SNARK WEEK: Costume Designer Jean-Pierre Dorléac – The Frock Flicks Guide

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We know that costume designers aren’t always the ones calling the shots in terms of costume designs — directors, producers, and even actors may have input, and, of course, movies and TV shows are entertainment, not educational documentaries (although even when they are, the costumes can suck!). BUT THIS IS SNARK WEEK, FOLKS. Y’all should know that means we don’t give a shit about the reasons why, we’re here to poke fun at crap onscreen!

Jean-Pierre Dorléac isn’t a household name among fans of high-quality frock flicks and for good reason. He might be better known for the original Battlestar Galactica, The Greatest American Hero, Quantum Leap, and Manimal, if you’re into that sort of thing. He also created costumes for a bunch of costume dramas mostly on TV in the 1970s-80s — that’s where we’ve encountered his dubious work. And while he can make a decent stab at 20th-century clothing, when Dorléac strays from anything like “old Hollywood glam” the results are hilarious. Enjoy!

 

The Bastard aka The Kent Chronicles, Part I (1978)

The series is based on novels by John Jakes and set in the 18th century around the time of the American Revolution., To quote Kendra in her recap from a past Snark Week, it’s “a fiesta of polyester and scoffing.”

1978 The Bastard

The cheap satin highlights all the wrinkles from poor fit & no corsets.

1978 The Bastard

The infamous 50-years-too-early bonnet.

1978 The Bastard

So little bust support, so many zippers.

1978 The Bastard

And all the cheap nylon lace you could ask for.

 

The Rebels aka The Kent Chronicles, Part 2 (1979)

But wait, there’s more! The series goes on, and the costumes continue to be deeply shitty!

1979 The Rebels

Ribbon rosettes on a 18th-c. man’s frock coat, WHY?!?

1979 The Rebels

Is this the 1840s or the 1770s? Who cares!

1979 The Rebels

Orange cravat & orange piping, so fancy.

1979 The Rebels

All your celtic trim dreams come true.

1979 The Rebels

Can’t forget ye olde tablecloth dress either.

 

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

Dorléac did historical costumes for a couple big-screen movies … with wildly varied results. First up, the flick most famous for showing a teenage Brooke Shields semi-naked. It’s set around 1900 and starts with two cousins shipwrecked, so there are some actual costumes. But then, well, not a lot of tailoring in evidence!

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

Generic Victorian kids clothes, fine.

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

And then the rest of the “costumes” are like this (her hair was glued to her breasts, btw).

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

Costumes, um, OK!

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

Is this Victorian? You tell me.

 

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Easily Dorléac’s most famous film effort, this schmaltzy time-travel romance starts out in the 1970s and then bounces back to the 1910s. The costumes are very pretty, but as I note in the Patreon post, the gowns on Jane Seymour don’t actually fit the supposed period. The movie plot and dialog go to pains to point out what year it is, yet her clothes refute this, and even the suit that Christopher Reeve wears isn’t right compared to the in-character conversations about it. Costume design is supposed to support the plot and character in a story, but this was just off.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

 

Mae West (1982)

This TV biopic is a mixed bag of period costumes, highlighting what Dorléac can do right and why he should just stay in that lane. Flashy 1930s glamour gowns? You bet! Rock on with your sequined self, mister! Everything else? Ugh, no.

1982 Mae West

This is supposed to be a vaudeville “cave girl” stage costume in the 1920s. A period known for shiny lycra.

1982 Mae West

Mae West in an early scene. Just looks cheap & tacky.

1982 Mae West

But here Ann Jillian as Mae West looks fantastic in a gown copied directly from one of her movies. Maybe it’s when he tried to get “creative” with historical clothing that things went off the rails?

 

Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story (1982)

Another TV biopic, apparently about the singer’s life during the 1950s-60s. I can’t find much about it, so fine, I guess.

Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story (1982)

 

Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)

This was one of those cheezoid TV series inspired by Indiana Jones. Supposedly set in 1938. HAHAHAAH. No.

Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)

This promo pic doesn’t look terrible, if you squint.

Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)

Then there’s the peach blazer trend of the 1930s.

Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)

Revel in that off-the-rack blazer & ruffled dress! Dynasty daytime rejects, both of ’em.

Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)

I was there, & I know those are 1980s shoulder pads, not 1940s ones!

Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)

Come for the sexism, & stay for the racism of the period!

 

The Road Raiders (1989)

An action-adventure-comedy TV movie supposedly set in 1942, can’t find anything else about it, but really, do we want to know more?

The Road Raiders (1989)

Nothing about those shorts says “1940s.”

 

A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story (1994)

OK, back to the TV biopics. This is one I weirdly liked because of Shannen Doherty. Of course, the whole thing paints her life as a romance and downplays the racist Lost Cause BS in her novel. The costumes are generally OK, with some questionable styling.

A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story (1994)

+1 for the blouse, -1 for print-mixing, -5 for the heavy makeup.

A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story (1994)

Without the bizarre fringe, sure.

A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story (1994)

Cute dress & hat! The hair makes her look like she’s 12 though.

 

Lily Dale (1996)

This TV movie is set in 1910 and earned Jean-Pierre Dorléac an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special. Guess who won? Dinah Collin for Pride and Prejudice. BOO-YAH!

Lily Dale (1996)

Can’t find many pix, and they all look bland like this.

Lily Dale (1996)

It’s a blouse, it doesn’t suck, but it’s nothing to write home about either.

 

The Lot, “The Mob Scene” (2001)

This short-lived series wasn’t a popular or critical success, but Dorléac won an Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Series, shared with costume supervisor Gilberto Mello. Because he was doing the one thing he knows how to do — ’30s gowns! He hasn’t had a TV or film credit for 17 years now, so I guess he’s resting on his laurel.

The Lot, "The Mob Scene" (2001)

Easy-peasy!

 

 

What’s the worst fault of Jean-Pierre Dorléac’s supposedly historical costume designs?

 

 

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

26 Responses

  1. Lynn Anderson

    I beg to differ with you on this week’s roast of Jean-Pierre Dorléac. His costumes for “Somewhere in Time” were extraordinary – and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed, giving him a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Jane Seymour’s dresses were spot-on for 1912, and had incredible detail. There were no zippers or modern polyester fabrics used – his fabric of choice was dupioni silk. And I daresay you must not have watched the film before you wrote this, for if you had, you would KNOW that Christopher Reeve’s suit WAS SUPPOSED TO BE 10 YEARS OLD, attuning to his lack of knowledge of 1912 when he bought it at the costume shop. The pink-haired character Genevieve (the delightful Eddra Gale) makes fun of it at dinner, and Elise even offers to buy him a new suit after their night together. Please revise your review!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Nope! Read our full review of Somewhere in Time & you’ll find out exactly how wrong the costumes are — we watched & made extensive historical comparisons (unlike the costume designer, lol).

      Reply
    • florenceandtheai

      I’m know I’m going to regret replying, but it’s Snark Week. There’s even more taking of the piss than usual, and there’s usually a whole lot of piss taking.

      Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    My favourites of M. Jean-Pierre Dorelac are of course Somewhere in Time and Serena’s wedding dress from Battlestar Galactica. I vaguely remember Mae West which i liked and all I can say about The Kent Chronicles is if awards were given for poly satin ill-fitting clothes and totally inaccurate costumes, it would win along with North and South with Tits Out.

    Reply
  3. Bea

    I confess to ADORING the cheese of “Tales of the Gold Monkey” as a kid. It was like seeing a color version of the films in Matinee at the Bijou or “Bringing Up Baby” (and company) on the UHF channels….

    Reply
  4. Jamie LaMoreaux

    the woman in the Road Warrior picture looks like she has a penis tattooed on her leg. oh my! I’ve seen most of these and yes, they are as dreadful as advertised!!!

