Fashion Beast by Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren and Anthony Johnston (graphic novel review).

There’s every chance, though I haven’t verified it, that the late Malcolm McLaren loved the sample-heavy, scattergun mentality of the band Pop Will Eat Itself. Of all the perceptive things that PWEI said, their statement, ‘Alan Moore knows the score’, is as relevant today as it was when it appeared as a lyric on ‘Can U Dig It?’. In this case, the ‘score’ that Alan knows is the world of haute couture, explored in this collected edition of ‘Fashion Beast’.


Part of ‘Fashion Beast’s appeal is its history. Malcolm McLaren approached Moore in the late 80s with the idea of making ‘Fashion Beast’ as a film. McLaren’s other ideas were passed over by Moore (‘Surf Nazis’ is a movie that arguably writes itself), but with ‘Fashion Beast’, he felt he could say something about fashion, culture and sexuality. The movie never got made, but Moore kept the screenplay and last year published it as a comic, in collaboration with writer Antony Johnston, now collected into a graphic novel.

In an unnamed city, a nuclear winter is in full force. In the near-perpetual darkness, the fashion house Celestine is a red glowing beacon in the metropolitan sprawl. Inside the House of Celestine sits the man himself. His designs are featured worldwide, but Celestine is a recluse, refusing to show his face in the belief that he is hideous. Stumbling into his world comes Doll, a girl who dresses like a boy would dress as a girl (apparently McLaren’s idea).She becomes Celestine’s new muse and most famous model. The house itself is run by two grotesque women, deliberately drawn with simian features, to emphasise how we are simply apes playing dress-up, who bully the other employees such as the tailor Jonni, a boy who dresses like a girl dressing as a boy. Jonni has his own dreams of being a designer and decries Celestine’s lazy designs. In the cavernous House of Celestine, love begins to grow.

That’s the overwhelming feeling one gets about ‘Fashion Beast’, it is disturbing, but also very sweet. You may not think that Moore is a writer best suited to romance but, in this title, the story is rather wonderful. An adaptation of ‘Beauty And The Beast’ yes, but also a neat examination of class, fetishism and fashion culture, all underpinned with Moore’s sardonic humour. There is after all no nuclear winter in fashion, simply ‘Spring’ and ‘Autumn’.

The ideas that Moore is exploring relate to us not being our clothes completely, but the ways in which they help define us, in Celestine’s case this has strange and tragic results. Reflecting this, ‘Fashion Beast’ looks gloomy. The artwork of Facundo Percio is great. It echoes Kevin O’Neill’s wide-eyed-horror look from ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, as well giving the book accomplished scenes of angry mobs and the city streets, reminiscent of Dave Gibbons’ work on ‘Watchmen’. Given the artistic similarities to Moore’s previous work, you wonder what the story might have looked like with radically different visuals. This is not a criticism of Facundo Percio’s art, as it tells the story wonderfully.

Overall, ‘Fashion Beast’ is an atmospheric and worthy addition to Moore’s work. It is romantic, funny and thought-provoking and deserves its place on the bookshelf.

John Rivers

October 2013

(pub: Titan Books/Avatar Press.256 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-59291-211-7)

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