I’ve got got goosebumps from watching this magnificent trailer for On The Road, Walter Salles’ adaptation of Kerouac’s classic novel, and I can’t wait to see the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, set to be released in cinemas in December.
The fact that the 20s and 50s were post-war eras of economic boom in the US (in salient contrast with our own time), where decadence, along with a certain frenetic energy and nostalgia for the past marked the fashion trends of the day, makes the two heroes of these classic novels doubly attractive to the fashion world today. Imitating the style of those decades is a kind of wish fulfillment, escapism, precisely because of the financial depression we now find ourselves in. Luhrmann’s new film of The Great Gatsby will be in 3-D. However you feel about 3-D cinema, it just goes to show the extent to which the director wants to push the aesthetic world of Fitzgerald, bringing the textures and colours alive. The visual element of Fitzgerald’s work has always been important, and this year sees his aesthetic influence reaching from the page to the screen and onto the catwalks and viewers – or readers – themselves. Fashion is, in many ways, the physical embodiment of ideas, of an ethos.
Fitzgerald’s descriptions of Gatsby’s parties evoke images that are incredibly familiar to the fashion world: ‘the air is alive with the chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.’ It could, after all, be a scene from any London Fashion Week party. The Jazz Age and the Beat Generation portrayed in The Great Gatsby and On The Road may be solid enough visual cues to draw the fashion industry into imitation, but their philosophy and their heroes remain tantalisingly out of reach; the ultimate fashion icons, in fact. They are awful in their moments of degradation: when John Galliano was exposed for making anti-Semitic remarks last year, no one in the fashion world knew how to react. We never actually want to see through our heroes, because in them we see what we might wish to be – they represent precious ideals.
High fashion, then, is the communal stamp of approval upon something that must go on to become a very personal quest. Fashion is simultaneously something that is, and is not, learnt. Gatsby’s gypsy butterfly girls flitting from group to group in their ‘gas blue’ silks and pearls are on this personal quest, chasing something elusive on the spray of champagne. Sal and Dean are on this quest, catching a glimpse of America as they wind down the windows and make love to the night as it pours in over the dashboard, lifting their sweaty palms in an ecstasy of rhythm as the trumpet player blows his heart out in a grimy club. It is something you can’t ever quite put your finger on, but you know it when you see it. The worlds of fashion and literature have this great Aesthetic Mystery in common.