Unpacking

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Welcome to New York, bomb cyclone!

If you are anything like me, you are probably still writing 2017 when you actually mean 2018. I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day moving, which meant that I had precious little time to make New Year’s resolutions, though that didn’t stop me from considering, in the moments between taping one box and filling another, how I might improve myself over the course of these next 52 weeks. Or are there only 50 left? I guess that gives me 2 less weeks to improve myself to death. Alexandra Schwartz’s round-up of self-improvement (and anti-self-improvement) books will have you alternately making — and unmaking — resolutions. You could make this the best year yet of #newyearnewyou, or just take Schwartz’s suggestion and read a novel. In any case, I should probably refrain from buying either self-improvement manuals or novels for quite some time, as the simple act of unpacking my library has left me utterly exhausted. If only I could find my copy of Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations, I could read his essay, “Unpacking My Library.”

Note that Benjamin never wrote an essay on unpacking his wardrobe. But clothes, like books, are repositories for memories, a fact used to great effect in a trio of recent movies–Lady Bird, I, Tonya, and Call Me By Your Name.

Greta Gerwig told Sam Levy, Lady Bird’s director of photography, that she wanted the movie to “look like a memory.” In an interview with Vanity Fair, Levy, along with costume designer April Napier and production designer Chris Jones, discuss how Lady Bird achieved this aesthetic. In the interview, they disclose an unexpected source of inspiration: Lise Sarfati’s portraits of young women. I saw Sarfati’s work in Paris. Her portraits, printed large, are incredibly luminous. Each projected the presence of a painted portrait.

Giulia Persanti had a very different approach to the costume design for Call Me By Your Name. Though both films look back at adolescence through the sweetness of memory, Persanti created costumes that were only loosely anchored in the film’s time period (1980s Italy). In an interview with British Vogue, Persanti said, “My main focus was to make a period film in which the costumes didn’t stand out as too ‘period-y’. More important was to send a clear message of the personality and origins of each character, choosing to give a casual, timeless, intimate style with a hint of inhibited adolescent sexuality.”

I, Tonya has a very different relationship with clothing and memory. There’s no sweetness in being a B-list tabloid star, and Jennifer Jones, the costume designer for I, Tonya, wanted to avoid loading our perception of Tonya — and the 1990s–with excessive nostalgia or kitsch. Jones discusses her approach in interviews with Entertainment Weekly and Deadline. Before she signed on, Jones asked the director, Craig Gillespie, “Are we going to do something funny or ironic? Are we going to make fun of [her] or fetishize her like many people do?” Jones also did not want to create a caricature Tonya. In this movie, the clothes help open up the audience’s understanding of each character’s psychological development. We knew Tonya–and the people around her–primarily as tabloid and tv fodder. Jones hoped her costumes would restore some measure of their humanity, the humanity denied them when they were mocked, reviled–and played for laughs.

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