Has Planet Fashion Got In On The Joke?

Zoolander 2 features everyone who's anyone in the world of fashion. But does the satire still work if its targets get starring roles?

Do not, repeat NOT, go and see Zoolander 2 if you’re seeking a piercing satire on the fashion world. True there are some blink-and-you-miss-them (literally in Kate Moss’s case) cameos from some of fashion’s key names: Marc Jacobs (or Marc by Marc Jacobs) as he’s called in the film, Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander Wang, Karlie Kloss, Anna Wintour (excellent as a wicked witch) and Valentino, his famous orange-y tan so extreme Pantone may have to invent a new name for it.

So, Zoolander 2 offers much fun to be had for those plugged into the zeitgeist (farm to table wifi anyone?) and especially for fashion obsessives who will enjoy spotting the in-references. There are jokes about the fashion world’s latest buzzword - non-binary - thanks to a non-too subtle performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as a Givenchy style hermaphrodite model. There are also gags about fashion’s distaste for fat people, its obsession with reinventing tired old ideas, it’s desperate vampiric suck on youth and its love of the slash - at the opening of the film, Derek is a tragic figure: model/former-model/wife-murderer. The film even has its own slash: Zoolander/Twoolander.

But those preoccupations aren’t really confined to the fashion world. What’s interesting about the interval between the release of Zoolander One (in 2001) and the sequel is that it has witnessed a genuine change in human behaviour whereby narcissism - a semi-furtive activity that narcissists used to share only with their mirror - has become a celebrated career path.       

In that sense, Stiller was right not to confine his film to a narrow fashion cabal. In any case, how do you satirise an industry in which John Galliano can demonstrate remorse for his racist sentiments by dressing up as a Hassidic Jew – and get away with it? How do you mock a business which bandies the word philanthropist around as freely as it does the word discount? Where diva behaviour is indulged, encouraged and fetishised? Besides which, it’s all been done before.

Stiller is too smart not to know this. Did he also realize that by having so many industry big-wigs queuing up to be in his film (and letting them in), he was effectively declawing it? Maybe it’s significant that the one contemporary meme Twoolander doesn’t explore is “meta”. This film, with all its support from a business it’s allegedly spoofing takes meta to a new level.

And yet, despite the fashion industry apparently falling over itself to co-operate, and prove it’s in on the joke, there’s a hint, particularly in the closing scenes, where many of those taking part seem frankly ridiculous, that they may not have quite understood what they let themselves in for.

In summation: a number of gags, although laugh out loud, don’t amount to more than a  series of Saturday Night Live sketches. The plot, such as it is, is exceptionally silly - at times, tiresomely so. But Zoolander One was silly. Will it be remembered as affectionately as its predecessor? Doubtful because that one came with no expectations. Does it skew the fashion world? A selective part of it was present at last night’s premiere and the majority hated-slash-found-it-offensive. If I were Stiller, I’d take that as a good sign.

Quotable Moments:
Fashion designer Atari to Zoolander:
“You - and SpongeBob - are like my biggest influences ever.”

Derek Zoolander, on being reunited with his estranged son:
“I’m seriously thinking my fat son might be a terrible person”

Valentina Valencia:
“I’m with Interpol, global fashion division.”
Hansel: “She’s hot. I trust her.”

Alexanya Atoz:
“Do you ever get that feeling when you see a teenage girl and you want to kill her and take her skin? We’ve bottled that feeling.”

Valentina Valencia warns Derek about the Hannibal Lecter-like Mugatu’s mind-games:
Valencia: “Be careful - he’ll try to get inside your head.”
Zoolander: “Don’t worry, it’s closed for business.”

Charlie Rose, interviewing Don Atari:
“Do you consider yourself a genius?”
Atari: “Well, I’m not going to say I’m a genius. But yeah, for sure, I’m a genius.”·

- The Daily Telegraph

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