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The Timeless Comforts of 'Catwalk'
Claudia McNeilly finds a much-needed escape from the season in this 90s fashion film

After the peppermint and chocolate, the eggnog and Appletons, the three-day hangover, the murmured goodbyes and shouted hellos, I find myself sandwiched between signs, yelling at me from store windows: Everyday is the present!, Make goals not resolutions, and Take an additional 40% off already marked down merchandise! (Read: you wont want anything in here.) As the holiday season winds down like stale bathwater draining from a tub, we resolve to be less terrible and less repulsive. In the hub of our resolutions we seem to miss what’s really going on in the world, and that is: Nothing. The stretch from January to March fills our day to day with grey. Grey slush and grey skies fall into our lives. We’re given the charming holidays of Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day to soften the hums of grey wind that numb fingers and cheeks on our streets. I have never met anyone who claims either of these holidays as their particular favourite– and I’m saying this as someone whose birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day.

For me, January has always brought a time of transition, jeans that feel tighter than they did in December, resolutions that lose urgency, and allusions of fresh starts. This mix then blends itself into my life, allowing contempt and instability to breed just below the surface of my caffeinated eyes. Suddenly I find myself engaging in window shopping on Bloor Street, drinking Kombucha, smoking half a Belmont, and talking about the baby food diet. While the path I take to this uncomfortable destination is full of piercing clarity, I still haven’t figured out exactly how to avoid it. Fortunately, after several Januarys spent at the murky bottom of Kombucha bottles, I’ve found a handful of comforts that expertly disseminate this mess, muffling January’s lost resolutions for at least ninety minutes. One of them is watching a chubby Karl Lagerfeld, pre-sunglasses Anna Wintour, and mostly-sane John Galliano parade across my computer screen, spitting comforting fashion idioms out at me with un-jaded smiles. 

“You know I’m not going for another reason, because she put this name on it… The woman from French Vogue. I don’t talk to her. I am the one who recommended her but she behaved so badly that I said, ‘Anna when you put the name of this pig on there,'” chimes Karl Lagerfeld. 

“You can’t go,” Christy Turlington cuts in with a slur.

Catwalk is a documentary released in 1996. It features Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss as they navigate Milan, New York, and Paris during fashion week. Claudia Schiffer and Carla Bruni also make appearances between Kate and Christy seemingly drunk backstage talking about bikini waxes, and Anna Wintour sporting the lowest neckline of all time. The supermodels glide through each city, visiting the likes of John Galliano, Karl Largerfeld, Anna Wintour, Andre Leon Tally, and Isaac Mizrahi. But beyond the iconic names are the subtleties of budding relationships between the supermodels and designers. 

“Think Irving Penn!” Galliano yells to Moss as he sips from a cup filled with boozy gold syrup. Kate complies, running along the runway in a long taffeta dress with bell sleeves and Repunzel braids.

And like the undeniably grand quality of an Irving Penn photograph, fashion is made up of substantial moments. They grab our gazes, hold our breath, and make us double tap our Instagram screens. Yet subtleties and transitions are what allow the big moments we love to exist. The in-betweens are where the history-making moments are made. While it’s refreshing to watch today’s fashion royalty, with platinum rings and Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille for skin, as their young, not-as-jaded selves, I come back to Catwalk for a different reason. The film is filled with the kind of fashion subtleties that make the constant chase to lose 5 pounds, own something that resembles Celine, and hone the perfect denim button up sleeve-roll worth it. I’d say these problems are only mine, but I know they’re not. If they were, we wouldn’t live in a world populated by signs that yell at every passerby, screaming, This is how you can look thinner, richer, and younger! The reason these signs won’t die is because they exploit something we hold even closer to our DANNIJO bibs than the fashion icons we love. They exploit our fears– the thoughts that slink silently through our minds on a daily basis. I’ve thought about the proposals of these signs. Sometimes I still fall for their gimmicks, although my verdict is they’re full of shit.

The conversations between fashion’s elite in Catwalk are not composed of new or scintillating ideas. Instead, they employ the same brand of curious comfort found in a Coco Chanel quote, or when the skinniest jeans feel loose. With January’s time of grey transition, where we’re only given Pre-Fall to hold us over (which is really a chance for designers to wade through their own transitions with experimentation), there’s value in referencing the past. Not every idea has to be groundbreaking. Maybe, some even need to be old, consoling, and self-fulfilling, as they lay the foundation for that rare new idea heard over the clamour of internet voices, if it’s lucky enough. 

“Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course, you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution,” writes Hugo Lindgren of the New York Times.  

Few ideas are new and even fewer are permanent. But comfort is stable and constant. There’s no replacement for the things we turn to when we feel lost and uneasy. Our favourite takeout leaks through its styrofoam container, wifi connections cut out, and we all have those moments at the corner store where our hand hovers over a bag of chips and we internalize, I don’t have to eat these. But we do. 

“I TRY TO BE GOOD,” I can hear my neighbour yelling into her phone through the wall. 

I’m eating a kale salad, thinking about Mr. Noodles, listening to Christy Turlington say, “There’s not really any way to adjust completely to this kind of life. I mean it’s OK because it moves really fast and you’re with people and you laugh and have a good time but it’s very… What’s the word… Sometimes you just want to stay in one place for a very long time and never have to move and never have to see anyone.” 

I get up, grab my keys, and go buy a bag of that slate grey soup we call Mr. Noodles, the closest I’ll ever come to happiness for 99 cents. 

You can watch Catwalk here.


Claudia McNeilly writes for the Toronto Standard. You can follow her on twitter at @claudiamcneilly

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