The Rokit Reel: Fashion on Film in The Love Witch in Association with Picturehouse Central
Welcome to The Rokit Reel, our latest series on the blog that takes a look at Fashion in Film. In partnership with Picturehouse Central, we'll be shedding our learned eye on the vintage ancestry of costumes featured in some of the most exciting and thought-provoking movies to screen in the UK. For our first instalment, we'll be tackling Anna Biller's feminist Hammer Horror-esque tragicomedy The Love Witch.
Words by Danielle Morgan
In collaboration with The Final Girls, Picturehouse Central last week screened Anna Biller's The Love Witch, a trippy exploration into kitsch horror and the femme fatale. Stylistically, the film is strong; late 1960s and early '70s costume and interior lulls us into a dizzy technicolour void like those of the B-side movies from the same period, only to be pulled back down to earth with striking contemporary contrast. We delve into the archives to pull apart the vintage influence on costume throughout the film.
For starters, Anna grew up constantly surrounded by vintage clothing. Her mother was a seamstress and used to collect vintage to construct her creations and her grandmother collected vintage clothing too. Whilst operating her business from home, her mother would watch old movies on repeat, and this is when Anna's infatuation with vintage and the past really took root. Anna herself omits, "My mother did make vintage-inspired clothes which were very beautiful, and also collected vintage clothing. My grandmother collected clothing from the 19th century through the 1920s... I've always been immersed in vintage clothing."
During the introduction by The Final Girls, they reveal that all of the costumes that appear in the movie were hand made by Anna over a 7 year period. A labour of love, each was either made from original patterns from the period, adjusted from an original vintage garment or bought from a vintage store. The dedication to detail here is impressive and unfaltering.
Butternick and Simplicity patterns and original Gunne Sax dresses are cited by Anna as her main subject matter for the film. Both Butterick and Simplicity were popular patterns from the 1970s that Anna frequently sourced to construct period specific clothing for the film. Bell sleeves, fitted styles and flowing lengths are all key features of these patterns that really lend themselves to the hippie-esque, occult style clothing Anna was trying to emulate.
Designer Jessica McClintock brought the whimsical, romantic calico midi and maxi dresses we associate today with Gunne Sax to the forefront of the brand's consciousness. The focus of the company was romance, and McClintick's designs were particularly heavily influenced by Victoriana and Renaissance fashion. Of her designs she said, 'I brought to Gunne Sax my own concept of clothing based on romance - nostalgia created by a mixture of prints, ribbons, laces, muslins and braids. It was 1969, the 'mini' era was ending, and the Gunne Sax country, Edwardian and Prairie era was beginning.'
The use of this style of dress in huge tv shows like Little House on the Prairie during the 1970s really catapulted the popularity of McClintock's ethereal creations. 'The leg of mutton' sleeve was a particular style facet of Victorian fashion that McClintock enthusiastically rejuvenated for the Gunne Sax line; one who's popularity continued through subsequent decades and features heavily in the film.
Where Anna had to make the costumes and couldn't source original vintage fabrics, new ones were used that emulated the old paisley prints and polyester blends like those from the 1960s and '70s. Anna's relentless and meticulous attention to detail through every stage of the costume process to ensure historical accuracy is nothing short of mind blowing.
Increasingly throughout the film, what Elaine and Trish wear underneath their clothing is as important, often more so, that what is being worn on top. Undeniably, lingerie is significant for both the women. When Elaine strips off to reveal her underwear, and significantly when Trish dresses up in Elaine's lingerie, the women take control of their sexuality. Constantly, lingerie probes questions about the women's identity and their own perceptions of themselves.
The only costume not vintage or hand-made is the lingerie, Anna admits. Elaine's underwear may be new buy, but it is the overtly sexual, fetishistic style of it that lends itself to a wholly vintage sensibility. Elaine's underwear presents a confusing dilemma; on the one hand she plays with lingerie to seduce men (suspenders, feathered gowns and teeny panties all feature heavily in her underwear drawer), but on the other Elaine's confusing demeanor and conflicted personality is warning them off. Come close, but not too close. She is making the rules.
Elaine's obsession with pleasing men and appealing to their sexual desires? She clearly weilds lingerie to channel this; throughout the film she dances erotically in her lingerie to seduce a string of unwitting men. The vast sexual significance of her underwear comes to a head when Trish sneaks into Elaine's room and tries all of her lingerie on. Trish see's another side to herself when she dresses up in Elaine's make-up and underwear; she likes herself more, and feels more empowered to take control of her own autonomy.
At first glance the film takes very obvious inspiration from the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially through its costumes; a flash of the psychedelic rainbow lining of Elaine's Mac or the glimpse of thigh in her tiny mini dresses. When we look deeper, things get a little conflicted. Anna's stylistic influences might seem somewhat confusing at first; a mish-mash of era's are blended with contemporary references. Anna's home-made Butterick '70s-esque patterns with their bell sleeves and floor sweeping lengths are juxtaposed so casually against modern cars cruising along in the background of key scenes; at one point Trish pulls out her iPhone to take a call. What at first may have felt like a bold stylistic decision to place this B-side movie firmly in the 1960s becomes anything but simple.
Anna never lets us rest on our laurels. As soon as we are fully immersed in the rose tinted technicolour world she has created, we are wrenched back to reality. Never forget, Anna pleads to us from behind the screen, this is NOT an homage. And sure enough it isn't; it is in a league all of its own.