As a self-confessed Dietrich groupie, the highlight of the fashion in festival for me was always going to be the 1936 comedy 'Desire', especially when set within the Deco confines of the Ciné Lumière in Kensington. Décor aside, the legendary, lovely Marlene never fails to please. 'Desire' was the first film made following the acrimonious split between Dietrich and Blue Angel director (and some say svengali) Josef von Sternberg after a tangled working relationship spanning seven Paramount pictures in the early thirties.
Perhaps in contrast with Von Sternberg's artistic, histrionic output, 'Desire' is as light and frothy as a soufflé. Dietrich and Gary Cooper are somewhat typecast: Cooper as Tom Bradley, a hard-working, square-jawed all-American engineer, and Dietrich as Madeleine de Beaupre, a jewel thief of ill-defined yet exotically European nationality. The plot, on the whole, is as flimsy as Marlene's many many mousseline negligees: Madeleine filches a priceless string of pearls from a Parisian jeweller, hiding them on Tom's person to evade customs while escaping to Spain. The trouble then, of course, is getting the pearls back - complicated by the fact that Madeleine and Tom manage to fall in love along the way (naturally enough). All the while, Dietrich seems to reason that the best way to evade the authorities is, in the words of the late great Isabella Blow, "to flummox them with a look". How else to account for costume designer Travis Banton's luxurious creations? Dietrich flees dripping in bias chiffon and throttled with fox as thick as clotted cream topped with equally sublime millinery: not to mention Madeleine's egret-feather sleeves as she tinkles away at the piano for her 'Awake In A Dream' number (whatever happened to Hollywood's compulsory musical aside I wonder?). All exquisite, glossy and highly implausible: but they didn't call it the dream factory for nothing. Sit back, suspend your disbelief, and revel in all the glamour of Hollywood’s true Golden Age.