Lisbeth Salander: Bringing Back Leather and Spikes
Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times
Trish Summerville, who designed the costumes for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” has the formula down pat, peppering a rash of recent interviews with a list of rebel-girl essentials: a biker jacket, a long hooded overcoat, holey cardigans and shredded tees — the components, as it happens, of a micro-collection Ms. Summerville whipped up in December as homage to that movie’s central character.
She is Lisbeth Salander, the agile hacker played by Rooney Mara in the American film adaptation of the Stieg Larsson thriller, her red-lined eyes, freakish piercings and body ink suggesting a hybrid of alien and street thug. A sullen portrait in gray-black, she is also the latest pop phenomenon driving a resurgence of leather and spikes, shredded jeans and scruffy combat boots.
The Salander style, a subversive mélange of goth, punk, classic rock and fetish-wear, has a spate of off-screen counterparts. They include the battle-ready black-on-black uniforms adopted by fashion insiders like the Elle editor Kate Lanphear; and the outlier get-ups of the rap rave group Die Antwoord, whose waxy pallor, gaunt frames and choppy hair call to mind extraterrestrials.
It is reflected to some degree in the wardrobes of Ms. Mara’s celluloid sisters, thorny antiheroines like the jeans-and-leather-clad Mallory of “Haywire,” a martial-arts champion who zips around Dublin on a motorbike; and Katniss Everdeen, the teenage warrior of “The Hunger Games,” a post-apocalypse adventure scheduled to arrive in theaters this spring.
But it took Ms. Mara to revive a style that has been eclipsed on the runways of late by Kate Middleton clones, and to infuse it with perverse allure. Ms. Mara’s image, an extension of her razor-chic film character, has been all but inescapable, splashed on the covers of W and Vogue, glaring from movie posters and materializing at red-carpet events.
Hers is “the most dynamic character to jump off the screen in some time,” said Rocky Rakovic, a counterculture pundit and the editor of Inked magazine. Chalk it up, Mr. Rakovic said, to Salander’s maverick ferocity.
Like Noomi Rapace, who played Salander in the Swedish-language version of the film, Ms. Mara lends the part an ambiguous sexuality. Leslie Simon, the author of “Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the World,” noted that Salander’s tomboy regalia had long been the standard in Hollywood, where a conviction persists that a female vigilante “can’t be girly to do what stereotypically is a guy’s job.” Still, poured into shapely goth-tinctured gowns with labels like Nina Ricci and Prabal Gurung for her red carpet star turns this year, Ms. Mara tempered her screen persona with a lissome femininity.
Her saturnine look in the movie mirrors that in several collections on the fall runways. Louis Vuitton and the Alexanders, McQueen and Wang, were among an influential handful of fashion houses offering exalted variations on urban-industrial chic. A more untamed style was resurrected for spring at the Givenchy couture presentation. There the designer, Riccardo Tisci, adorned his models with multiple piercings and an armor of crocodile skin.
Mainstream merchants are offering their own doom-y interpretations, the most accessible among them Ms. Summerville’s 30-piece collection for H & M; AllSaints goatskin biker jackets; shredded jeans from J Brand and from Trash and Vaudeville; and, at Hot Topic, spiked chain necklaces and lace-up boots.
Salander’s fierce, otherworldly mien is echoed in the menacing cuffs, rings and earrings of Pamela Love and Eddie Borgo, the spiked metal hair combs of Maison Michel and Jennifer Behr, whose spiny dinosaur headbands were a hit at the Fendi show in Milan last year. Even a line of nail polish from StrangeBeautiful, offered in 10 shades of black, is a slick extension of the trend.
Tattoo artists are cashing in. “What Salander has done is inspire women to go under the needle with their own message in mind,” said Mr. Rakovic of Inked.
So are high-end hair salons. “Girls have been coming into my downtown salon asking for more severe cuts,” Sally Hershberger said. “I have been doing a lot of blunt micro bangs and chopping bobs.” The look, she added, “says, ‘Don’t mess with me.’ It’s sexy in a strong new way.”
But prowess in an information age is as often equated with technological smarts. “Today the female action hero is likely to be a master of hacking,” said Jeremy Gutsche, the editor of Trendhunter, an online publication. She is a type, Mr. Gutsche said, that resonates particularly with women in their teens and early 20s.
She exerts a spooky fascination on general audiences, too, partly because hacking is still taboo. “Few people understand what it is,” said Ms. Simon, the “Geek Girls” author, “and no one really knows its face.”
A studied anonymity, conveyed by choppy hair, unbranded clothing and an aura of solemnity, is the outward expression of an enduring archetype that owes a debt to the cyborg Molly Millions of “Neuromancer,” whose surgically inset silver lenses, black glove-leather jeans and double-edged blades projecting from her fingers are impressed on the minds of William Gibson fans.
There is also a dash of Cayce Pollard, the brand-averse cool hunter of Mr. Gibson’s novel “Pattern Recognition,” a paragon of understatement in boys’ Fruit of the Loom T-shirts, black 501 jeans, her clothes scraped free of logos, her hair, as Mr. Gibson
described it, “poking up like a toilet brush.”
described it, “poking up like a toilet brush.”
That mode of dress “is all of a piece with the way these characters live,” said Diane Leach, who writes for PopMatters, an online magazine. Salander’s skinny pants, she said, put her in mind of the rocker Joan Jett, who, despite her diminutive stature, “projects this large persona.”
Salander, a tiny figure, too, seems just as towering, her outsize image an outgrowth of her moral absolutism.
“Corruption offends her,” Ms. Leach observed, “and the desire to set things right is what motivates her.”
She’s taking names and delivering payback. And, Ms. Leach said, “she’s not about to do that in a pair of Miu Miu shoes.”
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