Past forward: film fashion gets a shot of time-travel vibrancy

Fashion wouldn’t be fashion if everything old wasn’t new again from time to time. But when fashion meets film, sometimes there’s a twist in the formula–everything new becomes old again.

In Miramax’s upcoming “Finding Neverland,” which takes place in 1903 London, Kate Winslet’s character, Sylvia, descends on J.M. Barrie’s famous paradise in a colorful, embroidered robe worthy of the “Peter Pan” playwright’s fantasies. In truth, the garment was inspired by the imagination of designer Elsa Schiaparelli, whose 1940s fashions influenced costume designer Alexandra Byrne in creating Sylvia’s timeless confection, which somehow seems absolutely right for the period.

As Barrie’s marriage falls apart during the film, his wife’s wardrobe tells the story: She literally wears her vulnerability on her sleeve–Byrne styled Radha Mitchell, who portrays Barrie’s wife, Mary, in a little lace camisole and cardigan. Very fall 2004, indeed, and Byrne acknowledges she never saw quite that combination of pieces in her research of period dress. Still, she’s banking on contemporary eyes to be forgiving in her interpretation of the past.

“I wanted it to feel completely believable as being 1903,” Byrne says. “I was trying to relate it to how clothes would be today and translate it back to the period.”

Today, film fashion is taking liberties long taken for granted on the runway, particularly the ability, to travel through time. Past decades’ styles have runways been interpreted by savvy designers. But while fashion can only move forward, even when it’s looking back, movies can take the present with them on their voyage to the past. And these days, film style is in for a heck of a ride. It’s quite a departure from the paint-by-numbers approach that has characterized much of the designs seen in earlier period films.

“If you take landmark films like (1979’s) ‘Tess’ and (1975’s) ‘Barry Lyndon,’ they were trying to be very authentic,” says Olivier Stockman, co-owner of London-based Sands Films Studio, which specializes in manufacturing 19th century costumes. It made most of the garments designed by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor for last month’s Focus Features’ release “Vanity Fair,” starring Reese Witherspoon.

“Now, there’s a shift away from that, away from the realism, maybe because it’s been overdone, and the result is that people don’t believe it anymore,” Stockman says. “It’s an effort to make the costumes more attractive. Maybe there’s a perception that when it’s authentic, it’s boring, fuddy-duddy.”

One of the most striking examples of time-travel fashion in period films right now is Stella McCartney’s wardrobe for Gwyneth Paltrow in Paramount’s September release “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” Directed by Kerry Conran, the film is set in a sci-fi world of his imagination: the past’s prediction of a future that never happened. While fashion in the film takes the 1940s as its starting point, it’s similarly eclectic.

“Captain” marks McCartney’s big-screen debut as a costume designer. She made the leap because two of the film’s stars, Paltrow and Jude Law, and one of its producers, Sadie Frost, are good friends of hers. McCartney set out to create designs that were retro and futuristic at the same time.

“That’s the sense you get from the characters,” she says. “They’re modern monsters. These characters have links to the past, and they’re also dynamic and strong and elements of the future. And because it was so comic strip-inspired, I was very intent on creating an iconic silhouette for Polly (Paltrow). You’d think it could be on a Buck Rogers lunchbox.”

For much of the film, Paltrow wears a bespoke tweed suit with a nipped-in waist and a peplum jacket–fashions typical of the time. McCartney smartened up the looks with wide, flat collars and mutton-chop sleeves (popular during the 1980s). She also paired Paltrow’s attire with round-toed tweed pumps that could have stepped out of a current issue of Vogue, and she accentuated Paltrow’s strong character with details–a gold bracelet with charms shaped like the letter “P” and monograms on her stockings.

Sometimes, period films will use modern fashion elements because they must. Fabrics manufactured today are often quite different in feel and drape from those available decades earlier.

“That’s one of the hardest things to deal with in a period film because we don’t have the same quality of cloth,” says Sandy Powell, costume designer for Miramax’s “The Aviator,” the upcoming Howard Hughes biopic set in the late-1920s to mid-40s. “The wools we used to use were much heavier and scratchier. Men’s tailoring now is much softer and less structured. We scoured the Earth for (vintage) cloth to make suits with and found quite a bit. It looks completely different. It’s much more sculptured.”

But even the most detail-oriented will find a contemporary style sensibility slipping into their work, costume designerssay.

