There’s a lot of talk about Annie Hall when it comes to cinematic fashion references. And while Diane Keaton, dressed in the film by Ralph Lauren, certainly is the eternal style icon everyone gabs about, when it comes to Woody Allen’s films his most striking in terms of costuming is neither Annie Hall nor even Manhattan but rather his 1978 high-intensity drama Interiors.
Regarded in film circles as “Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman,” it was his first serious drama. Breathtakingly photographed by longtime Allen collaborator Gordon Willis and with impeccable costumes uncharacteriscially designed by Joel Schumacher (the director of the garish and insidious Batman & Robin and Batman Forever films), Interiors is perhaps one of the greatest fashion films ever made. The fashion message? A testament to late ‘70s minimalism; its softness, its austerity and its ease. All the hallmarks of the era’s refined lines and seductive sportswear are exalted and showcased with the scope and attention to detail worthy of any well-produced fashion campaign. Working off an overall tonal palette of pastels, beiges, greys, and browns rendered in lush tweeds, brushed wools, velvets, satins, and gabardines, the costumes exist in perfect harmony with the set design (by Mario Mazzola and Daniel Robert) and Willis’s photography to produce an endless stream of moving images that are as haunting in their beauty as any fashion image lensed by Deborah Turbeville.
The plot centers around a family in turmoil; three sisters Renata, Joey and Flynn (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, and Kristin Griffith) each battling their own bourgeois, intellectual and existential crisis while they deal with their neurotic mother Eve (Geraldine Page) whose depression and obsessive compulsive disorder is driving the family towards collapse. The film’s melancholic tone and script strangely adds to its visual splendor imbuing each image and moment with a humming anguish that is only put to rest at the film’s closing credits. The actors, who are all mostly flawless (the script does read both stoic and theatrical, though not surprisingly as it was based on the work of Chekov), excel as models making their lavishly art directed looks not only believable but charge them with a poignant artificial reality no fashion plate or fashion film could dare to attempt. Diane Keaton has never been more glamourous as she is backlit with wild hair, smoking a cigarette and lamenting her artistic struggles and dysfunctional family.
Through the costumes you can begin to make out the key fashion players of the era. In the wardrobe of Eve there are nods to the silks of John Anthony, the dresses of Jean Muir and the suits of Halston. In the wardrobe of the sisters, far more casual and youthful, you can make out Ralph Lauren losing ground to Perry Ellis and the triumph of Donna Karan at Anne Klein: a turtle neck worn under a blouse, an ochre cable knit sweater, a khaki coat with the cuffs turned up. Even in Joey’s partner Mike (played by Sam Waterston) there is the semblance of Calvin Klein’s youthful and debonair style, dressed head-to-toe in beige, of course. In one scene set in a clothing boutique, a display of Emanuel Ungaro scarves sit in the background almost as an afterthought, though he had a big moment ten years prior Ungaro wouldn’t again be a scene stealer for another decade
As a film Interiors is one of Allen’s greatest. As a fashion reference it is significant and profound. Made today you could imagine it costumed by Matthew Ames or Adam Lippes, perhaps Christophe Lemaire or Jesse Kamm for the sportier looks. Years after being made its fashion message remains contemporary. And as Autumn segues into Winter Interiors provides notable personal inspiration in getting dressed: a sense of occasion and beauty in the midst of tragedy and despair, a lightness and warmth to battle the quickly darkening days and encroaching bitter cold and a calmness to ease the disturbing stillness of a muffling snowfall and twilight night. See it for yourself, it’s currently on Netflix.