dr_von_fangirl (dr_von_fangirl) wrote,

A High Fashion Crush on Catwoman: Selina Kyle, Queen of Style (Hey lookit me, I'm Etrigan!)

It's not a terribly well known fact, but I'm a devotee of Vogue magazine and haute couture in general. I don't usually indulge in talking about it because it seems a love of comics and a love of fashion don't really go hand in hand. I mean, both IRL and online, I hang around comic people and talking fashion at length in front of a geeky circle of friends often feels like talking into the ether. And you know, that's perfectly fine. Comics are definitely my thing, more than anything else, and I'm completely content with parking myself in a chair with a stack of fashion magazines for a few hours to sate myself.

But, every once in a while, my main obsession crosses with one of my minor ones and I get the opportunity to excitedly hop around, flapping my hands and squealing like a little girl, because OMG THERE ARE COMIC BOOK BARBIES NOW.

(Did I mention one of my other minor passions is fashion dolls? No? Well now you know. And I gotta admit, I am way more ashamed of that one than the haute couture...)

I've been doing that very thing for the past week or so, ever since some shots from the set of The Dark Knight Rises hit the interwebs.


My first reaction was Oh greeeeat, it's 'When in Rome' Catwoman.

(Well, actually, my first reaction was Oh! It's Silkstone Barbie Selina!:

...like I said: Fashion dolls.)

But all the buzz got me thinking about something I've been wanting to talk about for awhile.

I've had a couple of fashion related posts brewing in my head since I started this blog. For instance, I've been chipping away at a Selina Kyle's Style Guide to the Little Black Dress from the beginning, and now I have more incentive to finish it, but I've also been dying to talk about Christian Louboutin, Fashion Designer, and his total crush on Catwoman.

Louboutin is far and away one of my favorite designers, and his specialty is shoes. I hate how sitcom-stereotypical it is of me to have a favorite shoe designer, but there it is. The way I figure it, though, a love of shoes is way easy to understand. After all, high fashion is designed (rather stupidly) to fit one and only one body type--thin, tall and up to a small B cup. But shoes? No matter what size dress you wear, whether you’re a 4 or a 24, you can find a gorgeous pair of shoes. Shoes are one fashion statement that isn’t automatically a reminder of any of the ways you don’t measure up to the supermodel standard of the moment.

So, a couple of years ago, Mattel asked Louboutin to design a doll for their designer line. What did he come up with?

Behold, Barbie by Christian Louboutin or, Cat Burglar Barbie, a slinky catsuit wearing shoe thief. From the description on Mattel’s site:

Barbie® by Christian Louboutin receives a complete head-to-toe Parisian makeover, as envisioned by Christian. Inspired by legendary beauties such as Nefertiti and Marilyn Monroe, Barbie® goes ultra modern glam with sleek makeup, a fiery red mane of luscious locks and — of course — four pairs of Christian Louboutin designed shoes (complete with miniature shoe boxes and cloth shoe bags!). Turning up the va-va-voom factor, Barbie® wears a sleek black catsuit, perfect for strutting her stuff.

(Maybe now you’ll all understand why, when the news of a shoe store thief in a Catwoman mask broke, I burst into hysterical laughter…)

If that weren't cool enough on its own, the doll comes with a book, My Year in Paris with Christian Louboutin, xoxo Barbie, which--in diary format--details the fanciful character's adventures in Paris with her benevolent godfather, Louboutin himself--which I am so curious to read not-even-ashamed-to-admit-it-ohmigod.

Sadly, like most things designer and collectible, Barbie by Christian Louboutin will run you $150 and up.

(However, the book--or at least portions of it--has been re-released as a souvenir calendar and is currently on sale for just ten bucks.)

Of course, that's nothing in comparison to what I'm about to show you. Because, oh yes, I did not write this post just to show you guys a Barbie doll, no matter how nifty she may be. You see, Louboutin’s connection to the feline fatale doesn’t stop there. Oh, no!

From a 2008 issue of Vogue, this photo--part of a series in which high fashion designers re-imagine comic book characters--features a Dolce and Gabbana designed costume, and Louboutin heels--heels that, according to the all knowing Google, have become known as Catwoman heels:

Recognize them? No?

How about now?

I'll give you a hint: The gold pair is identical to the pair worn by Louboutin’s Barbie. Coincidence? I highly doubt it.

...eh, these are one of my favorite pairs of shoes in existence, so here, have some more shoe porn!

If you think the doll was expensive, you should see what a pair of these will run you. Yikes. Thankfully, there's a DIY tutorial online that I managed to track down:

Aren't I nice?

In all honesty, Louboutin's infatuation with Catwoman is hardly surprising. Catwoman has long been an inspiration in the high fashion world. Back in 2008, the Metropolitan Museum of Art even held an exhibit, titled, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy that celebrated the concept of comic book characters as fashion plates.

