The 1975 movie Mahogany may not be remembered entirely well by history – “a big, lush, messy soap opera,” said critic Roger Ebert in his two star review of the time. But, in lieu of a cohesive plot, rounded characterisation, believable dialogue (etc.) you have Diana Ross, and her wardrobe – both of which are, unsurprisingly, fabulous.
The age-defiant Ross plays Tracy Chambers, a young fashion student plucked from the Chicago department store where she works by a photographer who transforms her into Mahogany, Chambers’ high-glam alter-ego and international supermodel of the world. The film’s ending sees Ross reaching peak diva as she fulfils Chambers’ real dream, to become a fashion designer, by way of a proto-John Galliano for Dior fashion extravaganza (Spring 2007 Couture, specifically) and accompanying backstage meltdown.
The rest of the plot is, quite frankly, too much to go into, primarily involving Chambers overcoming run-ins with progressively terrible men – from a sleazy European Count to a sexually frustrated photographer and budding psychopath (viewers should note his terrifyingly comprehensive collection of guns) played by Anthony Perkins in a Norman Bates redux moment.
For all its faults, Mahogany is, at heart, a testament to the transformative power of fashion, celebrated in the upcoming How to Slay: Inspiration From the Queens & Kings of Black Style – and a world where the defiant Ross rules supreme (in Bob Mackie, naturally).
1. Live your life like a fashion montage
All great fashion movies have their montage moment, and Mahogany is no exception – here, via four glorious minutes of 1970s photo shoot on the streets of Rome and the scene where Mahogany emerges, chrysalis-like, from the retiring Chambers she was before. Viewers looking to live a more fulfilled existence would be advised to incorporate some of Ross’ signature moves (and for the brave, looks) into their day-to-day lives – granted, writhing about in a Roman fountain in a crystallised body stocking and pink wig may take some doing, but easier to achieve is Ross’ joyful abandon, demonstrated here as she throws herself about in a fully feathered Bob Mackie number. Extra points if you can live your fashion fantasy out to your own Oscar-nominated song, as Ross does in this memorable scene.
2. Do the most
On that note, as with most things Ross sets her mind to, Mahogany demonstrates the multi-hyphenate’s ability to do the absolute most. From screaming meltdowns to feverishly dripping hot candle wax over her body, Ross acts the part like her life depends on it. As the woman herself says: “you can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.” Case in point: when Ross decided the clothes for the final fashion show weren’t quite as fabulous as herself, in a meta-moment, Ross, playing fashion designer, became one, creating several looks that made it into the final cut.
3. Wear pink
Preferably hot, à la perhaps the film’s most iconic gown, worn by Mahogany in her faux Revlon advertisement and Ross in the movie’s poster. Made by maximalist costumer Bob Mackie, king of more is more when it comes to sequins and less is less when it comes to covering one’s body, this figure-skimming gown with matching turban and stole was fairly restrained, but no less arresting. And current, too – the look wouldn’t have been entirely out of place in Marc Jacobs’ decadent, 70s-tinged S/S18 collection.
4. It’s all about eyelashes
Mahogany works by the bigger is better rule of style, applying to hair, first and foremost (the bouncy blow outs are works of art to behold) but also to eyelashes, which seem to get bigger as Mahogany’s star rises. Applied to the upper and lower lashes, the giant falsies are 1970s disco glamour times ten, best accessorised with a slash of blue eyeliner and perfectly preened brow. Because as the wistful Ross knows, eyes are the windows to the soul – so why not dress those windows well?
5. Chase your dreams
Ambiguous morals aside, at heart, Mahogany is about dreaming big and wanting more than you have. Whether your dream is to get out of your dead-end job and see the world, or simply wear some really great clothes, let Diana Ross lead the way. “The story is fantasy, but also authentic since any young girl who has grown up in a black neighbourhood and has some ambitions wants to get out of the place,” Ross told the Los Angeles Times in 1975. “She doesn’t want to be the woman behind the man, licking envelopes and sticking stamps for the rest of her life. Tracy is vain, tough, sweet, calculating, understanding – more varied, and changing all the time.”