“I’ve been told that when Americans die, they don’t go to heaven. They go to Paris.”
Fashions of 1934 is a lighthearted look at the world of fashion from director William Dieterle, and even though the film was made over seventy years ago, well some things, such as human nature and the absurdity of fashion just never change.
When the film begins, swindler Sherwood Nash (William Powell) needs a new scam. His Golden Harvest Investment Company is on its last legs, and even the office furniture has been repossessed. At one of the frequent low spots in his life, and acknowledging he needs a “new racket,” he runs across clothing designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis) and with his sidekick Snap (Frank McHugh) the trio bootlegs Parisian fashions that are destined for exclusive New York couture houses. By bribing the driver who’s supposed to deliver the Parisian gowns, Nash, Lynn and Snap have a hilariously efficient method of copying the clothing. Soon New York socialites who paid big bucks for their exclusive gowns are stunned to discover their maids wearing knock-off copies for a fraction of the price. This leads to many embarrassing moments for the heads of the New York fashion industry, and although bitter enemies in the past, finding the “dress industry threatened by pirates,” heads of the New York fashion houses “organize to stamp out copying.”
When caught and confronted, Nash takes it one step further by convincing the New York fashion heads to send him to Paris, so that he can rip off the Parisians. The owners of the New York fashion houses like the idea of directly bootlegging the overpriced Parisian designs, and so Nash, Snap and Lynn sail for Paris.
Unleashed in Paris, Nash founds Maison Elegance, and with Lynn designing the clothes, they soon find themselves unwelcome in The City of Lights.
This is a delightful madcap comedy. From the heads of the fancy fashion houses on down, everyone has a scam. The film is Powell’s as he scams, lies and bluffs his way to the top of the Parisian fashion heap. As Nash, Powell is dapper and convincingly insincere, but Davis doesn’t have much of a role. She doesn’t have many lines and not much chance to act. In this black and white film, Davis wears like a Platinum blonde wig. Fashions of 1934 was Warner Brothers’ attempt to turn Davis into a glamour puss, and needless to say their efforts didn’t work, and Davis wasn’t thrilled about it.
For those who have any interest in fashions of the 30s (and some of the clothes are gorgeous) or if you are a fan of Bette Davis or of William Powell, then you are in for some decent entertainment. There’s a big dance number choreographed by Busby Berkeley in the film that includes some amazing sequences with Ostrich feathers.