Alain Resnais’ puzzling Last Year at Marienbad (1961) is a famously unfathomable homage to the avant-garde, filled with hallucinatory settings and dream-like sequences that challenged and explored the boundaries of film. Who are the characters? What exactly is going on? Audience and critical opinion remains divided – is Marienbad a portrait of the dangers of self-trickery or an analysis of the time and memory theories first suggested by French philosopher Bergson, notably that memory is subjective and not absolute?
The elegant and experimental cinematography, eloquent script and costumes set Last Year at Marienbad apart from New Wave cinema. Stunningly shot in black and white by cinematographer Sacha Viery, Resnais makes use of an extremely wide shot creating artistic compositions within the frame and exacerbating the characters’ slow and sinuous movements.
Marienbad takes place in an imposing European chateau, with ornate drawing rooms and gilded ceilings, filled with mirrors and paintings. The interior is overshadowed by a decorative, geometrical garden, perfect for strolls and intimate scenes. Resnais and screen-writer Alain Robbe-Grillet centered the ‘action’ around three, nameless characters: ‘A’, a beautiful woman played by Delphine Seyrig, the narrator ‘X’ (Giorgio Albertazzi) and ‘M’, played by the mysterious Sascha Pitoeff.
Although Bernard Evein is credited as costume designer, Coco Chanel designed most of Seyrig’s costumes. The acclaimed designer was on the brink of global recognition, but it was almost 22 years since she had designed for the silver screen. Her early foray into Hollywood began in the 1929’s when Chanel met Samuel Goldwyn through a mutual friend, Dimitri Pavlovich. Goldwyn was impressed with the designer’s unique fashion sense, and offered her a lucrative contract at a time when the deepening Depression was starting to affect Paris couture. The pairing was a disappointment, and Chanel returned to Paris after only two years and three films.
In Last Year at Marienbad, Chanel’s designs for Daphne Seyrig are perfectly louche, the sense of fragmented reality is heightened when juxtaposed with upper class boredom and a dash of sartorial theatricality. A dramatic floor-sweeping coat with a collar of face-framing feathers is countered with a full-length silk dressing gown complete with elegant feathered collar, cuffs and opening – dark vs. light, dream vs. reality. In contrast to the darkness, a lightweight chiffon dress with a square neckline and a delicate layered cape paired with refined stiletto pumps and a classic Chanel two-piece, in decadent round-neck jacket and shift dress; executed in a lustrous jacquard.
Chanel’s classic LBD is prevalent, from a fitted calf-skimming pencil dress complete with lace overlay, a slinky, tiered affair with a crossover back and a simple boucle shift, accessorised with a sparkling necklace or drop earrings. ‘A’’s costumes are perfectly in keeping with Chanel’s signature aesthetic and understated sensibilities, which effortlessly complement Resnais’ hallucinatory ambition.
Coco Chanel’s designs were explicitly referenced in Karl Lagerfeld’s perfectly pitched S/S 2011 collection for Chanel. Light feathers wafted across chiffon, paired with strings of Chanel’s signature pearls. Set against monochrome ornamental gardens, complete with fountains, the catwalk show referenced one of the film’s most famous scenes.
Catwalk images via style.com