The Cosmopolitans is something of an outside choice for our next entry in the Celluloid Cloth series. It's not a beloved classic, it's not fashion-focused, it's not even a proper TV show. It was a one off pilot by the cult writer/director Whit Stillman for Amazon in 2014. Stillman is a director that divides people, his films—notably Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco—are noted for their ironic dialogue, mannered performances and setting—invariably among a group of wealthy young people. For fans of his work it's his strange, quietly hilarious approach that has such appeal. He writes like an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel with more jokes and where people are more confused than tragic.
As you can imagine, these films aren’t notable for their style. They’re instead full of characters in preppy staples—sensible knitwear, chinos and buttondown shirts. The Cosmopolitans is different. It’s Stillman’s first work set in France which he called home for several years and its possibly the best modern example of Parisian style. The French style is a hard thing to pin down but it’s essentially the combination of classic staples with very good taste and discretion. Conservative but essentially flattering. There isn’t anything particularly French about any of the items individually but in the way they are styled and combined they become a coherent look.
Think of the brand APC whose paired back appropriation of Americana and style Anglais is the best known example of this approach—a very popular approach considering their many followers among French designers from Maison Kitsune to AMI. This was explained to me by one French acquaintance as being the result of two things:
A fear of standing out or looking foolish which he saw as a strongly French societal instinct.
A result of limited closet space in cramped Parisian apartments which means focusing on a few classic items, a necessity for good style.
Which seems like a fair explanation, so this conservative style with a touch of European flair becomes the default of the young Parisian. Last time I was in the city I was delighted to see how prevalent the look was, as its so rare in a globalised world to recognise a regional characteristic, especially in major centres.
Which brings us back to the show. The characters in The Cosmopolitans are American expats in Paris and much of the humour is derived from their need to emphasise that fact to each other and the people they meet. The romance and the reality of Paris are clearly contrasted. Where they seem to have grasped the French way firmly is in their style—blue blazers are paired with tasteful check and patterned shirts, washed jeans and slim chinos alongside sensible derby shoes and in Adam Brody’s character’s case a textured single breasted mac-like topcoat. Later in the film the chinos & jeans are ditched in favour of a navy suit and pale blue & white shirts unbuttoned on the top. So yes its a fairly boring selection, but pulled together and in the smart way its styled its extremely flattering.
By way of contrast we are introduced to the Americans German acquaintance Fritz. He’s a wealthy character whose taken tradition and pushed it into eurotrash territory with his ill-fitting contrast collar (Charvet?) shirt, driving shoes and broad-stripe shirt paired with white pocket square. It’s the poor man’s idea of a rich man—think Donald Trump. It's this contrast that reflects on the restrained good taste of the expats.
These items are all staples of the classic French style, and entirely drawn from the brands that cater to it: APC, Balibaris, Ami, Editions MR, Officine Generale. This isn't a radical approach but the combination of top quality with tasteful execution works wonders.