There is no more sumptuous and decadent double feature than Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” and Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci.” As only the former is available for streaming right now, it would require a trip to the movie theater to see both, but getting out of the pandemic pajamas for the latter would be worth it.
I actually was so excited for “House of Gucci,” I dressed up a bit and wore my early Christmas present—a vintage Dior bangle with matte black contrasting the bold logos from local shop, Paper Doll Vintage Boutique in Sayville—to feel the glamour I was about to walk into.
And “House of Gucci” did not disappoint, as the visual feast I had expected to see with a glorious fashion transformation in Lady Gaga’s character, Patrizia Reggiani, who starts with a wardrobe and hair like a well-dressed extra in a Sophia Loren movie and ends up with a sleek, short, and dark coif that is perfect for the villainess she turns into.
While Scott did try to portray Reggiani as a sympathetic figure, enraptured by patriarchy and a philandering husband, he does little to sway the audience into believing Reggiani is more than a jilted woman out to destroy the man that tossed her aside.
Salma Hayek’s character as the high-end psychic would be exorbitant, if not for her real-life placing in the murder of Mauricio Gucci and at the side of Reggiani.
Jared Leto’s Paolo was probably the most problematic of the characters, as he was so over-the-top Italian, his portrayal of the eccentric and always floundering second-tier Gucci was almost racist.
Al Pacino has comfortably settled into an OG actor of the powerful Italian family head, and plays to funny moments, but is more bland than intriguing.
The scene where Paolo picks him up from the airport after a stint in federal prison for tax evasion is chuckle-worthy, but indicative of lack of gravitas in the movie.
Throughout the movie, and perhaps its most redemptive quality, is the brilliance of colors and the juxtaposed palettes of each frame.
Like the Gucci empire itself, “House of Gucci’s” costume design is sexy, sophisticated, but always a hair away from being ostentatious and ridiculous.
It was once said that Mauricio Gucci wanted everything to be “round and brown,” whereas Tom Ford, who was brought on to the brand in the ‘90s to be revitalized, wanted everything “black and square.”
But the feminine cuts and the emphasis on European sophistication are carried throughout, even in the most mundane scenes, like when Reggiani is in jeans and a T-shirt at the beginning of her marriage and at the end where she hires a hitman.
In contrast but also in grandness, “Spencer’s” wardrobe department focuses on British fashion and pomp, covering the same era of couture as the end of Gucci.
Our first vision of Diana is a bright outfit, indicative of the loud colors of the early to mid-‘90s, a big-shouldered and shorter-skirted two-piece suit set off by tasteful pumps.
When her well-crafted outfits for the Christmas weekend are wheeled into her room, she is uninspired by the predictable choices.
Like in Gucci, the times when Diana is in jeans represent the most “real” moments when she is just herself, and not the Princess of Wales.
In one of the most poignant scenes, Diana is in a gorgeous, flowing white dress for dinner and is crouched over a toilet inducing vomiting, contrasting the beauty of the image with the price of the picture.
Another central article of fashion in “Spencer” is a large pearl necklace given to Diana by Prince Charles that she detests, as she believes he bought the same one for his longtime mistress, Camilla.
Tearing it off in a dramatic scene in her former childhood home, it’s an homage to breaking the restraints of the royal family, but still being held to the danger, as the pearls lay strewn on the dimly light staircase she is about to descend.
A beloved coat of Diana’s father, the boisterous Earl Spencer, is taken off a scarecrow and lovingly restored by one of her ladies-in-waiting (who admits to be romantically in love with her, but that’s a storyline for another article).
In “Spencer,” we see the restrained English elegance and the reticent glamour, especially in the dream sequence when Diana revisits all her major outfits, including her endless-train wedding dress.
In a special on True Royalty TV, there is a documentary devoted solely on Diana’s jewelry throughout her short life, and “Spencer” works in the same way, except sartorially.
But through it, we see how much of the image controls the reality and how we contribute to the frailty of the actual person modeling the beautiful dresses.
Whereas Patrizia Reggiani used her married family’s name and fashion to manifest her dreams, Diana’s in-laws created an aesthetic that as she famously said, left her “gasping for air.”
To see the two together, or in a short time apart from one another, is a great dichotomy into what the public gaze can do to elevate or obliterate a beautiful woman’s power.
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