After a long and successful run on the festival circuit, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is finally headed to theaters this Friday, and onto VOD and Digital platforms December 10th, courtesy of A24. The story of In Fabric is centered around a haunted dress and how its influence condemns everyone that it comes in contact with. The film stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gwendoline Christie, Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, and Jaygann Ayeh.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Strickland about In Fabric, and he discussed why it was important to use a straightforward approach to the material, the design of the malevolent dress at the center of his story, and the parallels between In Fabric and 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio.
I would love to talk about the idea of In Fabric, because I feel like the concept, if it was in different hands, it could have been treated as a joke, something akin to Rubber. And I loved the way that you played this very seriously and it becomes this very haunting experience, in terms of the things that drive us—like touch, sensuality, or even commerce and things like that. Can you discuss the genesis for this project and your approach to the material?
Peter Strickland: I think the important thing was to love the main characters, to not punish them. I don't see what is wrong with going into the shops and buying something, especially because I think clothing can be a form of escape, a form of transformation, and I think that's not just a human thing. I think it's an animal thing. So, I wanted to explore all kinds of ideas around clothing really, but also desire and the dark side of it: body dysmorphia. With Marianne's character, I think she can escape problems, but someone like Babs, her body image is so distorted that it can become like a prison for her in a sense.
But also, I wanted to explore the ideas around fetishism as well, about grief, the power of clothing when someone dies. This dream that Marianne has of her dead mother, a lot of that came from shopping in secondhand stores. The smell of someone's clothing; you can still smell their imprint. It can be very eerie actually and very uncomfortable. It's very bizarre—proxy intimacy of someone who's probably dead. So really, clothing is haunted; even new clothing. It's been made by someone probably in very unfair conditions, but I didn't want to go down that path too much. I didn't want to turn it into something didactic. I guess I just wanted to put all of that into some kind of genre framework and add dignity to the characters, but not allow the story to take itself too seriously.
Absolutely. And I think what's interesting, too, is obviously wardrobe and costuming matters to every film that you do. But there's something interesting about this because you have an article of clothing that ultimately becomes a character in itself, which isn't something you get to talk about very often. And I'm curious, in terms of the design of the dress itself, can you talk a little about the idea of the dress itself?
Peter Strickland: Well, a lot of it was down to Jo Thompson and Kasia Skórzyńska, the Polish dress designer. We worked very closely together, but all I could do was look at their designs and say what works, what doesn't work. I couldn't come up with any designs myself. A lot of it stemmed from just going to certain department stores as a kid. I think in Redding, where I grew up, there was a certain type of middle-class department store, which was middle class aspirational. So this was not high fashion. There was a sense of these dresses in this.
There's an element of fantasy, in terms of status of fantasy, where you'd imagine you were invited to the Swiss Embassy for canopies one evening and you put this dress on and there was something slightly off about it. That was quite important. For me, there was another element, which was that it needed to flow a certain way. In fact, one of the first things in my head was of the dress floating through the air. So Jo would suggest chiffon, Kasia would suggest silk, so a lot of it just came from those conversations, really. But they came up with this wraparound design, which I liked a lot. So really, it was Joe and Kasia and the whole team. There were a whole bunch of people who worked in the dress department because we had to make nine different dresses.
How was it working with your cast? I thought everyone was great, but I just fell in love with Marianne and her performance in In Fabric.
Peter Strickland: When I was working with my cast, I wanted them to just play everything as normal as possible, apart from the store staff in the department store. I think when Marianne was going into that space emotionally with her character, it was actually a heightened space, but her performance would stay the same inside the department store as it would be when she's at home. So we spoke about it in terms of dials: one would be something quite realistic such as her inside the house, number four on the dial would be when she’s working at the bank, which is slightly heightened, and then number eight would be when she’s at the store, which is heading towards the absurd.
Again, Marianne was aware that the problems with the people within those spaces would be pitched according to those numbers, but her part would always stay quite level. To lead over with Marianne, she's a very intuitive actor. She truly understood the script and was always playing it low-key, which for me that looks more strongly when it's played low-key somehow. I think, again, that works really well as a contrast to other characters who were very flamboyant or theatrical.
Before we go, I wanted to ask you about creating tactile cinema. Between In Fabric and Berberian Sound Studio, it seems like you are exploring these different aspects of the senses. I’m not sure if it’s all in my head or not, but I feel like there is a parallel between these two films. Is there something to that, or am I just reading too much into these things [laughs]?
Peter Strickland: Oh, yeah. It's not in your head. I really respond to that type of cinema—something which is very tactful and very embedded in texture and atmosphere. I have never really [been] much of a plot person when I watch films. I am much more responsive to going into a different world. I guess it's what makes these films quite sensual. There wasn't a plan. It's just how I respond to things. I don't mean sensual in the erotic sense, either, just in relation to the senses, where you’re seeing different surfaces with different textures.
One of the first examples was seeing Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, which he filmed in this New York loft, using black and white film. But really the different textures, the different textiles he was using was extraordinary. Or there are Parajanov's films from the Ukraine, too. When it comes to cinema and narratives, you can find that anywhere. You can find it in a book even. But when you get to see something in the cinema, ideally you have narrative, but there's so much more you can bring to a film as well.
I think sight is our laziest sense, in terms of evoking memories, and smell is always the most powerful sense. When you smell the scent of someone's perfume that you haven’t smelled in decades, in that instant, all those memories come flooding back. I think the more your senses are restricted, then your brain compensates for the information that it's been missing. So I think sound, touch, smell, they're all incredibly powerful connections to human emotions and memories.