As Alicia Vikander stars as the ultimate Femme Fatale, Irma Vep in Olivier Assayas’s retelling of his 1996 cult film of the same name, we look at the mini-series’ bold new look and wardrobe.
The alluring performance of Hong Kong star Maggie Cheung in Olivier Assayas 1996 film Irma Vep centres on the actress’s portrayal of herself whilst attempting to film a fictional remake of the real-life French silent-classic Les Vampires. Louis Feuillade’s silent film serial from 1915-1916 told the story of the criminal and black-catsuited femme fatale Irma Vep (anagram of vampire), the anti-heroine of a delinquent Parisian gang.
Assayas’ film-within-a-film was hailed by critics as an innovative and cutting-edge homage to Feuillade’s original masterpiece, whilst at the same time offering a surrealist critique of French Cinema.
Now Alicia Vikander will star in a retelling of the original film 1996 brought to the small screen by the same director. In this, she plays Mira (anagram of Irma), a disillusioned Hollywood actress who arrives in Paris to star as the infamous villainise in a retelling of Les Vampires.
As the filming gets underway, Mira soon becomes disoriented. Caught between the irrational demands of a director on the verge of a mental breakdown and the sexual entanglements of her personal life, the dizzy backdrop of Avant Garde cinema means Mira soon discovers that the distinctions between herself and the character she plays begin to blur and merge.
As with the original Cheung version, the 2022 miniseries is set to offer a similarly self-reflexive tale of intrigue and cinematic storytelling that unravels before the audience’s very eyes.
Speaking with Harper’s Bazaar, the Swedish star, Vikander, who rose to fame in films Anna Karenina and The Danish Girl, the latter winning her an Academy Award, described the series as being “so meta, it’s eating itself.” She elaborated: “I think, while I was making it, I played five roles…It’s like Chinese boxes. There’s always something else going on. I think that’s the beauty of the project.”
In the original Irma Vep, Maggie Cheung’s character spends most of the film dressed in a black skin-tight latex catsuit. The outfit, which was memorably sourced in a sex shop, reflects how Cheung’s character becomes an erotic object of desire for both her director, René and costume designer, Zoe.
In Vikander’s ‘Irma Vep’ the clingy rubber catsuit has been supplanted for one of rich and silky velvet. This latest rendition was designed by the Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière and more closely resembles the jumpsuit originally created by Paul Poiret for Les Vampires.
“He used the silks that were in the original catsuit and added velvet, so he kind of did what I think he does best — honouring the classic with a very classic silhouette, but then added heels that were in steel for something very modern,” Vikander said to WWD.
The real significance of the catsuit is revealed in one scene where according to Vikander, the icon catsuit was key to unleashing the inner essence of Irma Vep. “The catsuit has an optional mask so you can only see the eyes,” she told Vogue and wearing it “kind of makes you want to move in a certain way. I felt like I stepped into this creature. And that’s when the magic truly happened.”
Ghesquière designed all of the costumes for Vikander in the series, who has been an ambassador for Louis Vuitton since 2015.
‘Irma Vep’ is currently streaming on HBO.