If pandemic TV has doubled as a mood board for fashion looks we crave, HBO’s The White Lotus, Mike White’s six-part trippy drama about holidaymakers on a luxury retreat, does the opposite. Its sharply drawn ensemble of grand guignol poshos have been dressed with a whip smart sense of satire.
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. Our show is chaotic and everyone is on vacation so I wanted to have that energy in the clothes.”
For research, she looked at how people dressed at ritzy locations like Palm Beach and the Bahamas (the show was filmed on the Hawaii island of Maui). Bovaird also studied the American versions of Tatler. “I looked at society magazines,” she says, “America has a lot of location specific glossies, like Hamptons magazine.”
This rich “chaos energy” that points to trouble in shangri la is deeply felt in the huge stylistic range of colours, prints, logos and accessories worn across the show.
Comedic legend Jennifer Coolidge is Tanya, a complicated woman mourning the death of her mother. Coolidge plays her with subtle hilarity and Big Melania Energy. Bovaird wanted a garment that expressed Tanya to a tee – and what better than a kaftan to signal opulence? “Kaftans have a lot of drama and are classy, feminine and so is Tanya,” she says. For her, the garment struck a “luxe and exotic” mood which gives off a whiff of Mar-a-Lago. “Kaftans hark back to a Gatsby-ish time to me so it seemed right to try them on such an affluent and fun character.”
Meanwhile, sulky Gen Z frenemies Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady) are dressed in a deceptively haphazard way. “I wanted to have their ideologies play out in their clothing choices a bit. Whether it’s subtle in the way they wear a lot of thrift store clothes, consciously eschewing a lot of fast fashion, being high minded and aware of climate change.”
Bovaird dressed the duo in a knowingly jokey, post-Man Repeller way. “I think that social media has surely made youngsters more aware of their fashion choices,” she says. To that end many of their graphic tops have double meanings. The “post hope” hoodie Paula wears is a “nod to the Obama T-shirt of that era back when everything seemed on the up and up. It’s also a riff on post truth which (was) sadly coined at this time, too.”
Olivia’s Bardo sweatshirt is a joke about the possibility that they go to BARD (a small liberal arts college). “(It’s) also fitting that Bardo is a state between one world and the next, alluding to the purgatory that they feel they are in.”
Olivia’s mum, Nicole, played by Connie Britton, cleverly semaphores “rich mum” through her hats and bracelets. “I was inspired by the perfectly put together Gwyneth Paltrow,” Boviard says. Holiday relaxed and yet ready to take care of business. “She has organic cotton dresses for day, chic outfits for dinner, two Louis Vuitton totes (one for her laptop). And also has her collection of Piaget jewellery.”
At it’s most basic, The White Lotus works because it’s delightful to watch a bunch of people on holiday. “I think The White Lotus is a complex and thought provoking show that works on a lot of levels,” say Boviard, “but the escapism is most welcome.”
The White Lotus is available to watch on HBO/Sky Atlantic.