Hearts Black as Death, Lips Red as Blood: The Femme Fatale as an Archetype & Inspiration


Like a cat, the femme fatale decides when she wants to play, but if you cross her, scratched you shall be. The femme fatale was given a name as a film and TV trope though she exists as far back as Lilith and Morgan le Fay to B-movies like Lair of the White Worm. Occupation:  independent woman and crux of men. Hitchcock’s “Icy Blondes”, Nicole Kidman’s sociopathic Barbie housewife in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, Sharon Stone in most everything. Teen femme fatales is a category of its own:  Poison Ivy, Lolita, Crush, Cruel Intentions. I crushed on redheads as a wee Girl Scout, specifically sexpot toon Jessica Rabbit, perhaps an extension of femme fatale forever Rita Hayworth. Dorothy Dandridge was the best creative license on opera’s famous femme fatale, Carmen Jones. Isabella Rossellini’s Lynchian characters (he always has a femme fatale character) and her supporting role as immortal maximum level vamp in Death Becomes Her slay.



There is no femme fatale fashion code but certain glamour girl looks, especially the classy vamp (maybe even Chanel Vamp), where wardrobe is part armor, smoldering eyes as warpaint, has made its mark, cloaked in mystery. The original film femme fatales Anna Wong and Theda Bara glamorized the persona within flapper era fashion and 1940s noir films introduced the sharpness of suits, dangerous heels, and fabulous hats. Bettie Page’s all black lingerie was a more undressed expression of femme fatality. A combination of flapper fashion and Asian motifs and designs, 1940s powerhouse prettiness and slightly S&M lingerie was later contextualized via fashion magazines by photographer Helmut Newton and designers Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen.



Often with a dark past and massive chip on her shoulder, the femme fatale is an anarchist. She doesn’t ask for forgiveness, even after writhing wretched words thru late night text messages, words that wound like wolves, howling from a darkest pit of woe. Wolves… You know about wolves? They are ice age survivors. At times they wander in packs but they’re also known to skulk through forests alone, relying on territorial pissings to travel by in the midst of a society that has no use for them. Maybe it is just that the femme fatale wants respect and space, equality, without dumbing down her womanly wiles, her feminine fury that she cherishes and the world hates so much in her. Like the wolf, the femme fatale fights for her own in a society that finds her a threat, trying her hardest to grab an angle in a kingdom that wants no allegiance. Friends of Wussy tell us of their fav femme fatales:


“I think a good reason I'll never cease interest in the business of being a woman is the idea of the Femme Fatale. Always great electricity in the veins of someone a bit dangerous. Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns or a few other things but mainly my only Selina Kyle. Eve Harrington, too. For the ambition."
  • Max, Daring Drag Queen and RPDR Contestant (performing this Sat. at Black Hearts Ball)



“Ilona Staller aka Cicciolina - she's my #1! I mean the fact that she ACTUALLY got taken seriously politically while still being a sex icon is totally unheard of. Usually the adult industry destroys your professional career, but it enhanced hers. And as someone who worries about the way I'll be seen by outsiders (neighbors, random people not in the scene), I really admire that she owned both worlds at once.”


“My favorite film noir femme fatale is hands down Ann Savage in Detour. Not because she's a great beauty, she's actually on the ugly side but she cleans up nice. It's because the character she portrays is so thoroughly nasty and unlikable. Plus she has the most remarkable voice, she talks really fast and uses that old gangster voice.”


“Kali the Hindu Goddess: she's been portrayed wildly in many different lights ranging from that of the ultimate destroyer to the world's beautiful creator. I love how feminists went there with some good old cultural appropriation and display her as a symbol of repressed female power (lol). She wears a fucking garland of heads of demons she's killed!”



“The camp super villain-esque costuming when Uma Thurman plays Poison Ivy! The way she seduces men and owns her sexualisation to exploit and even poison men! She's a super smart scientist and botanist but she sees the way colonisation and the patriarchy fucks over the earth so she decides to fight back. Memory of being super turned on when I was young when she kisses and kills some loser guy with her poison lips! One of my earliest pop culture queer crushes. I wanted to be her and be with her! #femme4femme”


“Ching Shih, a Chinese female pirate who commanded like HUNDREDS of ships and she retired--was never caught or killed. This bitch challenged the Quing Dynasty but also had an amazing code of conduct (for the time, cause it was kind of barbaric in terms of punishments). I've wondered for a long time why there wasn't a film about her.”
  • Zaida, Editor at Wussy Mag and Performer


“I have a few that I use and take from to create an idea but, I love Marilyn Monroe she's in my subconscious somehow. I love her mix of innocence and sensuality. Her life story is tragic and she is this beauty I just always felt for her.I have a lot! But, I always keep coming back to her. I like using her for inspiration bc, I can feel like I'm bringing out this other side of her she might've had.”
  • Holly Albright, Painter


Sunni Johnson, Arts Editor at WUSSY Mag, is an Atlanta musician and zinester.