Monday, 3 November 2014

Unpacking Ugly Betty (Part I: Fashion)

I underestimated Ugly Betty. The television series, which aired between 2006 and 2010, tells the story of a recent Queens College graduate. Latina writer Betty Suarez gets hired at Mode magazine (Ugly Betty’s Vogue) as the assistant to the editor-in-chief (she slowly works her way up).

I think most of us have always had a certain impression of the series, even if we haven't seen every episode. The cartoony cutscenes, the integration of telenovelas, the often cheesy and unrealistic plotlines. Truly, it does include all of these things, but was so much more. Besides my obvious love for the show, its hilarious writing sequences, and clever character arcs, my main surprise was Ugly Betty's clever alignment with the fashion industry.  

Mode was an exaggeration of the fashion industry. Think The Devil Wears Prada, stretched across 85 episodes of character development. The entire series is fashion-centric. Even Betty’s nephew is obsessed with Fashion Television from the first episode – which seems to be the only news station in the city, always playing on a TV.

Ugly Betty unpacks the idea that fashion is shallow and irrelevant to our every day life. Exaggeration aside, it pretends to be an integral part of the industry. Each episode is packed with fashion references, from side-comments about models, designers, celebrities, to literally having the references come alive through carefully chosen guest stars.

Fashion-related appearances included Nina Garcia, Christian Siriano, Isaac Mizrahi, Martha Stewart, Kathy Griffin, Tim Gunn, Kenneth Cole, Victoria Beckham, Vera Wang, Betty White, Bow Wow, Gene Simmons, Larry King, Naomi Campbell, Regis & Kelly, Adriana Lima, Adele, Shakira, and Nigel Barker - and this is only a small sample of celebrity guest stars who played themselves (or an often exaggerated version of themselves).

Nearing the end of season four, Betty comes up to EIC Daniel Meade and questions him on his decision to book a trip to London Fashion Week: “you said it’s the training bra of fashion weeks,” she told him in the episode. In another episode, receptionist Amanda Tanning decides she wants more out of life than being Mode’s receptionist. She declares herself a stylist, and yells out “watch out Rachel Zoe, there’s a new skinny bitch in town.” These tiny references are completely irrelevant to someone with no fashion knowledge - but for a fashion enthusiast like me, I loved every minute of it.

Betty's character becomes a key component of the viewer's introduction into the fashion industry. Obviously, the themes of her character are clear: you are more than your looks, you don't need to be re-touched to be beautiful, you don't need to stab everyone in the back to make your way up the ranks, etc. From watching her transformation through four seasons, I think it digs a bit deeper from a fashion perspective.

She struggles with her transformation. She fears becoming a cold, power-hungry "Mode girl," and so does the viewer. Betty may have walked in on her first day wearing a bright red Guadaljara! poncho, but she ends the series wearing tailored, expensive clothes. Her wardrobe transformed slowly through the series, until it achieved a definite tasteful level. Betty becomes so fashionable, she gives the creative director a perforated ulcer. 

Does that make Betty's character any less intelligent, worthy, well-rounded? Does ANYONE become less intelligent once they pick up an interest in fashion, develop their aesthetic and taste level? If anything, she is more confident and focused on her career after her transformation than she is before, and so is the viewer.

“I think I finally get it. Fashion is art. It’s just another way of taking what’s on the inside and putting it out there for everybody else to experience it. It’s not shallow, it’s courageous. It’s…it’s beautiful.” – Betty, S3E15

The show tirelessly worked to construct an identity that made you believe it was seamlessly part of the “real fashion world.” In fact, it’s one of the only successful television series that held a dominant fashion perspective. Ugly Betty was an extremely accessible series, about a non-accessible and mostly exclusive industry.

Friday, 21 March 2014

GOOGLE TREND: FASHION________________________

Google Trend gathers and displays statistical data based on certain terms searched via Google. I thought it would be interesting to type in different fashion terms to see how accurate it is based on my knowledge of the industry. Thoughts?




















Wednesday, 5 February 2014

REVIEW: MADEMOISELLE C (2013)_________________

Mademoiselle C (2013)
IMDB Rating: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50%
Michel Magazine Rating: 9.25/10

Having patiently waited for Mademoiselle C to arrive at my house after ordering it in early December from Amazon UK, I was mentally and emotionally prepared to watch a fashion documentary that has been relatively inaccessible compared to the explosive buzz when The September Issue was released in 2009.

The documentary chronicles Carine Roitfeld's CR Fashion Book, her newest endeavor. CR is a blend between a fashion magazine and a fashion book, published bi-annually. Any self-proclaimed fashion-obsessed individual should know that Carine pulled herself up the fashion ladder by working closely with Mario Testino and Tom Ford, before holding Vogue Paris's editor-in-chief position for 10 iconic years.

I came in to the documentary knowing quite a bit about Carine's career, the people she had been associated with, and CR Fashion Book. What I did not expect, is the honesty that comes across for her as an individual. After having seen Vogue's The September Issue many many times, I expected a woman who was cold, decisive, and rich. Mademoiselle C took those expectations and threw them back at me.

Carine, at nearly 60-years-old, is full of compassion and understanding. She is never too renowned to say thank you to the taxi driver and make sure her models are well-cared for, all while balancing multiple tasks and projects at once. She is knowledgable, is connected to everyone who matters in the industry, but in a scene of the documentary freely admits that she will wear an outfit more than once.

The documentary brings you to each individual shoot and event that Carine attends during the course of CR Fashion Book's creation, and even in the most stressful moments (ex. a model cancelling right before a crucial shoot) she remains calm and collected.

The fashion industry in general always comes off as a bit exclusive and closed off. The film made you feel like you were part of it. In one deleted scene, Carine helps two random guys standing outside a fashion show by sneaking them in as if they were part of her group. She also reveals secrets about the industry that even I wasn't aware of - like how editors during couture week used to pick out looks during the day and shoot their magazine editorials at night, to make sure they could secure the pieces before the clients or other editors. She even employed this couture-snatching technique herself for CR Fashion Book editorial.

Carine is a woman riddled with experience. She lives and breathes fashion. The documentary made me want to sit down and have a cocktail with her, and discuss her favourite couture looks - not that she would have time in her crazy schedule to do so, though.

The film left me feeling inspired, enlightened, and ready to watch it another 100 times.

"Fashion is a bit about changing yourself into the person you dream of being." - CR