“You have to make what you’re doing look attractive to the modern eye,” says John Bloomfield, who worked on Sony Pictures Classics’ recently released “Being Julia,” set in 1938 London. “You pick out things that are attractive to you as a modern person, so you pick things that probably make it wrong.”

Powell says “Aviator” is inevitably a product of its time. “If we watch this film in 30 or 40 years, we’ll be able to date it as the early 2000s,” she says. “I think you can’t help being influenced by fashion and color. There are elements that get in unconsciously, but I won’t be able to discern it until 10-20 years later.”

Some costume designers consider this to be a good thing and regard time-travel fashion as a tool that can assist in storytelling.

“Whenever I design a period film, I want the audience to forget they’re watching a costume piece, so they accept what they see on the screen,” says Nic Ede, who worked on ThinkFilm’s August release “Bright Young Things,” which is based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel about English society in the 1930s and ’40s.

“For it to be completely acceptable for the audience, what they’re watching is something they can associate with. I would hope that some women would look at Nina (Emily Mortimer) in ‘Bright Young Things’ and create their own look based on that,” Ede says.

It wouldn’t be hard. Ede dressed Mortimer in spaghetti-strap evening dresses with bodices accented with fabric flowers and sequins. Other time-travel style elements in the film were brooches, one-shoulder dresses and Sliver nail polish. Mixing and matching styles from different eras can be more of a challenge in period films set closer to the present. Sharen, Davis, costume designer for Universal’s Friday release “Ray,” a biopic about music legend Ray Charles, says director Taylor Hackford told her to keep fashions as faithful to mid-century America as possible.

She took liberties only with the Raylettes’ costumes, which feature brighter colors and lower necklines than their real-life counterparts.

“I made them a lot hotter,” Davis says. “But when you’re doing a biopic, it’s different from doing ‘Vanity Fair.’ The farther you go back in history, the more you can play with stuff. Since everyone knows Ray Charles, you have to stay pretty close to the research.”

It’s rare, but some fashion remains timeless. Witness the Chanel suit, the boxy classic with coordinating trim introduced in the 1930s and still one of the hottest silhouettes in fashion today. In Buena Vista’s August release “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” Gary Jones dressed the eponymous young monarch, played by Anne Hathaway, in a white suit with a peach chiffon blouse as evidence of the character’s regal taste.

“It’s timeless, but it is a version of it,” Jones says. “The Chanel suit is the today version of the Chanel suit. It does span the ages because a good suit is always a good suit.”

In addition, film fashion may mix up decades because the characters call for it. In MGM’s planned March release “Be Cool,” the sequel to 1995’s “Get Shorty,” Betsy Heimann achieves a rock ‘n’ roll-“Annie Hall” look in Uma Thurman’s outfits by mixing fall 2004 designs by Roberto Cavalli, Chanel, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana and Chrome Hearts with vintage pieces, such as a black silk opera scarf from the 1920s and big belts from the ’70s. Thurman plays Edie Athens, the widow of a hip-hop record label owner.

“It’s very forward and very backward at the same time,” Heimann says of Thurman’s wardrobe. “I felt that these were pieces that she would have collected through her time in the music business with her husband. I’m an adamant supporter of the fact that costume design follows character style, not fashion. Every person has a personal style, whether you consider it fashionable or not. In being true to the character, fashion is created.”

Paramount’s upcoming remake of “Alfie” is set in present-day New York, but vintage-style elements were used to suggest the original 1966 film. “We were thinking, How can we have the ’60s influence and still be very modern?” says Pasztor, who worked on “Alfie” in addition to designing the costumes for “Fair.”

Pasztor accomplished her goal by selecting Martin Margiela suits cut in a timelessly narrow silhouette. Margiela’s use of washed wool offered a lived-in feel, which fit star Law’s womanizing chauffeur, whose outfits needed to be appropriately humble.

“They looked like used suits, so they weren’t like Gucci or Prada,” Pasztor says.

“Cool” costume designer Mark Bridges also went after a timeless look in pulling current men’s fashion into the film, a lesson, he says, he learned from the legendary Edith Head.

“It shouldn’t be what was trendy while we were shooting, which was the beginning of 2004 because that’s the kind of thing that will peg it to a certain moment,” he says. “You do that by never going to any extremes. John (Travolta’s) suits are a classic shape and a classic garment. Nothing is too slim or too extreme.”

In “Fair,” director Mira Nair worked with Pasztor to mix continents as well as periods in the film’s opulent costume design. The designer moved forward in time, plunging Witherspoon’s necklines to 21st century lows. But she also went backward, borrowing 17th century design elements when her research showed that pre-Victorian British society typically used recycled material.

