Welcome to the third post in our monthly discussion on the current state of the classic film fan. It’s an examination on our evolution, where we’ve been, where we may be going. To recap, the first two posts are here:
From January – A Classic Film Manifesto.
From February – Discussion with blogger and author Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera and his new book on actress Helen Twelvetrees.
Today we visit with Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover (whom we also heard from last week in our post on The New Loretta Young Show). As we can tell from the name of her blog, Kay’s love of classic film has a great deal of bearing on her interest in style and fashion.
JTL: One common theme among classic film bloggers I notice is that our love of old movies is a huge part of our lives: certainly personally, and for some of us, professionally. Your blog reflects the close relationship between your passion for image consulting and your love of classic films. I am fascinated by how your interest in classic films dovetails your Movie Star Makeover image consulting business.
From your website:
Because I love both clothes AND old movies, I centered my image consultant business on Classic Hollywood, when studio image teams molded apparently ordinary women into stars. These studio experts began by looking at the individual and the type of woman she embodied, then helped her become the most complete expression of both.
This is so articulate and imaginative. Your perspective on classic films and stars in terms of their image style is a unique among classic film bloggers. While many of us profess an interest (even if only rudimentary) in the Hollywood fashions, your blog delves into the image of Hollywood stars in terms of fashion, hair, makeup, and breaks down all the components of style and interprets them, not only in terms of American pop culture, but what we can learn from and utilize today in our lives. There are reasons, of course, for the Hollywood greats being icons, and much of that has to do with their look (abetted by some fabulous still photography, a pet interest of mine). I love your posts for the information you give, your analysis of these elements of style, and most especially for the entertaining way the articles are written.
KN: Thank you! This is music to my ears. Bloggers hope they are not just writing for themselves, as it often seems (I mean, really, is it THAT hard to leave a comment??), so it’s sweet to know that the effort is appreciated. Especially so by someone as talented at writing as you!
JTL: Thank you very much. Where does the classic film fan in you end and the image consultant begin? Or are they inseparable? (Since my focus is history, that is the window through which I view classic films, so I can well understand that it is difficult to not watch a film through a prism.)
KN: They’re two sides of the same coin, I think! I have loved classic film as long as I can remember, but I had an epiphany in senior high, discovering that clothes really DO make the man, so to speak. I’d been given the part of a society matron (mostly because of my dead-on imitation of Margaret Dumont, Groucho Marx’s much-put-upon grande dame cinematic foil) and my drama teacher, Mr. Anzalone, garbed me in a sharp, ultra-tailored navy blue 1950’s ladies dressmaker suit. Now, since my normal attire was along the lines of men’s tuxedo pants and tight sweaters, this was a radical departure and, when I emerged from the costume closet looking like something from 1935 Vogue, complete with pulled back hair and red lips, my peers’ reactions told me everything I needed to know about the power of clothes. As I have said earlier, it was as if the hammer of Thor smote me between the eyes. I then started watching films to gather information about the transformative power of costume/clothing and used what I was learning.
JTL: How long have you worked as an image consultant, and to what degree has American pop culture of Hollywood’s heyday influenced your analysis of clients’ needs and shaped your advice? For instance, this from your blog:
Today, those wonderful Silver Screen goddesses still have plenty to share with modern women about how to make the most of their individual beauty–if you know how to listen!
KN: I’ve been image consulting professionally for 3 years now, but for virtually decades, I’ve been offering advice (welcome or not) to friends, the actors I would costume and strangers on the street about what works and what doesn’t. When I was a costumer (for 5 years here in Rochester, NY), I learned a lot about what shapes, colors, and styles flatter, distract, add visual weight, tell the right story. It may sound funny, but I was inspired by the memory of being a very un-put-together teen. I wanted to help my “sisters”…but not the rich ones, no, my target client is the nice middle-class gal who wants to feel beautiful or pretty. They’re the ones who watch the movies and dream of glamour coming their way…so, they’re typically the ones who respond most eagerly to analysis that incorporates the elements of classic Hollywood glamour. They have had zero glamour in their lives—I love to show them how Hollywood style masters made over the stars from fairly normally pretty girls to glamour queens—without (in most cases) dissolving their identity. For me, the key was to first determine a person’s essential personality and style—then build on it. The gloss of Hollywood glamour is just for the fun factor!
