Fashion & Italian Horror: The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

My last few entries in my Fashion & Italian Horror featured have focused on the work of Dario Argento and sought to explore how the Italian maestro's films use costume to emphasise ideas and concepts in his work. However, Argento's films are not indicative of giallo cinema and fashion on the whole. Whereas Argento's films arguably use costuming to build on ideas and concepts within his films, the majority of giallo films use fashion as a way of adding style and glamour to the on screen action. Alongside stylish camera work, lavish interiors and effortlessly cool soundtracks, fashion in giallo cinema is integral in giving the genre a distinctive look that still astounds and impresses forty odd years later. One film that perfectly captures this stylish approach to fashion on film is Giuliano Carnimeo's 1972 giallo The Case of the Bloody Iris.

The Case of the Bloody Iris perfectly showcases why the giallo film is synonymous with style and outlandish seventies fashion. Leading actress Edwige Fenech's captivating beauty and enviable body make her perfect for showcasing the absurd seventies fashions of the time. Hailing from London, Jennifer Lansbury (played by Miss Fenech) is the embodiment of British style wearing distinctive pieces and the latest fashions with a eccentric, quirky edge. The other ladies in the film embody different styles that are equally as stylish  - Anabelle Incontrera as Sheila possesses a chic sensibility, flatmate Marilyn embodies a goofy approach to fashion that matches her questionable sense of humour whereas exotic dancer, Mizar wears exotic seventies styles that match her mysterious persona.

A firm fan favourite, The Case of the Bloody Iris, is regarded as a camp giallo classic and I would attribute some of that love to the stylish fashions in the film which up the campy, fun feel of the film. The Case of the Bloody Iris may feel, at times, rather low budget but, as always with giallo cinema, Carnimeo manages to elevate a simple murder mystery with a heavy injection of style. Unlike some other gialli of the time, The Case of the Bloody Iris featured rather dull interiors so the visual style is all in the wonderful camerawork and elaborate fashions featured. Costume designer, Silvio Laurenzi (who has styled many Italian horrors and gialli), perfectly captures the stylish, fun look of the time creating memorable looks for each member of the cast.

Laurenzi uses a distinctively seventies colour palette in the fashions throughout the film. Colours associated with the decade such as mustard yellow, variations of orange from burnt to tangerine, shades of brown and dark greens are all on display. The aforementioned colours are usually grouped together like green and brown, yellow and orange and yellow and brown. Despite the majority of outfits in the film being in this warm distinctly seventies colour palette, we also see mauves, lilacs, reds and blues in the film - in the outfit of our first victim, in Jennifer's second modelling outfit and her sailor inspired dress. 

Colour Palette for The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

When I rewatched the film in order to write this piece, I was struck by how current some of the fashions in The Case of the Bloody Iris look. Currently, at the time of writing, it's Autumn 2015 and the seventies trend is in full swing for this season. Although some of the looks in the film wouldn't translate on the high streets of Britain too well today, many of the looks and key pieces in the film are currently lining up on the rails of major fashion retailers. Suede A-Line mini skirts, tailored waistcoats, turtlenecks, floppy hats and faux fur gilets are some of the fashions on display in this film that are currently key fashion trends. In many ways, this film is the perfect piece of inspiration for working out how to style these seventies inspired trends in suitably authentic ways something that I have done myself judging by the number of turtlenecks and a-line skirts that have crept into my wardrobe.

So let's kick off this fashion post by examining some of the key looks throughout the film and what they tell us about our main players.

Menswear as Womanswear

When I think of the menswear as womenswear I immediately think of Diane Keaton's distinctive androgynous style in Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) - a film that is lauded for its costume design and interpretation of this distinctive trend. However, five years prior to the release of Annie Hall, Carnimeo's ladies were wearing the look in an albeit, more feminine fashion than in Woody Allen's landmark film. Jennifer wears two menswear inspired outfits throughout the film and the mysterious Sheila also dons a masculine look in her final scene. In perhaps the most memorable look of the film, Edwige Fenech dons a pair of black corduroy flared trousers with a black dress shirt, large orange tie and black platform shoes. This look is then later paired with a black corduroy jacket with wide seventies style lapels and a man on the moon brooch in mustard. The menswear trend is repeated later on in the film when Jennifer wears a pinstripe shirt with a wide tie bringing a feminine element by pairing her look with a matching mini skirt. 

