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HomeCraftsCostume DesignEmmy Nominee: White Lotus Costume Designer Alex Bovaird Pays Tribute to Hollywood...

Emmy Nominee: White Lotus Costume Designer Alex Bovaird Pays Tribute to Hollywood and Italian Icons

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The White Lotus
Jennifer Coolidge and Jon Gries in The White Lotus/HBO

One of the most memorable scenes during the second season of The White Lotus is Jennifer Coolidge decked out in 1960s glamour as Italian movie star Monica Vitti, ready to go on a Vespa ride with her husband for a romantic meal at a Sicilian restaurant.

That La Dolce Vita style, complete with a long vibrant pink head scarf and huge sunglasses is the work of Emmy-nominated costume designer Alex Bovaird and her design team.

Shifting gears from the first season set in Hawaii to this one in Sicily, they were influenced by classic Italian films, legendary movie stars and the luxurious seaside setting of The White Lotus resort in Taormina.

Many of the other main characters have their own distinct sartorial style, whether it be colorful Italian prints, buttoned up business clothes or tightly clinging designer frocks.

Below the Line spoke with Bovaird via Zoom at her home in London for a conversation about the joys and challenges of her job, the challenges of working on a series versus a feature and how clothing can pre-determine a character’s fate. 

Below the Line: Alex, congratulations on your Emmy nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Series with Brian Sprouse and Margherita Zanobetti. What does this recognition by your peers mean to you?

Alex Bovaird: It’s wonderful. It’s really the best, the validation. It’s surreal because we just all go out there and work so hard. You’re just in the trenches and you don’t really get a second to kind of stand back and smell the roses while you’re in it. I mean, it’s highly enjoyable and you feel fulfilled on a daily basis but you’ve always got the next thing in front of you, so you are always moving forward. There are always a bunch more people to dress right in front of you that you haven’t quite got their clothes together yet. And it’s just always pulling out the schedule to look what’s coming up next week that we’re not ready for. And so it’s really incredible to get an Emmy nom. And Brian Sprouse is my husband, my assistant costume designer, so we’ve been working together for a long time. We get to share it together.

BTL: That’s great. We must start off talking about the fabulous and dearly departed character of Tanya McQuoid, played by the amazing Jennifer Coolidge, particularly the floral dress she wore in the season finale that presaged her passing as it was based on the same one worn by Apollonia Corleone in The Godfather, a frock that Bert (F. Murray Abraham), Dominic (Michael Imperioli) and Albie (Adam DiMarco) had seen during their Godfather tour. 

Bovaird: Mike White wanted to throw it on the mannequin at the Godfather tour to sort of be like an Easter egg, which I was wincing. I was like, “Oh my God, that is so bold. Like, what if people can really spot that?” And it’s just one episode before, so that’s why we did that. We ended up having to shoot that at the end because it was back when people were still getting Covid.

We had to leave Taormina and shoot some stuff in Palermo and then go back to Taormina and to shoot four more days there. And during that process, we kind of became a more skeletal crew, and we sent back a lot of our stuff to Rome. So by mistake, that dress that was gonna go on the mannequin got sent back to Rome. And we realized that just after, because everything’s like day by day. So, the truck went off to Rome whilst we went to Taormina, and the shoot was the next day, and then all of a sudden we realized what had happened. Somebody flew back and collected the dress when it got to Rome and brought it right back to Sicily, and it just made it onto camera. So, that was my mistake. 

BTL: Was that not the real dress replica from the film that Apollonia was wearing when she got blown up in the car? It’s something that you designed to put on the mannequin and then made a similar dress for Jennifer? 

Bovaird: No, that was the dress that we designed for Jennifer to wear in the finale, and there were lots and lots of them because there was a stunt double and there was a dummy for jumping in the water. After that was established, Mike had an idea to put it on the mannequin as a secret clue to who is gonna die because she dies in that dress, and in The Godfather, Apollonia dies. So if anyone had noticed that dress and then in the finale, they saw that Tanya was wearing that dress, they would know she was gonna die.

The White Lotus from HBO (photo by Federico Ferrante)

BTL: Tanya is always fabulously well dressed, even when we see her in a nightgown and robe in her hotel room. What is your collaboration like with Jennifer and where do you get your inspirations for dressing her?

Bovaird: Like you say, she’s always very decked out in the boudoir and indoors, outdoors, wherever she is. But we particularly like that sort of old school glamour where everything is like marabou pumps and animal prints and gold jewelry. We got a lot of inspiration from Bridget Bardot and Monica Vitti and those sort of sexy Italian sirens. We wanted her to be a Fellini heroine but in a slightly hysterical way, just slightly like not quite always getting it right.

BTL: Let’s talk about the two main couples, Daphne and Cameron Sullivan (Meghann Fahy and Theo James) and Harper and Ethan Spiller (Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe). Sometimes Ethan tends to look a bit casual while Harper’s style takes notes from Audrey Hepburn. How were you inspired by Roman Holiday and 50s elegance?

Bovaird: That was a strong idea of Aubrey Plaza’s, actually. She really wanted to take inspiration from Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn, and be sort classically inspired with good tailored pants and a button front shirt, just being sort of classically elegant. I have to credit Aubrey with that. I also pictured her definitely uptight and buttoned up, so it was a good collaboration.

With Ethan, I think he has nice clothes too but just more relaxed. He’s just sort of more comfortable in his own skin and recently acquired wealth, so a bit of a tech bro. But he definitely has some styles wearing some pleated pants and linen button front shirts. He definitely has his James Perse t-shirts and shops at Mr. Porter.