The film also amped up the Indian influence on English fashion by using flamboyant colors less common in the muted mid-1800s.

“It was just a wonderful combination to use all the elements together,” Pasztor says. “If you use the right fabrics, you have a beautiful garment you’d be more than happy to wear today.”

Of course, traditional Indian dress is timeless by definition. In Miramax’s upcoming “Bride and Prejudice,” Gurinder Chadha’s exuberant Bollywood remake of the Jane Austen classic “Pride and Prejudice,” the film updates the outfits as well as the story by introducing body consciousness and simplicity to classic pieces. Inspired, in part, by fashion-forward Indian designers like Neeta Lulla, the film’s costume designers–Eduardo Castro, Ralph Holes and Savinger Kmahil–dressed star Aishwarya Rai in saucy outfits, including a chiffon sari with spare embroidery over a tight, low-cut choli top with spaghetti straps. Gone are the demure cap sleeves and heavy embroidery typical of traditional dress.

“It’s very, very high fashion,” Castro says. “It’s the classic Indian silhouette with a modern take, so that it’s a little sexier and hip.”

And fashion designers also are taking note of Bollywood glam. Zac Posen’s spring 2005 collection includes brightly colored pieces that blend contemporary shapes with ethnic patterns. He calls the line “Tribalite” and told Vogue he planned to dress women in a cascade of gold bangles evoking the style of Indian women who pile on colorful enamel bracelets.

“Everything in this collection is about the fusion of modern simplicity with something traditional,” Posen says.

Classic Polo

Starting off as an exporter in 1991 and morphing into a Rs 425 crore textile giant, with two brands under its wings, the Royal Classic Group has certainly come a long way.

From an exporter in 1991 to emerging as one of the fi ve most preferred t-shirt brands in the country today, Royal Classic Group (RCG) has lived up to the royal legacy of its name. Other milestones in the company’s journey include acquiring another t-shirt brand, Smash, launching a range of intimate wear, and being awarded as the most popular men’s casual wear brand for the year 2005-06.

Brand concept and positioning

Classic Polo is an innovative, trendy and youthful premium casual brand for men. The brand is positioned at the mid-premium section. Through a wide product portfolio, the brand caters to a broad segment of customers. It is currently ranked among the top five casual t-shirt brands in the country.

Retail presence

In February 2001, the Royal Classic Group (RCG) launched its maiden t-shirt brand Classic Polo, thus making its foray into the domestic market. RCG’s retail initiative was as passionate as the brand’s launch in 2003. The first store, a 400 sq ft studio was opened in Bangalore, followed by a 600 sq ft store in Hyderabad.

While the brand has carved its niche in the southern and western markets, it is posing tough competition to the market leaders in the north and west zones.


At present, Classic Polo has 76 EBOs in India and one store in Singapore. The standalone stores are connected online for stock control and better retail co-ordination. Classic Polo relax junctions (EBOs) offer high quality, trendsetting styles, international shopping experience at value for money at prime locations and with quality service. The brand has a CRM format to track loyal customers and keep them informed about brand updates.


The brand is is retailed through 3,500 MBOs across the country. They include Central, Shoppers Stop, Globus, Spencer’s, Mega Mart, Prateek Lifestyle (Coupons), Reliance Trends, Aditya Birla Retail Ltd, and Brand Factory.

Apart from MBOs, EBOs, large format stores and chain stores, the brand is also focusing on corporate, institutional orders.

Target audience

Classic Polo caters to men in the age group of 20-35 years with a taste for fashion, innovation and style. Optimistic men with a smart casual approach to life are the ideal audience for the brand.

Product portfolio

Although it is primarily a t-shirt brand, Classic Polo also offers a complete lifestyle wardrobe including t-shirts, shirts, and trousers. The brand also manufactures Swiss Club shirts catering to the premium segment using Italian fabric to restore sheen and feel even after multiple washes. It was in 2004, that the brand acquired Smash, another t-shirt brand, and launched its exclusive premium men’s range under the brand name Smash in April 2005.

Classic Polo comes up with a range of about 200 designs per season and 2-3 new styles everyday.


The brand claims to offer consistent quality and a nil defective percentage. RCG is among the few companies in the world to offer in-house fi bre to fashion. A 100 per cent vertically integrated company, it offers products of international quality standards. Product rationalisation and price segmentation form the crux of the brand’s strategy.

