Thursday, 8 April 2010

How to be a Femme Fatale and not end up in the gutter

I have a confession to make: if lately I've been a very very bad bad blogger it is because... I've been reading Raymond Chandler's complete works. I have to admit I am addicted to the twisted stories featuring cynical detective Philip Marlowe along with a whole cast of seedy characters, many of which are the female category we know as Femme Fatale. All that reminded me of this spring's collections; because, believe me, we are going to see a lot of femmes fatales around very soon. Why? Simply because Mr. Galliano wants it so, and he has expressed it quite clearly with his Dior collection:

Could Karlie Kloss, the model in this summer's Dior adverts, look any more like Lauren Bacall? I think this is a good enough argument for all of us to start working on the trends and attitudes that will make of us the perfect film noir stars...
Now, what is a femme fatale? The woman in noir genre that always means trouble. She chainsmokes and drinks like a sponge and has quite liberal views on love (meaning she will go as far as to marry the first sucker that buys her a drink- as you can see I've learned the noir vocabulary). What makes her extremely appealing, in my opinion, is the fact that (all thanks to Hollywood) she is somewhere between being a truly independent woman and a... well, a woman from the gutter. She is mysterious like a lady should be yet she has some typically masculine gestures (check out her ability to throw and catch matchboxes). She is intriguingly elegant but on the verge of vulgarity. And she indeed shows that in the way she dresses as well. And guess what? The main pieces on a femme fatale's wardrobe are all over the place this spring.

Stefano has understood very well the trends of this season and has included some very cute shorts in his Yves Saint Laurent collection. Shorts are definitely the hottest trend right now, and YSL ones are the best because their cut is typically 40's: high-waisted and slightly "evasé". To wear them like a true femme fatale, get inspired by the divine Rita Hayworth in Tha Lady from Shanghai: she goes for the sailor look, pairing them with bikini tops, dark caps, sailor jackets and chunky golden jewellery.

In The Big Sleep they are interpreted in a very chic way too, made out of light fabrics and worn in a sporty way with espadrilles and a fine knit. Just, however tempting it might seem, don't go around like Carmen Sternwood being all druggy and trying to sit on Humphrey Bogart's lap. That's bound to end you up in that dreaded but nonetheless fascinating commonplace in all noirs: the gutter.

One of the most representative trends spotted in Femmes fatales is showing the belly. Sonia Rykiel has reinterpreted it in the loveliest way, all silk and flower prints:
Of course there are some ways to turn this trend into an almost ladylike one. It can be very interesting yet sexy anyway. Barbara Stanwyck opts for an embroidered look, perfect for a night out.

Rita, here in Gilda, prefers prints, a chunky necklace again and long sleeves. Teamed with a long skirt and metallic sandals, this look is irresistible.

Film noir's sole female director Ida Lupino (a fascinating woman) goes for flowers as well, even wearing one in her hair.

There are, obviously, some no-no's in this trend: for one, the cropped top must never be knitted. Then you would just look like a kind of grungy hobo. Skirts and trousers worn with it should never, ever be too short. And for chrissake never do like this dame below and show your garter; that will get you to the gutter sooner than you think.

True femmes fatales live a lot by night. After all, that's when they can gamble in illegal joints, seduce gangsters of different kinds, steal money and get away... And any other femme fatale activity. For that, they absolutely need to wear stunning dresses: there's always an excess of shiny satin, of legs shown through strategically-placed cuts andof body-con shapes. Again, Mister Galliano has interpreted the trend flawlessly.

So have Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana, creating the perfect skirt for (Mediterranean) femmes fatales.

At night, you can wear your dress like Gilda, being outrageouly sexy all wrapped up in black satin. Never forget to accessorize with long gloves. Also, rehearse on how to take them off as sexily as she does. It's worth the sweat.

A lovely 19 year-old Lauren Bacall chooses black satin as well as showing her tummy. How trendy is she? I highly recommend this style: shortly after wearing it she married Mr. Bogart.

Gene Tierney prefers golden lamé and white chiffon, with a bit of jewellery Hollywoodian excess: if you are a Femme Fatale, diamonds and gold are always OK!

No-no's? You can go for excess and slightly play with bad taste, it's fun and the result will probably be more interesting than plain ladylike, but never make it to obvious! Don't go for in-your-face sexyness, like Dolce & Gabbana have done here: it will make you look more like Irma La Douce than Gilda and the only men you'll be able to seduce will be second-line crooks. Sure passport for the gutter.

Also, attitude-wise, please never stand next to a city light in Joan Bennett's fashion at night, least of all if wearing black satin: the best thing that can happen to you if you do is to get mistaken for a "dame". And we all know what that means in the end... The gutter.

You'll have exactly the same problem if you sit all night long in a bar wearing a lingerie-like dress and downing straight bourbon. I really like Gloria Grahame, I think she was a genius actress, but the whole point of her character is showing to the audience what the fastest way to get to the gutter is.

Something else you must never do? Don't hold your cigarette in your mouth like this other dame. That's strictly for macho men. And please don't show your garter! This lady is clearly gonna end up in jail.

Last but not least: if you are an aspiring femme fatale, lingerie will be as important for you as any other piece of clothing (after all, femmes fatales are constantly showing glimpses of it, aren't they?). Galliano has showed all of us that even more than a glimpse of lingerie is OK, and he has done it in the most clever, fun, cute way.

Here, you can allow yourself some excesses too. Here's Joan Bennett again, wearing a very "de trop" chantilly lace night gown. I somehow like it though.

Showing your bra through a shirt, always with a high-waisted skirt or trouser and accessorized with the right jewellery can not only be sexy, it can make you powerful as well! (Here's Gloria Grahame cleverly wearing pearls with her bra... which is the perfect bourgeois touch that, for once, won't get her to the much-dreaded gutter.)

One thing you should never wear? Ostrich feather-ribbed night dresses. I've always thought ostrich feathers and boas worn in lingerie have an incredibly cheap effect. The dame in the picture below might be enjoying a very nice Lolita-like moment with Edward G. Robinson (who accessorily payed for her horrid night gown), but if my memory doesn't fail me at the end of this film she gets killed in a horrible way. Even worst than ending up in the gutter.


  1. i love this post... what comes around goes around!

  2. love those high-waisted shorts, especially as a bathing suit.

    helen xx

  3. wow, this was an amazing and inspiring post! really, really enjoyed it. i love the femme fatale look! :)

  4. It's going to be hard to bribg back the authentic black and white "femme fatal" women that blew everybody's minds in those days, but it's so amazing when recreations come to us and make us give it a try!

    ps. Love that Bacall!

  5. What a perfect description of the 'fatale lady'. I remember how Lauren Bacall took my breath away when she asked Humphrey B. for matches in 'To Have or Not to Have' (was that really the title of the film?). She's my favourite movie star and femme fatale EVER (and I do love the Chandler books, too.)

  6. i love the film noir genre! awesome post :) another fashionable femme fatale is marlene dietrich in one of my favorites, double indemnity. She's got that look :P

  7. well my dear. youve made up for the blogger-absence with this smashing post. i found it so interesting. thanks so much for sharing.made me think i need to see more film noir..

    xx ediot

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  10. Oh, I thought the above comment was a poem. Witty sweet post. I love your writing.


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Thanks for your lovely comments.