Clothes have an undeniable power. Whatever their style, they serve as symbols of selfhood, performance, provocation. They are addictive, forever tempting us with their entrancing beauty. In recent years, cinema has shown the depths of sartorial obsession through narcissistic male characters: Phantom Thread saw Daniel Day-Lewis monomaniacally build his fashion house at the expense of human connection, while Jean Dujardin embarked on a bloodthirsty rampage over a fringed jacket in the pitch-black comedy Deerskin.
In Fabric taps into this trend, delving into the dangers of submitting to the pull of clothes in portentous, horror-tinged detail. However, unlike its predecessors, this film does not use costuming as a means to catalogue a man’s descent into madness. Instead, it selects one garment as its protagonist and, through it, investigates fascinating ideas of image-making.
The movie opens with a newly single mother, Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) wanting to feel desirable again when her husband trades her in for another woman. After her lonely-hearts ad – “happy, attractive woman, 50s, looking for tender, reliable gent” – catches the eye of an eligible bachelor, Sheila heads to her local department store in search of the perfect outfit for their date.
Then she sees it. A sleek full-length dress, inventoried as an ominous ‘artery-red’, that fits her like a glove (despite being the wrong size). Once brought into Sheila’s home, the gown reveals itself to be possessed by a restless spirit, taking on a sinister life of its own. It tugs frustratedly against a clothes-line; screeches back and forth across a wardrobe rail; lunges at unsuspecting victims; and leaves a splotchy rash crawling up its owner’s breast. Yet it conceals its troubling anthropomorphic tendencies behind an alluring exterior: swooping ethereally on eddying currents of air, undulating darkly in the shadows. The dress is hypnotising… but deadly, as hard to iron out as the film’s slippery thematics.
Stylish in both subject and form, In Fabric is shot in retina-searing greens, oranges and, above all, reds (crimson-lacquered nails, oozing blood, the rippling chiffon of the dress), a lurid colour palette that heightens our senses, already sharpened by the film’s supernatural goings-on. The director Peter Strickland stitches strings of fetishistic images together to create an uneven, collage-like effect, a movie that rips through critiques of materialism and presentations of middle-aged solitude with a shuddering acuity. Through its exploration of commodification, the feature humorously satirises our obsession with endless acquisition, no matter what the cost.
In Fabric is devilish and daring, a head-spinning journey into the paranormal. Passing from chest-beating alpha males to brides-to-be on its destructive path, the shape-shifting garment comes to mimic consumerist desire itself: an ambulant, morphing entity that, in the wrong hands, can prove cut-throat.
‘In Fabric’ is released in cinemas on Friday.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK