Costume Designer Bonnie Cashin
The movie basically consists of well-dressed rich people standing in luxury flats and talking to a cop. Roger Ebert
I wasn’t designing for fashion, but for characteristics, which is the way I like to design clothes for daily wear. I like to design clothes for a woman who plays a particular role in life, not simply to design clothes that follow a certain trend, or that express some new silhouette.
Film noir is known for its convoluted plots and arbitrary twists, but even in a genre that gave us The Maltese Falcon, this takes some kind of prize … That Laura continues to weave a spell – and it does – is a tribute to style over sanity … All of [the] absurdities and improbabilities somehow do not diminish the film’s appeal. They may even add to it … [T]he whole film is of a piece: contrived, artificial, mannered, and yet achieving a kind of perfection in its balance between low motives and high style. What makes the movie great, perhaps, is the casting. The materials of a B-grade crime potboiler are redeemed by Waldo Lydecker, walking through every scene as if afraid to step in something
According to Ula Lukszo, “clothes of the noir film – part of the noir Look – are essential to the nostalgia and fascination we associate with these films”. The same author suggests that “noir can be defined by fashion”, observing that noir films “contain common patterns of dress and related signifiers [that make] noir fashion a significant means of constructing noir into a contemporary genre and cultural fantasy”.
While it seems that styles portrayed in classic noir films are mere reflections of the popular styles at the time, giving the impression that clothing choices “reflect little more than everyday personal choices”, costumes in noir movies still retain their main function, characterization.
“Wherever we went, she stood out.” It helps that the excellent costume design allows Laura to be all things to all people: Elegant, simple, romantic, feminine, and complimentary.
Film noir relies on both the visual pleasure that resides in the costuming and the lighting of the film, and the emotional pleasure of seeing criminals punished and tough protagonists either dispensing “true justice (…) or succumbing to their transgressions. ( Lukszo)
Laura had innate breeding, but she deferred to my judgment and taste. I selected a more attractive hairdress for her. I taught her what clothes were more becoming to her. Through me, she met everyone. The famous and the infamous. Her youth and beauty, her poise and charm of manner captivated them all. She had warmth, vitality. She had authentic magnetism. Wherever we went, she stood out: men admired her, women envied her. She became as well known as Waldo Lydecker’s walking stick and his white carnation. But Tuesday and Friday nights we stayed home, dining quietly, listening to my records. I read my articles to her. The way she listened was more eloquent than speech. These were the best nights. Then one Tuesday, she phoned and said she couldn’t come.
No matter how undeniably inspiring the femme fatale in noir always is, I never really can bring myself to “walk the walk, talk the talk and dress the part”. Laura is a more approachable heroine in a sense that, throughout the narrative, she seems to be a “self-made” woman in spite of what the men around her might think and beyond the femme fatale / “nurturing woman” dichotomy. There’s more to her than the “fantasy of the to-be-looked-at-ness“.
Photos and References
Ula Lukszo, Noir Fashion and Noir as Fashion in Munich, Adrienne (editor) Fashion in Film