Louis Malle’s 1992 tribute to tormented love and kitten heels is not without contemporary style inspiration, writes Thea Hawlin
“I have been damaged. Damaged people are dangerous,” says the female protagonist Anna Barton in Josephine Hart’s 1991 novel Damage. Why? “They know they can survive.” Survival is the central theme in Louis Malle’s 1992 film adaptation of Hart’s story, which focuses on an ill-advised love affair and the chaos which follows it. Writer Janet Maslin lauded the film for its “rarefied visual beauty” in her original New York Times review, and the film’s aesthetic pleasure endures today, 25 years after it was first screened.
The film tells the tale of a troubled politician who falls for his son’s fiancée, embarking on a tormented affair that inevitably ends in tragedy. The mysterious woman in question, Anna Barton, is played by the inimitable Juliette Binoche, opposite Jeremy Irons’s stern politico. The intense and complex collision of these two characters initiates a sequence of events that affects everyone around them, and by its conclusion, the film is haunted by the tragedy that results from their irreversible actions. Here we take a look at the satirical and sensational lessons to be learned from this tragic tale of erotic obsession.
1. The devil is in the detail
The costumes for Louis Malle’s 1992 film were designed by the Academy Award-winning Italian designer Milena Canonero, who is perhaps most famous for her work with Stanley Kubrick. With an impressive list of films under her belt, from The Shining and Clockwork Orange to The Godfather and The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s unsurprising that the clothes in this picture call for closer examination. Canonero originally studied the history of art, and her ability to alter an outfit with the smallest detail is striking. Note how a small diamond swallow brooch on a jacket lapel or the peek of electric blue from the fold of a glove instantly add depth to an outfit.
2. Curate a signature look
As soon as Binoche enters and locks eyes with Irons, it is clear she means business. A dark and complicated past plays out openly via her style choices, with a subdued colour palette giving way to jet-black slicked back cropped hair, black bodycon skirts and appliqué stockings. Binoche establishes herself a moody world away from the comfortable warmth of the beige button down shirts, pastel trousers, and preppy woven jumpers that sit snugly around Miranda Richardson’s shoulders as Irons’ dedicated wife. They say dress for the job you want; just make sure to dress for the person you want to be, too.
3. Don’t be afraid of making a point
Pointed shoes and angular shoulder pads are back, as evidenced both at Céline and Balenciaga over the past few seasons. Follow Binoche’s lead in Damage, too, and don’t be afraid to incorporate officewear-inspired footwear into your everyday look. Rediscover kitten heels and court shoes in deep burgundy and black; your feet may not thank you, but your style credentials will.
4. Sometimes a statement coat is all you need
There’s nothing like a statement coat to pull an outfit together, and Binoche’s outerwear in the film provides a closet of enviable designs. For a character so adept at keeping secrets, the glamorous cover-ups feel fitting. Slick, black leather trenches with belted waists, red fur collars and tailored double-breasted jackets are the key styles hanging in her wardrobe, proving that autumn outerwear needn’t be dull. For Anna Barton, a coat needs nothing more than a pair of heels – and Dr Fleming’s hands roving beneath its lapels – to feel complete.
5. Never leave your door unlocked
It’s a credit to Irons’ acting that he manages to make his abhorrent character even remotely likeable in Damage. Take heed of the outcome of this film, in which such heinous deeds go neither undiscovered nor unpunished. Or if you insist on sneaking around, at least remember to cover your tracks; particularly, if like Dr Fleming, you’re in the midst of having an apartment refurnished, and forget to lock the door.