Fashion & Beauty / Lessons to Learn

The Star-Studded 1994 Comedy That Ruthlessly Satirised the Fashion Industry

What better way to reflect on the end of fashion month than revisiting Robert Altman’s sartorial satire, Prêt-à-Porter?

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Prêt-à-Porter, 1994(Film still)

In 1984, 10 years before the release of Prêt-à-Porter, director Robert Altman was on a promotional tour for his film Streamers. While in Paris, his wife Kathryn took him to a fashion show by the designer Sonia Rykiel. “I really had no interest in going at all,” Altman is reported to have said, “but then the lights went out, the music began, and I thought ‘so that’s it, it’s a circus. I’ve got to make a film about this!’”

Fast forward to 1994, and his magnum opus of sartorial satire was complete. The ensemble cast included Sophia Loren, Lauren Bacall, Kim Basinger and Julia Roberts, with an exhaustive list of cameos from *deep breath*: Naomi Campbell, Cher, Helena Christensen, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gautier, Christian Lacroix, Issey Miyake, Gianfranco Ferré, Björk, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Nicola Trussardi and – bizarrely – David Copperfield, to mention but a few.

Despite such a stellar ‘who’s who’ list of names, the film was largely considered a flop and reviews didn’t hold back in totally eviscerating it. Even Karl Lagerfeld managed to block Prêt-à-Porter’s release in Germany over Forest Whitaker’s throwaway line calling the designer a “thief”. So, what better way to mark the end of fashion month than revisiting the film in all its critically panned glory? 

1. Wear Thierry Mugler if you want to pull

The film was shot on location during Paris Fashion Week, and opens with reporter Kitty Potter – played by Kim Basinger as a southern belle approximately 1000 miles out of her comfort zone – venturing backstage and “sippin’ Diet Coke with all the top models!” One of the first interviews she braves is with Thierry Mugler, who tells her that his designs are “all about getting a great fuck, honey”. Following Mugler’s wise words, perhaps sporting one of his extra-terrestrially seductive ensembles on your next date might just work wonders. 

2. But use protection...

“I can’t deal with this girl,” cries an exasperated Richard E. Grant in the role of designer Cort Romney. “Bald and tattooed is not part of my vision – it’s beyond déjà vu.” He is, in fact, gesticulating towards IRL supermodel Ève Salvail, whose shaved head, inked with a dragon on one side, made her one of the most sought-after faces in fashion during the 1990s. When informed that the girl he wants to cast is actually pregnant, Romney exclaims: “Pregnant is not my silhouette this season – my bulge is in the bustle out at the back, not out front!” 

3. Don’t ever leave your hotel room

Anne Eisenhower (Julia Roberts), a Houston Chronicle reporter and Washington Post sportswriter Joe Flynn (Tim Robbins) – who are in Paris to follow up on the ‘murder’ of Olivier de la Fontaine, the head of the French Fashion Council – have the right idea when it comes to fashion week. Rather than attending shows, mingling with the beautiful people and RSVP-ing to various soirées, they prefer to hole themselves up in their Parisian hotel room, drinking champagne and entwined in a passionate fling. Sounds great to us. 

4. Never underestimate a fashion editor

Fashion photographer Milo O’Brannigan, a character artfully delivered by Stephen Rea as Bono’s doppelganger, thinks he has the upper hand when he takes compromising photographs of Elle’s Regina Krumm, Harper’s Bazaar’s Sissy Wannamaker and Nina Scant of British Vogue, as the three women fight to sign him to their publications. But Wannamaker is several Manolo Blahnik-clad steps ahead of him. “It’s like a scene from Macbeth,” says O’Brannigan, when the trio turn up meaning business on the set of one of his shoots, clutching the negatives of one of his important projects, and threatening to destroy them. A word of warning: do not cross a fashion editor.

5. Cher is the oracle of our times

Undoubtedly, Cher is one of the most important voices of our time, giving us such inspirational words as: “Mother told me a couple of years ago: ‘sweetheart, settle down and marry a rich man.’ I said, ‘Mom, I am a rich man.’” In Prêt-à-Porter, she also imparts her unshakable wisdom: “I actually think the whole thing about this prêt-à-porter is about women trying to be beautiful and none of us are going to look like Naomi Campbell, none of us are going to look like Christy Turlington, so in a way I think it’s kind of sad. I think it’s not about what you put on your body, it’s about who you are on the inside.” 

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