The Drama of Being a Model: Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill Land in Fashion Week
Opening Ceremony’s NYFW presentation stood out: a play created by Hollywood names, it proved that fashion shows could be distinctive. More, please.
On Sunday night, fashionistas filed into their assigned seats in a building at the back of the Lincoln Center complex, just like at every other catwalk show during New York Fashion Week. They compared outfits, loudly greeted friends, tapped on their iPhones. And then the lights dimmed, Jonah Hill’s voice came over the loudspeaker welcoming the crowd, and the red curtain pulled back…on a scene that was very unlike a fashion show.
The big reveal uncovered actors on a stage behind which was the actual formal theater of red velvet-covered seats and opulent finishings. The audience was seated behind the stage, looking out. The show that followed was Opening Ceremony’s fashion presentation-cum-play, a one-act performance entitled 100% Lost Cotton directed by Spike Jonze and written by Jonze and Jonah Hill that shook up what it means to present a collection.
In a good-natured satire of the fashion industry, the story explored what it’s like to be a model, to ready looks for the runway, and the Opening Ceremony team itself, while at the same time showcasing Carol Lim and Humberto Leon’s latest Spring/Summer 2015 collection. While a little long and a bit trite toward the end, it was exactly the creative change that Fashion Week needs.
The play told the story of a designer (Humberto Leon, of course) getting his collection ready for the runway. In dual plotlines, fresh-faced and brand new model Julie (played by Elle Fanning) learns about what it’s really like to be a model from Dree Hemingway’s veteran model Bella (“I also do musing,” she arrogantly declares.) At the same time, Leon (played by actor John Cameron Mitchell) huffs around the stage in a parody of a creative and creatively challenged designer trying to finalize his latest collection, alternately haughty about his role (“I don’t do that,” he tells his assistant, played by Bobby Cannavale, about talking directly to the models standing in front of him) and full of doubt about his latest creations (“This hem feels very normal…it reeks of fear.”)
According to Lim and Leon’s welcome note (packaged in a full playbill worthy of any Broadway production), the idea to stage a one-act in lieu of a traditional runway show was born in a “lightbulb moment” among friends working in different industries. The note quotes Jonah Hill saying, “This is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt we were doing a project for the fun of it—to make something together with cool people.”
And it truly is a hybrid. Two big Hollywood names have written and directed a play (their first, as they proudly proclaim in their joint cast bio) inspired by a top fashion brand’s new collection that serves as the costumes for the actors. And the performers are mixed as well. There are actors (Elle Fanning), models who are on their way to becoming successful actors (Dree Hemingway), models making their debut acting performance (Karlie Kloss), and models who are just playing “models,” with no speaking parts and simply there as living racks for this season’s looks.
The play was a touch long and the story line a bit belabored toward the end as it moved away from the satire and into a sappy sob session on how hard it is to be a model and an earnest explanation of the collection’s inspiration (it “recalls simpler times, the innocence of surburban adolescence, and years of teen rebellion,” according to the designers’ note). At moments, it also had the feel of an at-home production staged among friends, complete with flubbed lines and inside jokes, both among the fashion crowd and about life in New York City (Fanning proudly states her cousin is a bartender at Tonic.) But overall, the show was just the fresh approach that the fashion industry needs.
Despairing about the length and frequency of the many fashion weeks has become a tired refrain. The circus now comes to town over and over and over each year in a relentless procession of made-up models, stone-faced runway processions, cool-kid music, and designer’s taking their bow…and then on to the next one. There are collections for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter and Haute Couture and Resort. And this is repeated in whole or in part in cities all over the globe, seemingly year round.
But now, many designers—particularly the up-and-coming set—are trying to shake up this formula and do something a little different. Yes, they want to show their amazing (hopefully, fingers crossed) new collection. But they want to do it in a way that’s fresh and entertaining. They have teamed up with artists (Misha Nonoo collaborated with artist Dustin Yellin on some prints…and then had him walk the runway) and performance artists (Gareth Pugh staged an immersive show complete with dancers, but no live fashion). But this is the first time that the collection has literally been performed.
Yes, we want to see the gorgeous, innovative new looks, and yes, we get excited about the established, big names, no matter how dull their presentations may be. But the real excitement these days is for the designers who are choosing to eschew tradition and present their collections in creative and innovative ways. We want more like the example set by Opening Ceremony: the drama of clothes made truly dramatic.