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“We wanted him to stand out, but also to pass as a fashionista,” said Jason Alper, the film’s costumer designer who has worked with Cohen since the Ali G show days. “Our standard was: if we told people he’s a fashionista from Europe and people said, ‘Yeah, OK,’ then we knew we had it right.”
That means crotch-skimming lederhosen, metallics, ridiculously large sunglasses, latex, fake fur, feathers and nary a sleeve in sight.
Alper didn’t work with any of the designers who get credits in the film with the exception of Mugler, who supplied the actor a silver leather motto outfit. He shopped Seven New York and Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles for Brüno’s looks. “Fortunately, the clothes that Brüno needs, nobody else wants,” Alper said. “They were always on sale.”
But Alper claims that Brüno’s duds, styled in their provocative, absurd way, are not intended as a critique, but are just an extreme presentation of the designer aesthetic. The runway in a fun house mirror. “Any designer I’ve used is not being mocked,” Alper explained. “If anything, it’s the opposite. That’s really important. I’m definitely not laughing at anyone.”
Cohen has also picked up some solid fashion instincts in living as Brüno. In the movie, army commanders at a training camp criticize Brüno for accessorizing his fatigues with a belt and scarf. “But this outfit is too matchy-matchy,” he protests. “I just wanted to break it up with horizontal lines.”
He’s tackled footwear, too. In an interview with Digg.com, Brüno explained that Crocs are “practical, comfortable and affordable — everything I despise in a fashion. The number-one rule of fashion: don’t buy anything you can get in an airport.” Fair enough.
But not all of the fashion industry is so ready to let Cohen off the hook. Designer Lloyd Klein was another of Brüno’s early victims. Aired during the Ali G years, Brüno’s interaction with the Los Angeles-based designer is vintage Cohen: he infiltrates backstage, asks Klein if he can model for the show, claims he is the muse of the (made-up) German designer Chrysler. Klein pretends to know who Chrysler is. Brüno then convinces a model to take off his look and give it to him, and makes it onto the runway…twice!
“I had all the gorgeous models and he is asking me in his German accent with his chest hair like a carpet to get into the show,” Klein remembered. “I’m looking at him like, are you serious? And who is Chrysler?”
They say that comedy is just tragedy plus time and, five years later, Klein can’t help but admire Cohen, and, in some ways, relate to him. “He is a creator, like me. He can reinvent himself,” Klein explained. “That is very fashion.”
It’s a common reaction to Cohen’s gorilla-style comedy: that it’s funnier to watch than experience, but if you do experience it, best not to stay angry, to let the mincing Hessian get under your skin. After all, fashion is, in some sense, about poise.
“I think it’s not bad to be critical,” de la Prada observed, finally absolving Cohen and Brüno for their intrusion last year. “There are too many people who take fashion too seriously.”
She may have forgiven Cohen, but the ghost of Brüno — crop-topped in an animal print — will be felt at her fashion shows long after the movie has left the theaters.
“I will tell you. Security? We have much more of it now.”