Tonight’s your last chance to see Elio Petri’s highly underrated pop art sci-fi masterpiece La decima vittima (The 10th Victim, 1965) at London’s ICA. The film is featured in the programme of the 2nd Fashion in Film Festival which is closing tomorrow.
Set in the future, The 10th Victim introduces the viewer to a dystopic world that has turned the human race’s hunger for violence into a game called “The Big Hunt”. Hunters and victims compete against each other for cash prizes, but only the tenth victim entitles the murderer to a fabulous prize and global fame. Shortly after the film begins, we see the American Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) travel to Rome to look for her tenth victim, Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni). Killing is easy for this eager and clever hunter and an advertiser has even paid her to turn the murder into a sensational television ad for his product. But she hasn’t reckoned with the possibility of falling in love with her victim.
What has the film got to do with art, fashion and style? Everything. The characters move in impossibly arty environments, with film frames that at times give a comic book ambiance to the story, at others recall Piet Mondrian’s paintings.
The Courregesian costumes worn by the characters are a manifestation of the sociological and political climate in which they live; outfits are indeed used to make a fashion statement, but also to serve the criminal purposes of the hunters and victims. Caroline’s stunning dresses and suits make her feel confident, while allowing her to move comfortably. They are beautifully cut and highly practical, intended to make the wearer feel young and carefree, and purposely designed for running, travelling, driving, flattering her figure and, above all, killing. The flawless outfits and their style mirror the perfection of Caroline’s killing skills, but they also give her a distinctive look and influence her behaviour. The costumes for this film were designed by Giulio Coltellacci and made by the Sorelle Fontana fashion house (Andress’s costumes) and tailor Bruno Piattelli (Mastroianni’s). Coltellacci worked as a cover designer for French Vogue after World War II, and after a few years returned to Italy where he became famous for his work for the stage and film. His costumes for Petri’s film marked a change in fashion and actually anticipated future trends on the big screen.
The murderously stylish atmosphere of The 10th Victim characterised many movies released in the 1960s. William Klein’s Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, 1966), Mario Bava’s Diabolik (1968) and his 1970 “I Futuribili” series of ads, Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968), Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” and Vadim’s “Metzengerstein” in the episodic film Histoires Extraordinaires (1968) all echo in their costumes and atmospheres some aspects of Petri’s futuristic fantasy.
For years, the look of the film inspired many fashion houses: for the Spring-Summer 1966, fashion designer Jole Veneziani presented two-tone dresses and jackets with geometrical motifs, while menswear designer Datti launched jackets with a geometric line that underlined the slimness of the figure.
The Fontana Sisters turned the
nude dress Caroline wears in the film in a bikini for their Summer 1967 collection,
that also featured quirky capes that represented a crossover between a beach hut and
a space rocket.
you want to know more about Petri’s film you can read my essay “The Killing Game: Glamorous Masks and Murderous Styles in Elio Petri’s La decima vittima” (which wouldn’t exist without the kind help of the Fondazione Micol Fontana in Rome that provided some of the material for it), featured in If Looks Could Kill, the 2008 Fashion in Film Festival catalogue. Edited by the Festival Co-founder, Director and Curator Marketa Uhlirova, the volume features exciting essays by writers such as Tom Gunning, Caroline Evans and Roger K. Burton. An essential read for any fashion and film fanatic.