On Wednesday night, I went in search of the Miu Miu Girl. She could be a sheer-socked acolyte of la différance; or a Renata Adler obsessive with politicized legs and a kid; or a net-born baby with full control over her silhouette and no control over her love life. Or she could be Janicza Bravo, the mind behind the A24 viral-Twitter-feed-inspired hit Zola, and director of the 23rd installation of Miu Miu’s short film series Women’s Tales. On the razor edge of Los Feliz and Hollywood, a tight community of artists and industry assembled to watch and celebrate the short, House Comes With a Bird, starring Natasha Lyonne, Pedro Pascal, Katherine Waterston, and Poorna Jagannathan, and debuting multi-instrumentalist and composer Kelsey Lu in her first acting role.
The short itself is under 15 minutes of gorgeous, rich 16mm shot with minimal coverage and what Bravo describes to me as “juicy wides.” Lu stars as a young realtor’s apprentice, Jean, who plays temporary caretaker to a beautiful house on the market, filled with exotic animals (a macaw, a tortoise). Pascal, Waterston, and Jagannathan splay their brutal energy through the house, but it hypnotically softens their harshness. Jean remains generous and patient with these self-absorbed interlopers, staying in step with the pace of the animals and the house. The script and direction is sharply funny. The part that sunk into my heart like a bird beak, however, was an overhead shot of Jean peeling a hard boiled egg in the sink of the house in which her boss had told her not to eat. She has pulled it from a small tupperware (an image familiar to me from my own packed lunches)—a touching, earthly, neat solution for holding tiny pawfuls of snacks. Katherine Waterston’s character, a potential buyer, walks in moments later and says, loathsomely, “I smell egg.”
The challenge of a fashion film, Bravo said in an on-set interview, is that “narrative can sometimes cannibalize the clothing,” but “if it’s about the clothing, then it ends up being a bit hollow and doesn’t have the room for a soul.” Though marketing and advertising via fashion film in the contemporary sense formalized in the first decade of the 2000s—and became a primary mode of runway communication during the pandemic—Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales have grown to occupy a rigorously intellectual and dialectical strata in the medium. Perhaps not the chronological “first,” but certainly one of the conceptual leaders in the evolution and embrace of the art-house narrative fashion film.
Women’s Tales is now a decade-long series of cinematic conversations that push beyond clothing and promotion of that clothing, just as Mrs. Prada is always hinting is her true mission. In an interview with Hugo Huerta Marin, she said, “…fashion was not enough of an instrument… But later, I decided that it was the instrument I had, so I tried to practice what I believed through my company…we try to move, to give more substance, to give more food for thought. For instance, there is Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales…I am very interested in the aesthetics of art, architecture, design, or whatever it is, but I am much more interested in ideas.”
Janicza Bravo is an undisputed master of the short film form, having made at least nine, and has frequently voiced her devotion to the medium, in parallel to her lauded television and feature-length projects.
A fashion figure unto herself, Bravo came to the premiere in a Miu Miu Spring 2022 look: a tan pleated skirt, gray cable knit, and jaunty, exaggerated basket weave straw cap. Her virtuosic personal style bounces from buoyant, silky Bode at the Independent Spirit Awards, to the powerful core of a Chopova Lowena skirt for Zola’s LA premiere, to her variety of zany Esenchel and assorted hats. “I feel every day that I get dressed is an opportunity to play some character,” she tells me. “And the clothing, much like the characters in my work, speaks for me…or I don’t have to use the sound of my voice. The clothing is an extension of my voice.” Among the many directors documented on @directorfits, she lives out a professional playfulness (the first in truly countless uses of that adjective in the world of Miu Miu) totally distinctive to her.
Waterston and Sam Fragoso, a close friend and collaborator of Bravo’s who contributed voiceover, commented on her exacting, singular, consistent visual style, from her very first short, Eat (2011), to her most recent for Miu Miu. After a drawn out Covid relationship with Zola, which premiered in Sundance in early 2020 but did not appear in theaters until more than a year later, this project gave her a chance to “get back to the naughty, playful, juicy side of myself,” she tells the audience at the post-screening Q&A. Nearly everyone I spoke with, from Lu to Lyonne, commented on her glorious and specific sense of humor and unparalleled auteurship, which often seeks, as Fragoso puts it, “to place the abhorrentness of people and their better, warmer sides in such close proximity that you don’t really know where one begins and one ends.”
“Katherine is my favorite aristocrat,” Bravo joked during the Q&A of the Hollywood scion.
Waterston laughed ruefully, “She sees things in us and invites us to draw them out, and it is a both chilling and delightful experience.”
Bravo’s clever studies of coexisting rot and tenderness are a perfect match for everyone’s favorite, saucy, leftist Eternal Girl, Miuccia Prada—Mrs. Prada, as she is known. Everything the actors wore in the short were from the Miu Miu Spring 2022 collection, with the exception of Pascal’s character, in Prada. The pieces were selected by Bravo and Shirley Kurado, the beloved costume designer and stylist. Which is another kinship between Mrs. Prada and Bravo: they both love the conductive power of clothes.
