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Since early July, HBO’s “The White Lotus” has dominated the cultural conversation. From Jake Lacy as entitled mama’s boy, Shane Patton, to Connie Britton as Nicole Mossbacher, a “She-e-o” in resort wear, to, of course, Jennifer Coolidge’s emotionally ravaged Tanya McQuoid, these characters have made their way into the zeitgeist with memes, and more. But at Glossy Pop, we’ve been enamored by the resident cool girls on the show, Sydney Sweeney’s Olivia Mossbacher, and the friend-she-brought-on-vacation, Brittany O’Grady’s Paula. Their style is a little grungier than the other designer-clad vacationers at The White Lotus. This is thanks to costume designer Alex Bovaird, who created the costumes in record time — she had just two weeks to prep, as the show was filmed in a Covid-19 bubble in Hawaii, where the cast and crew did not leave the resort for three months. We spoke to Bovaird, who previously worked on “American Honey” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” about bringing the Gen Z-on-vacation look to life.
How did you start the process of creating looks for Olivia and Paula?
“What I love about costume design is creating the look based on getting into [a character’s] mindset: ‘Who are these people?’ ‘Where do they shop?’ ‘How do they show up?’ ‘How much money do they spend on their clothes?’ ‘What are they trying to say with their outfits?’
These girls are cool girls, that’s what we wanted to say. But they’re not like quintessential Mean Girls, at least in terms of their dress and appearance. They’re incredibly brutal and cynical and bitchy to other people. But they don’t dress like… princesses. And so I thought about where people that age shop and I definitely went to a lot of thrift stores and vintage stores because I feel like it’s a bit of a choice with some people to go to thrift stores, to recycle and not patronize too much fast fashion. They’re not as obsessed with branding as other generations maybe even though they will perhaps give a little wink to a big designer, but it’s in a flashy, almost ironic way, like a Gucci t-shirt or a Balenciaga hat or something. They’re not wearing that stuff head to toe.”
That’s interesting, especially in contrast to the storyline around the $75,000 bracelets, worn by Olivia’s mom Nicole. How did you set up the contrast between Olivia and Nicole, and also, between Olivia and Paula?
“I tried to dress Olivia and Paula pretty similar in that they’re best friends, they go to the same university. We tend to be tribal about how we dress. So, in the beginning, there are some moments that we deliberately twinned them. They’re both wearing stripes, for example, the first time they go to the pool. We’re trying to show that they’re the same…but then they start to diverge as it becomes a bit more apparent that Olivia is from an upper class and Paula is a little outside that world, so we tried to try to tell that story a little bit with their clothes. Paula has a sort of darker palette. She gets a bit more brooding, she starts to make less of an effort, wearing baggier and more boyish clothes. Whereas Olivia, you can tell she sort of dresses for dinner just like her mom. And there was a deliberate arc with her clothes to kind of push her a little bit more into Connie Britton’s palette [as Nicole] and style and keep Paula darker.”
I saw a lot of chatter online about Olivia’s floral bathing suit with the cutout and whether it was from Shein, where did you find that?
“Although I do love Shein for fast fashion, that is the original — it’s from Frankie’s Bikinis. They do insane, really cute stuff. Paula wears something by them too. I had to power shop and get an insane amount of stuff before we went to Hawaii. Olivia really rocks that one.”
Was there anything you did to try to specifically connect their looks to Gen Z style?
“It’s funny, because other people have asked me that, and I’m not sure because my goal was to dress them in a ‘cool’ way, and I’m not sure if it’s changed all that much from when I was dressing ‘cool.’ But I would say there’s a difference, in that, I feel like people are a little more self-conscious because of Instagram and social media, that they might be a little more thoughtful about what they are presenting, instead of maybe just kind of going along with the herd. For me, this [cool] meant a lot of oversize t-shirts. The body-conscious look has gone out of fashion, these girls are not trying to show off their bodies. Sometimes I feel like these kids go into a thrift store with a blindfold and just pick totally random things. In LA these days, you’ll see people wearing, I don’t know, like, a jacket you’d direct traffic in. But it’s deliberately random and there’s an aesthetic that comes out of it.”
At one point, Olivia wears Air Force Ones, which are definitely having a moment again, was that intentional?
“Well that was the thing with Olivia, I wanted to have a combination. She has the means, and I feel like Gen Zers still want to wear the right sneaker. She also has Givenchy slides. She’s like all thrift store, but then she has her Givenchy slides, and that’s a thing — the expensive shoe and really cheap clothes. Olivia has a bunch of expensive sneakers and Givenchy slides, and Paula wears the same pair of Birkenstocks pretty much the whole time. Olivia has some real jewelry and Paula doesn’t.”
Do you have a favorite look for each character?
“I love the poolside looks. I like their arrival looks. When we first meet them, they’ve got t-shirts and sweatshirts that we made for them. One says ‘Post Hope’ and one says ‘Bardo.’ And I think that’s a fun introduction to them. They’re kind of jokes on their general outlook.”