In the context of the time, the rise of feminism may account for this trend in the fashions of the 1970s. As women became more autonomous they were able to behave in ways that were traditionally deemed as "masculine" from becoming sexually liberated to taking positions in traditionally masculine careers, women were making major strides in equality. In my opinion, this societal change manifested in various ways and the popularity of masculine style fashion in the seventies seems to be a by product of this as women began to ape their male counterparts showing that they could be all of the things men could and more. In the film this creates a nice contrast between the titillating costumes (short dresses and skirts, underwear and nightgowns on show) to the covered up masculine looks of shirts and ties. This contrast between the feminine and the masculine showed that the women of the seventies could be anything they wanted to be and didn't have to dress in ways that were typically associated with feminine dressing. In my opinion, these masculine inspired outfits are the stand out looks of the film and date surprisingly well.


Edwige Fenech wears two distinctive brooches in the film. The sailoresque outfit she wears features a large red patent heart brooch with an arrow through it on her button up collar. The brooch has some diamante embellishment on the arrow section adding a little bit of sparkle and glamour to her look. The brooch is a rather eclectic piece that has an almost childlike quality to it perhaps giving a nod to Londoner Jennifer's eccentric British style. Jennifer's heart brooch is the perfect accessory to finish off her sailor look tying together the bright red details on the cuffs with the rest of her outfit.

Jennifer wears another brooch at a later point in the film in a similar childlike style. In the scene where Jennifer confronts her suspicious elderly neighbour, she wears a dark trouser suit with shirt and tie complimented by a mustard yellow man on the moon brooch. The brooch compliments the mustard yellow stitching on her denim jacket and is quite a size taking up the majority of space on her wide 1970s lapel. I love the heart brooch sailor look worn by Jennifer earlier in the film but personally feel the gaudy man on the moon brooch to look at odds with her menswear look in this scene.

Both brooches work well as eclectic accessories that heighten the fun feel of the outfits they're paired with. A small accessory like a brooch gives these outfits a little bit of added detail which makes them a little bit more outlandish and memorable. The brooches work incredibly well at giving us the viewer an insight into who Jennifer is by her eccentric London style. 

Man on the moon brooch & heart brooch as worn by Jennifer


In Sheila's final scene she wears a patent black trench coat that's a great nod to the traditional attire of the classic giallo villain. The coat works well as a visual red herring as it immediately arouses suspicions over whether Sheila is indeed the black coated villain of the piece. This works well at misdirecting the audience near the climax of the film and although I would consider it a red herring, it also is a visual clue to the identity of the real villain who is of course, connected to Sheila. Anabella Incontrera looks incredibly stylish and suitably gialloesque in her patent trench teamed with the aforementioned menswear style.

Fur/faux fur coats were incredibly popular in the early seventies and this is certainly evident in The Case of the Bloody Iris. We first see Mizar wear one as we are introduced to her character in the apartment building. Mizar wears a coat in the afghan style which at the time was associated with bohemian types. By introducing her character in such a distinctive coat, costumer Laurenzi is letting the audience know that there is something rather exotic about Mizar. This idea is more apparent when we discover her profession as an exotic dancer. There's a few comments made throughout the film about Mizar's ethnicity and I think her wardrobe plays up to this idea of her being an exotic foreigner by dressing her in "ethnic" clothing like the coat in order to present her as different to the other women, Of course this style of coat was popular at the time but it was definitely something that someone with a bit of edge and style would wear so it really makes Mizar stand out against the other building dwellers.

Jennifer's roommate Marilyn is also seen wearing a fur coat in the film. She wears two fur coats at various points - one in the cafe and one in her death scene. Marilyn's coats differ wildly from Mizar's whereas Mizar's coat suggests that she is an arty bohemian type, Marilyn's suggests she's a bit of a fashion plate who is perhaps trying to dress a bit above her class. Marilyn's uncouth sense of humour and flippant approach to the death of Mizar suggests that she is actually rather lowbrow as a character yet her costuming seems to suggest that Marilyn cares a great deal about the image she projects to the world yet she is completely oblivious to how her behaviour undermines her. Costuming in this instance helps to showcase the contradictions in Marilyn.

The most bizarre bit of outerwear in the film would have to be Jennifer's blanket style coat which she wears over a pinstriped menswear look. The coat made up of reds, blues, yellows and white clashes horribly with her pinstripe shirt and skirt and undermines her rather sophisticated outfit. However, I think the coat is another signifier of Jennifer the eclectic Londoner who defies the rules of fashion and bizarrely enough she just about carries it off. This coat once again plays to the seventies trend of "ethnic" fashion styles looking suitably southern american.

When I discussed Argento's films in previous fashion posts I couldn't really discuss the eccentricities of giallo fashion as Dario's films tended to shun the quirkier side of fashion. That's why it's such a joy to discuss a film that has a distinctively gialloesque approach to fashion. In one scene we see Jennifer wear a fabulous cape that she wears oh so casually over a pair of trousers and a turtleneck it's details and accessories like this that really make fashion in giallo cinema stand out. It's the pieces that are dramatic and outlandish that make these films such a joy to watch and help to elevate traditional seventies fashions into the stratosphere. The giallo film really understands the importance of fashion in creating a sense of fun and visual panache.

