the Insiders


July 26, 2010 8:39 PM


The Trouble With Angelina

Sometimes it’s hard to embrace Galileo. It’s difficult not to believe the universe revolves around us, its every twirl impacting us for good or ill, no matter how unrealistic the assumption....

Sometimes it’s hard to embrace Galileo. It’s difficult not to believe the universe revolves around us, its every twirl impacting us for good or ill, no matter how unrealistic the assumption. Celebrity continues to affect the fashion industry “us” relentlessly.
Some musings on that reality surfaced after a weekend viewing of “Salt,” starring the most famous, most beautiful, most glamorous, most intriguing woman in the world, the kind of woman who once would have set a standard for fashion to follow.

Yet here is Angelina Jolie in a megamainstream, shoot-’em-up, kick-’em-in-the-crotch, leap-over-tall-buildings summer blockbuster that’s about as chic as a cup of Campbell’s clam chowder. The dazzling star often looked as unglamorous as her considerable physical gifts allow.

Don’t misunderstand: Angelina undone is still drop-dead gorgeous. Nevertheless, her penchant for dressing down indeed impacts our world.

Early word on her upcoming “The Tourist” aside, as an actress Angelina clearly prefers action to glam. As endless tabloid photos indicate, in real life, too, she fancies playing down the movie-star thing in favor of the busy-mom-on-the-go-in-appropriate-wardrobe. Never mind that the Jolie-Pitt lifestyle is in fact incomprehensibly glamorous: a bohemian, la dolce vita, model U.N. traveling circus that settles into this chateau or that only to uproot, children and teaching staff in tow, the moment tony wanderlust sets in.

Still, no matter how many nannies may lurk just a shady corner away, no matter how many private jets on call, Angelina is by all accounts a devoted hands-on mom-on-the-go. Hence, the anonymous-looking trenches, black tanks, jeans and contemporary-market dresses make sense on one level. If on their own time she and Brad do things other than shepherd their pint-sized posse about, activities calling for more done-up garb, they do so with savvy discretion, beyond the range of those ever-ready paparazzi. What’s left, then, are Jolie’s professional appearances, which she seems to approach with equal pragmatism. Of course, as a woman, she has the right to wear whatever she chooses; as a movie star, her wardrobe selections of plain and plainer may be carefully orchestrated to drive home the point that she’s her own best ensemble, à la Carolyn Bessette, who could not have looked more unfettered when she married JFK Jr.

But there’s a difference. Carolyn’s embrace of minimalism felt decidedly stylish in the traditional sense, her look meticulously manicured in clothes recognizable as real fashion — Narciso, Prada, Yohji. She thus followed in the steps of other women who took the chic simplicity route to style-icon status, Katharine Hepburn, Babe Paley and Jackie Kennedy among them. Their patrician auras translated into aspirational viewing for those mere mortals who followed their style.

Conversely, Angelina has this odd, everywoman thing going on. Her clothes suggest that she wants us to think she’s just like moms everywhere. Getting dressed for the (well-chronicled) day is all about ease, comfort and what makes sense. For fashion, that’s sad enough when it comes to all of that with-the-kids press. True, Jolie always looks casually fabulous, but the fabulosity is all Angelina, not something a designer sent tied up with a bow. That might make her a better person, and Entertainment Weekly readers feel a misguided kinship, but it makes no one feel like rushing out for a T-shirt. They’ve already got one just like it, and it doesn’t make them look like Angelina.

On to Jolie’s working wardrobe. A simple black and white Dolce & Gabbana dress in Moscow’s Red Square on July 25 (she was there for “Salt”). A black leather jacket and dress by Versace at Comic-Con on July 22. On the red carpet, Jolie wears a range, from its most heralded names — Armani, Versace — to more populist types such as Max Azria. Either way, she seems to embrace every label at its most innocuous. Recent examples: the short black strapless Emporio Armani and the red Atelier Versace she wore to the L.A. and Moscow premieres of “Salt.” Not a speck of imagination between the two. To Jolie’s genetic credit, she still looked beautiful; memorable? Not so much.

It probably doesn’t read well for one woman to lament that another woman seems to pay too little attention to her clothes while still looking great. But fashion needs icons other than those who amuse via outrageousness (Lady Gaga) or cheap stereotype (Snooki). Fashion needs aspirational icons; it always has. Michelle Obama can’t do it alone. Right now, despite fashion’s ongoing celebrity obsession, the best of Hollywood isn’t doing its part.

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