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It’s hard to know who is the greater fan of art history — costume designer Brenda Cooper, responsible for outfitting the titular heroine of The Nanny (1993–1999) played by Fran Descher; or Louis-Philippe Van Eekhoutte who has curated a popular account that places screenshots of Drescher’s signature looks in conversation with works from art history.
“The account started when I came across a still shot from The Nanny that reminded me of the 1988 painting Betty by Gerhard Richter,” said Van Eekhoutte, in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “Looking at more images of Fran Fine on the internet it struck me how many of her outfits have their counterpart in contemporary art. It his fascinating to combine iconic pieces of the most well-known artists that are esteemed high culture with outfits from the campy 90s series.”
Each post by @thenannyart meticulously matches an analog from modern or contemporary art to a look sported by Drescher in the lead role of Fran Fine (whose nasally laughter still rings through the airwaves in syndication and on quiet nights in New Jersey) — and the similarities are sometimes uncanny to the point where we must imagine Cooper, or at least the clothing designers responsible for her wardrobe items, had drawn some inspiration from these very sources.
For example, one post matches Dresher in a mini-skirt and form-fitting polka dot sweater with a work by Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely, considered the progenitor of the Op art movement. A number of Vasarely’s signature works feature fields of polka dots distended around orbs — in Drescher’s case, the orb effect is enhanced by the pattern’s placement across her chest. So far, @thenannyart has racked up nearly 12,000 followers over the course of only 31 posts that contain shout-outs to Mondrian, Picasso, and Matthew Cerletty — revealing that 90s nostalgia can be a powerful driver for interest in the arts. Van Eekhoutte’s runaway success with the account belies the presumption that there would be relatively little crossover between art nerds and fans of show, which was produced by Drescher and her husband Peter Marc Jacobson, and based on some the actress’s life experiences and acquaintances growing up in Queens. Much of the tension in the show, which earned an Emmy, was based in the cultural differences between the brash, outspoken Jewish-American Fran Fine, and the repressed British family for whom she becomes a nanny. Fine’s outrageous wardrobe choices were a recurring motif of the show, and served as a visualization of her larger-than-life personality.
“The Nanny resonates in today’s world throughout many memes and fan accounts because of nostalgia, the larger than li[f]e characters, and the strong persona of Fran Fine and her bold fashion choices,” said Van Eekhoutte.
Though her work on The Nanny appears to be the major career highlight for designer Brenda Cooper, who also had limited success both as an actress and as wife of actor Corbin Bersen, her virtuosity in sartorial over-the-top 90s couture seems to really be getting its due. Both Cooper and Van Eekhoutte deserve a hats-off for their singular artistic reinterpretations of the canon.
“For me, Fran Fine is the ultimate metaphor for the arts,” said Van Eekhoutte. “She is the lady in red when everybody else is wearing tan.”