Review: Fashion Beast / Author: Alan Moore / Artist: Facundo Percio / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
If you know anything about Alan Moore (aside from the fact that he wrote Watchmen, has a beard and lives in Northampton), you'll probably be aware that he takes a dim view of his comics being turned into movies, but here we have an example of the process in reverse – almost. Fashion Beast started life in the early '90s as an unfilmed screenplay penned by Moore for impresario Malcolm McLaren. Now, many years later, it's been adapted into a ten issue comic series, gathered together in this glossy volume. So are we witnessing the rediscovery of a hitherto unknown Alan Moore masterpiece?
Before we get into all that though, the story. The setting is a dystopian future of mass unemployment and economic stagnation haunted by fears of a nuclear winter, where the only business that seems to be thriving is the House of Celestine, purveyors of backward-looking Victorian-style high fashion, created by a reclusive genius, Jean-Claude Celestine, who is rumoured to be hideously deformed. Thrust into this rarefied and bitchy milieu is Doll Seguin, a former hatcheck girl who becomes Jean-Claude's unlikely muse, much to the disgust of her ambitious wardrobe assistant, Johnny Tare.
McLaren tasked Moore to devise a story that would blend the world of fashion with the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. However, (despite a metaphor about the Beast being fashion itself) that doesn't really come through in the finished product and instead there is, at best, a vaguely Phantom of the Opera-ish vibe. The writing bursts with salty dialogue and the early sections are brilliant in the way that they play with various gender issues (Doll is a girl who looks like a boy who looks like a girl, and Johnny is the opposite). But you can see why the script never made it to the big screen. Once Doll is locked into the role of muse, the narrative goes from a strut to a hobble, and a particular disappointment is Doll's relationship with Johnny. Instead of the twisty-turny, up-and-down dynamic one might have expected, it settles into a tiresome routine of Johnny browbeating Doll about her shallowness – this from a guy/girl who lives and breathes hemlines and accessories. There are one or two amusing quips about the blinkered nature of haute couture (“We don't have nuclear winter here in the salon. Here there's just spring and autumn”) but in general the catwalk fails to bring out the best in Moore.
That said, the sequential adaptation by Antony Johnston is slickly done, Facundo Percio's art is a Gothic delight and the book comes with a lengthy and very interesting introduction by Moore, in which he describes meeting McLaren: “an anthropomorphic candle, with that orange blaze of cerebral combustion rising from the human wax.” Die-hard fans of Moore's work will doubtless be intrigued, but lovers of fashion may well end up feeling shortchanged.