For much of Miu Miu’s existence, it has been a cult obsession, an early and lifelong fascination for fashion insiders with intellectual panache. But more recently, its viral skirt set—a cropped top and low-rise, chopped-off miniskirt from Spring 2022—has put the brand at the center of the spotlight; boutiques in Europe and the United States can hardly keep its miniskirts and accessories in stock.
There is a growing sense, in other words, that the Miu Miu Girl is no longer just that, but also the it-girl (who is not necessarily young and not necessarily female). And perhaps that is why, when the women of the Q&A were asked “What is a Miu Miu Girl to you?”, the answers were cagey and joking. Waterston said “Oh, God.” Lyonne said, “Miuccia Prada.” Lu said, “Me!” The brand claims to embody and dress the “girl at heart”; “the essence of an emancipated and conscious woman”; “the most rebellious and seductive core of contemporary femininity.” And yet I could feel a general resistance to defining Her.
After champagne, the screening, and the Q&A moderated by Alia Shawkat, the square-heel-tipped group black-car-serviced a few blocks to the Cara Hotel for dinner and an after party. I chose to walk the 20 minutes down Sunset with the convivial Italian model Natalia Bonifacci. “The first big thing I ever bought with my own money were Miu Miu moccasins,” she told me. “I thought they were the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. I must have been 19 or 20 years old.”
In the courtyard of the Cara Hotel, matelassé Miu Miu purses were quickly strewn everywhere. Gonnie Garko the DJ played easy-to-dance-but-still-easy-to-talk beats. It only became more clear as the night went on that this was the Close Friends List of parties. This was a tight knit group who trusted each other. Kiernan Shipka, Rowan Blanchard, Diana Silvers, Hunter Schafer, Daisy Edgar Jones, Ciara Bravo––all in their early twenties, cheek kissed and chattered, some shy, some bold, all coltish. Fifteen-year-old Demi Singleton arrived in a pale periwinkle cady jacket and skirt embellished with crystals all over. Young Hollywood mingled with the industry 30-and-40 somethings, who seemed in similar vibrant spirits, but with a ferocity to their presence, an edge to their humor, and a never-dropped guard that is only earned through time and betrayal. It was also the eager but awkward spirit of a work party after two pandemic years, which was in turn charming and alarming as everyone was still soft-launching their going out skills.
I asked Lyonne how Bravo had and continued to create such safe and fulfilling spaces for work, further demonstrated by the loyalty of the community at the party. “The joy of the thing is to become a part of someone’s vision and to drop into their song,” she said. “An actor is like a session musician…I’ve been doing this for 37 years and I’ve been in probably like a hundred movies, five of which are watchable. Oftentimes you think, ‘Oh, if I just do enough as an actor, it’ll make it make sense.’ And that’s not the full picture. The truth is that [with] great filmmakers, you’re actually folding into their world and almost disappearing into this third thing, which is the alchemy of that marriage. So that’s what it means when all the actors are saying, I would do anything for you…she has such clarity of vision that it [doesn’t feel like] jumping off a cliff.”
I could see how an artist could feel safe in the small art circle of indie film and queer fashion. Maude Apatow’s mauvey brown underwear peeking above a low slung skirt with sequin and silk flower appliqués and a raw hem reminded me of a skirt I owned in elementary school and dearly loved to twirl in. The childlike playfulness, agelessly available to you when you put on Miu Miu, is intoxicating. The yanked-forward nostalgia was not only aesthetic, but spiritual and communal.
Meanwhile, on a white divan by the pool, Celia Rowlson-Hall and Mia Lidofsky chatted with Hunter Schafer about cryogenically frozen heads in Las Vegas. Schafer said she had never been to that kingdom of tender rot; Rowlson-Hall said they should all go together.
At a round table full of friends, Bravo reached her arms out to Lyonne and Tara Duncan, the president of Freeform, both wearing navy with white polka dots and Peter Pan collars and mouthed, “Both of you are my mother.”
Any of these women could be the Miu Miu Girl.
But perhaps The Girl was one of the only two at the entire party wearing “The Skirt”: Miu Miu’s stylist, Lotta Volkova (who might move to LA?!), and her assistant, Ashling Massoumi. However, as Massoumi told me, whereas Volkova’s delicious honey-I-shrunk-the-skirt was pulled directly from the runway, Massoumi had to order one from a commercial run. “And they are way too long and high up,” she said. “I had to order a size up so it could sit low and I had to cut off the bottom myself.”
Verde Visconti, the Miu Miu VIP Director and Mrs. Prada’s close associate, with the coloring, cheekbones, and discreet grace reminiscent of a European Martes martes, touched on The Skirt while musing on projects to come. She waved, “And of course…The Skirt…”
“Tell me more about The Skirt.” I said.
She smiled slyly and said, “The Skirt does what she wants.”
The Girl is someone who has become so unwieldy and ungovernable and yet remains one of the most relentlessly regulated entities in history. It was a sensitive subject that evening because it was us. (Yes! Very much in the way of “Is this play about us?”). This is the Girl that the people at the Cara Hotel on Wednesday night must grapple with in their work, themselves, each other. No wonder they wanted the night off from defining it.
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