American pop culture has been handy for the younger set…they’ve heard of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, etc in various magazine features, fashion and beauty layouts, etc. The icons of style are usually instantly recognized by young and old…and it’s an approach that can connect my clients with something very appealing and exciting. For example, the latest Tiffany’s campaign features Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—if there wasn’t any residual cache from Audrey, they’d never bother to make her such a prominent part of their campaign!
JTL: I also like that you use old Hollywood to spin articles on health, exercise, and nutrition. You are a public speaker as well—what are the most popular topics on which you’re asked to present a talk?
KN: Oh, definitely, the MOST popular lecture is the one on “100 Years of Fashion” and my free-form series on the back stories of well-known and under-sung Hollywood heroines. No one wants to hear about health, exercise or nutrition! LOL! They love to hear about how Agnes Moorehead rose to the top despite being told she was too homely for anything but radio and how Hedy Lamar conquered the stereotype of “dumb and beautiful” by inventing a technology that allowed submarines to code crucial defense information; how Judy Garland fought her “girl-next-door” image to emerge as a beautiful woman with a stronger screen presence. They love the “underdog” stories the best. Anyone can lecture on Marilyn Monroe, but I feel that the more interesting stories lurk in the forgotten corners of Tinseltown. My audiences really want to identify with the subjects of the lectures, and, let’s face it, who can identify with Marilyn?
JTL: Later on in the year, I’m going to discuss what we might expect for future classic film fans – and the possibility there may be fewer as younger generations will enjoy less opportunity to be exposed to them. In general, are the demographics of your clientele (without getting into specific age groups) – receptive to learning about the elements of style as you might interpret them through classic film stars – or is the world of old movies too remote for them?
KN: As you can guess, I’ve got a bee in my Lilly Dache bonnet about this subject. I’ve spoken to several college age groups about developing a viable, polished career wardrobe after years of living in pajama bottoms and sweatshirts. The presentation I give uses classic Hollywood images, and I think the fascination of seeing timeless styles adds a unique angle, and provides them with inspiration without making them feel it’s unattainable. For example, when I use an image of Audrey Hepburn in capris to illustrate the proportion of ankle to shoe to pant hem, they get it. I do intersperse these images with modern ones to clarify how the principles that dictate good style are reflected in something they can buy at the Limited or Brooks Brothers, too.
JTL: When it comes to discussing the style of Cary Grant or Loretta Young to your fellow old movie bloggers, you are, of course, preaching to the choir. But I wonder if the general public of your clientele is as eager to grasp them for examples?
KN: 90% of my clients are NOT old movie weirdos, as it turns out! Some of them are completely clueless about the “classics”…many have never seen a black and white film. But, for whatever reason (and I think your brilliant question #8 nails why) it never fails to excite them when I show them my Pinterest board full of fabulous clothes on classic stars—in “their” Star Style. Essentially, it’s a perspective that allows me to indulge my adoration of these beautiful stars and their style while showing my clients the most obvious, clear examples of the style we’re going for. They would never think of Rita Hayworth as an example of who they are, but when they see Rita, they think “wow, I’m THAT kind of woman???” and it thrills them.
JTL: How do you approach your work with a client? Do you find that they already have a firm idea in their minds of what they want to project, or are many willing to put themselves in your hands, trusting you to navigate this for them? Most, I imagine, are there for career help in discovering the part that their personal style plays in their professional image.
KN: Yes, exactly! I send clients a little worksheet ahead of time so that when I descend upon their closet, they’re ready for real work. Most have NO IDEA of what they want to project—so we start with “what 3 words would you want someone to use to describe your work”…then I offer examples, like “approachable, friendly, open” or “professional, managerial, intelligent” or whatever. Once we establish those words, we have a good filter for the closet editing and a future buying list. Typically, they put themselves completely in my hands, which makes life very easy for me. I tell them about my experience as a costumer and consultant, and offer them choices they know will flatter them—they’ve seen the evidence before their eyes as I pull together viable outfits from their own closets that never occurred to them. Once they see it happening (and almost all of them say “it’s like MAGIC!”), they really get on board and start purging like mad, eager to assemble a closet full of outfits that genuinely flatter them. It’s so fun to see them smile like mad as they look in the mirror and realize, “hey, I’m beautiful!!” I’m telling you, there are sometimes tears of joy!
