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Poor Things – Fashion Deconstructed

Yorgous Lanthimos, the award-winning director of The Favourite and The Lobster, worked with the costume designer Holly Waddington, known for her work on The Great and theatre costume design, to concoct the beautifully complex character of Bella Baxter, both through cinematography and fashion. The ‘coming of age’ flick mesmerises via surreal visuals, that organically evolve alongside the development of the protagonist’s progress from infancy to maturity. Poor Things explores the life of Bella Baxter, played by Emma Stone, who, revived in a Frankenstinian manner, seeks out adventure beyond the home of her unorthodox creator, Dr Godwin Baxter.

The pseudo-Victorianesque setting for Bella Baxter’s eccentric life provides the perfect arena for Waddington’s beautifully bizarre costume creations. Having worked on period drama before, Holly Waddington is well-versed in the intrigue of historical costume. The absurdist parallel universe of Poor Things provides Waddington with the free reign to playfully reimagine Victorian staples. Bella’s costuming is the standout of the cast, as her eclectic styles emphasise the rapid advancement of her mental state through her experiences. The supporting cast comparatively displays more stagnant ‘uniforms’, as the heroine appears in constant flux, while they represent figures of constancy within her story.

In the ‘infancy’ of Bella’s reborn life, she is dressed by her maker and housemaid, a decison which powerfully infantilises the physically grown woman through the meticulously deconstructed costuming. Waddington aimed to mimic the ‘undressed’ state of toddlers, as Bella, like all children, is displayed missing key elements of her outfits. From voluminous blouses accompanied by bare feet to a bouncy 19th-century bustle erratically attached to a nappy-like pair of bloomers, we are encouraged to regard Bella as an innocent child. This is powerfully contrasted by Stone’s bold appearance and overgrown black hair, heightening the disconcerting otherworldliness of her character.

Waddington’s most wonderous creations appear at the core of the film, as Bella sets off on her trip with the rakish Duncan Wedderburn, indulgently portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. Here, she begins dressing herself for the first time, which reminds the audience of our own mid-teen fashion experiments. The journey mirrors that of the custom of the Grand Tour, where young gentlemen embark upon an expedition through Europe as an educational rite of passage. Bella has taken both the direction of her intellectual and physical development into her own hands, as her wildness is outwardly portrayed through her costuming. Most memorable is her Lisbon day attire, as she steps out into the street in only her knickers, which are based upon 30s style underwear. Her jacket’s organic jellyfish-like texture gives her a contrasting upper silhouette of Victorian modesty, while her boots are based on 1960s French designer Andre Courrege’s space boots. This mishmash of garments powerfully presents Bella’s bold adolescent spirit as she explores Lanthimos’ dizzying representation of Lisbon.

As maturity and a semblance of reality kicks in on the cruise chapter of Poor Things, Bella appears in one of her few ‘fully dressed’ costumes of the film. Bella is framed as a true fashionable upper-class woman, with an ivory brooch at the centre of her dress, representing a realisation of her privilege. Waddington further presents a shift in Baxter’s mentality through what she has amusingly branded the ‘condom coat’. Bella’s stint as a prostitute begins as she is clad in the awkward, slightly disconcerting-looking overcoat, which wholly embodies the more strained, yet illuminating period of her growth.

Essentially, the costume design in Poor Things is used as a centrepiece of the theme of progress throughout the film. Voluminous shapes and unique textures of the designs certainly serve as inspiration to many a fashion enthusiast, as we are seeing a similar surge in maximalist and deconstructed looks. Disturbing and spirited, Poor Things‘ unconventional story is truly supported by equally unconventional but meaningful designs.

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