When we think of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, there are definitive iconic images that pop into our minds of what they wore when they were famously photographed. There’s Elvis in uniform and in that white spangly jumpsuit. There’s Priscilla wearing a lavendar puffy top with purple slacks next to Elvis in a high-collared turquoise suit circa 1970’s posing for a photo shoot. And of course, there’s their wedding day photo.
Costume designer Stacey Battat is a long-time friend and collaborator of director Sofia Coppola, who also wrote the script for Priscilla, based on Priscilla’s biography, “Elvis and Me.” Unfortunately, Battat did not have the luxury of rifling through Priscilla’s closet, but she was able to pick up her brain, albeit through emails to Sofia. Most of those requests were about what we didn’t see Elvis and Priscilla wear publicly, as the story is a glimpse into their private lives between a teenaged Priscilla Beaulieu and the rock ‘n roll superstar from their courtship through their ultimate turbulent marriage.
While in college, Stacey Battat began her career working in the shop for Marc Jacobs, where she met a young Sofia Coppola, almost 20 years ago, already on her way as a writer/director with The Virgin Suicides. Fancying herself more of a fashion stylist than a designer, Battat segued into the world of film, where she would costume design for Somewhere, Country Strong, and What Maisie Knew before she joined forces with Coppola on The Bling Ring and subsequent projects. They shared a common interest in clothes and hit it off from the beginning, both personally and professionally.
Below The Line spoke with Stacey Battat via Zoom video from her home in California, where she sequestered herself in her garage for a little privacy to talk about Priscilla fashion styles from the 50’s to the 70’s. Battat discusses creating the iconic and private looks of Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) and Elvis (Jacob Elordi), some of which were sourced and others that were tailor-made.
Below The Line: How did the project come about for you to reunite with Sofia Coppola?
Stacey Battat: We were talking about doing another project, and then, for whatever reason, it fell through, and then it didn’t happen, and then Sofia said I wanted to pivot and do this movie about Priscilla. She sent the script, and from there, we started thinking about it. We shot it in the fall and winter in Canada. It just started with research. We used historical research on Elvis and Priscilla, then fabric research on ’60s and ’70s fabrics, and costume research because our movie is about their private lives. So just kind of, who are they outside of the public eye?
BTL: Did you get the opportunity to rifle through Priscilla Presley’s closet for inspiration?
Battat: [laughs] No, but that would have been nice.
BTL: There were so many iconic looks so I want to break it down. For instance, her wedding dress. What steps were involved in getting that right?
Battat: There was an idea to have Chanel make the wedding dress. Sofia works with Chanel, so she asked them if they would do that, and they agreed to do it, which was amazing. I worked with Virginia (Viard, creative director of Chanel) and her assistant, and we looked at some of her old collections. We looked at the real photo of Priscilla in her wedding dress. Chanel is great at using real artisans, like lace-making techniques, so we used some lace from an old collection that’s like two seasons old. We just adapted the silhouette a tiny bit to kind of accommodate Cailee’s frame.
BTL: How did Cailee being so petite work for the story?
Battat: Yeah, I think that plays to the story, right? She always seems so petite, and he’s such a towering figure for Priscilla. I think finding clothes that fit the character and that were within our color palette was challenging because we wanted to obviously stay true to who they were and also keep our story arc with the colors and everything consistent. So we ended up custom-making a lot of the clothes for both Priscilla and Elvis.
BTL: How would you describe that color palette?
Battat: The film started in Germany, so Sofia had said she wanted it to feel like the sun comes out when we get to Memphis. We talked about Germany being dusty, with pale pinks and grayish blues; I guess you could call them that in the early part. When we get to Memphis, the colors are based on the colors that they wore and on the colors I saw in magazines. We built the color palette for Memphis from there. Later in the story, it’s a little bit more primary in the ’70s, and that also comes in part from clothes that they wore and clothes with colors that were prominent in ’72 and ’73.
BTL: Did you have an opportunity to speak with Priscilla Presley about her style?
Battat: Not before we shot the movie. I didn’t speak to her directly, but she answered all of my questions. I asked them just through Sofia and Cailee. I know she was very generous with them. I would bring my questions to them, and they would ask her.
BTL: So what were some of those questions?
Battat: When did she stop wearing stockings? I think she said, ’65, ’66, she stopped wearing stockings. Or what would Elvis have worn in between shows? Would he be in the jumpsuit? She told us that he never came downstairs, not fully dressed. He never wore pajamas in the main part of the house. He only wore pajamas in his bedroom. He was always put together. He didn’t like or believe in denim. All of these things came from Priscilla, but I didn’t ask her about them directly.
BTL: How did you incorporate what Priscilla told you into the clothes?
Battat: I thought Elvis would wear a black shirt between shows, like if he went to his dressing room, which ended up being the hotel room between shows. He never left the bedroom without being fully dressed. No one ever left the bedroom without being fully dressed. And she went to bed with makeup on after a certain point.
BTL: Priscilla was always put together. How about her very specific shoes?
Battat: Sofia sort of concentrated a little bit on that too. A friend of mine and Sofia’s, Fabrizio Viti (head shoe designer for Louis Vuitton), made some of her shoes, and they are just amazing. A lot of them were really beautiful. Those ones with the daisy chains, he made those. I remember him sending me a photo, so we started early before we were even on official prep because the shoes take a bit of time to make. We were sending things back and forth, and he was like, “I already have these because those daisy chain ones are part of his collection.” He sent me this photo of shoes, and I was like, “They’re so beautiful. I’ll make a dress to go with them.” And I did.
