Who are you, Polly Maggoo?

It is not the movie based on the book ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘September issue’ or even ‘Pret-a-porter’, that is the visual homework required for all the fashion fan(atic)s. If you don’t know who Polly Magoo is, then you also don’t know why did Carine Rotfield do a photoshoot at a cementary, why Diana Pernet only wears black and where did Marc Jacobs draw the inspiration for his Spring collection. It’s high time to catch up!


Fashion editors gather in the middle of a glade, in an abandoned brick tower resembling a mill. They occupy space on two floors. Clearly impatient, they are waiting for the show to begin. An extravagant American Miss Maxwell arrives last. A strict editor in chief, she doesn’t greet anyone and sits in the front row. The show can finally start. Models that appear on the catwalk wear… pieces of cut aluminium. Delighted editors comment: ‘Uncomfortable but what can you do?’, ‘They know how to wear it.’ Chaos takes over at the backstage. ‘The outfits’ hurt naked bodies of the models. The collection turns out to be a great success. After the show, the designer with his muse and model Polly Maggoo meets with the journalists. Miss Maxwell congratulates him: ‘You have created a new woman! I’m touched. You’re an architect, a sculptor!’ – she exclaims. The designer, who looks more like a gardener than a great fashion creator (holding shears in his hand) replies modestly: ‘I did what I could’.

In this movie, nothing is accidental. The director William Klein knew the industry inside and out. For 10 years he had been photographing for the American Vogue. Inspired by French television and the local edition of the most influential magazine for women, in 1966 he created his first fiction movie ‘Who are you, Polly Maggoo?’. It presents the exaggerated world of the French haute couture. His malicious sense of humour perfectly combines abstract, seemingly mismatched topics.

We have everything here. Presented just like Alice in Wonderland, American model who is making an outstanding career in Paris. Prince Igor who is hopelessly in love with her and his mother – the queen who is planning to kidnap the girl, just to make her son happy (she even sends two agents over and asks for discretion in order to avoid an international scandal). The journalists, who don’t believe in the perfection and natural beauty of Polly, want to use a trick in order to find out who she really is. And finally – the impossibly composed and cold editor in chief played by Grayson Hall. Miss Maxwell was modelled on the great Diana Vreeland. Reportedly, Klein studied every detail in her gestures, manner of speech and movement, in order to play her character as well as possible. You could say that Dorothy McGowan (who plays Polly Maggoo) played herself in the movie. Before the movie was made McGowan was one of the most sought-after models and Klein’s muse. Also photographed by the likes of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, in the 60s she appeared on the covers of Vogue,, Elle and Glamour. After the premiere of ‘Who are you, Polly Maggoo?’ McGowan suddenly disappeared from public life. She did not play in any other movie and didn’t take part in any photo shoots. Did she realize who she really was?


Eight models are sitting in front of the mirror in the dressing room and perform the final touches of make-up. They are dispassionately talking about everything. About a boyfriend who dumped one of them, about another one’s brand. They only perk up when one of them mentions the fact, that prince Igor fell in love with a model. With identical hair and dressed like clones, they are the epitome of the 60s. They are wearing cult geometric cut called the ‘Five-point Cut’ from 1964 by Vidal Sassoon, and geometric black and white dresses in the style of Mary Quant.

Have you seen it recently? Probably at Marc Jacobs’. In the final of the fashion show for the Spring-Summer 2013 collection, the models who looked almost identical, like those from Klein’s movie, enter the catwalk through mirror doors. The 60s and Polly Maggoo will therefore dominate the coming Spring. However, people started talking about them no later than last Fall.


Cemetary near Paris. Two gravediggers open the lid of a coffin. Inside, dressed entirely in black, lies Polly Maggoo. The editor explains the concept of the photo shoot: ‘We are asking whether the Parisian fashion is dead, do you understand?’. Funeral procession with models follows the caravan. Does this scene from the funeral sound familiar? Here are two clues. Firstly Diane Pernet. When she tells us that ‘Who are you, Polly Maggoo?’ is her favourite movie, the eccentric image of the French journalist and blogger (always wearing a black dress and highly clipped black veil) takes on a new meaning. ‘You need distance to yourself and fashion in order to shoot something like this’ – she argued and displayed the movie in November during the 5th edition of her festival A Shaded View On Fashion Film at the Centre Pompidou. The second clue is a new magazine from the former editor in chief of the French Vogue – Carine Roitfeld, and her photo shoot at a cemetary called ‘Rebirth’. Roitfeld recently expressed her dissatisfaction with how the fashion industry looks today. Is the stylist, referring to the movie scene, announcing the rebirth of the fashion world? And will it happen because of the Carine Roitfeld Fashion Book?

‘Kubrick saw Polly Maggoo in his private cinema. Afterwards he sent me a letter saying that the movie was 10 years ahead of its time, that he understood it very well and that he had an impression that we had a lot in common.’ – says Klein. Kubrick was right. Polly is timeless. The distance, mentioned by Pernet makes the movie as ironical and timely as it was 40 years ago. We should just wait for a remake. Who will Polly Maggoo be today?