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The Fashion of Villanelle

Film and TV have a history of leaving their impressions on the fashion industry. From the tailoring of Mad Men to the 80s hit Dynasty, from the casual 90s style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the suave blazers of Miami Vice, popular TV shows have come into our homes for decades and fuelled our desires for a certain look, or to even imitate our favourite characters. A famous example was the so-called ‘Rachel’ haircut based on Rachel Green from Friends; huge swathes of young girls, women and celebrities copied the new trend, with varying success.

The new trend in town doesn’t come from a waitress-turned-businesswoman from New York, but a deadly European assassin. The response to Killing Eve’s Villanelle is a reminder of the huge impact of television on our visual culture. With the show now onto the third series, rankings of Villanelle’s outfits and ‘where to shop’ articles are among the top results for an internet search of her name. One blue dress by British designer Susie Cave- yes, the wife of musician and lover of all things dark Nick Cave- sold out soon after the episode was aired. Cave’s aptly named label, The Vampire’s Wife, is just one of the many (relatively) small British designers the assassin goes for. If Villanelle’s stylist picks one of your designs for the show, expect an increase in revenue.

You can’t discuss Villanelle’s fashion without mentioning that pink tulle dress. The dress, which featured in Molly Goddard’s 2017 spring collection, now has its own section on the Wikipedia page of the episode it stared in. Extremely feminine and girly, the flouncy tulle ruffles of the bright pink dress seem out of place in a scene in which Villanelle needs to prove she’s as unsentimental as ever. Natasha Bird of ELLE described it as “fashion’s big television moment of the year”; Grazia’s Katie Rosseinsky went further, declaring it “autumn’s best fashion moment”. At the Academy Awards the following year, the red carpet was filled with ostentatious ruffles, textures, and bubble-gum pink. From TV costume to celebrity high fashion, the dress traversed the line to fashion fame. And, as we learnt from The Devil wears Prada, high fashion without fail filters down to our local high streets.

Villanelle’s clothes are bold and rather feminine; for me, every outfit she wears has at least a hint of femininity, whether it be the colour, the fabric or the tailoring of the garments. Gone is the femme fatale spy-assassin we have been accustomed to seeing. Traditional spies like James Bond exude a very suave masculine style, Charlie’s Angels use sex appeal against their targets. Nowadays films and shows are grittier: with Jason Bourne and Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde, the personalities and the style gets gruffer, but Theron’s leather jacket still screams sex appeal. But a spy who can be girly? Loves vintage inspired fashion, designer labels, patterns and even frills? This is something new and rather interesting.

As a society, we have been conditioned to find femininity unthreatening. It started off as sane women don’t kill, and they didn’t classify seductresses as sane. This has changed, of course, but society still clings to this idea of femininity not being compatible with violence. It is easy to see that this has some serious implications, one being that female abusers are not taken seriously. It says something about the societal perception of femininity to have a bright pink tulle gown being worn by a prolific assassin. However, in particular, it quietly challenges the idea that white women and white femininity equal innate innocence. It is more than a trope, but a pervasive societal idea that directly hurts people, especially people of colour. Nobody would think that Villanelle, wearing her floral dress or her sixties inspired outfit, is capable of such violence. Because to our society white, un-sexualised femininity never equals violence.

If we look at the racks of clothes in high street fashion retailers, we can see a range of styles, from masculine to androgynous to feminine. However, particularly recently, we have seen the comeback of tulle, big sleeves, soft fabrics and pastels- i.e. classically feminine clothes. If we look back to the 80s, we all know of the huge trend of shoulder pads which swept through nations. With the economic boom and more women than ever entering the workplace, the 80s power jacket was designed to simulate the men’s work suit. The shoulder pads were there to widen women’s frames, making them seem more masculine, so they would seem more authoritative and men would take them seriously in the workplace. Is there a shift in fashion that is now embracing the feminine as serious clothing? A year after the black dresses of the #MeToo movement, are the pink bubble-gum dresses that dazzled the Academy Awards a statement like its predecessors? These are interesting questions to ask. I believe that people are, particularly now, dressing femininely and demanding the authority that femininity shouldn’t eliminate. We don’t need masculinity to be taken seriously. This is why the new style icon of an assassin, with people flooding to dress like her, to me makes sense on a deeper level than pretty clothes. She’s an example of being feminine and successful. So, we want to be like her: feminine, bold and powerful. We may turn into businesswomen and men, but our inspiration was the feminine assassin. We can be feminine and successful, feminine and authoritative and feminine and dangerous.

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