Cabaret: Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles

“Even ze orchestra is beautiful”

Those who are so inclined can’t have failed to notice that androgyny is big news for AW11, the trend kick started on the catwalks by D&G, Tommy Hilfiger and Paul Smith. Even Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel got involved with oversized boucle, single button blazer and houndstooth turn-ups. Of course, the girls as boys aesthetic was much favoured by old-school movie stars, who took pride in the controversy their unconventional outfits ignited. From Katherine Hepburn’s favoured loose-fit slacks, to Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo (in Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco) and Josephine Baker in a silk top hat – these women were confident, empowered and, perhaps most importantly of all, firmly in charge of their own image. In an attempt to celebrate the lasting legacy of masculine minxes, girls do film commences a series of posts celebrating those who serve their sensuality with a side of masculinity. First up? The inimitable Liza Minnelli, who more recently got us all in a swoon with that LOVE shoot.

As Miss Sally Bowles in the classic musical Cabaret, Liza was a poster girl for divine decadence, from the tips of her manicured nails (green, sparkly and unpractical or classically manicured and positively virgininal) to her heavy kohl rimmed eyes, fluttering eyelashes, perfect elfin bob and borrowed-from-the-Twenties flapper styling. Directed by Bob Fosse and released in 1972, Cabaret is set during the 1930’s, centering last days of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Fascism in Germany. The heady mix of on stage antics, courtesy of the sexually liberated Kit Kat Club and overseen by the verging-on-terrifying Master of Ceremonies (played to perfection by Joel Grey), are set against the backdrop of political and social unrest. This gave Fosse plenty of scope to experiment with color, exaggerated make-up and dance routines, all of which combined to create a thoroughly modern movie classic.

The audience is introduced to Sally Bowles as she prepares backstage at the Kit Kat Klub. In a clever balance of masculine and feminine elements, costume designer Charlotte Flemming created an iconic look that would come to define both the film and Minnelli (and was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Costume Design in 1973). Clad in a bowler hat, tilted just-so, a tailored halter neck waistcoat with a plunging front, mini hot pants with a sparkly detail, suspenders and the obligatory heels, Sally Bowles exudes confidence and a decadent devil-may-care attitude that controls most of her subsequent actions for the duration of the film.

Clothing Minnelli in masculine-borrowed attire initiates subversive sexuality and plays up to the debauched undertones that dominate a film where nothing is ever what it seems.  Sally is both a femme fatale and a symbol of the seedy and wild Weimar; her on screen sexuality is a complicated affair. But doesn’t she just drive you wild with desire, darlings?


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