The Gen Z-fication of the Femme Fatale
Let's look into it 👯♀️🔎
👋 Hellooo and happy International Women’s Week! We’re The Z Link, a global Gen Z-led social media agency that helps brands reach our generation. The Digital Native, written by our Trends Reporter, Shaurya, takes a deep dive into niche internet micro-trends and subcultures, and analyzes them so you don’t have to. For any feedback, questions or suggestions, just reply to this email! <3 (We didn’t even do this intentionally, but this issue ended up being perfectly timed for the Women’s Week occasion. Enjoy!)
Let’s Talk about Femmes Fatales. I love character deep dives, so so much because it gives me a chance to understand people and emotions through the lens of film and cinema. Do I like to look at everything that way? Pretty much. I’m an incredibly visual person, do you know what I mean? Like, I appreciate pretty, pretty visuals. “Doesn’t everyone appreciate good visuals?” Yes, but how often do you scream because you saw a beautiful composition in a film or have a movie as your favourite, even if one of the actors was highly problematic in 2020, but the film's lighting was INSANE. This is why I’m talking about characters that serve visually.
Right, a little context if you care to listen. What exactly are femmes fatales, and why are they so loved? Right, so femmes fatales have been around for centuries, since the dawn of mankind with Adam and Eve. But obviously, many cultures have their own iteration. Lilith in Judaism and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra are both excellent examples. So, are femmes fatales just really strong women? YES, THEY ARE. In historical and mythological contexts, yes. Except for the 19th century, which was a really long time ago, times haven’t changed all that much, and you’ll see why. In western cultures, the fears against women’s sexuality and perversion were due to the rising concerns of syphilis. Women were seen as carriers of disease, and their sexuality was deemed as toxic and quite literally deadly. The notion of a femme fatale back then was even referred to as “poison women” because of this - wild. Ok, things are different now. But Nelly Furtado and Timbaland did not collab on Promiscuous Girl just for you to still shame women for their lives and choices in the big year of 2023.
But dear ol’ Hollywood enters the scene and changes what femmes fatales are. Hollywood started portraying femmes fatales as women who turn to crime, either with a higher purpose or due to trauma. The modern femme fatale uses every trick in the book to get what she wants, including seduction. She represents the fears of men about women having bodily autonomy and confidence. To a femme fatale, her fashion is as vital as her charm. Some of the most iconic femmes fatales have left a mark with their fashion, such as Catherine Tramell of Basic instinct, Poison Ivy of DC Comics, and Catwoman. Amy Dunne is an honourable mention because our girl DID THAT, but the fashion did not eat; crumbs were left.
Before we dive into fashion, let’s remember that although femmes fatales weren’t exactly portrayed through a feminist lens, they were a symbol of feminism, power, autonomy, charm and human emotions. Characters such as Amy Dunne from the 2014 film Gone Girl, who is self-sufficient and does not depend on anyone, prove they can be role models for growing girls and be symbolic (in the case of Gone Girl, up to an extent, lol). Femmes fatales are an amalgamation of two of the boldest sections of women, the flapper and the vamp. Femmes fatales adopted the flappers’ bodily autonomy and boldness. At the same time, the vamps provided the charisma and enchanting aura that gave the femme fatale control over whomever she desired.
A femme fatale’s fashion choices are essential to their characters. What they wear reveals more about their nature without them speaking. Femmes fatales, whatever route they choose, always have an air of seduction around them, which shows in their fashion. This seductiveness is shared across all femme fatales, from Rita Hayworth in Gilda to Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. This brings me to THE MOST exciting part of this article — Catwoman’s fashion.
Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, is the most iconic character who embodies everything a femme fatale is. She is seductive, adamant and simply clever. Many actresses have played the role of the fascinating feline, but one has stood out the most — Michelle Pfeiffer — in her portrayal partly due to the costume design. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was seen in bondage-inspired costumes in the 1992 film Batman Returns. She’s slaying in a vinyl catsuit and mask covering her body and parts of her face. She wears red lipstick that contrasts with the black suit. White stitch patterns cover the suit, and the mask represents her delinquency. Her partner in crime is a whip that compliments the rest of the ensemble. This is a great segue into the relationship between femme fatales and power dynamics. They’re always in power and in control of their situation.
Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, illustrates the relationship between femmes fatales, power dynamics, and fashion. Michelle Pfeiffer’s and Halle Berry’s Catwoman (Catwomen?) have the most allusions to power dynamics, and their outfits represent that. Pfeiffer’s had a vinyl catsuit with a stitching pattern across, red lips and a whip. She portrays a sadomasochistic relationship. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman taught the audience how to be confident. In Halle Berry’s Catwoman, the audience sees a lot more skin. It set her apart from the other portrayals. Her ensemble utilised a mask, the classic red lip, vinyl, a harness, and leather pants with cat scratches. Pfeiffer exuded charm; Berry exuded power.
Femmes fatales being femmes fatales, have constantly broken down stereotypes, including the stereotypes the world views them through. Jessica Rabbit looks the part of a femme fatale — seductive, with bold colours in her attire and unattainable proportions. Rabbit, however, is devoted to her husband despite having a job that requires her to be seductive. Her classic red gown with a shallow cut back, a high slit and bold red lip show her representing the femme fatale. Jessica Rabbit’s colour scheme switches between blue and purple while red, the colour of dominance and love, remains constant.
In contrast, blue represents confidence, trustworthiness and stability, creativity and serenity, which we see in her loyalty to her husband. Her hair covers one of her eyes, alluding that she may be keeping something, making her appear mysterious. She is also adorning purple gloves, which elevate the mysteriousness since purple is a colour associated with mystery.
Femmes fatales have been around forever, and they’re one character bound to stay long after we’re gone. Their portrayal has not always been positive, but seeing strong women that aren’t afraid of who they are is a huge positive. From Tom Ford and Alexander Mcqueen’s designs to Tim Burton and David Fincher with Batman Returns and Gone Girl, respectively, the femme fatale has been seen in a comparatively better light. In a world where women were being labelled, put in boxes and isolated, these women persevered and paved the way. Throughout the years, we saw different forms of femmes fatales, not always being the exact definition of one but keeping the essence alive by being themselves unapologetically.
Now how does this relate to Gen Z or this newsletter? Because femme fatales are timeless, and now Gen Z is rebranding them as “dark feminine”. If you’ve been on TikTok, you’ll know the rise in TikTok videos about the energetics — divine feminine, dark feminine, light feminine and so on. Because the modern counterpart to the femme fatales is the dark feminine, I’ll focus on that. So dark feminine essentially is an energy that everyone possesses. No, it has nothing to do with how you identify. Everyone’s got masculine and feminine energies. Now, some TikToks portray these energies as repackaged gender roles which could not be further from the truth. The said TikToks usually have a hook line along the lines of “manipulation tip #2683” or “how to be a femme fatale” and would have the most unhinged advice. My dear sweet peas, love is not a game, despite what Lady Gaga said. If you like someone, PLEASE JUST ASK THEM OUT (I will 100% be your wing-woman, just no games). I’m not even going to lie, some of the ‘advice’ that these accounts tend to give out are very… Tate. 🤢 And one of the best things about these accounts is that they’ll use videos of women who look like a femme fatale — Bella Hadid and Alexa Demie, who portrayed Maddy in Euphoria. Looking at these videos with a sultry song, a ‘seduction’ or ‘manipulation’ tip, and a celebrity that looks the part of a femme fatale, it’s easy to fall into that trap and believe that.
However, I mentioned Maddy Perez as a brilliant example of a modern-day femme fatale and let me tell you why. It’s because she shows feelings and isn’t the stone-cold portrayal we generally see. She’s quick with her words and dresses the part, and she oozes charisma. But she also is vulnerable. She connected with Gen Z because she wasn’t cold. She has all the traits of a femme fatale — the fashion, the boldness, the seductiveness, but she is also visibly human at the same time. Gen Z is one of the first generations striving to heal from past traumas and create a safe space for themselves and others. To see a popular character be diametrically opposite simultaneously, show self-contradictory qualities (that aren’t even really contradictory, because it’s never black or white), means that Maddy was bound to be in the hall of fame of femme fatales. Gen Z is driving the opening-up of the narrative of femmes fatales as it has been up to now; and portrayals that are real are bound to hit the mark with our generation.
Any questions/suggestions as to what we should cover next? Reach out to us and we’re always here to chat!
— Written by Shaurya, Trends Reporter at The Z Link
Connect with Shaurya on Instagram where she shares great content and lives her best influencer life as a fashion student in Paris. And she writes all of these great issues too. What can’t she do??? 🧐 Thank you for reading!