lauren tie given to her by Grammy Hall) with Woody Allen.

Ruth Morley was credited with designing the costumes for Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, but the wardrobe’s true essence, right down to many of its key pieces, originated with Diane Keaton. After the 1977 film, Keaton became known for her influential wardrobe almost as much as for her inspired performance. She became Woody Allen’s on-screen muse and a fashion icon for the rest of us.

In the movie, she wears vintage menswear—slacks, loose-fitting jackets, vests, fedoras, neckties—with complete conviction. She’s a master of layering, combining seemingly disparate separates into disheveled, effortless chic. “I love what you’re wearing,” Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, tells Annie Hall during their first meeting.

Allen himself was a fan of Keaton’s sartorial originality. In a 1995 interview, he is quoted as saying that Morley, the costume designer, objected to what Keaton wore to the set: “And I said, ’Leave her. She’s a genius…Let her wear what she wants.’”

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THE MOMENT: Madonna’s Gaultier cone bra

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic fashion piece, film, or collaboration and explores its influence on style and pop culture. Above, Madonna shows her blonde ambition in the cone bra designed by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Last season, models walked the runway wearing underwear as outerwear. But long before Marc Jacobs and Christian Dior embraced the trend, there was Jean Paul Gaultier, the mastermind behind Madonna’s infamous cone-shaped bra. The over-underthing made its presence known around the world in 1990 when Madonna embarked on her Blonde Ambition tour. And before Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood’s models traipsed down the runway in bras fashioned atop their dresses back in 1981.

When Gaultier made the iconic bra for Madonna, he looked to the popular bullet bra of the fifties for inspiration. The brazen brassiere was as in-your-face as the superstar’s Blonde Ambition tour, which stirred up controversy because it appropriated religious iconography and explored themes of sexuality.

The bra is currently enjoying a revival thanks to a few stratospheric pop stars. Enter Lady Gaga in the mostly monochromatic video for “Alejandro” where she sports two machine guns on her bra (Gaga brandishes the same weapons on the cover of Rolling Stone). Followed by Katy Perry, who in a way the antithesis of Lady Gaga, is in a frothy, but no less racy version of the bra, wearing a whipped cream wielding bikini. In between, there’s Kylie Minogue who wore a Gaultier-designed cone bra in a photoshoot for her album, Aphrodite and Rihanna who’s worn similarly inspired get-ups on stage. A stone’s throw away from these pop acts is Glee, which paid tribute to Madge in an episode in which Jane Lynch sported the iconic bra in all its cheeky glory.

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THE MOMENT: Yves Saint Laurent meets Catherine Deneuve

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic film, item or collaboration and explore its influence on style and pop culture. Above, Catherine Deneuve and Jean Sorel in Belle de Jour (1967). Deneuve is outfitted by Yves Saint Laurent.

Sometimes, sartorial inspiration is only a muse away. If the muse is extraordinary, she will possess a certain magic, that wondrous ability to inspire a designer’s vision, which might result in something remarkable. For Yves Saint Laurent, that muse was actress Catherine Deneuve.

The two met on the set of Luis Buñuel’s film, Belle de Jour in 1966, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Yves Saint Laurent designed what would become some of the most celebrated outfits in film, referenced time and again in fashion and pop culture.

In the film, Deneuve plays Severine, a doctor’s wife who leads a double life. During the day, she plays the part of a prostitute, turning her reveries into reality, and at night, she settles into the role of the delicate, domestic housewife.

The film bears Saint Laurent’s sartorial stamp: In tailored coats and dresses, Deneuve is perfectly Parisienne. Laurent fashioned a dual wardrobe for Severine,  to represent her double life. Her outfits tell the story of two different women: the feminine wholesome image she feigns in front of her husband, and that of the confident seductress she cultivates in the brothel.

The first time Severine is in a brothel, for example, she is not dressed the part. Her dress, while pretty and pristine, is too impractical, too refined for the part-time occupation she’s about to take up. She’s swiftly told that she’ll wear the zipper out in one afternoon. Her uniform behind the closed doors of the brothel is her skin, occasionally lingerie. These are the details one notices because Saint Laurent converses with the viewer through Deneuve’s clothes.

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THE MOMENT: The Hermès scarf

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic piece and explore its influence on style and pop culture. Above, a Spring 2010 Hermès scarf.

If fashion is the realm of covetable things, the Hermès scarf is the pinnacle of all fashion desires. It’s synonymous with luxury and refinement. Women who can afford it wear it as easily as its equally famous (pricier) sibling, the Birkin bag. The women who save up for it deem it an investment piece. To an outsider, it’s a square piece of cloth, no more, no less. To the fashion world, it’s a piece of treasure to cherish and to love.

The Hermès scarf made its debut in 1937 in Lyon, France. Since then, the fashion house has created over 2,000 silk scarves in an assortment of patterns and an exhaustive palette of colours. Marked by Hermès’s signature craftsmanship, the scarves are also hand-printed and the hems hand-stitched.

The scarf is nothing if not resourceful. Grace Kelly famously used a Hermès scarf as a sling for her broken arm. Madonna wore one as a wrap-around top in Swept Away. Sharon Stone made naughtier use of it for a bondage scene in Basic Instinct.

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THE MOMENT: Schiaparelli’s Skeleton Dress

Introducing The Moment, a new column about fashion iconography. Every week, writer Mishal Cazmi will highlight an iconic piece and explore its influence on style and pop culture.

In 1938, Elsa Schiaparelli unveiled an unusual dress. Not unusual by her standards, of course. By then, the designer was already known for her avant-garde approach to fashion and her friendships with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, the A-list Dadaists and Surrealists of her time. The creation, an affront to many and loved by few, was named the Skeleton Dress.

It was a collaboration (the first of many) with surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, and appeared as part of Schiaparelli’s Circus Collection. Most likely inspired by the Surrealist preoccupation with the human body, the aptly named dress was made of black crepe, with trapunto quilting underneath to give it the anatomically appropriate effect of a spine, ribcage and leg bones.

Since then, the skeleton motif has been reincarnated in countless forms on the runway by designers such as Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and the Mulleavy sisters at Rodarte, who featured it in their Spring 2009 collection and again in their diffusion line for Target. And then came Lady Gaga.

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