Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s all-female psychodrama is a sadomasochistic love triangle set in the boudoir of an unhappy fashion designer for a theatre of glamorous cruelty.
The three points of this triangle are the eponymous Petra (Margit Carstensen), her hopelessly adoring live-in assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann) and Karin (Hanna Schygulla), the young model Petra obsessively desires. Petra’s bedroom represents the fashion world at its most brittle and oppressive. Against a vast mural of classical nudes, naked mannequins entwine in ways that are simultaneously conspiratorial and prosthetically sexual. The mannequins are bald; Petra and her guests are wearing all the wigs!
Miuccia Prada, who drew on Petra von Kant’s costumes for her Fall 2014 ready-to-wear collection, praises Fassbinder’s lavishly layered cultural references, from Claudette Colbert’s raunchy Cleopatra (Cecil B DeMille, 1934) to the art deco of Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). Prada isn’t the only designer who loves this film: you can’t see the conical, gold-sequined bust detailing on Petra’s evening gown without thinking of Madonna’s famous 1990 Gaultier bustier!
"You’ll see it and you’ll just understand where every fashion designer who you like got their ideas." – Tavi Gevinson