Fear and Clothing
Why 89 is the new ingenue
How Agnes Varda won the Oscar's red carpet and everything else
Everyone is suddenly in love. Our object of adoration is a diminutive little person with a two-tone page boy. Extremely white on top and super red below. Like a Swiss flag. She is definitely not neutral. Or Swiss. Agnes Varda is a winner. She may not have won the Oscar she was nominated for – Best Documentary Feature – Faces Places made with photographer JR. But she won everything else. The red carpet and all the hearts and minds. All this and in May she turns 90.How? In a Gucci pyjama suit. A bold move given the propensity for ball gowns on these occasions. Now I have nothing against ball gowns per se. I mean the world needs to dream dammit. And what better way to dream than to see a bunch of heart-stoppingly beautiful women in heart-stoppingly beautiful dresses, acting like a bunch of princesses?But for anyone to pretend that any of these outfits of choice bear even a smidgen of a relationship to the hashtag feminist politics of the moment is to read too much into a great frothy ton of nothing. Even a black frothy ton of nothing.
Don’t be such a naysayer you might say. The spectacle is enough to drive some attention to the trials and tribulations of women everywhere. Especially if worn with a white rose, or a pin or some such? Well no.When you watch the lovely ladies of the silver screen taking their glamorous turn in front of the cameras you are watching a well-worn exercise in marketing. Never mind the perpetuation of well-worn ideals in beauty and let’s face it womanhood. Whether black or white, young or old, full-figured or razor-thin all of these women feel compelled to get trussed up in a particular way for this sort of thing. And that is in a ball gown and all its iterations.They all dress up like a princess and come bearing all the things that all that princessy stuff represents. It’s a well-worn trope which is glamorous and bewitching, and it casts magic dust into the eyes of the observers. Aspirational dust I give it that – but dust that is freighted with meaning and consequence: that to be beautiful you must look like a version of this. Always.Just look at Jane Fonda at 80. Fantastic no doubt, but dressed in the same ball gown as everyone else. What the Gucci pajama suit on an octogenarian goes a long way towards doing is washing some of that magic dust out of our eyes. Its like a particularly powerful solvent. Saying hang on actually, do take a look at this woman. You can suddenly really see her, not just the symbol of her. She is not a princess, a dream, an aspirational other. Here she is actually is – a real, super wonderful, super creative, person in her own right. And she makes some really good films. And has been making them for a long time.
And yes, she is dressed like a real person. Wearing lovely, clever clothes – but not princess clothes. These clothes say I am celebrating this great night out but I am dressed like myself. Not some spangly avatar of womanhood. And at 89 she is the only woman on that red carpet who had the guts to do that.