In rich arterial red with a black peacock feather motif cinching the wrap at the waist, in fabric flowing and floating, in ladies fashions at Dentley & Soper’s Department Store, in size 36 and in the sale with 60% off, listed as the Ambassadorial Function Dress, it is not the kind of thing that bank teller Sheila would normally buy or wear.
But having described herself as a “happy, attractive woman” in the lonely hearts advert she placed, Sheila has a date tonight, and with some not altogether comprehensible persuasion from exotic, immaculate and surreal sales assistant Miss Luckmore she is persuaded to buy the dress to wear on what turns out to be a catastrophic mismatch, her suitor more interested in the menu than her.
The dress may fit Sheila perfectly yet it does nothing to boost her confidence either at work with her overbearing senior micro-managers or at home where her teenage son Vince’s statuesque model girlfriend Gwen has installed herself without invitation, instead leaving Sheila with a rash on her skin and a growing apprehensiveness over her purchase.
The red dress, however, flourishes, a pact sealed in silver handed to Miss Luckmore and in fabric received in exchange and Sheila’s name written irrevocably in the ledger as after dark behind the closed doors of Dentley & Soper the veiled hostility of the staff is stripped of any semblance of customer service and returns are absolutely forbidden without a receipt.
The fourth feature film from writer/director Peter Strickland, In Fabric is a seductive and tightly woven blend of chiffon, silk, satin and sin, sinister but alluring, a hypnotic montage of visual delight cut from the same cloth as Berberian Sound Studio, bizarre and inexplicable but satisfying as it wraps and smothers the viewer.
RoboCop‘s Marianne Jean-Baptiste is Sheila, an ordinary working mother whose nightmares are haunted by the red dress, while with her face made up so pale as to be almost as mask, Strickland’s regular collaborator Fatma Mohamed is the black-clad hoop-skirted non-sequitur of Miss Luckmore, her presence reminding of the Mystery Man of Lost Highway, an instigator of impenetrable motive.
Soundtracked by the ethereal repetitive warblings of Cavern Of Anti-Matter and washed in giallo lighting and bloody laundry water, all the optical effects are of the era, superimpositions, montages and photonegatives, as trapped in the past as the retail dinosaur which is the department store, while the costume design by Beast‘s Jo Thompson is simply to die for.
A bespoke garment of retro-weird Britannia, In Fabric is not fashioned to suit all tastes, willfully off-kilter and abstract and devoid of clues as it descends into retail hell, dragging customers and audience with it, doom woven between the warp and weft for any who wear the dress yet irresistible to those who are susceptible.