Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957), like the industry it so wittily satirises, is beguiling, effortlessly stylish and always in vogue. This evergreen classic receives a timely rerelease from Park Circus this week, coinciding conveniently with the bi-annual fashion circus currently making its way around the clothing capitals of the world. Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) is happy working as an assistant in an obscure New York bookshop. However, during a photo shoot at the shop by a top fashion glossy, Jo is discovered by the magazine’s editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) and top photographer Dick Avery (musical royalty Fred 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. For those who think cinema’s fascination with fashion is a recent trend – see The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The September Issue (2009) – think again. This piece of cinematic whimsy proves that as far back as the fifties the public was obsessed with the gilded world inhabited by beautiful models, bitchy editors and prima donna photographers. The film also shares endless similarities with the real world of fashion: the character of Maggie was rumoured to be modelled on Diana Vreeland, the editor of American Vogue at the time.
As with the exclusive world of high fashion, Funny Face is one of those rare works 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.