Killing Eve: Fashion’s Must-Watch

Killing Eve’s second series has established the show as essential viewing on both sides of the Atlantic for fashion obsessives. Fashion critical studies post-graduate Fiona Ibbetson explores the allure of the best-dressed assassin on TV

BBC TV drama series “Killing Eve” has become synonymous with fashion, be it the ‘Molly Goddard moment’ from season 1, where Villanelle is dressed in an explosive pink tulle gown designed by Goddard, to the white surgical crocs adorned with flower shoe charms that appear in season 2.

Despite constant eye-catching flirtations with style, the fashion is less about achieving Instagrammable click-bait and more about furthering plot lines. Lead character Villanelle offers a new definition of the term femme fatale, using the fashioned body to maintain and portray the characterisation and to develop and drive the narrative.

Photo: BBC

From the outset of “Killing Eve”, fashion is used as a method of communication between the characters and writers. It’s there in the very first scene of the first series. Villanelle looks at her silver and gold Omega watch embellished with diamonds rather than numerals. It has a smudge of blood. Focusing on her interest in adornment, we learn that this isn’t your average young woman enjoying an ice-cream sundae. Villanelle wipes the blood from the watch, then leaves the parlour, purposefully and precisely knocking over a young girl’s ice-cream on her way out the door.

One of a femme fatale’s greatest assets is her femininity. Society tends to be much less suspecting of women as a threat. Villanelle takes advantage of this with flamboyant games with fashion. Time after time, she engineers situations where her victims are entirely unsuspecting: her fashioned body communicates she is a feminine woman, and therefore just a ‘harmless’ woman.

Photo: BBC

In one horrifically delightful scene, Villanelle, dressed in a Burberry dress, stabs her victim in the eye using a hair pin filled with a lethal serum after he asks her: “So, are you the gift?”

Villanelle also uses fashion as a literal weapon. Her flamboyant and expensive taste is not always about wearing the latest designer brand; it’s also a practical tool to use against others. In another memorable scene, she remonstrates a suited male victim for wearing a brand-imitation tie, nonchalantly using it to strangle him to death by trapping it in an elevator door.

In Berlin, Villanelle seizes an opportunity to steal Eve’s suitcase. Villanelle takes the suitcase back to her hotel room where she joyfully unpacks it, partly amused, partly derisive at the clothes she finds inside. A few days after Eve has returned to London, her suitcase is abruptly delivered to her house. As she begins to unpack, she realises all her belongings have been replaced with new designer items. Mysteriously, the new clothes are all Eve’s size. Here, Villanelle is using fashion to infiltrate the mind of her victim.

Villanelle has also packed a new perfume called ‘La Villanelle’ with a note saying, ‘Sorry Baby x’. It’s a taunting apology for having brutally stabbed Eve’s colleague to death in a club.

Photo: BBC

Intriguingly, there are instances where Villanelle is not entirely in control of her circumstances. At these times she is not in control of her outfits too. You feel her self-disgust when she is obliged to wear a pair of Crocs while escaping from hospital. Later, she enlists the help of a man she meets in the supermarket, called Julian, by pretending to be a vulnerable young English woman. At Julian’s home, she becomes trapped and is forced to wear his mother’s old-fashioned nightgowns. Her loss of freedom is mirrored in her clothes.

Photo: BBC

Throughout “Killing Eve”, Villanelle’s sartorial choices develop the narrative. They also aid the portrayal of her character.

Using fashion, Villanelle has redefined the term femme fatale for the modern woman. Refreshingly, Villanelle does not pander to the male gaze. Instead, she entices victims of both genders. The relationship between Villanelle and Eve is electrifying and modern. She has not moderated her femininity to perform her stereotypically male ‘job’. Instead, she uses it to her advantage.

Through fashion, she expresses her femininity while concealing her lethal intent. Villanelle emerges as an assassin for the twenty-first century.

Season 1’s costume designer was Phoebe de Gaye. Season 2’s designer was Charlotte Mitchell.

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