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“Nothing's too much for The White Lotus” was costume designer Alex Bovaird's philosophy whenever creator Mike White questioned if sartorially the show had pushed too far
this season. For the new set of episodes (airing now on HBO), Emmy nominee Bovaird traded caftans and bikinis in Hawaii for sharp tailoring and bold prints in Sicily, tapping into the luxury hotel’s opulent surroundings and the overarching theme of sexuality.
Authenticity of locale was also essential. Even before Bovaird stepped foot on set—and before White had even chosen the deluxe Four Seasons clifftop San Domenico Palace in Taormina—she was using social media to research the setting.
“I love a little Instagram tag search. It's quite easy once you find your way in,” the designer tells Town & Country, explaining how she found inspiration for wealthy characters like Daphne (Meghann Fahy), Harper (Aubrey Plaza), and the returning Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge). “There's nothing like the real research for me and then building on that.”
She also noted season two's more farcical tone.
“We try and do costumes that are a little bit silly, but not too much.” It's a tricky balancing act to convey humor and aspiration, but one she achieves through a mix of off-the-rack, custom designs, and vintage looks. “I was able to up my game a little bit because of the success of season one,” she says about the array of high-end pieces. Of course, White’s social satire reveals an underbelly that no exclusive labels can hide—even in Sicilian paradise.
Here, Bovaird spoke with T&C over Zoom from Iceland—where she is currently working on True Detective: Night Country—to discuss collaborating with Coolidge, sourcing costumes in Sicily, what clothes reveal about the hotel guests and staff, and a sartorial nod to season one’s high strung White Lotus manager, Armond (Murray Bartlett).
Tanya’s Sicilian Journey, from Monica Vitti to Pretty Woman
Out with the mourning attire, in with la dolce vita as Tanya hasn’t come to Taormina to say goodbye to her mother. While her marriage does hang in the balance, Tanya indulges in her dream day channeling ‘60s Italian movie star Monica Vitti—even if Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) bluntly assesses that she is giving Peppa Pig. This cinematic get-up “went through various iterations, and we landed on that because we felt it was very romantic and classic Tanya too.” Bovaird looked to Kate Middleton's designer favorite Alice Temperley to capture the amorous mood Tanya wants to experience before hopes are dashed by her not-so Prince Charming.
On-screen, manager Valentina is concerned about the hotel’s liability if they crash the Vespa, and Bovaird, too, had to ensure Coolidge and her stunt double would be safe wearing this ensemble. “We had to stitch both of them into their dresses because it has a slit and was flowing a little bit too much,” Bovaird says before referencing dancer Isadora Duncan’s infamous tragic scarf related car accident in 1927.
The bubblegum pink Temperely look differs from the tailored $2,000 Dolce & Gabbana that Tanya has packed. “We got lots and lots of Dolce to try on her, and she [Coolidge] feels good in it,” she says. Along with D&G frocks, Tanya’s purse collection is enviable—including her go-to pink Valentino. After so many eagle-eyed viewers commented on Rachel’s (Alexandra Daddario) green Goyard tote last year, Bovaird also upped her bag game. “It spurred me on to be, ‘Okay, pay attention to the bags.’”
Tayna might have all the money, but her relationship is in tatters, and it is down to new friend Quentin (Tom Hollander) to give her a much-needed confidence boost. The debonair gay Brit offers her an opportunity for another Sicilian fantasy, this time without the grumbling husband. “We wanted something really dramatic,” says Bovaird about the metallic gown fit for the opera in Palermo. “The dress is an Alberta Ferretti runway dress that they very kindly made for us in Jennifer's size, and the cape is, again, a little bit ridiculous but also cool,” hitting the White Lotus “sweet spot.”
Coolidge was “very much involved” in conceiving the episode five showstopper and “wanted to help with trying to get Alberta Ferreti. She didn't have to call Alberta Ferreti, but she was willing to do that.” The long cape and train deliver a “proper majestic moment,” which Bovaird explains is one of several references to Pretty Woman.
Frenemies Harper and Daphne’s Crisp Silhouettes and Bold Patterns
Whereas Cameron (Theo James) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) have known each other since college, their wives Daphne and Harper are barely acquainted. A day trip to Noto turned sleepover in episode three gives the women time to get to know each other and Monica Vitti provides another reference. “There's a scene where Harper walks through the square, and all the men start looking at her. It's a deliberate copy of a scene from L'avventura,” describes Bovaird. It is in the exact same spot, and the designer used this moment to do “a modern take on a ‘50s dress” utilizing vintage Moschino. Audrey Hepburn was another influence for Harper’s classic crisp shapes. “She does have a lot less pattern, and that was deliberate,” observes Bovaird about Harper’s closet.
Because Harper doesn’t know she is going for an overnight stay, Daphne can exert some style influence, such as the patterned Poupette St Barth frock. Bovaird describes the latter as a “classic Saint-Tropez kind of dress” that differs from Harper’s signature double-breasted aesthetic. (Even a pair of her pajamas is double-breasted!) Noto also offers Daphne a chance to experiment away from her husband. “She generally wears very floaty ‘Zen mama Hamptons’ colorful chic beachwear, but that dress is a little bit different,” says Bovaird about the striped Prada two-piece ensemble. “She wants to feel sexy.”
