A Bigger Splash, Jack Hazan's 1974 portrait of iconic painter David Hockney, isn't your typical artist documentary. Blending fact and fiction, the film captures Hockney's work and social circle in enigmatic vignettes. Now playing at New York's Metrograph theater in a new restoration (with an expanded release soon to come), A Bigger Splash offers a fascinating time capsule of the early '70s, with an enviable wardrobe to match. Hockney's paintings are known for their bright planes of color—they are stylish in their Pop Art boldness, and to look at them is to be transported into a sunny oasis. The fashion onscreen has a similar effect—pops of color and sensual silhouettes (seen courtesy of Hockney's fashion designer friends, husband and wife duo Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark) abound, and the bohemian harmony of paintings and clothes makes for perfect summer viewing.
Early on, there's a sequence showcasing a fashion show for Quorum, a line designed by Birtwell and Clark. Models, including staples of the era like Twiggy and Amanda Lear, dance down the runway at London's Royal Court Theatre. The music is lively, and the models seem to be having fun as they sashay. One model twirls in a rich purple dress. Another has a David Bowie-esque shock of red hair and dramatic streaks of blush. Bright fake flowers are pinned to the low neckline of her dress.
Delicately puffed shoulders and feminine prints recall the '40s—the decade that '70s fashion referenced most frequently—but Birtwell and Clark added a more risqué spin on some of these silhouettes.
One model, clad in an off-the-shoulder dress, smokes as she walks. The effect is equal parts film noir and '70s nightclub.
Another look leaves a model's back completely exposed. She pushes one of her straps off her shoulder while the other, with a sinuous drape, stays up in compelling contrast. There's an ultra low-cut dress held up by nothing more than a perilously thin yellow string suggestively wrapped around the model's neck like a choker. A bra is totally out of the question. A Bigger Splash skips around in time, and this fashion show took place in 1971. The fashions displayed here are made for the newly liberated woman. It's the ideal wardrobe for free love—the looks offer leisurely sex appeal.
Many years before Sex and the City, A Bigger Splash provided a showcase for the seductive footwear of Manolo Blahnik. The models wear heels from the designer's first collection. In bright red and green, with ankle straps (another '40s flourish), the shoes help sell the boho femme fatale look.
Hockney and his then-lover, Peter Schlesinger, watch the fashion show along with Birtwell. Hockney always cuts a striking figure, with his bleached-blond hair and round black-rimmed glasses that wouldn't be out of place on a cartoon character. Schlesinger wears a sailor shirt and a candy necklace. It's a truly inspired pairing, and a candy necklace is definitely a statement piece.
Birtwell boasts an enviable wardrobe of embroidered blouses. Her look is hippie-ish but tailored. The colorful embroidery is intricate and a glance at her fashion sketches reveals a more embellished version of what she's already wearing—with their floral embroidery, puffed sleeves, and bright red and yellow palettes, the dresses she draws are both delicate and bold.
While Hockney says at one point that he doesn't notice clothes, he comes across as quite style savvy. He wears playful accessories, like a Mickey Mouse-esque red and white polka dot bowtie or mismatched red and blue socks, with aplomb. He even changes from one round pair of glasses to another to suit his outfit.
Above all else, A Bigger Splash is a portrait of the artist. Seeing Hockney in his element is a treat, and it's telling that his outfits frequently complement his paintings. An electric blue shirt is in perfect harmony with his blue paints. Green flared pants match verdant hills on his canvas. Art is life, and though Hockney may claim otherwise, so is what we wear.