Alex Bovaird, the costume designer behind this chaotic new show, discusses Gatsby kaftans and Gwyneth Paltrow-inspired aesthetics.
Pandemic TV doubles as a fashion mood board, but HBO’s The White Lotus is Mike White’s six-part trippy drama that follows holidaymakers at a luxurious retreat. The sharply drawn ensembles of grand guignol poseshos are dressed with a whip-smart sense of humor.
Not since Succession has TV created such a perfect moment of visual costuming of the 1%-ers.
“I am a huge Succession fan and I think the costume design is supreme,” says the show’s costume designer Alex Bovaird, “(it’s) a lot more cohesive than in The White Lotus, the characters being more controlled. Because our show is chaotic and everyone’s on vacation, I wanted that energy to be in the clothes.”
She researched how people dress in ritzy places like Palm Beach or the Bahamas. (The show was shot on Maui, Hawaii). Bovaird also looked at American Tatler. “I looked at society magazines,” she says, “America has a lot of location specific glossies, like Hamptons magazine.”
This “chaos energy”, which points to trouble in Shangri La, is felt deeply in the wide range of styles, logos, and accessories that are worn throughout the show.
Comedy legend Jennifer Coolidge is Tanya, a complex woman grieving the loss of her mother. Coolidge portrays her with subtle humor and big Melania Energy. Bovaird wanted Tanya to wear a shirt, and the best way to do that was with a kaftan. She says that kaftans are elegant, classy and feminine. The garment evoked a Mar-a-Lago-like mood for her. “Kaftans remind me of a Gatsby-ish era so I felt it was right to test them on such a wealthy and fun person.”
Meanwhile, the sulky Gen Z frenemies Olivia and Paula (Sydney Sweeney), are dressed in a deceptively random way. “I wanted their ideologies to be reflected in their clothing choices. It doesn’t matter if they are subtle in their use of thrift store clothes and conscious eschewing fast fashion. They are high-minded and aware about climate change.”
Bovaird dressed them in a post-Man Repeller way, which was knowingly funny. She says, “I believe that social media has certainly made youngsters more conscious of their fashion choices.” Many of the graphic tops they wear have dual meanings. Paula’s “post Hope” hoodie is a nod to the Obama Tshirt from that era when everything seemed good and right. It also features a riff of post truth, which was unfortunately coined at the same time.
Olivia’s Bardo sweatshirt was a joke about the possibility of them going to BARD (a small liberal art college). “It’s also appropriate that Bardo is a state that exists between the worlds, alluding at the purgatory they feel they are in.”
Nicole, Olivia’s mum played by Connie Britton, cleverly semaphores “rich mom” through her hats and expensive bracelets. Boviard states that she was inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s perfectly-put together look. Holiday is relaxed, yet prepared to take care business. She has chic evening outfits, organic cotton dresses, and two Louis Vuitton bags (one for her laptop). She also keeps her Piaget jewellery collection.
The White Lotus is a simple show that works because it’s fun to see a group of people enjoying a holiday. Boviard says that The White Lotus is complex and thought-provoking, but the show’s escapism is very welcome.