…the recent and undeniable TCM trend towards screening more and more modern fare made my decision quite a bit easier. The Dryden’s Nitrate Picture Show is by its very nature “forced” to focus on what I deem true classic film…rend towards screening more and more modern fare made my decision quite a bit easier. The Dryden Theatre's Nitrate Picture Show by its very nature is "forced" to focus on what I deem true classic film, and the idea of sleeping in my own bed, relaxing in my own hometown, and seeing some truly wonderful pictures on a big screen surrounded by fellow film geeks...well, it was too tempting.
JTL: Could you elaborate on your choice to cut down on TCM? (I’m leery of TCM’s shift in programming myself. Having been a fan of the old AMC channel before it went over to the dark side, as they say, (I still miss Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney) I’m mentally and emotionally trying to prepare for the day when, Robert Osborne-less, TCM becomes another overflowing sewer of gritty cop shows, “reality” shows, and topic-of-the-day dramas. And infomercials.)
KN: I really didn’t want to do this, Jacqueline, cut back on TCM, because it’s like leaving a relationship! LOL! However, I saw a similar thing happen at AMC and look where they are! I was thinking a lot about this and I believe, for me, it’s the idea that the classic films represent a way of looking at life that I can identify with—I am a very straight-laced, old-fashioned Christian woman of a certain age (as the French so delicately put it). I find no amusement or entertainment in sordid tales of mean, ugly people being hateful to each other. I don’t enjoy seeing images that lift up the worst aspects of humanity. It’s just not my cuppa. Life’s plenty tough without using my spare time to view something that doesn’t leave me feeling happy and hopeful. I guess that makes me a lightweight, but I don’t care! I’ve had enough pain and sorrow in my real life to not seek it out for my entertainment.
I used to know that I could turn on TCM at any hour and know I wouldn’t see something I’d be embarrassed to share with my mother or father. The uplifting or funny or heartfelt stories with heroines and heroes I can admire; a life lesson to be learned; some giggles or belly laughs that aren’t prompted by meanness, or some really great clothes to inspire my own wardrobe—that’s what I want out of movies. And that’s what I used to be able to count on, but now, TCM is showing R-rated films from eras I lived through…there’s nothing exotic or interesting about that to me. Boring as all get out! And I miss Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney too!! Overflowing sewer…yes, that’s exactly the image that comes to mind. Life’s dark…why make it darker? Less grit, more wit, please.
And what KILLS me is that I, as a teen in the 1960s, came to LOVE old movies because they were so “foreign” to my everyday life…they were another world that I could enter and swim around in. I loved the odd phraseology, the glorious style, the interiors populated with beautiful objects, the functions of which I could only guess at. It was time travel and I reveled in it. Going back to 1990…yeech. By “modernizing” their offerings, TCM is short-changing this generation, assuming that they can only relate to the near past. My 7 year old granddaughter sobbed her way through the climactic scene in Heidi where the Grandfather was wandering through the streets, calling out for Heidi. Her mom said she sat there, riveted, and started to cry saying “What will happen to the Grandfather????” (I get tears in my eyes just writing about it! LOL!) That’s powerful! Today, so many movies are re-treads and pre-fab emotions for these poor kids. When they see the real thing in black and white, they can tell it’s different. I pity this generation when TCM folds to the money men. That’s what killed the studio system and that’s probably what’s killing TCM. No visionaries at the helm, just money men. Happened to Disney, too!
JTL: Do you have any of those other retro-stations like GetTV that program classic films, and do you expect they will, in future, take up the slack?
KN: From your mouth to God’s ear! I wish! Time-Warner Cable in my area doesn’t have those options, which is why I’m diligently seeking alternatives to get some of those channels! As for getTV and other retro channels, yes, I do expect them to pick up the slack with a vengeance. I have heard that they are getting mad kinds of popular numbers in social media, proving there’s a viable market for “old movies”…I suspect TCM will discover that it’s easy to lose a fan and hard to win one back, especially in this era of multiple, inexpensive, mass-deliverable options for viewing and enjoying classic Hollywood films.
JTL: Speaking of the Rochester film festival, your Facebook updates on the series of films you introduce at the Dryden are terrific, and I think you must have quite a following by now of people who just want to see what you’re wearing to emulate the film of the evening. That is such an innovative way to combine your knowledge of classic films and your expertise as an image consultant. There’s always a touch of humor in the theatricality of your presentation. I hope to get to Rochester some day to attend one of these events. How did you come to have a relationship with the Dryden?
