Fashion & Italian Horror: Suspiria

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

I have a vagina, I'm sorry. Sometimes it makes me do stupid things like obsess over Ania Pieroni's eyebrows for the entire duration of The House by the Cemetery. Other times it causes my attention to wander and I find myself gushing over Dagmar Lassander's space age manicure or Miss Fenech's ability to make a turban look effortless instead of paying attention to what I'm watching. I can only apologise. However, so long as men are gushing over the (admittedly beautiful) curvature of Edwige Fenech's breasts then I'm going to use my blog to gush over some of the amazing fashions of my favourite giallo heroines. So here's my first (and probably last!) entry about the fashions of Italian cinema with my own modern interpretation on how us women can incorporate the fashions of giallo past into our current wardrobes. 

The giallo is synonymous with style; from crazy set designs to elaborate lighting schemes, from inventive cinematography to avant garde musical arrangements - the popularity of the giallo forty years after its initial success is a testament to the originality and visual flare of the directors that created them. Arguably, the most successful and stylish director to have found success in the genre is the Italian master of horror himself - Dario Argento. The excessive visual style and flair of Argento's films have earned him a cult following since he started his film making career in the 1970s through to his, admittedly flawed, later work. There are so many worthy Argento films to mention that document his unique sense of style but the one that is most famous and perhaps, most stylish is his 1977 supernatural horror - Suspiria.

Costume design is an important aspect of the overall feel and style of a film but in Suspiria it is integral in helping to create the dream like world that the film is set in. Suspiria may be famous for its elaborate lighting scheme and distinctive interior designs but the costuming also plays a vital role in the overall aesthetic of the film. The virginal, gauzy clothes of Suzy Banyon to the decadent, over the top styling of Olga help achieve a fairy tale feel without veering into the absurd.

We are first introduced to the character of Suzy as she arrives at a nondescript German airport. This scene in itself is interesting as it is the only time in the film that we, the audience, feel like we are in the modern world. Suzy walks through a typical airport arrivals area filled with chrome textures, fluorescent lights and modern technology like departure/arrival boards and automatic doors. This scene is very much a reflection of Suzy and the fashions first presented to us in the scene reflect elements of her character. As you can see in the above picture, Suzy wears an all white ensemble of a midi dress and a blazer accessorized with a violet scarf. Suzy dressed in all white gives her character an innocent, virginal quality, naive to the horrors that await her. Suzy has a very classic, sophisticated look that seems at odds with the more excessive styles of the 1970s. When Suzy walks through the airport we can see other passengers behind her who are all wearing a variety of elaborate 70s fashions such as platform shoes, clashing colours, kimono jackets and wide collared shirts - Suzy's wardrobe is completely at odds with those around her. While looking appropriate for the modern world, Suzy's sense of style has a throwback element to it - her t-bar heels and midi dress and coat suggest a time gone by where fashions were more demure and feminine compared to her female modern counterparts (as shown in the photo above) who dress in a more modern, masculine style i.e. blazers, suits and trousers. 

The Look: To recreate this look I found a lace midi dress which gives the look a bit of texture and stops the white looking flat. This dress is from Topshop and has a lovely bit of detail at the waist, flaring at the point the dress hits the calf giving it movement.Suzy Banyon shows how a white blazer never goes out of style by looking effortlessly chic in hers. I would never usually consider wearing white on white but the white blazer with rolled up sleeves works surprisingly well against the white midi dress.The white paired with white gives the outfit a sort of ethereal look perfectly reflecting the tone of Suspiria.T-bar shoes are a feminine and demure style of footwear giving an outfit a classic, polished look. In this take on Suzy's airport outfit I used a pair of t-bar heels in a dull gold tone, this tones down the overall whiteness of the outfit and matches well with gold jewellery which should be added to this look in the form of a few bangles and a long chain necklace. Wearing all white can be intimidating and can sometimes look a bit much but the addition of a lilac scarf gives the look a bit of colour while still maintaining the soft, dreamy look of the outfit. The lilac works surprisingly well with white and gold. Suzy's airport outfit feels surprisingly modern in 2015 reflecting a more minimal look that embraces longer lengths and a white colour palette.

Suzy's ride from the airport to the academy feels very much like a journey back in time, to another world. Suzy leaves the modern exterior of the airport filled with concrete pillars, functional architecture and McDonald's signs and travels into a world with foreboding, historic Germanic architecture which slowly gives way to natural elements such as gushing waterfalls and leafy greenery. Suzy finally arrives in the heartland of the academy through a fairy tale forest into the grounds of a building that looks like it's come straight out of a storybook. This journey to the academy is significant as we see Suzy's descent from the modern, metropolitan world into the dream like fairy tale world that the rest of the film takes place in. The modern fashions of the airport give way to the dreamy, fairy tale looks of the students in the academy. Our last glimpse of the modern world is presented to us through the character of Pat who flees the academy back towards the modern world dressed in suitably 70s attire of a brown trench coat, pinstripe shirt and tailored navy midi skirt. 
Suzy returns to the academy the next day in another white midi dress, this time she is wearing a metallic scarf draped around her neck and shoulders. Again, Suzy's look conveys a virginal quality. Argento stated that Suspiria was supposed to be like a twisted version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and this idea is reflected in Suzy's overall look - she appears to us as a fairy tale heroine in pretty gauzy, demure fabrics. Suzy is introduced to the women in charge of the academy who all dress in distinctive styles. Miss Tanner, the dominant teacher, is dressed and made up like a caricature of a German woman. Her hair is worn in a severe up do and she wears minimal makeup. Miss Tanner wears clunky black shoes that look orthopedic. Her clothes look almost uniform like - she wears a severe black skirt suit and shirt with tie. Her look is very much one of a disciplinarian who runs the academy with a military like precision. Again, Miss Tanner's look is very much a caricature of a Germanic woman - masculine, severe and with nods to Germany's military past.

