Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

How Gatsby mixed bright young things of two eras

Dedicated followers of fashion: the new film version of The Great Gatsby also involves music giant Jay-Z
Dedicated followers of fashion: the new film version of The Great Gatsby also involves music giant Jay-Z

Though the 1920s have made a roaring comeback in the past couple of years, the runway styles at Gucci and dramatics of Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire serve merely as teasers for what is to come.

The period-meets-pop-culture tidal wave that is Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby hits the silver screen in a matter of weeks.

Mounting criticism of Luhrmann's treatment of F Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel cannot stop the bombastic commercial roll-out ahead of the movie's various global premieres and releases next month.

Should a story about class, money and sex, set in an era where a seismic shift in consumerism and social norms occurs, have Prada, Jay-Z and Beyonce woven into the lawn parties, metallic ties and beaded flapper dresses? Of course they should.

And would Scott have approved? Without a doubt.

In the spirit of Luhrmann's juxtaposing film-making style, together with the film's costume designer, Catherine Martin, he aligned the movie with American brands rigidly associated with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as hot tickets in contemporary fashion and music.

One of America's oldest men's clothiers, Brooks Brothers, launched The Gatsby Collection this week.

However, this is no canny jump on the back of the bandwagon.

Fashion historian and curator Dr Deirdre Clemente states on her Fitzgerald & Fashion blog that Scott "was such a Brooks Brothers fan, he had his military uniform tailored there".

The fashion line is adapted from the 1,700 pieces created by Brooks Brothers for more than 150 extras and lead actors. Unsurprisingly, Fitzgerald was also a frequent customer of Tiffany & Co.

The iconic brand's archived pieces are used extensively in the movie and have been released for sale in the Ziegfeld Collection.

Look to Fifth Avenue for nifty goings-on at the Plaza Hotel – the backdrop for that infamous sweltering row.

The Fitzgerald Suite has been designed by Ms Martin in Deco-fabulous style, with her own brand of jazz-age rugs under foot.

It was clever of the production to work with the brands that are genuine stakeholders historically and use their age-old prestige to market the film.

By incorporating the right ones, the Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet creator frees himself to incorporate riskier modern artistic inputs.

Costume aficionados are up in arms at the quirky partnership with Miuccia Prada.

Ms Martin says that she pulled retrocentric pieces from Prada's recent archive to represent the "dichotomy between those who aspired to the privileged, Ivy League look of wealthy Long Island and those who were aspiring to European glamour, sophistication and decadence".

There is much talk of the appropriacy of Shawn (Jay-Z) Carter as an executive producer of The Great Gatsby.

To diehard fans, he is too modern, too brassy, too urban.

From another angle, the rapper-mogul is a modern Fitzgerald player himself.

The Daily Beast website last week published a tongue-in-cheek, 20-point comparison between the two 'Jays' – Gatsby and Z. Carter has risen from a stark ghetto upbringing, building a music and luxury goods empire, to becoming a friend of President Barack Obama.

Ms Clemente writes that "much like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald spent money partying, moving, travelling, drinking".

If the Fitzgeralds were alive and well, he and Zelda would undoubtedly be popping bottles of champagne with the Carters at Jay's 40/40 Club in Manhattan. The conversation?

Art, money, sex and fashion. So what is the point of all this commercialism?

'Gaudy' is a word Scott often used to describe the hedonism and extravagance of Gatsby's contrived lifestyle in the book.

To win back his lost love, Daisy Buchanan, Jay shows off his wealth by attracting the New York rent-a-crowd like magpies, with his shiny cars, speedboats and sparkling parties on the lawn.

Just like the author, Luhrmann takes the best in luxury and technology of the time and harnesses them to contrast the souring fantasy. The inclusion of commercially and critically successful elements, such as Prada, Beyonce, Florence and the Machine, Kanye West and CGI, conveys a classic story into a 21st century audience.

Arguable grey areas abound: time will tell if Luhrmann's adaptation delivers on Fitzgerald's vision of a society in flux.

One thing is for sure, though: it'll be a gas. And Fitzgerald would have been at the premiere, front row, sipping a gin martini.

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