From left: Marilyn, Jennifer, Marilyn, Sheila

For me, the most distressing scene in The Case of the Bloody Iris was when Marilyn is brutally stabbed on a crowded street in the middle of daylight. Was my distress brought about by the crippling anxiety that nowhere is really safe, not even a busy street? Oh no, what chilled me to the bone was the wanton destruction of poor old Andrea's camel coat. Marilyn desperately clings to Andrea after a fatal stabbing, smearing crimson red blood all over his beautiful wool coat. Andrea's coat is truly a thing of beauty that helps to portray him as the wonderful suave architect that he is. Andrea continues to bring his fashion game throughout the film by wearing a fantastic checked blazer - how could Jennifer resist a man that understands the importance of outerwear?

The A-Line Skirt 

Particularly fashionable at the time of writing, the A-Line skirt is the skirt of choice throughout the film and is seen on Jennifer, Marilyn and our first murder victim. Flattering, versatile and a little bit sexy, the a-line mini is the perfect bottom to give any outfit some seventies flare.

As this film was made in 1972 it follows on from the sixties trend of the mini skirt before longer lengths like the midi crept back into style. All of the skirts featured throughout the film are of very short lengths and are cut in that classic a line style. Unlike their 1960s equivalents, the mini skirts in the early seventies and in this film, were often made from various textured fabrics such as velvet, corduroy and tweed as opposed to the simple polyester of the sixties. This added bit of texture really brings the various looks in the films to life and gives the costumes more variety and depth. The a-line cut gives the skirt more of a distinctive shape that slims the upper thigh and helps to create a desirable silhouette by sitting on the waist and flaring out from what us women deem as our "problem areas".

The Waistcoat

We see two different versions of the waistcoat - the shorter more traditional style and the gilet. The waistcoat has always been a popular item in woman's fashion and has been worn in various styles and ways over the last fifty odd years. At present, longer waistcoats that appear to double as sleeveless coats are very much in vogue whereas 10 years ago, a classic shaped waistcoat in a simple neutral colour (often teamed with denim or an uncoordinated mini skirt) was a go to style. In The Case of the Bloody Iris and 1970s fashion, the waistcoat was worn in a coordinated fashion and was often part of a skirt set that was to be worn over a top in a contrasting colour. This is evident throughout the film where we see both the unnamed prostitute and Jennifer wearing the waistcoat in this fashion in various scenes. Both women wear their waistcoats over thin turtlenecks in a contrasting colour - Jennifer wears a mustard one whereas the unnamed woman wears a deep burgundy coloured turtleneck which sharply contrast against their forest green and mauve skirt sets. This look helps to bring a sense of coordination to an outfit and adds a little bit more detail through an extra layer that gives both outfits a more polished feel. I'd also add that the simple addition of a waistcoat smartens up both women's looks and takes a bit of focus off their skirt lengths which may be deemed as rather risque if they were teamed with less modest pieces.

The fur gilet is another popular clothing item in The Case of the Bloody Iris and is worn by Jennifer on two separate occasions. As previously discussed, fur is a popular look in the film and features in a lot of the outerwear worn by the female characters. Whereas Marilyn tends to wear over the top fur coats that suggest that she's a bit of a social climber, Jennifer wears a less fancy version of this look by donning a fur gilet. The fur gilet is a little bit more fashion forward and has a bohemian edge to it that adds to Jennifer's eclectic London style. The gilet is worn in a similar fashion to the aforementioned waistcoats and is worn over long sleeve tops to once again create a wonderful layered look. I particularly love the exaggerated shoulders that give a sense of structure to both of Jennifer's outfits. 


When it comes to nightwear I blame Fawlty Towers for giving me horribly unrealistic expectations of what should be worn to bed. I remember being fascinated by Sybil Fawlty's hospital wardrobe from the 1975 episode The Germans. From pink frilly gauzy cardigans to powder blue polyester nightgowns I thought this was how all adults dressed for bed. Sadly as I got older I realised that Sybil's over the top wardrobe was very much a thing of the past and that women in the 1990s wore boring pajamas and cotton nightgowns to bed. It was only when I discovered gialli that I was transported back to that wonderful world of decadent nightwear that I first discovered watching an overplayed VHS of Fawlty Towers all those years ago. From The Red Queen Kills Seven Times to The Case of the Bloody Iris gialli shows us time and time again nightwear that appears to defy gravity as we watch our heroines float around extravagant exteriors in little more than a bit of gauze and gossamer which somehow keeps their modesty in tact although only just! In a nighttime scene in Jennifer and Marilyn's apartment we are treated to a showcase in seventies nightwear when we see both women go about their nighttime rituals wearing rather risque looks. Deviating from the traditional colours in the film Marilyn wears a floor sweeping nightgown in turquoise blue whereas Jennifer wears an eye watering low cut short silky number in cream. Both looks are suitably decadent for nighttime wear.