From the exhibit

The website, which is still up, perfectly encapsulates the reasons for Catwoman's endurance as style icon:

Superhero comics have tended to promote an ideology that is both masculinist and driven to mastery. Nowhere are these biases more blatant than in the representation of female superheroes. With unabashed and unapologetic obviousness, women are portrayed as objects of male desire and fantasy with absurdly exaggerated sexual characteristics. [...]

[T]he frisson of fetishistic sexuality presented by female superheroes is adduced with one hand only to be dismissed with the other. This offering and denying of sexuality, which helps to resolve the sexual fears and desires of developing males, is the eternal paradox of the superheroine.

Catwoman, through her radical split of conscience between "good girl" and "bad girl," literalizes this contradiction. [...] Selina Kyle, originally was characterized as a sybaritic socialite whose initial impulse to steal stemmed from ennui. Over the years, both her origin story and her costume have undergone several redesigns.[...]

Fetishism is a defining ingredient to Catwoman's wardrobe. She is best known, perhaps, for catsuits that cleave to the body, due in large part to the portrayals of the character by Julie Newmar in the television series Batman (1966) and Michelle Pfeiffer in the film Batman Returns (1992). Typical of the intermedia cross-pollination for which superheroes are famous, the costumes of both actresses served to inspire and influence those worn by Catwoman in her comic-book representation.

As apparel, the catsuit has long been identified with the dominatrix, an archetype frequently associated with Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer's performance strengthened this connection by spotlighting the themes of alpha-cat and submissive kitten-like behavior. Her costume, which co-opted the traditional iconography of the dominatrix, included associated paraphernalia such as a whip, gloves, and high-heel shoes.

The visual and symbolic language of Catwoman resonates strongly in fashion, especially in the work of Thierry Mugler, John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianni Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Alexander McQueen. All these designers, like Catwoman (and, indeed, female comic-book characters generally), have been attracted to the wardrobe of the dominatrix and its associations of a liberated sexuality.

Conceptually loaded and psychologically coded items such as catsuits, corsets, bustiers, and harness bras, usually in black "wet-look" materials like leather, rubber, and polyvinyl chloride, have in the hands of these outré designers achieved widespread acceptance as exotic-erotic haute couture. But in co-opting these sexual clichés, fashion has, in the process, muted their meanings and sanitized their subtexts.

In much the same way as comic books, fashion presents elements of fetishistic sexuality stereotypically, undermining, or at least redirecting and repositioning, its subversive, sadomasochistic underpinnings. While presented blatantly, erotic energies, like the feral nature of Catwoman, are tamed, neutered, and, ultimately, neutralized.

Fascinating, fascinating stuff--and that's not even the whole thing.

Even now, twenty years post Batman Returns it's easy to see Catwoman's influence in current fashion trends. Look beyond leopard print, beyond garish purple, beyond licensed merchandise, and you'll see the echoes of Selina Kyle all over the place.

Thierry Mugler

Christian Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano

Alexandar McQueen




Gianni Versace

Oh dear...that's...that's much less good.

As evidenced by trends since at least the beginning of the twentieth century, it's easy to see that fashion feeds popular culture feeds fashion. What we watch, what we read, what becomes popular, it all funnels into the creative consciousness of artists and designers of all kinds, from high fashion to architecture. These then take inspiration from the cultural landscape and send it right back out to us, where it's consumed, subverted and ultimately discarded. Then the cycle begins anew.

Young Adult pop culture is the perfect example. How about Twilight and its sequels, which inspired the re-release of many classics--Wuthering Heights, Romeo in Juliet and others in the same vein--in new Twilight-esque editions? Or the popularity of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which gave rise to Alice-themed jewelry carried at every shop in every mall, new editions of Lewis Carroll’s classics with Burton-y covers, a resurgence of Disney Alice merchandise and designer dolls? All because of the look of the film.

Comic book characters like Catwoman have distinct, graphically punchy looks. They're unique, memorable and often rich with subtext, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art already pointed out. It's absolutely natural for fashion designers to draw from the deep creative well that is superhero comics.

Magpie, is that you?

Of course, it's impossible to know which of the designers above actually, consciously used Catwoman as muse, but the fact that she's so often paralleled in high fashion--be it her silhouette, her color scheme of the moment, or a combination of both--is very telling of the more classic elements of each of her designs. Granted, black never goes out of style, but can the same be said of violently violet ankle boots, like the ones from LaRare above? Hmmm...

I'll be most interested in finding out how Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises influences trends, next year and beyond. If nothing else, the fashion spreads that Anne Hathaway will be doing in every conceivable publication as publicity will be fun to watch out for.

In any case, I'm sure Selina will be gorgeous and classically fashionable, just as she always has been.

Tags: cat news, cat style, costume: goggles, costume: purple, costume: tas, the dark knight rises (2012), think like selina
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