The owner of the academy, Madame Blanc, looks like she belongs in the 1950s and is very much at odds with the look of Miss Tanner. Madame Blanc wears heavy make up with bright red lipstick. Her jewellery is ornate and expensive looking suggesting great wealth and success. Her costuming is very 1950s - delicate, elegant, with a variety of expensive fabrics. Her overall look evokes the feeling of a time gone by which adds to the overall dream like feeling in the film. It's hard to pin point the time period due to the lack of 1970s technology, fashions and interior design present in the film. The fashions of the teachers and students make us the audience feel like we are in a fantastical world where modern trends and conventions are irrelevant.

Once again citing that original image of Suzy juxtaposed against the fashions of the other passengers, the students of the academy dress in a very distinctive overtly feminine fashion that once again deviates from stereotypical fashion for the time. Whites, creams, violets and peaches make up the colour palette of the fashions in the film. The women wear dresses and skirts in gauzy, delicate fabrics allowing them to float around the academy. There's a polished, elegant look to the women in the film which juxtaposes nicely against their childish, bratty behaviour. Suzy's superficial room mate, Olga, is perhaps the most glamorous student of the academy. One scene features Olga wearing a beautiful white maxi dress and golden jewellery, painting her nails blood red with elaborately styled hair in a look that is reminiscent of Princess Leia. This overtly glamorous, slightly surreal styling adds to the strange atmosphere within the film - the women dress in decadent, elaborate styles just to lounge around their apartments/the school. They act like children yet dress like film stars.

The Look: This is my own take on the glamorous style of Olga and the female students in the academy. This dusky pink cape dress from Miss Selfridge is absolutely perfect for this look. The dress has a light zig zag embroidery on it giving it a real 70s feel. The cape front to the dress gives it some added movement and just makes it feel a little bit more retro and interesting.A maxi dress just feels a little decadent and glamorous just like Olga's look in the apartment scene.I found this lovely embroidered capelet from a wedding website but it can also be worn as part of a regular wardrobe. Suzy wears a white midi dress with a shimmery, sequin style bolero/cape when she first enters the academy so I thought this would be a great nod to that look while keeping this outfit modern. The embellished lines on the capelet I've chosen just ooze glamour and over the maxi dress will look so pretty. Once again, I've used gold t-bar courts for a Suspiria themed look, this time with a peep toe front. They are a great, elegant shoe and work well with the floaty quality of the maxi dress, giving the overall look a soft, delicate feel while adding a bit of glamour. Finally, I just added in a cream 1950s style bag which you can get from any vintage shop. I chose it purely because I thought it would tie this look together. The only time we see Suzy with a bag in the film is when she's arriving at the academy with a patent clutch. The cream handbag style works a little bit better with this look as it fits in better with the gold on the capelet and the dusky pink dress.

Of course I couldn't talk about the fashions of Suspiria without talking about ballet. The students of the academy are often in dance practice and wear black leotards and unitards as they practice under the watchful eye of Miss Tanner. This contrasts nicely against all of the gauzy, light coloured fashions in the rest of the film. The image of the students performing ballet in perfect sync in a sea of black suggests that the students are slaves to the academy and the orders of the military officer like Miss Tanner. Suzy is set apart from the other students by the long cream waistcoat she wears over her ballet clothes. The waistcoat has a long netted train which reflects her ethereal style in the rest of the film - she is other wordly and it is this quality that allows her to defeat the dark forces behind the academy.

The Look: So I'm not suggesting you recreate Suzy's look faithfully, wandering the streets in full ballet gear is probably not the best idea. Instead, ditch the leggings/tights and put on a pair of black leather treggings and team them with a black body, giving a nod to the ballet without going out in a full leotard. Then, throw on a cream coloured long tailored waistcoat in the style of Suzy's. I've finished this off with a pair of cream high heels with a ankle ribbon design that look like the ribbons on ballet shoes. This outfit is ballet influenced without looking like a costume and definitely is a nod to Suzy's ballet style in the film. 

That's my take on some of the looks from the film and how you can bring the style of Suspiria into your very own wardrobe. However, if you want a little bit of Argento style without going the full hog and devoting your entire outfit to Suspiria, then you simply must own this bag!

This Alexander McQueen bag really evokes the spirit of Suspiria. The red, blue and violets reflect the colour scheme repeatedly used throughout the film and the stained glass style of the handle really remind me of the crystal bird sculpture featured at the end of the film as well as the stained glass used in the interiors of the academy. It really is the perfect Suspiria inspired fashion accessory, it does have a hefty price tag but it truly is a thing of beauty just like Suspiria.

I hope you're enjoyed my fashion take on the masterpiece that is Suspiria. Who knows I may revisit Argento's heroines style again...

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