Catherine Spooner: Wearing the wolf: fur, fashion and species transvestism

- 'Bad Girl Rihanna, the World's Wildest Style Icon', W, September 2014, by Mert and Marcus

22 May 2017

6pm to 7.30pm

Presented by the Centre for Fashion Curation, London College of Fashion as part of our Embodied: Stitch, Structure, Surface series of talks.  

What do werewolves have to do with fashion? The first stories of werewolves, it is widely alleged, may have arisen from tales of men dressed in animal skins for hunting or ritual purposes. Werewolf mythology is thus intrinsically bound up with our cultural relationship with clothes, and specifically with the substitution of one kind of skin for another. This paper explores the relationship between fur and the body in werewolf narratives and the way that these inflect the presentation of fashionable femininity. It focuses on the Ralph Lauren Autumn/Winter 2015 advertising campaign, tracing its heritage through nineteenth-century werewolf fiction, visual culture (from nineteenth-century painting to contemporary photography) and contemporary film. Drawing on Marjorie Garber’s construction of the transvestite as ‘third term’ that disrupts a binary gender system, it proposes the werewolf as ‘species transvestite’. By ‘wearing the wolf’ – or, indeed, ‘wearing the woman’ – the female werewolf refuses a clear distinction between fur and skin and becomes a ‘third term’ disrupting the binary division between human and animal. This liminal status is based in problematic cultural assumptions about the nature of femininity, indigenous peoples and indeed animals, but it also promises a fierce glamour, bodily freedom and intimacy with wilderness that remains seductive. The promise of transformation is the promise of fashion itself, and the female werewolf offers a model of metamorphosis that continues to inspire contemporary designers, stylists and photographers.
Catherine Spooner is Reader in Literature and Culture at Lancaster University. She has published widely on Gothic literature and popular culture, with a particular emphasis on fashion. She is the author or co-editor of six books including Fashioning Gothic Bodies, Contemporary Gothic and Post-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic. She also contributed to volumes accompanying the BFI’s Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film, the British Library’s Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. She is currently working on a book on the cultural history of the white dress in Gothic fiction, film and fashion media.

The talk is free but booking is essential by visiting here

Image: 'Bad Girl Rihanna, the World's Wildest Style Icon', W, September 2014, by Mert and Marcus