KN: I begged them plain and simple, about 10 years ago. I’d been attending the marvelous film screenings at the Dryden for a few years and thought “hey, wouldn’t it be fun to give introductions in costume?” So, I begged the then-box office manager to give me a chance. I think I literally said, “Put me in, coach!” I told him I was going to wear a vintage gown to introduce Gilda and he said “Oh. Okay. Sure, why not?” I think I had 2 proposals in the parking lot after the film. Again, I realized people are STARVED for glamour these days. So, I started wearing era-appropriate attire (of which I had oodles) to introduce all the films they’d let me have. Eventually, I got a reputation and if I dare to show up in “civvies” I get a lot of guff from my “fan club.” They almost always say “I love your dress!” and when they come into the theater and see me sitting there in some outlandish headgear or a swoopy, sequin-covered gown, they come over and say ‘Oh, goodie! You’re introducing tonight!!!” That’s so sweet of them and it’s fun for all of us. I love making the film-going experience 3-D in a REAL way!
JTL: What’s in store for the rest of this year on the Dryden’s roster?
KN: Believe it or not, I have no idea! They only send we presenters a list of potential, available films about a week or two before the months in question. I just presented The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib in January, and A Room with a View and Camille in February, but who knows after that? HINT: I *do* happen to know that the Dryden is screening a HUGE James Bond series. When I presented From Russia With Love, I went in Moneypenny togs, as the Bond Girl attire is harder to pull off when you’re 60 years old! LOL! Oh, newsflash—just discovered that they are presenting a SLEW of Maureen O’Hara films—from Jamaican Inn to Our Man in Havana to Parent Trap!! Whoopie!!!!
JTL: Perhaps, by default, in a world where there is very little class or elegance left, our classic film stars are our best remaining examples. And we have them preserved forever. Your thoughts?
KN: This needs to be made into a bumper sticker. That’s why TCM’s foray into the sloppy world of today’s cinema is so unsatisfactory—what can it offer you but the dubious sensation of knowing you—and your world—are essentially sucky. With small, sad moments of lifted gloom. Pathetic!
JTL: Is there anything you’d like to add about your consulting business, about Loretta Young, about your appreciation of classic films, or anything else you’d like to discuss?
KN: When I was a kid, I’d create the world I wanted to live in by make-believe and movies were there to provide me with fodder for dreams. That’s what I try to do by steering my clients towards classic cinema for their role models. I started my business with two objectives—to try and make my sisters feel beautiful (because I never felt beautiful as a youngster) and to encourage folks to watch old movies so they’d want to help preserve, conserve, and enjoy classic Hollywood.
Now, the funny part is that my area of the country is (judging by the appearance of 90% of the patrons in restaurants, airports, and on the street) basically uninterested in dressing stylishly. But that’s not really rare, is it? The dumbing-down and casualization of American clothing has cut a swath across all generations and classes. Few but the office-bound professionals dress above the bare minimum of style.
There’s a DEEP-seated spirit of conformity in my hometown. As a general rule, the folks here won’t spend money on learning how to improve their sartorial lot. So, my moonlighting image consulting business has become limited to lectures, which western New Yorkers love. But try to pry them out of their NFL jerseys and you’ve got a fight on your hands! (I should have realized this years ago, since there are NO image consulting businesses in this area per the yellow pages—zillions of nail salons and beauty salons, but no image businesses. That’s telling, isn’t it? LOL!)
So, I’ve basically limited my consulting to word-of-mouth after a few years of hustling like mad only to gain a onesie-twosie amount of clients, both locally and by Skype. Happily, the majority of my clients have become friends, so what a lovely by-product! One probably CAN carry coal to Newcastle, but why bother? Life’s too short and I have too many other cool projects to tackle to worry about it! I’m sure Loretta would have said something like that!
My thanks to Kay Noske for sharing her enthusiastic input from her perspective as a classic film fan on our unique little blogging corner of the world.
Next month, in our fourth entry in this series, we’re going to ruminate on the evolution of the classic film fan—from the 1950s television “late-late show” to art house film festivals, to the nostalgia boom of the 1970s, cable, Netflix, Internet streaming, big-screen showings, and the future for classic film fans. We may have reached a golden age. Can we expect a decline in years to come? Join me Thursday, April 7th, for this post.
This blog will go on hiatus for a few weeks in the meantime.
Let me pause here a moment to note that this Saturday, March 5th, will mark the 9th anniversary of Another Old Movie Blog. Thank you for the pleasure of your company.