In the first episode flash forward, Daphne’s starfish pattern bathing suit is one of several pieces incorporating this imagery. “We love to make the whole world thematic. When you're in Sicily, there's lemons, rope patterns, Medusa heads,” says Bovaird about deliberately repeated motifs. Daphne is wearing this when she discovers the dead body in the ocean, but don’t expect any major clues to be found in this garment “Nothing particularly symbolic other than the starfish coils and uncoils,” she adds. Note: if you're seeking symbolism, look for the floral motifs this season: “There's lots of flowers, and I like the idea of people blooming and wilting—having their sexuality flourish.”
Fish Out of Water Portia’s ‘90s References
One of the characters without endless funds to spend on clothes is Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), who tags along on this trip as Tanya’s assistant. “I deliberately went on the hunt for some Italia ‘90 vibes because I was trying to infuse Italy into everybody,” Bovaird says (they did something similar with Hawaii last season). Whether turning a Miss Sixty dress into a top, or dressing the character in a Stuss plaid shirt, cut-offs, or a few colorful dresses, Bovaird wants to emphasize that Gen Z Portia is “of the age where she's finding herself. She's got a mix of ideas of who she wants to be on holiday.”
Summer season footwear proved initially hard to find as “you can't get sandals in Italy in February. It's funny, the first half of the show, people are wearing whatever flip flops I could find.” Tapping into the current ‘90s and Y2K style resurgence, Bovaird sourced the chunky white sandals that Portia has to run in after a dine and dash in episode five from a market in Catania. “She's very playful but also a fish out of water,” the designer explains. “She's a bit depressed at first, and then she makes more effort when she meets Jack—the bad boy character.” For the latter, Bovaird looked at images of Love Island contestants to perfectly nail the Essex aesthetic.
Lucia and Mia’s Sartorial Seduction
Tanya going to the opera is one nod to Pretty Woman; the other is when locals Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò) hit the expensive local boutiques. “They dress for whoever they're trying to seduce,” Bovaird says. “At first, their dresses are quite cheap, and then they get some money, and they want to fit in at the White Lotus, so they splurge.” The morning after sleeping with Albie (Adam DiMarco), Lucia opts for a girl-next-door vibe wearing a cherub and cupid bow patterned frock: “She's still in seductress mode but in a cutesy fashion.” Girly pastels contrast the red dress from the first episode with Albie’s dad Dominic (Michael Imperioli), which is “pure sex.”
While their wives are in Noto, Cameron and Ethan hang out with the enterprising young women. Bovaird sourced the daring Clio Peppiatt sparkly dresses from Annie’s Ibizia in England, and says they reminded her of “what Kate Moss would wear in Ibizia.”
The White Lotus Beach Club robes worn by the infiltrating BFFs after their nighttime swim with the married men were a collaboration with New York designer Cynthia Rowley. In part, Bovaird explains this was a practical choice as some of the pool scenes were shot in March. The cozy quilted fabric adds to the warmth, and “the print has white lotuses on and has little eyes inside the white lotus.” Cam’s $400 hotel sweats (because his airline lost his luggage) are by British brand Orlebar Brown, capturing the necessary quality and swag that Bovaird then had embroidered.
Valentina and the White Lotus Staff
Bovaird’s approach to using Instragram for research extends to the staff of the fictional White Lotus. “They've got shiny shoes and suits that fit them because the staff in Europe look very traditional,” she says about the polished from top to toe visual.
Dedicated manager Valentina wears an array of colorful suits that purposefully nod to last season's manager, Armond: “She has a pink suit, a blue suit, and some tan suits. We're in a new hotel, but we wanted to also it to be a familiar thing.” Valentina is both figuratively and literally buttoned up, and “everything's a little bit too tight.” A Moschino blazer featuring rope imagery is Bovaird demonstrating that “nothing’s too much for the White Lotus” mantra, as this imagery explicitly shows “she's all bound up with her repressed sexuality.”
Quentin and Cameron’s Playful Men’s Fashion
It isn’t only the women who put on their finest and have fun with fashion in Sicily, as while Cameron is unhappy about his missing suitcase, he more than makes up for it during a shopping spree montage early on in the season. His playful side is on display as he tries on a daring Etro two-piece that reflects his confidence. “He’s so cocky and sure of himself that he doesn't even think about it, and he's just having a laugh,” says Bovaird. “That was some of my easiest shopping was for Cameron because he is supposed to wear clothes that aren't quite right and he happens to find in Taormina.”
Another highlight is Quentin, who introduces himself to Tanya in episode four by way of complimenting her style (“So chic!”). “He's somebody who is supposed to live in Italy. So it was easier and more fun to explore,” Bovaird explains about one of her favorite season two characters to dress. The tailors of Palermo use beautiful fabrics that lend themselves to a character who mirrors Tanya in a blue and pink striped suit that he wears to the beach. The photographer Slim Aarons was an influence, and “the aristos of the ‘60s and ‘70s—a louche Mediterranean aristocracy vibe with him.”
While Bovaird can’t spoil who may or may not be dead, she teases a forthcoming milk cream suit worn by Quentin at a party he hosts while Tanya embraces her girly side in a shade of salmon: “At first she's wearing tight tailored clothing, and then she gets a bit more free.” Let’s hope she doesn’t need to dig back into her mourning closet for her next White Lotus stay.
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