The transport power of fashion by Pedro Almodóvar

Growing up in a drab suburb, my main focus has been fantasizing about every bored teen’s favorite subject: becoming an adult and moving to town.

It was pre-streaming and pre-social media, so my ideal form of escape involved going to the public library every week and renting movies. (I never said I was a fresh teenager.) I loved the ritual of spinning the grids and going through each section in alphabetical order, first making intuitive decisions based on covers that appealed to me, and then learning to construct my tastes more deliberately. . If movies were the most reliable way to temporarily transport me, then Pedro Almodóvar’s movies were the most reliable of all.

Often shot in Madrid, where the director thrived during the electrifying years after the fall of Spanish fascism, Almodóvar’s films captured a world I had never seen before. The men were women, the women were dramatic, the nuns got pregnant, the beautiful matadors suddenly fell into a coma, and everyone was obsessed with their mothers. A world so alive needs clothes to match: ridiculously bright colors and umpteenth-degree maximalism. In Women on the verge of nervousness Breakdown, that meant a tomato-red dress and kitschy Moka potted miniature earrings; in Law of desire, a flamingo pink shirt paired with the most perfect bolo tie known to man; and in Bad Education, Gael García Bernal swinging in a tight sequin dress. The clothes reinforced the narrative, but were also sturdy enough to hold onto. Above all, the costumes – miles from the Ugg boots and North Face jackets that surrounded me – represented unfettered adult life.


Law of desire (1987)

Courtesy of Lauren Films

Women on the verge of nervous breakdown (1988).


Eventually I became an adult and moved to town, but I continued to watch Almodóvar. His films have remained lush but have become more sober; the plots were less playful and wacky and more preoccupied with estrangement, aging and death. The looks weren’t quite as outrageous either, but he retained a high-fashion pedigree, bringing in Gaultier to create nude body stockings for The skin i live in and dress Penélope Cruz exclusively at Chanel in Broken hugs. Antonio Banderas-as-Almodóvar-proxy’s burgundy suit and printed silk top in 2019 are memorable. Pain and Glory.

Pain and Glory (2019).

Alamy / Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Then I looked at Almodóvar’s latest (and his first English-speaking business), Human voice, which debuts in the US on March 12 and stars Tilda Swinton as a woman… on the verge of a nervous breakdown. (Old habits die hard.) Her partner has suddenly left her and their dog, and she is adrift and in shock. But the clothes! The film barely lasts thirty minutes, but features no less than six outfit changes. They include Almodóvar’s favorite tomato-red hue, in the form of a Balenciaga domed dress; a masculine, monochrome cobalt Balenciaga suit worn at the hardware store; and a Dries Van Noten set of gold lamé pants and a black leather jacket that Swinton’s character chooses just before the dramatic final scene (no spoilers but, in Almodóvar’s universe, that’s to be expected). It’s Almodóvar’s vintage sensibility, filtered through the present.

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