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Look of the Week: Shosanna's red revenge dress in Inglourious Basterds
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Ten years before Quentin Tarantino took a revisionist look at the end of the 1960s in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he put his own spin on how World War II played out. Revenge is at the heart of Inglourious Basterds, a dish best served fabulously dressed at the premiere of a Nazi propaganda movie.Tarantino movies have featured many iconic costumes, including Uma Thurman dancing up a storm as Mia Wallace in a white button-down and bootcut capri pants in Pulp Fiction, the skinny black ties of Reservoir Dogs, and the Bride’s (also Uma Thurman) yellow tracksuit in Kill Bill — a nod to Bruce Lee's iconic Game of Death jumpsuit. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood joins the illustrious sartorial list, not only in the way Arianne Phillips pays homage to Sharon Tate, but in the highly covetable period-accurate leather, denim, and Hawaiian prints.
Attention to detail is another Tarantino hallmark, so hiring the designer who created costumes for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, and The Pianist for Inglourious Basterds guaranteed an expert approach. Anna B. Sheppard doesn’t just do World War II-era movies — she recently designed Spiderman: Far From Home and the forthcoming Eternals movie for Marvel — but after Inglourious Basterds, she went on to work on Captain America: The First Avenger, The Book Thief, Fury, and Overlord.
Inglourious Basterds features traditional World War II uniforms; however, battle-ready attire doesn’t end with SS uniforms and military green — a fancy gown can also act as armor. Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) witnesses the murder of her entire family at the start of the film but manages to flee before Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his SS officers can gun her down too. In Paris, Shosanna runs the movie theater under the alias of Emmanuelle Mimieux, which is where she encounters Nazi hero turned propaganda star Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl).Everything Shosanna wears before the big Nation’s Pride premiere is meant to hide her in plain sight, which, considering the fate of her Jewish family, is not a surprising tactic. Muted earthy tones, a lack of pattern, and masculine attire are part of her everyday wardrobe, both at work and while out reading in a cafe. A newsboy cap pulled low isn’t enough to avoid the attention of Fredrick, and she eventually ends up coming face to face with her family’s killer.
But this encounter does lead to an opportune moment to avenge the deaths of her family and end this war. While filming her last-minute edit to be spliced into a Nation's Pride, she wears a siren suit (the clothing cousin to the boiler and jumpsuit). This was typically worn over clothes in order to protect an individual during air raids — not that it could do much to protect from an actual bomb. As it is a loose garment, it is intended to be put on and taken off with speed. There is no time to mess around when those sirens blare.
Despite taking a fantasy spin on historical events, Phillips' costume design is rooted in historical accuracy. However, even though she is meant to look inconspicuous, it is hard for Melanié Laurent to look anything but super chic, particularly in styles that would be considered on-trend over 60 years later.
The crowning costume moment of Inglourious Basterds (and perhaps all of Tarantino’s back catalog) is Shosanna’s choice of revenge attire. It is in contrast to everything she has worn up to this point. Even in a sea of glamorous gowns, she no longer blends in. In a 2009 interview with Clothes on Film, Sheppard explains this scarlet frock wasn’t always the intended look: “Originally, I designed a short black dress for her which Quentin liked very much but I talked him into a change of heart. I thought that in the black dress, her character would disappear as she is so tiny.”
Black would have been symbolic, as she is an assassin of sorts; however, red is visually more eye-catching. The symbolism is also strong as it matches the Nazi flags draped in every corner, inside and outside of the cinema. She is wearing their own signature color against them. The black-veiled pillbox hat gives off the air of a Black Widow about to take out her prey. She holds the gaze in every frame.
Switching this dress from red to black also avoids any comparison or confusion with Diane Kruger’s movie star (and secret agent) character Bridget von Hammersmark. Shosanna’s gown is relatively simple in its silhouette and design, but von Hammersmark’s is pure indulgent couture to signify her celebrity status. The custom-build black silk frock is embellished with beading and Swarovski crystals, while the train is made of tulle and silk feathers. It is a stunning and timeless garment that could be worn on the red carpet today. A white fur paired with incredible period-accurate jewels (from Sheppard's own collection) only emphasizes just how glamourous this character is.Shosanna’s crimson square neckline gown also has a timelessness to it and could also be worn in 2019, while staying true to 1940s styling. It is framed beautifully as she stares out at the Paris skyline in a moment of quiet steely reflection before Shosanna enacts her plan.
As David Bowie’s “Cat People” plays, we see Shosanna getting ready for war. She has a pistol, but her weapon is the film the Nazis are here to celebrate. Highly flammable nitrate film stock has been placed behind the screen to be ignited when her spliced message in the movie appears on the screen.
As she applies her makeup, the rouge on her cheeks acts as warpaint. She is using her femininity against the enemy, painting her face to mask her infiltrator status. Everything is red, from her lipstick to the color of her nails and even the wine she drinks. Soon this whole building would be soaked in blood and flames.
Anna B. Sheppard has designed for a number of superheroes, and she knows that not all heroes wear capes. Some choose gowns and veils as their signature outfit in order to save the world — even if that means burning it all down.