    Reply
    • hsc

      ???? It just looks like a random smudge to me.

      The project in question was a 1989 made-for-TV movie, a pilot film for a CBS A-TEAM knockoff that didn’t sell, so I really don’t think so.

      On the other hand, this image is from a video cover on an Italian label (the “48” in the image is part of a store inventory sticker, as can be seen in a fuller version on the IMDb), so it might be a specially posed photo by the video company to help sell it, though I’m sure the costumes in the original were just as crappy.

      (I haven’t seen this thing, just going by what the IMDb showed me after I did a Google Image Search for a better view of that photo.)

      Reply
      • hsc

        Since I’m insane, I located THE ROAD RAIDERS on YouTube, and now I can say that the image is indeed two models specially posed for a video cover, and does NOT depict the actors or the costumes.

        The female lead does wear a somewhat similar outfit for the bulk of the film, but it’s much more modest. The top is a sleeveless uniform shirt, but NOT worn to expose cleavage and midriff, and the shorts actually have about a 3″-4″ inseam and look reasonably period. And instead of that ’80s “mall chick” hairdo, she has a side-parted hairstyle like Rita Hayworth, but messy due to action scenes.

        The men’s costumes, on the other hand– yipes.

        After about a minute of real WWII footage (just to rub it in, I guess), we fade to Bruce Boxleitner in a vintage convertible, in full-on MIAMI VICE mode– white (or pastel, not sure from the video quality) suit with padded shoulders and pushed-up sleeves worn over a tank top, hair combed back, designer stubble, and a “cool Black guy” sidekick in similar attire (including a MAGNUM, P.I. Hawaiian shirt).

        A little later, twin bodybuilders (The Barbarian Bros.) show up in curly mullets and those exhibitionistic, barely-there “tank tops” that are the male equivalent of a “dental floss” bikini. It’s like a WWE tag team suddenly wandered in from another channel.

        And there’s other guys in military uniforms (including human pixie Leslie Jordan in sailor drag, looking like he was dropped in from a road show of DAMES AT SEA).

        Best moment is the aftermath of a plane making a crash landing and the guys climbing out of the wreckage with the product knocked out of their slicked-down hair, so they all go back to their usual blown-out ’80s hair. (“Evil Ed” from FRIGHT NIGHT is one of them, looking exactly the same as he did in that film.)

        Second best moment is when the guys have to disguise themselves as nuns. (I have no idea why they’re dressed as nuns, because I was watching this piece of dreck with the sound off and using the forward button to click through as fast as I could get through it.)

        At one point early on, Tia Carrere shows up in a nightclub in halfway decent ’40s glam. At least, as far as I could tell at the speed I was scanning through this.

        Anyway, even though Jean-Pierre Dorléac wasn’t responsible for the image you posted, he had plenty to answer for in the actual film.

        Reply
          • hsc

            Trust me, if you’d actually watched this one, you wouldn’t have been able to post. The only thing that kept my brain cells functioning afterward was scanning as fast as I could get through it.

            (And yes, I probably should be committed for doing things like this.

            I guess I’m just one of those people that instinctively run into the bad movie, rather than away from the bad movie…)

            Reply
  5. Roxana

    I adored Tales of the Gold Monkey but not for the costumes or historical accuracy 😉

    Reply
    • hsc

      Oh, he showed even more in the film itself (as did Brooke’s of-legal-age body double), and that was the whole selling point of the movie. (And it sold enough tickets to inspire a knockoff by another studio and a sequel to the film itself.)

      These days, Atkins looks like he was one of the original cast of the California Raisins, so maybe it’s karma.

      Reply
  6. Michael McQuown

    The best thing about Gold Monkey was the dog. I liked the stories, but the clothes made no impression at all. Thought McDowall was fun as Louis. I think a lot of the time their tongues were so deep in their cheeks they were coming out their ears. Was Donald Bellisario’s first series and the only one that didn’t run for a long time.

    Reply

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