A critical assessment of 7 fictional fashion designers
Has Edna Mode lost her touch?
During New York Fashion Week, the artists, celebrities, and commentators of the fashion world all descend upon Manhattan to take in a few dozen runway shows where they’ll see — and critique — what we’ll all be wearing in six months (or, more accurately, what we’ll all be wearing loose, tame, opaque versions of in, like, nine months).
But why should New York fashionistas have all the fun? There are plenty of designers here in the land of pop culture, and we’ve had a front row seat to every imaginary onscreen runway. Do you ever watch, say, The Devil Wears Prada and wonder, ‘Wait, is James Holt’s fall line even worth all this drama?’ We’ve decided it’s time to give seven fictional designers the serious Fashion Week attention they deserve.
Billy “Fancy Pants,” School of Rock (2003)
Though fairly new to the scene, Billy — affectionately nicknamed “Fancy Pants” in some industry circles — has shown remarkable growth as an artist in a short period of time. While his debut collection, ambitiously titled “Glitter Rock, Glam, and Fabulous,” was shamelessly reductive, the young artist learned fast from his mistakes. He listened more intentionally to that referential instinct of his and committed to it thoughtfully with his sophomore effort: a cheekily self-reflexive private school-inspired collection that paid off admirably. If his ascent from tacky (and we hated it) to teacher’s pet is any indication, he’ll be one to watch in the seasons to come.
Elizabeth James, The Parent Trap (1998)
Elizabeth James herself has always appeared to be a tolerably chic woman, known for the piecey haircut and neutral-toned boat-necked shift silhouettes that she has worn ever since those things first came into fashion two decades ago (regrettably, she has not abandoned this look since it went out of style, but it’s inoffensive enough that most of her industry friends have turned a blind eye on her dated personal taste). When it comes to her wedding gowns, however, Ms. James’ penchant for the ‘90s is inexcusable. The greatest offender is the truly unfortunate “Top Hat Bride” look that came late in the decade and started a bridal craze for cheap-looking, ill-fitting, glimmering high-necked bodices atop poorly gathered taffeta princess skirts. The top hat didn’t help much, but it was almost even worse: As the story goes, Ms. James let her 11-year-old daughter choose which chapeau to include in the photograph — and the preteen almost went with a black one. Can you imagine?
Edna Mode, The Incredibles (2004)
For years now, we have followed the career of Edna Mode with great interest — and with great difficulty, for the reclusive designer is unfailingly discreet about any projects for her mysterious clients. Based on the little she has allowed the public to see, however, we are consistently impressed by Ms. Mode’s truly groundbreaking textile work, which, it is rumored, includes one durable knit that can actually disappear to the naked eye.
Despite her incredible advancements in material technologies, however, the one element of Ms. Mode’s work that has, after a few seasons, ceased to thrill us is her tendency to fall back on familiar silhouettes time and time again. While we appreciate that she designs for a unique client whose needs will inevitably limit her somewhat, we are perplexed by her stubborn refusal to incorporate new design features — most notably capes. Who doesn’t like a good cape? We love a cape.
Franca DiMontecatini, The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003)
Franca DiMontecatini’s work has yet to catch on in the States, where her outlandish aesthetic is decidedly flashier than prevailing tastes allow. She is a tried-and-true name in her native Italy, however, where she seems to have found her niche designing for music personalities — most notably Isabella Parigi — and is known for her high-concept, multi-piece, convertible performance ensembles. Industry sources tell us that a recent planned collaboration with Rihanna went south faster than it even began, however, and that the designer is no longer on speaking terms with Madonna after a terrible electric-wiring incident hospitalized both women just days before the Met Gala. If Signora DiMontecatini hopes to ever break big in the U.S., she’ll have to learn to play nice with our pop stars.
Marilla Brown, Designing Woman (1957)
Marilla Brown hasn’t had a show for decades, but her very last one — shown in 1957, before she transitioned to stage costume design — is always worth a revisit. Ms. Brown’s vivid palette, glamorous silhouettes, and exquisite tailoring truly make her body of work a classic, though she did sometimes tend to over-embellish — which admittedly served her well when she began designing for Lori Shannon musical extravaganzas.
Jacobim Mugatu, Zoolander (2001)
Jacobim Mugatu is an icon, but he suffered a legendary fall from grace with his ill-conceived “Derelicte” campaign, starring model Derek Zoolander. The whole thing ended horribly, and Mr. Mugatu never managed to redeem himself or save his tarnished reputation with another good collection before his untimely (alleged) demise. Though his career ended on a terrible low, however, his contribution to the world of fashion was immeasurable, and we can forgive his many sins out of gratitude for the invention of the iconic piano-key necktie.
James Holt, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
There’s a reason the movie isn’t called The Devil Wears James Holt. That’s all.