Where fashion plays a starring role on TV shows

Sarah Jessica Parker in And Just Like That..., the sequel to romantic comedy-drama Sex And The City. PHOTO: TPG IMAGES
Lily Collins (left) in Emily In Paris. PHOTO: TPG IMAGES

This article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The November 2022 issue is out on newsstands now.

SINGAPORE – Any visual medium is bound to find itself eventually getting into bed with fashion. But television, with its episodic format allowing viewers to form deep attachments to their favourite shows and characters, has proven to be a particularly fruitful partner.

Sparks can fly when the right show and the right clothes come together.

The first time in the modern history of TV and fashion that this happened was in 1998, when HBO debuted Sex And The City.

It was not just its storyline that captivated millions of fans, but also the style. The romantic comedy-drama, which ran for six seasons until 2004, turned its lead actress Sarah Jessica Parker into a fashion icon, and conferred that status onto the pieces that she sported on-screen – most notably, the Fendi Baguette (see also: Manolos, the tutu, the newspaper dress and belts on bare waists).

That cultural imprint has remained so entrenched in people’s collective consciousness that when the Italian brand decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Baguette bag recently, it chose to do so in New York City – with Parker sitting in the front row, of course.

The Sex And The City sequel, And Just Like That (2021 to 2022), has fashion fans in a similar tizzy as the original. Paparazzi shots of the production are intensely pored over and catalogued on social media to dissect the stars’ looks.

But perhaps more importantly, the franchise has birthed a spiritual heir. Emily In Paris (2020 to present), boasting the same show creator (Darren Star) and costume consultant (Patricia Field), has taken the same outrageous approach to fashion – madcap, high-low and unabashedly costume-y – and served it up for the millennial and Gen Z set.

Whether you love it or love to hate it (the latter camp is particularly vocal), the hit Netflix series – about an American who moves to France to work at a French public relations firm – is undeniably hard to look away from. And that is largely thanks to the fashion.

The show’s critics like to claim that it is not realistic for a junior staff in a public relations firm to be decked out in so much designer gear. The creators have argued they do not care about reality.

The series’ massive viewing numbers – along with the proliferation of listicles breaking down the outfits of Emily and company – are testament to their approach.

When it comes to cultural and fashion heat, no other show now is as high on the barometer as Euphoria (2019 to present). Its deliciously juicy drama and dark takes on teen culture are provocative enough, but it is the aesthetics that push it to the next level – heavy issues wrapped in a soft, hazy mood, its fashion a blend of grime and glamour, camp and seediness, and fantasy.

The styling is individualistic and expressive, the character’s personalities writ large in their clothing: Hunter Schafer’s sensitive transgender girl is equal parts grunge and pixie, and Barbie Ferreira’s budding dominatrix cam-girl owns her sensuality and her curves.

Pieces from major designers share screen time with those from younger labels, indie brands and thrift stores. Though poles apart in tone from Emily In Paris, like that show, the looks in Euphoria are not meant to be realistic. Stills from the series look more like editorial images than your average high-school snapshot.

Alexa Demie, Barbie Ferreira, Sophia Rose Wilson and Sydney Sweeney in Euphoria. PHOTO: TPG IMAGES

The reboot of Gossip Girl (2021 to present) employs a similar formula – though preppier and more polished – to put a new spin on the look of a posh Upper East Side private school and its catty one-percenter inhabitants.

Whitney Peak and Jordan Alexander in Gossip Girl. PHOTO: TPG IMAGES

Not all shows that place fashion front and centre are skewed to the young.

BBC’s Killing Eve (2018 to 2022) has been a style smash since its debut.

The series recently wrapped up its fourth and final season, and in that period, the crime thriller and psychodrama about the push-and-pull between a sociopathic assassin and the agent on her tail has served up a plethora of looks to die for.

The only thing that delights Villanelle, the assassin in question, more than her job is perhaps her wardrobe – which is as kaleidoscopic and eclectic as the characters she assumes to carry out her killings.

Jodie Comer in Killing Eve. PHOTO: TPG IMAGES

Her outfits range from a gothic-prairie floor-length floral dress from The Vampire’s Wife (the fashion brand by Susie Cave, wife of musician Nick Cave) to a snazzy geometric-print suit from American label Halpern.

High-fashion pieces from Loewe, Dries Van Noten and Gucci regularly show up on the series, but the most memorable look by Villanelle is perhaps the pink Molly Goddard tulle she wore with Nicolas Ghesquiere-era Balenciaga biker boots.

Then, there are the shows about fashion. Ryan Murphy’s 2021 miniseries, Halston, was a seductive immersion into the legendary designer’s life and career, tracking his rise and fall; the sensuous minimalism of his designs that changed and then defined the fashion of the 1970s; the decadence of that era; and his glittering, impossibly glamorous social circle that included American actress-singer Liza Minnelli and French-Spanish designer Paloma Picasso.

Murphy’s shows can sometimes be a celebration of style over substance, but in Halston, they go perfectly hand in hand.

His other fashion-centric limited series, American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace (2018), was another spectacular blend of beautiful people in beautiful clothes with sensational drama. 

Julia Garner in Inventing Anna. PHOTO: TPG IMAGES

Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix miniseries, Inventing Anna (2022) – based on the true story of Anna Delvey, the faux heiress who scammed New York’s high society – was not about fashion per se, but it is inherent to the tale.

Fashion was not just the circles she ran in (she interned at fashion and art magazine Purple and was a fixture at New York’s fashion shows and parties), but also a major factor in how she managed to scam the city’s elite ranks and cultural cognoscenti.

In short, Delvey dressed like them – a look that was visibly expensive but not try-hard (a dead giveaway when spotting a climber): Think classic Dior and Chanel bags, iconic Celine glasses, and other stealth wealth accoutrements.

Blockbuster ratings for these shows prove that audiences want to be seduced not just by a gripping tale, but also one steeped in style. After all, fashion at its very best is about storytelling.

So while other mediums come and go, for now, it looks like fashion and television are making very happy bedfellows.

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