There’s two dresses that were designed post-shoe and after. There’s the blue one with the bows that she gets at the boutique. That was designed for a shoe. There’s a yellow one that I designed for a shoe as well. It’s got kind of checks in it and a little belt, but for that one, the shoe was a mule, and it was too big for her. She was like, “No, I’m wearing this shoe,” even though it’s a little too big. But other ones were too hard to walk in.
BTL: What about the iconic white jumpsuit that Elvis wears? How harrowing was that to sort of redesign?
Battat: It was harrowing. They take six months to make. We were lucky enough to find B&K Enterprises, which uses the original patterns that were used to make Elvis’s jumpsuits. It’s a small company, and they said they take six months to make, and I said, “Well, we have three. Let’s do it.” So the very first time I saw Jacob, he was trying on a template of that jumpsuit, because first we make the jumpsuit, then we put all the embellishments and stuff on it. Ours was not embroidered. It just had those studs.
I think the embroidered ones may take a little bit more time, but they were silhouetted. It was amazing. I feel like we tried it three times. I gave them the measurements. They sent me something. We fit it on him. We sent it back. They sent it back. Then we got the final fit perfectly on the fourth try. And then we sent it back to get the beads. Every time you put that jumpsuit on, you really did feel like Elvis was there.
BTL: You also had the luxury of watching home movies, which actually are in the film. Did they help to recreate the pool scene?
Battat: Anyone can watch them. I think it’s called Elvis By the Presleys. I didn’t have access to special home movies, but that was great to watch. My shopper, Trish, brought it up to me one day.
It was really informative because it was great to see them in situations that weren’t historical photos. We kind of adapted it a little bit so that you could see the skirt, and I made a headband so that we could put it in her hair because there were some photos of them with a headband.
BTL: What other looks were informed by history?
Battat: There is a very famous photo of them. It’s like a Christmas photo, and he’s in a blue kind of shiny suit, and he has on a lot of eye makeup, a ton of jewelry, big sideburns, and a collar that comes up to his ears, and she’s in this simple lavender shirt and purple pants, and her hair is long, more shoulder length, and natural, I guess. She’s kind of lost all the eye makeup and all the stuff.
I thought that photo was just very indicative of how they came apart. How different they were at that point in their marriage. They were different. I think that was the demarcation line for her becoming herself. I think she was much more aligned with his aesthetic when she was trying to please him. And then, as she started to come into her own, she was more in tune with herself and not so interested in fitting into the mold that he had created.
BTL: Another iconic look is Elvis in his G.I. uniform. Where did that come from?
Battat: It came from American Costumes. They have all that kind of stuff—a military section. It was rented. I believe we made the shirt that he wore underneath because they didn’t have the right one or it wasn’t long enough or something. They just helped us to make sure we had all the right patches and everything. He became a commander.
From the time he met Priscilla to the time he left Germany, he got a promotion, so there was just an extra patch. I’m such a visual person. I can’t tell you what it signified, but there was an extra thing, like a kind of mountain. The first time we saw him in uniform, he didn’t have that, and the second time he did. We were trying to keep that as historical as possible. And then, you know, women love men in uniform.
BTL: What would you say was the most difficult look for you to do?
Battat: I think just the quantity and the amount of time that we had to do it were the challenges. The beginning part of the movie was in the ’50s, so we would develop the kind of base pattern for that skirt, and then it’s easy to adapt it into a different skirt. But the first week of the movie, she was pregnant, and we were in the ’70s. We were in the ’50s. We were everywhere. We didn’t have the luxury of making all the patterns. I mean, we were really making clothes until the last day.
BTL: How about her negligee and her matenity looks? What did those costumes require?
Battat: We adapted something that we were able to find, and most of the negligees were adapted from found objects. For her pregnancy stuff, Priscilla didn’t gain any weight. She gained like 10 pounds or something. There’s a scene in the movie where she steps on the scale, and I also just know from her book that she ate very little. She wanted to maintain her figure and still be Elvis’ ideal. So her maternity looks when she’s pregnant are clothes that we see her in when she’s not pregnant.
She wears the same thing when she gets on the scale, and she’s pregnant. When he wants to leave her, that’s the same dress she’s wearing when he burns the book. The dress that she was wearing when they did LSD is also a dress she’s wearing when she’s pregnant, because I didn’t want her to have a new maternity wardrobe.
BTL: Did you ultimately receive any feedback from Priscilla Presley about the costumes in the film?
Battat: I met Priscilla at Sofia’s book party, and she was very, very gracious. I don’t remember if she said anything about the costumes. She was a really graceful, gentle, and lovely woman, and I had a nice conversation with her, and I don’t know if it was about the costumes.
BTL: So what are you most proud of when you watch the film and you see all the looks that you created?
Battat: I’m most proud of us as a group because it really does take a village. When I look at the film, I see somebody like Sofia steering this ship and then creating something like a visual umbrella for all of us to be under. Working with Cliona (Fury) and Jo-Ann (MacNeil) the hair and makeup team, and working with production designer Tamara (Deverell) and art director Danny (Haeberlin) on the sets, and just having all of that and being able to collaborate with all of those creative teams and also with our incredible actors, I’m just so proud of us for pulling it all off.
Priscilla is now playing in theaters.