Patrick Bateman: Sartorial Killer and Runway Muse
Patrick Bateman: Sartorial Killer and Runway Muse
- Words Kate Marin
- Date June 23, 2017
In the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel, American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is the ultimate well-dressed and blatantly narcissistic psychopath. From the outside—Valentino suits, Oliver Peoples glasses, chiseled physique and radiant skin—Bateman is the pinnacle of 1980s Wall Street excess. He cares for his appearance with a sense of compulsion from an extensive morning routine to his eerily clean all-white apartment. He is competitive, calculated and finds no shame in expressing his imagined superiority. In retrospect, and despite his serial-killing tendencies, Bateman’s persona and attire aren’t too far off from today's pseudo-enlightened entrepreneurial creative which is perhaps why this iconic film still resonates with viewers and serves as a facet of popular culture nearly twenty years later.
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There’s no denying the impact of American Psycho on the runway. Bateman’s demented psychology, meticulous suiting and highly-symbolic bloodlust have inspired numerous designers to revive and reinvent his killer chic style. Last year, in the midst of an ugly lawsuit, Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss materialized a plethora of financial, political and legal woes in his Spring/Summer 2017 show. For this collection, Jean-Raymond looked to American Psycho to explore the financial element of his assemblage and unravel the idea of what it really means to be a man of Wall Street. Focusing more on tailoring and less on technical fabrics, the collection continually subverted the traditional attire of the finance sector, all with the signature Pyer Moss twist. Jean-Raymond broke down the traditionally stiff Gordan Gecko-esque power suit and showed pinstriped trenches with silk detailing, double breasted blazers paired with leather shorts and Bernie Madoff-printed button downs. It was all a not-so-gentle poke at the oh-so-serious world of big money finance.
Following Jean-Raymond’s bureaucratic performance, Yang Li embarked on a similar exploration of the alt-horror film world. Li’s Fall/Winter 2017 menswear collection flaunted his typical deconstructed style: too-wide shoulders, raw edges and plenty of oversized statement coats. Overall, the mood was dark and ominous, but maintained an allure like that of Bateman’s sinister style. Rumor has it Li has a serious penchant for underground horror films and the music of Peter Murphy, which becomes obvious when you break down the details of his collection. The designer paid homage to The Driller Killer—a 1979 film about a struggling-artist turned murderer—with patches reading “This Film Should Be Played Loud” down the front panels of short-sleeved button-ups. Not to mention, each look, fitted with black leather gloves, felt very Bateman-esque.
The parallels between Li’s enticingly eerie clothing and the appeal of Bateman’s demented persona are clear. Despite his misogynistic, psychopathic tendencies, people are drawn to Bateman both on and off screen. His character today has become somewhat of a cult obsession, and perhaps what captivates viewers is this very duality. Like Li’s clothing, Bateman simultaneously perturbs and invites. If American Psycho had been filmed today, our bet is that its wardrobe would look an awful lot like Yang Li’s collection.
Bateman made an even more recent appearance alongside images of Andy Warhol and Danny Dryer on Fendi’s S/S 18 mood board. For the collection, Silvia Venturini Fendi explored the ever-changing uniforms of male executives and the idea of normality in menswear. The result: A cavalcade of ultra-wearable, yet covetable clothing, riddled with executive motifs fit for a modern-day Bateman. Lightweight fabrics, patterned ties, martini-glass patchwork by Sue Tilley and trousers printed with the brand’s archetypal double-F logo were just a few of Fendi’s spins on suiting. The running motif? An consistent urge to push the boundaries of business attire in attempt to find singularity within an analogous industry.
Most interesting when discussing Bateman is the dynamic between fashion and persona. What he chooses to wear—the power-suiting and accessories—is a uniform tailored towards the life he performs rather than the one he truly lives. Every detail in his attire plays into an overarching image so necessary for the professional facade he creates and behaves. With this we are reminded that despite its killing-centric storyline, American Psycho, at its core, is a story about yuppie culture. Bateman finds competition in what his colleagues wear, how their business cards are printed and what their partners look like. He’s calculated and takes all of his surroundings into detailed consideration. Yet, this compulsive state of competition reflects a narrative larger than Bateman’s narcissistic tendencies—it sheds light on the need to stand out from a homogenized society. Bateman and his peers not only dress in a similar manner, make reservations for the same restaurants—or at least try to, getting a table at Dorsia be damned—go to the same barber and live in different variations of the same apartment complex, but they are constantly mistaking each other for other characters in the film. These men are all striving towards the same generic image of success and, in effect, Bateman is just one amongst many similar "American Psychos." The only difference? Bateman uses murder as a release.
Whereas fashion's odes to Wall Street and American Psycho are often typically quite loaded, on-the-nose presentations of the corrupt nature of business, Bateman’s style actually represents something out of tune with the truth. The disparity between Bateman’s world and reality continually surfaces throughout the film. No one seems to care or take him seriously when he jokes or confesses about murder, and no one lifts a finger when he’s chasing a woman through the halls of his apartment building with a chainsaw. In the end, these two separate universes cannot collide no matter how hard Bateman seems to try. His world will never be in touch with reality, just as his violent self is suppressed by his sartorial façade. The duality within Bateman is what creates these vicious situations, just as the clothing he chooses to wear constructs his version of fantasy.