Funny Face – like the industry it so wittily satires – is a beguiling film, effortlessly stylish and always in vogue. This evergreen classic by director Stanley Donen, starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson, receives a timely rerelease by Park Circus, coinciding conveniently with the bi-annual fashion circus currently making its way around the clothing capitals of the world.
Jo Stockton (Hepburn) is happy working as an assistant in an obscure New York bookstore. However, during a photo shoot at the shop by a top fashion glossy, Jo is discovered by the magazine’s editor Maggie Prescott (Thompson) and her top photographer Dick Avery (Astaire). Jo is whisked to Paris by the scheming duo, where she not only causes a sensation in the capital of style but soon becomes the focus of Avery’s attention on both sides of the camera.
Whoever thinks cinema’s fascination with fashion is a recent phenomena with films like The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The September Issue (2009) – think again. This piece of cinematic whimsy proves that as far back as the 1950s the public was obsessed with the gilded world inhabited by beautiful models, bitchy editors and prima donna photographers. The film shares endless similarities with the real world of fashion, particularly the refined echelons of couture: not surprising considering the character of Maggie Prescott was rumoured to be modelled on Diana Vreeland, the real-life Editrix of American Vogue, whilst the inspiration for Astaire’s photographer apparently derived from legendary snapper Richard (Dick) Avedon.
As with the exclusive world of high fashion, Funny Face is one of those rare films which not only transcends fads and passing tastes, but stands out from the rest thanks to its effortless style, wit and sophistication. Hepburn in particular glows in the role of a feisty yet impressionable youngster battling with the attentions of an older, more worldly-wise mentor (in the guise of Astaire) – a role she would later repeat with Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964).
Few people ever enter the exclusive club of high fashion as depicted in glossy magazines like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. However, films such as the exquisite Funny Face, where all the ingredients came together in picture perfect composition, allows us to share, even if only briefly, in this land of fantasy and make-believe.