Thursday, February 7, 2013

Meryl Streep Portrays Both Style and Substance

By Olan Ahern, Guest Blogger

I had a writer contact me about doing a guest post for Tinsel & Tine, which is always cool!  She pitched a post on Award show fashions best and worst over the years. As much as I enjoy talking about red carpet choices in my Oscar and Golden Globe recaps, I feel this topic is covered so much better on television with video clips rather than a blog with photos.

I did mention that if she wanted to zero in on one actress and examine the importance of wardrobe from one role to the next, that would be a topic I'd be interested in reading and posting.

And so, Olan Ahern did just that ...

Meryl Streep is one of the most famed and critically acclaimed actors in the history of film. What makes her so unique is the fact it’s strangely impossible to associate one image that you can truly say defines her movie career.

Over the course of her career she has labored to establish herself as an actor whose roots lie in ordinary life. I watched a recent interview of Streep on The Actors Studio; Streep was asked how she prepares for a role? She responded by saying she has no set technique but says she works from the inside out, but makes the point it’s important to learn how the character looks and address it as quickly as possible to focus on the real work. Meryl Streep's transformation from The Devil Wears Prada to The Iron Lady shows her dedication to her craft, and her versatility and openness when playing a character. I decided to analyze these two movies to showcase the importance of a wardrobe in reflecting a characters persona in polar opposite fashions, looking at both style and substance as the platform of my discussion.

The Devil Wears Prada - in 2006, Meryl Streep played the role of Miranda Priestly, chief editor of fashion magazine Runway in this comedy based drama, Streep's performance was based on the life of Anna Wintour chief editor of American Vogue. Her performance drew critical acclaim and earned her many award nominations, including her record-setting 14th Oscar bid. This films chic lit origin of modern day fashion commercialism made it a dream role when it comes to costume, hair and make-up. Director David Frankel, set a budget of $100,000 for famed fashion stylist Patricia Field (Sex and the City) to produce a wardrobe. Her job was to bring identity to these roles, by showcasing designer clothes and shoes to perfectly suit the characters of women who work for a fashion magazine, without hitting you over the head with it. From the hair and make up to the Chanel boots on their feet, the whole ensemble was perfect. It’s believed that if it wasn’t for the help from her friends in the industry; Valentino, Calvin Klein, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana among others this modern day Cinderella story would never have come to life. $1 million dollars’ worth of clothing was worn on set at the end of shooting.

Miranda Priestly is the so called most powerful women in fashion, and Streep is quoted as saying; “She’s a taste and trend-maker and therefore a market-setter. In the movie she is swathed in “of-the-moment brands”; $12,000 Gucci handbags, $30,000 Dior furs and $1,000 Channel over-the-knee boots. Her day time wear consists of gold chains heaped upon embroidered jackets layered over sequined tops, all of it cinched by wide belts and accessorized with knee-high boots.

Her demur choice of evening wear and signature hair do – white grey bob – that Streep makes look timeless, places her quintessentially as thy style Queen in the movie. However, no doubting the style throughout the film, top fashion critics somewhat slated the overall costume selection. Stating it as misapprehension of what truly counts as “fabulous” in the realm of style. Even the makeup in the film was considered over the top. Ms. Field said the costumes were never intended to match reality. "Did Holly Golightly represent reality in a Givenchy dress? I was in that zone," and "My job is to present an entertainment, a world people can visit and take a little trip". This leads me to my main point; the role of costume in this film is style, style and more style to place Miranda as the head of this almost dream like fashion metropolis. She uses her costume to establish a rapport with the character and makes it easy for the audience to relate to who she is as the head of what is considered as the most fashionable magazine in the world. For The Devil Wears Prada to succeed it was important to use style over substance.
The Iron Lady- in 2011, Meryl Streep starred in this biographical adaptation of Margaret Thatcher life. Streep's performance was widely acclaimed, and considered to be one of the finest of her career. Streep received the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Thatcher across four decades. She earned her third Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In a Motion Picture and her second BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her wardrobe is of extreme importance in portraying this revolutionary character. Margaret Thatcher was synonymous for turning heads in the British Parliament for her class and lady like demeanor as the first female head of parliament in England.

Director, Phyllida Lloyd appointed world renowned Consolata Boyle as costume designer, who said; “I had an extraordinary vision for how to not just replicate but to make some poetic sense of the journey of her clothes.” Boyle captures Thatcher’s style perfectly, synonymously movie goers and critics alike found it almost impossible to determine if it was Streep or in fact a rejuvenated Maggie playing the role

Boyle looked at photos and newsreels from the 1970s and 1980s, using a magnifying glass to study the clothes – renowned for her pleated skirt, Peter Pan collar and suit jacket she wore on her election in 1979. Every detail, from her pussybow blouses to her famous structured handbag were taken into careful consideration before choosing a costume for each scene.

Director Lloyd talks in depth about the significance of the color blue, and how the tone represents Maggie’s power within the movie. Lloyd says of Maggie's 'blue' wardrobe: "You see a color palette of young Margaret in beautiful blue silk, you see her at the opera with Denis, and when she goes to dine with the Dartford Conservative Association, and gradually that pale blue color becomes a little darker when you see Margaret with Gordon Reece and Airey Neave, and then gradually when you see her become party leader you’re getting more royal blue."

Streep’s Thatcher brought meaning to the word authoritative dressing, she was aware of both the strengths of mixing femininity and masculinity to powerful effect. She never underestimated grooming - as photos of her immaculate hair show. Personal touches, like a necklace and jeweled bangle from her husband Denis, also showed a softer side. In the film, her wardrobe also changes as her role is challenged. Lloyd says: "She enters a world of purples and tweeds around the Falklands. Then you see her suddenly at that Cabinet table with Geoffrey Howe, and she’s wearing red, and on some subliminal level this tells you that something is wrong. When she leaves Downing Street in that red suit, to the sound of Bellini’s Casta Diva, you feel she has become a tragic heroine in an opera".

We see that the costumes and use of mimicry by Streep adds a lot to her portrayal of Maggie’s character in this role. Streep said it was of the utmost importance to portraying this iconic character and helped to bring substance to the performance.

Both Miranda Priestly and Margaret Thatcher are two parts that showcase the importance of both style and substance in film and how the use of costume can greatly add to a character. For me no other actor quite captures this in film like Meryl Streep.

Sources: Movie WebThe New York Times Style Section,

My name is Olan Ahern. I have a keen interest in all aspects of film, from costume design to looking at an actor’s approach to creating a character. Film has always fascinated me. Most of the time I write posts that include some elements of fashion, film and fashion are my two favorite art forms and allow you to express yourself creatively.

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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