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Curator, photographer, blogger and costume designer Filep Motwary, conducted a series of interviews with top opinion leaders in fashion
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6 Oct

Working Girl by Mike Nichols

Runway Review - Working Girl by Mike Nichols

Runway Review: Off-White SS17

You're the first woman I've seen in one of these damn things that dresses like a woman, not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.

“Thank you, I guess.” But Jack’s questionable pick-up line as he first meets Tess – at the closing party for the Minidyne-Dalton merger, about as fun as it sounds – puts into words a fundamental principle running throughout Working Girl: that clothes really do make the man, or woman, or make sure at least that she’s listened to. Manhattan, learns Tess, who takes the ferry to work every morning from Staten Island, is built around appearances. “Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman,” had said her new boss, Kathrine, quoting Coco Chanel as she introduced herself. She, for instance, tends to favour an intimidating shade of red, the same that Sigourney Weaver wore to win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role. Tess, played just as wonderfully by Melanie Griffith, followed her mentor’s advice. She scaled down her voluminous hairdo into a slightly less voluminous bob, and gained some of the confidence that both Kathrine and Harrison Ford’s Jack possess in spades. Though he presents it as a joke where – “Maybe I just don’t like you,” “Me? Nah” – neither considers rejection a possibility. And he’s eventually right, Tess does like him. That it’s in Kathrine’s $6,000 dress that Tess knocks back tequila and impersonates an executive at the brokerage firm she works for, rather than the secretary she actually is, is one of many ironies across the script that adds insult to injury as Tess takes her revenge – after learning that Kathrine had planned to steal one of her ideas and propose it as her own. Another irony, though Tess would only find out later, is that Jack is the boyfriend Kathrine was counting she’d marry. But that’s all their love triangle ever is to their story: irony, one of many details.

It’s 1988 Wall Street. Romance is neither Tess’ nor Kathrine’s priority, which is why Working Girl was often remembered as a feminist fairy tale, whose various faults only seem obvious with hindsight. True, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, but it also appears to glorify capitalism as the only path towards empowerment. And to climb her way up the corporate ladder, Tess has to trade bits of herself – her working-class roots, her comfortable shoes. “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear” Cyn, Tess’ best friend, wisely warns her “doesn’t make me Madonna.” Yet her worries turn out to be for nothing, because Tess becomes exactly who she was pretending to be. As the movie ends, she’s even got a secretary of her own. Still, as The Guardian puts it, ‘something faintly malignant hangs in the air.’ Tess is on the phone with Cyn, all excited, and we see her through the window of her new private office. As the credits roll on, we’re offered a new perspective. Slowly, the camera pans out, and all too soon, Tess disappears into a grid of windows, of skyscrapers, into the New York skyline. It’s subtle enough you could miss it, could think that maybe he didn’t mean it that way, but Mike Nichols directed The Graduate some twenty years before Working Girl. Remember the final scene? The giddiness of the escape followed by those famous few seconds when uncertainty dawns. Caught up as she is in her career, in her dreams fulfilled, Tess might be unable to look at her situation from the outside. But the director can, does, and certainly means it.


Runway Reviews

This in an ongoing series covering the most important fashion shows from around the world through the gaze of film. Moving images continually inspire collections and designers are more involved in the film world than ever; indeed Fashion Film is a verified genre. So rather than examining the garments on the runway, writer Silvia Bombardini analyses the film that inspired them in the first place.

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