BTL: Daphne and Cameron are always polished and fashionable, even in bikinis and board shorts, yet Cameron’s luggage got lost and he was forced to purchase some crazy outfits like that two-piece short set with a huge leopard and a floral blazer.

Bovaird: Yeah, he was probably the most fun character I had, and also very much easier because the premise of his wardrobe was that he’d lost his suitcase so I could really go method on him and go shopping in Sicily, whereas a lot of the other characters came from America. And there’s some differences between, especially the men in Italy and the men in America — they dress quite differently. It was frustrating at the time getting the right cuts, but with Cameron, it was easy because he was supposed to have gotten his wardrobe from the Corso in Tarina. So off I went and got lots of fun Italian, over the top, very print heavy just gorgeous things that your typical American East Coast finance pro is not gonna wear.

BTL: And talk a little bit about Daphne’s fabulous style.

Bovaird: Daphne’s one of my favorite characters and I really liked Meghan’s performance and it was really a lot of fun to make her, more vivid, more colorful, more playful. They’re all put together on The White Lotus, they’ve all got jewelry at breakfast and they changed like four times a day [laughs]. But she definitely played the part. In real life, she’s a stay at home mom and she’s got this sort of Hamptons chic and very comfortable, like sort of yummy mummy vibe and that sort of typical affluent style. She carries an Hermes bag and LV and has lots of designer clothes.  

BTL: Sabrina Impacciatore is a force in her own right and has a distinctive way of dressing as the resort’s manager, Valentina. So how did you come up with her costumes?

Bovaird: Brian and I talked about making her a little bit of an echo of Armand because he was one of our most beloved characters from Season 1. And so, she actually wears a similar color palette. She starts off in pink and she moves to light blue, and then she goes to tan, which is the same color palette as Armand. And then she wears solid suits that she offsets with some printed blouses. We liked the idea of here comes the manager and they’re in the same kind of wardrobe. 

Mike White is a big fan of The Love Boat, and so the first time we meet Valentina actually is in the flashback and she’s wearing a white suit. And that was a kind of nod to Lauren Tewes, the cruise director on that show. Brian and I like to play around with our own secret film references. So, that one was fun. And yeah, she’s totally uptight, totally. Her clothes are really, really tight. She buttons up to the top and she’s wound up. And then, towards the end, she’s completely disheveled. She, she really has a good arc. Sabrina’s brilliant. She really felt her clothes and really loved getting dressed, and she a really lovely person to work with.

The White Lotus
Adam DiMarco and Haley Lu Richardson in The White Lotus/HBO

BTL: Let’s move on to Portia and her Gen Z costumes that are sort of the antithesis to her boss Tanya. Please, talk about the few times that Haley Lu ever wears anything that matches. 

Bovaird: She matches when she goes out on a date with Jack. There are some flared pants and a little tube top and they’re in this sort of crazy blue, pink and green splatter shiny ensemble. And she has a little beaded phone holder and crazy little butterfly clips and her eyeshadow matches her pants, and yeah, her big platform shoes. 

BTL: How about Lucia and Mia as the young prostitutes? They come from working class backgrounds, and yet they get to play upper class as they stroll and roll through the resort, even upgrading to designer fashions when they get privileges on Dominic’s room key. How’d you want their style to evolve?

Bovaird: They start off with some clothes that I bought in Sicily. And then, like you said, they affect these rich women in this sort of flamboyant, slightly tacky way. Everything’s a bit shiny and they’ve got lots of jewelry on and big sunglasses. I think the first outfit they wear was from the gift shop, and they’re a head to toe designer. Lucia wears like a Moschino black and gold chiffon dress down to the pool and they talk about, “Oh, you look rich.” They’re sort of trying it on. Their outfits get more and more shiny and sparkly, and when they go to the beach, they’re very loud and they’re all decked out.

I remember the Italian women over there would all go to the pool with jewels and a matching hat and heels. It’s not like in America. But there, there’s a lot more femininity in the way Italian women dress often. I’m generalizing, but I did notice that. Part of my job is stereotyping people. 

The White Lotus
Simona Tobasco and Beatrice Grannò in The White Lotus (Credit: HBO)

BTL: We’re talking about Italy, and it’s already been announced that the next season is in Thailand. So, what are your initial thoughts on inspirations for that locale?

Bovaird: Because of the strikes, we’re going to have to do it next year at the hottest time; we were going to do it in the coolest period. So, I’m going to have to make sure I bring the right fabrics with me. Otherwise, my actors are gonna die. Once we get the scripts, I can get my juices flowing, and we’ll get a lot of inspiration and a lot of motifs from what Thailand means. When people go on vacation, who do they want to be? There’s a little element of dressing up and wish fulfillment with everybody’s suitcases. I’ll use the themes to be inspired as well.

BTL: With the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes and seeing all the consolidation and strategy shifts in media companies, what concerns you most right now as a creative person in the industry?

Bovaird: I am pretty concerned about the sort of overall appetite of the consumer for films. Actually, I worry that young people don’t watch films, but they are watching YouTube content and things like that. I’m not so worried about the strikes and how those will get reconciled because I feel like they will, I just fear for the bigger picture. 

I think streaming sort of torpedoed the industry and we need to figure out the formula again. But it’s very hard to go backwards now that people are used to streaming and getting their content from their phones. Paying $10 a month for all the content, it’s very difficult to then make people go to the movies again. 

Seasons 1 and 2 of The White Lotus are streaming on Max.

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