Ultra Swank - Retro Adventures

The Fashion File – From the Costume Designer of “Mad Men”

Written by Baron von Swankenstein • December 23rd, 2010
The Fashion File – From the Costume Designer of “Mad Men”

Film is escapism. Anyone who has seen “The Thomas Crowne Affair,” or a classic James Bond film knows that part of film fantasy is an exotic environment and all it contains. While that environment is not always true, in escapism people tend to look up at glamour rather than down at the real world.

In film, fantastic environments are created by sets. Ironically, though, the most important sets aren’t sets at all but rather costumes. Costumes are seen in far shots, in close-up, and are sometimes seen in great detail. And they get as much screen time, and change locations, as do the actors wearing them.

Those who have ever come out of a movie theater wishing they could bring the fantasy with them should focus, at least a little bit, on fashion. When you can’t live in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” or Don Draper’s New York, clothes inspired by such films are the only things of the movie world that you can take with you.

When it comes to fashion, you want the advice of a designer — a trained visual artist who actually *makes* clothes and spends more time attiring others than themselves. Ideally speaking, instead of self-aggrandizement, they’re more interested in the artistic statement of the final product — the ensemble.

Costumiers, mindful of not shattering the illusory world in which their film characters live, tend to be the most academic and detail-oriented of the fashion design professions. And this is why Janie Bryant’s “The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration From The Costume Designer of ‘Mad Men'” is a welcome book.

To be sure, “Fashion File” isn’t a history book nor is it strictly a costumer’s book. It doesn’t tell you that Brooks Brothers was the premiere purveyor of American men’s attire in the 1960s. Nor does it tell you the differences in cinematic lighting and what to expect from it. An apt alternative title for the book could be “Fashion For Dummies.”

Despite the air of mystery fashion seems to carry, Bryant makes it devastatingly simple: Know your colors; Know your body type; Organize your closet; and take time out for a bit of planning.

More than just discussing theory and expecting you to know how to make use of it, “Fashion File” gives some concrete pointers: how to take proper measurements; how (and why) to keep a personal fashion journal; finding correct fit for undergarments; and even how to properly knot neckties (standard, ascot, and bow !)

And, gentlemen, don’t think this book isn’t for you. “Chapter 7: The Don Draper Makeover” is worth the cover price alone. Plus, a lot of the advice given to the ladies in the rest of the book can easily be adapted by men. And “Mad Men” fans, don’t worry: “Chapter 5: A Passion For Vintage” is aimed squarely at you.

Rounded off with commentary written by Mad Men cast members January Jones, Elizabeth Moss, and Christina Hendricks, “The Fashion File” has more valuable advice in it than its slender package would suggest. It will be a book you return to again and again when Dean Martin swank and Audrey Hepburn style elude you.

Read a multi-chapter excerpt from “The Fashion File”

Grand Central Life & Style; 2010
Hardcover; 176 pages
$26.99 US; $29.99 Canada
ISBN 978-0-446-57271-2

Baron von Swankenstein

Roman Gheesling aka Baron von Swankenstein, is that swingin' mad scientist who celebrates Halloween year round. He also holds a BFA in Graphic Design.

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