The Aesthetic of Opulence: Channeling Colour and Darkness in Early Costume and Fashion Film

On 26 February 2019, Marketa Uhlirova gave a paper at the Fourth International Conference Colour in Film, London, titled ‘The Aesthetic of Opulence: Channeling Colour and Darkness in Early Costume and Fashion Film.

It considered both colour and darkness by linking ‘fashion films’ of the 1910s and 20s to earlier ‘costume films’ of the 1890s-1900s and, more broadly, certain visual spectacles of the popular stage of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With a particular reference to Ivo Osolsobe’s term ‘the aesthetic of opulence’, it also highlighted some changes in discourses about ‘fantastical’ and ‘natural’ functions of colour in films that foreground dress.

Colour was unquestionably one of the key elements in the early displays of dress in cinema, and vice versa: costume was from the beginning a central cinematic device through which to showcase colour. Yet, the deliberate channelling of non-colour (as darkness, emptiness) was also enormously significant for fashion film – and was, as recent scholarship shows, much more than a stylistic footnote in the history of early cinema.

Marketa gave a brilliant talk, sharing a range of rich imagery drawn from the project’s archival research, and received great feedback from the audience.