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12 Method dressing, tendance mode, look personnage film

What is method dressing, or the art of embodying a character to promote a film?


When attending official ceremonies, festivals, or film promotions, actresses still impersonate their characters outside the film set. That new marketing technique combining fashion and performance is known as method dressing. Numéro deciphers the trend for you.

Margot Robbie, a larger-than-life Barbie on the red carpet


It was impossible to miss the Barbie tornado that took the world by storm in 2023. Well-received by the critics, the film directed by Greta Gerwig quickly climbed to the top of the box office, in particular thanks to the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon on social media that stemmed from the rivalry with Christopher Nolan’s featured Oppenheimer, released the same day, on July 19th, 2023.


A few days before “Barbenheimer” went viral, photos of Margot Robbie dressed as the famous Mattel doll she embodied in the blockbuster were already flooding Instagram and X on a daily basis.


The 33-year-old Australian actress multiplied her Barbiecore looks to promote the film during the press tour. Directly inspired by her character, or even recreated for the occasion, her outfits were designed by major fashion houses, from Versace and Chanel to Balmain and Schiaparelli.

Flirting with cosplay - the Japanese art of recreating the costume and hairstyle of a fictional character - this recent trend featuring stars that reference their character outside the set in order to promote a film has a name now: method dressing.


Several months after the release of Barbie, Margot Robbie kept imitating the doll until the Golden Globes ceremony on January 8th, 2024. All her promotional looks, handpicked by her stylist Andrew Mukamal, are now gathered in a book published by Assouline on March 8th, 2024.

Method dressing, when fashion becomes performance


While its name is reminiscent of method acting, a naturalistic acting technique also known as the Stanislavski’s system that encourages actors to dive deeply into their roles, method dressing is closer to performance art.


While one emphasizes the psychological and emotional aspects of acting, and the other the visual and aesthetic aspects of embodying a character, in both cases the goal is to go beyond the mere limits of performance.


First mentionned in a Vogue article about Halle Bailey’s mermaid-like looks for the launch of The Little Mermaid in May 2023, method dressing owes its designation to journalist Andre Wheeler.

Wheeler described that technique as “a chance to extend a project’s cinematic universe onto the red carpet even before the film’s premiere”. In other words, turning actors and actresses into ambassadors of the film through the lens of fashion in order to appeal to the audience and, above all, to go viral on social media.


We just have to look back at the big promotional marathon for Dune Part II, which started in Mexico City on February 5th, 2024 - the film was released on February 28th in France - to witness first-hand the role of method dressing as a marketing strategy.


That evening, Zendaya and Florence Pugh opted for two opposite looks, respectively designed by Torishéju and Galvanas, that matched their characters in Denis Villeneuve’s film. The following day, the Internet relished comparing their outfits, which echoed the costumes of Warrior Chani and Princess Irulan

A recent trend fostered by social media


Although method dressing is becoming increasingly common on red carpets, it is still too early to form a comprehensive analysis of its origins, overall impact and limits.


From memory, the first occurrence of the practice emerged in 2018, when Blake Lively opted for a series of power dressing looks for the launch of the film A Simple Favor. Taron Egerton’s discreetly eccentric looks as he embodied Elton John in Rocketman in 2019, or the Infinity Gauntlet-inspired jewels worn by Scarlett Johansson and Brie Larson for Avengers: Endgame released that same year, also come to mind.

2021 and the end of the Covid-19 pandemic marked the advent of the trend with Zendaya and her stylist Law Roach turning it into an online phenomenon. Throughout the promotion of the films Dune: Part One and Spider-Man: No Way Home, the American actress sported custom creations peppered with references to the two blockbusters.


At the time, her Balmain and Rick Owens dresses paying tribute to Chani, or her Valentino dress and Alexander McQueen ensembles adorned with spider-web patterns, were massively shared on Instagram and TikTok, to the delight of the fans, but also of the fashion industry...


That way, the film industry has transformed social media into relevant digital tools to promote a film project and reach a wider target audience. While Zendaya took the promotion of Dune: Part One very seriously, the viewers would later discover that she only appeared on screen for ten minutes.


As Clémence Gautherin, communications manager at TikTok France, explained in an interview for Numéro during the Cannes Film Festival in 2023: “Warner’s teams told us that the success of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) among young people was partly due to the release of an interview with the actors conducted before the film came out, and that it had a great impact [on TikTok].”

Easter egg and fan service to win over audiences


In addition to Zendaya, who deserves the title of Queen of method dressing, many other actresses (and a few actors) have also adopted the trend, including Anya Taylor-Joy for Mario Bros, Jenna Ortega for Wednesday, and Lily James for Pam and Tommy.


And for good reason: beyond its obvious promotional aspect, this practice is above all seen as a new means of expression for movie stars, especially thanks to its fashion and creative approach.


Even better, method dressing encourages fan service - a marketing technique that consists in satisfying the fans’ expectations - with easter eggs, these more or less subtle clues that communities love to decipher on social media. For instance, Taylor Swift’s fans engage in intensive analysis every time the singer releases a new song.

That treasure hunt had been observed back in November 2023, during the promotion of the film The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, with Rachel Zegler’s looks referring to Katniss Everdeen, the character played by Jennifer Lawrence in the first trilogy, as well as with the jewelry worn by Scarlett Johansson and Brie Larson on the red carpet that hinted at the ending of Avengers: Endgame.


More recently, on February 16th, Anya Taylor-Joy offered us a memorable fashion and cinema moment as she announced her presence in Dune: Part Two at the film’s premiere in London. Dressed in a gorgeous, virginal white Dior gown, inspired by Marc Bohan’s archive design from the 1960s, the actress revealed part of her character’s role in the battle staged in the film.


Interviewed last week by the British Vogue about the promotion of Dune: Part Two, Law Roach confirmed the use of method dressing in his collaboration with Zendaya: “We adopted method dressing. The looks are an extension of the wardrobe from the movie. It was intentional and purposeful. I always try to be a storyteller more than anything else, and this is such a strong story to tell.”


Judging by the overwhelming buzz created on social media since the start of promotion for Denis Villeneuve’s new film, method dressing surely has a long way to go.


Traduction Emma Naroumbo