Fashion in Film: Sue Lost in Manhattan

By: Olive Natividad


A soulful jazz plays into the background and you know you are in New York but in its seedy and mostly ignored areas where lonely hearts roam. Today's fashion in film the subject is the 1997, Sue in Manhattan, popularly known as, Sue. It is one of those forgotten movies from a decade ago that we might have seen on DVD or as late-night movies on Cable TV. We vaguely remember these films and if so, what impresses the most is the enviable wardrobes and strong aesthetic they brought on screen. 

It is for these reasons that movies are revered and make for a natural fashion reference. Movies are the holy grail of today's content-obsessed generation. I argue that Sue deserves a place in our consciousness and most especially in our closets. 


A cloud of despair looms as Sue strives desperately to hang on to her dignity and to her own dear life.
This film is one of the many collaborations between the main actress Anna Thomson and Israeli writer/director Amos Kollek. Their works center around New York City, which is, of course, the most filmed and photographed city in the world. Kollek admits in a New York Times profile, that he still considers Israel as his home but finds New York City “more exciting than anywhere else in the world.”

It is worth noting that while Kollek’s fascination with the big city is clear (he has made a succession of films set in the Big Apple for decades) it is not the kind of interest that we would expect of a foreign director. Peter Marks of the New York Times wrote of this observation by saying that Kollek’s New York is “a rawer place” where its characters are native New Yorkers and not “ones who shop on Madison Avenue.”

Indeed, the subjects are not glamorous, happy, Manhattanite people but “quirky individuals searching for romance and meaning” as Annette Insdorfa critic and director of undergraduate film studies at Columbia University, puts it. It is exactly this spirit of quirkiness that characters embody in his films that Thomson portrayed so eloquently in her character Sue. In fact, what keeps the interest of the audience in this film is the matter-of-fact, visceral, and wide-eyed nature of Sue against the tragic circumstances she finds herself in.

Sue evicted from her apartment and lounging around in a bathrobe in wine fashion.
 Sue is a beautiful woman of a certain age who is at a time of much crisis in her life, which she could and should have faced much earlier. Yet, here she is, older and unable to pay for her Chelsea apartment because she could not seem to secure a job even though she goes to endless interviews. 

This is a very tragic situation to continuously keep your attention to, but Sue embodies this defeated woman with much conviction and style that it is worth watching to see how it will all turn out for her.
Kollek revealed the inspiration for Sue, saying, "I've dated a few women like that. When they were 30, they were still the toast of the party. Then you see them five or six years later, they're not married, and they're not going anywhere with a career. All of a sudden, they seem to have no options."

New York inspires the ambitious and certainly celebrates them but for the ones who did not quite make it in this concrete jungle, they have nowhere else to turn to but themselves.

Kollek is definitely one of New York's champions albeit as an outsider in the industry. Unlike his successful predecessors, Woody Allen, John Cassavetes, and even Martin Scorcese, Amos Kollek is not a household name and is even unheard of by most New Yorkers. In fact, Kollek himself has said, "If I come to France or Germany I'm really known. It's like all of a sudden I'm taken very seriously.''

Western Europe particularly praised Sue for its honesty something that Europeans are very drawn to. I think that the Europeans are on to something here and when it comes to art, we listen to what the Gallics have to say.

Sue in neutral colours of velvet and cotton trying hard to find a stable job.
Sue is a low-budget film; shots are close and intimate and would appear to be in disarray. Joe Leydon of the Variety criticizes its "lack of commercial potential." While there is much to be criticized, one cannot deny the strength and richness of the wardrobes worn by the characters that keep the movie visually pleasing.

The titular character, Sue, might be the saddest dame in town but she sure makes New York's old money look pale in comparison. We only saw her character shop for one time (after securing a date with Ben, a journalist she ran into twice by chance). Watching her go over clothes is fascinating because we know that she is not in a good financial state to buy the kind of clothes that she wears.

In the comfort of her apartment, wearing clean lines of polos and whites.
Sue, covered up in a black tight-fitting sweater and revealing some flesh in a creamy white silk top.
You see, despite Sue's declining spirit we never see her in drab, she always looks put together with the best material of cotton, silk, velvet, and leather. She is always seen in camel coats given the cold streets of New York. Underneath her coat could be a button top of crisp whites or blacks paired with silk skirts. She also wears a one-piece black dress, a staple that every woman should own.

Sue's style appears to be chic, a nod to the French sensibility. And true to French fashion, a special red number is reserved for a special rendezvous with a lover, in this case, a younger one. We can see how Europeans seem to catch on this.

Date night in a red floral silk dress and an unexpected "nightcap" in a black form-fitting dress.
Nevertheless, the contrast of Sue's sophisticated wardrobes is a key element to show her admirable grace under despair. Even her full matte makeup, well-coiffed hair wrapped up in patterned silk scarves, and statement large glasses have an air of classicism reminiscent of old Hollywood. Sue is sort of an old New York establishment struggling from alienation in the modern world.
Our red lip heroine walking around the streets in her black ballet flats, stylishly covered in a grey coat and silk scarf, keeping her black purse close. 
In this world of despair, characters come and go but not without leaving an impression on Sue and to the big screen. Ben, played by Matthew Powers, is the younger lover of Sue and looks very much like a freelance journalist trying to establish his life after a series of here and there. He is sincere and decent but unfortunately, even he could not help Sue find her peace.

Ben is the comfort counterpart against Sue's put together ensembles. He sports coats as well but in an easy manner that layers on top of cool blues and neutral browns buttons shirts, underneath of which is a white shirt. It is boyish and fresh, which complements Ben's tall and manly figure from years as a boxer. For a while, he seems to provide stability to Sue's life but his nomadic profession is not ideal for Sue's deteriorating mental health.

Meanwhile, Sue makes acquaintance with Lola, played by the high-cheekboned Tahnee Welch, the daughter of the iconic bombshell, Raquel Welch. She is a waitress at a diner who turns out to be a junkie and a vagrant desperate for a quick fix.

 Sue is fascinated by her reckless behavior and troubled life, much like her own, which allows her to stay awhile and share her apartment. Lola is well dressed in her own rebellious way. Her signature piece is a scarf that she ties around her neck. She is rugged and cool in a leather jacket and dark V-neck button shirts that show her slim figure. Her furry creamy white coat completes her '70s style and the slash cut of her hair is the cherry on top. 


There are angels everywhere even in a hellish place and Tracy Ellis Ross plays one as Linda, a bartender who is working on her Psychology degree. She knows bits and pieces of Sue's troubles as Sue reveals over cocktails. She offers financial help to Sue to keep her apartment but Sue could not allow herself to accept anything especially from good folks like Linda.

Linda has a practical approach to life and as well as to her clothes and demeanor. She likes basic colors of sweaters and colorful jeans. Her shoulder length curly hair either falls or kept in a bun. She has a good color coordination of basic colors with loud colors but also enjoys monochrome as we see her below in a brown leather jacket and brown shirt.


These people all accidentally find their way into Sue's life, something that she acknowledges and reflects on. In the end, Sue could not handle any real connection and succumbs to easy but problematic transactional ones i.e. having casual sex in a movie theatre with a her seatmate.

Lawrence Van Gelder in a New York Times 1998 film review noted Sue's admission, "I only communicate through sex." This is not a pleasant portrait of a woman making it in New York but it is the sad truth of some people like Sue.