Manufacturing capacity

RCG has a manufacturing capacity of 15,000 t-shirts, 4,000 shirts, and 4,000 trousers per day.

Future plans

Classic Polo aims to be and remain the leading retailer of worldclass menswear in India and become a compulsory part of men’s wardrobe solutions by 2010. RCG has plans to open multiple EBOs in all state capitals in the southern zone, with Bangalore and Hyderabad being high priority areas. It also aims at completing its count of 100 exclusive stores in the country in the near future.


Retail expansion and brand extensions – this is the growth route that accessory brand Bulchee has chalked out for itself.

Founded in 1988 by Sangieve, a pass-out from Cordwainers Institute of Leather Fashion and Technology, London, and ARS Sutoria School of Fashion, Milan, Italy, Bulchee operates in the space of “poshing-up” people.

Brand concept and positioning

Offering a diverse and unique range of accessories, Bulchee encourages customers to add to their wardrobe, exciting accessories to match every outfit. The target audience for Bulchee includes men and women in the age group of 25-45 years.

Retail presence

Bulchee is available in the Middle East, India and select countries in Southeast Asia.


The brand has 6 EBOs in Bangalore and Mumbai. The current EBOs have an average area of 250 sq ft and the retail design has been put together by the award winning designer Neil Foley. The average cost of interiors is Rs 3,000 per sq ft.


Bulchee is also available at leading chain stores like Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Central, Westside, Landmark and Metro Shoes, with some of them operating in the shop-in-shop modules. Besides this, the brand is available in another 300 premium apparel and footwear outlets across the country. The store’s visual merchandising is put together by the in-house design and marketing teams in partnership with the advertising agency.

Product portfolio and price points

Being a premium accessories brand, the Bulchee product range includes men’s belts, wallets, ties, handbags for women, and small accessories. The leather belts provide a wide choice of finishes and colours complemented by buckles in varied shapes, finishes and coatings, while the handbags for women are a delightful combination of colours, constructions and premium leather finishes. Each bag has special elements such as handpicked hides, exclusively designed lining materials, compact yet spacious construction, functional details and sleek hardware.

The accessory collection is crafted with an uncompromising approach to quality, with an eye on details. This year, the brand test marketed and launched a range of ties at select doors. These ties are made from intricate jacquards in polyester and silk, using Italian technology and handcrafted for the perfect fall. The bestselling product in the brand’s portfolio are men’s belts.


The brand’s products are comfortable in terms of usage and priced sensibly.


An experienced design team puts together the collections, drawing their inspiration from nature, architecture and other facets of life.

Future plans

The company has aggressive expansion plans and aims to grow from the current 6 stores to 20 stores by the end of this financial year. This growth, planned across southern and western India, in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mangalore, will largely be through franchisee owned stores. The brand also has plans to expand its product portfolio in the near future.

Christian Fabre

Started in 2008, this brand plans to bring international fashion trends for the Indian male.

The brainchild of Christian Robert Fabre, this eponymously named label-Christian Fabre came into being at the end of the year 2008. The brand aims to bring international fashion trends to the domestic consumers-the Indian male as of now.

Brand concept and positioning

Christine Fabre is targeted at the youth and brings with it a composite culture with regard to the design inputs, aesthetic and fashionable looks. The brand’s products are comfortable in fi t, rich in fashion content, and competitive on the price front.

Retail presence

Christain Fabre’s products are available only through exclusive franchisee outlets, which are primarily based in Chennai and Bangalore. The brand has been progressing as per its potential growth prospects. The brand plans to promote itself as a designerwear, casual brand.


The brand believes in its tagline-‘Wear your freedom’.


Designs for this brand are created in-house by professionally trained and experienced designers. The brief given to them is to depict themes that are considered good and natural.

Marketing strategy

Christain Fabre believes in reaching out to its target customers through simple and logical methods. All efforts are taken to instill in the customer a measure of attachment with the brand, so that he fi nds it to be a matter of pride to sport the brand’s products.

Product portfolio

At present, the brand’s product offerings comprise trousers, denims, shirts, t-shirts, bags and a few ancillary accessories.

Future plans

The brand plans to expand its retail presence and roll out apparel for women and children in the near future. The brand also plans to expand its retail presence to all the southern states, with special focus on cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Cochin, Coimbatore, Vijayawada, Vishakapatnam, and Mysore. Besides, Christain Fabre also aims at bringing out new designs more frequently to attract, create, and establish an extensive loyal customer relationship.