The Turtleneck

The turtleneck was a fashion staple in the 1970s and was popular with both men and women which is reflected in the costuming of the film as pretty much every character featured wears one in one scene or other. A versatile piece, the turtleneck could be worn by itself or used to layer with other garments i.e. a waistcoat, a blazer. My particular favourite turtleneck in the film is Sheila's striped number that she wears in the cafe that's perfectly accesorised with an amazing yellow floppy hat. The turtleneck is traditionally viewed as an unflattering garment yet it manages to look suitably stylish in many of the looks throughout the film.

Despite some of the fashions in the film being rather risque, you'll notice that when it comes to cleavage the majority of the female characters are rather covered up with their legs often being the preferred body part on show. I think its easy to dismiss the majority of gialli as films used to titillate and this argument definitely has some weight to it however, films like the Case of the Bloody Iris show that fashion isn't just used to titillate but also to create a sense of style and glamour to the film. Yes we have the rather raunchy scene where Jennifer's breasts are painted to resemble a top yet we also have a lot of scenes where the female characters wear fabulous stylishly put together ensembles that aren't particularly "sexy". In my opinion film makers like Carnimeo wanted to titillate to some degree but they also wanted to bring a sense of style that looked great on screen but also appealed to the female audience who would leave the cinema wanting to replicate the looks from the film. The giallo was popular with men and women in equal measures so I don't it's necessarily correct to assume that all gialli were concerned with costuming women to appeal solely to the male sex. Instead I think gialli costume designers tried to create looks that would appeal to a woman's sense of fashion and to a man's sexual desires. This created a perfect blend of sexiness and stylishness that wonderfully fused with the overall aesthetic of the 1970s.

A small selection of some of the turtlenecks on offer
I'd like to conclude my post on the film with a few of my own observations and opinions about the giallo heroine. Many dismiss the women in gialli as "sluts" and/or "babes" whose sole purpose is to strip off, show their tits and then be offed in an elaborate way and of course, there's a lot of truth to that. However, I think we sometimes unfairly dismiss the giallo heroine as a dated, misogynistic character. Yes, there are a lot of problematic depictions of women in gialli and the way that many men talk about these actresses even today is questionable, however I truly believe that the gialli heroine has many positive attributes that make these films so wonderful and appealing to women in the 21st century. Without going into the topic too deeply (perhaps a post for another time) I personally feel like the giallo heroine has more autonomy and independence than many of her modern counterparts. Often the women in these films have careers, their own homes, cars and social lives. I would argue that many of these women have sexual autonomy and although some heroines or female characters are punished for their sexuality, many gialli heroines like Jennifer are able to have sexual relationships and still survive to become the victors at the end of their respective films. Often the female characters in these tales come across as the real heroes compared to their male counterparts and are often a crucial part of solving the central mystery of their stories. On the other hand, female characters can be just as sadistic and cruel as their male counterparts - in the Case of the Bloody Iris, the old lady believes that the young women around her are sluts and sexually promiscuous whores who deserve everything they get for daring to be sexually liberated. Many gialli feature female characters who are murderers and/or are complicit in carrying out deranged and violent deeds. Although in no way perfect, the giallo heroine is far from the doe eyed victim that she is often made out to be. In many ways, the elaborate fashions and style of these women show that the women in these films differ drastically from one another and embody different attributes that make them more than pretty hapless victims from the uncouth Marilyn to the sexually forward lesbian Sheila, the women in The Case of the Bloody Iris each have their own motivations and embody different approaches to life. Admittedly, gialli characterisation is limited but fashion works as a fantastic signifer and gives us an overall sense of who these women are through their contrasting wardrobes.

The Case of the Bloody Iris perfectly encapsulates the wonderful style of giallo cinema and is one of the greatest examples of fashion in Italian genre cinema. Although I have not discussed all of the many looks throughout the film I hope I've given a little bit of an insight into some of the styles and trends featured. I've added a few pictures of the iconic looks throughout and apologise for the questionable image quality in this post. I leave you with a picture of Andrea and Jennifer in which Jennifer wears the most stunning black and cream maxi dress possibly committed to film. Till next time!


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