Vicki Vale, Tim Burton and Batman’s leading photojournalist/heroine/babe played by Kim Basinger, enters Gotham City, and Gotham Globe, on the hunt for Batman. She meets him, falls in love, gets terrorized by the Joker, wears a lot of amazingly minimal things, triumphs to victory, etc.
First off, the thing I love about Tim Burton is his sensitivity to costume. His characters always possess a little je ne sais quoi, which I believe is achieved through extremely calculated styling and costume choices. Clothing makes Burton’s characters come to life, for me at least.
I loved the intricate roping of leather and rubber and misshapen rusty blades that made Edward Scissorhands, Burton’s 1990 production. At the MoMA in New York this past winter Burton’s original Edward Scissorhands suit was on display. Up close and personal, it was eerily sinister and disturbing. This slaughter-inducing getup had a hand-crafted appearance and feel, almost as if you stumbled upon the makings of a deranged psychopath couturier. Along side it was Winona Ryder’s mohair, wholesome American girl sweater, equally if not more sinister than Edward’s suit. So prim and proper, it must be hiding something really devious.
Back to Vicki. When we first see Vale in Burton’s 1989 Batman, she’s poised lounging in an executive chair, black pantyhose, black pumps, black glasses, red lips. She’s a high-powered photographer working alongside some of Gotham City’s most prominent press people, and her simplistic yet sophisticated wardrobe reflects her “it” girl status.
She sticks to really simple silhouettes, solid colours, with origami folds, but has been known to wear overly-trendy, of the era ball gowns reminiscent of Princess Diana’s wedding dress by David and Elizabeth Emanuel.
There’s a certain high fashion look to Vale, as she combines berets with silk trench-coats. But it’s this delicate balance between feminine and tomboy that’s achieved through her body-conscious ensembles, unkempt hair, and ready-for-anything attitude. She is, after all, a sharp and intuitive journalist, snapping photographs with her 80s-era camera and flash, stowing roles of film in her bra for safe-keeping.
Now Catwoman on the other hand….
Michelle Pfeiffer is Burton’s female heroine in the sequel Batman Returns (1992). Only through his perverse mind could a woman – who after plummeting to her death – actual muster up the strength to squeeze into vinyl, sharpen her claws, and paint her lips red.
But perhaps what was more sinister, and less obvious, was Pfeiffer transformation. After laying lifeless and contorted in an alley – the main course of one hundred stray cats – does Pfeiffer come to life. Embracing her predatory role in devouring criminals and men of Gotham City, Catwoman’s style evolves after being injected with the venomous DNA of filthy, neglected cats. The mild and meek Selina Kyle (Catwoman) morphs into an object of sensuality and aggression, with wardrobe reflecting this transformation. From dowdy tweed suits and awkward oversized glasses to full-throttle vinyl catsuit (pardon the pun), feline eyes and kitten-ish sensuality reflected in hair, make-up and evening wear. This half-woman, half-cat character becomes a force to be reckon with, keeping a pistol in her garter belt, she’s ready for anything. I wonder what Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia would have to say about her?
One things for certain, you can’t deny the influence of Burton’s sick and twisted creativity, and the stylistic choices that manifest this brilliance.
Photos: stills from Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Batman Returns (1992).