Emma Stone Eschews Victorian Traditions for Wild Hair and Schiaparelli-Inspired Costumes in 'Poor Things'

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"Bella doesn't have any shame or trauma, or even a backstory," shares Emma Stone, describing her "Poor Things" character in the production notes.

From the mind of "The Favourite" and "The Lobster" director Yorgos Lanthimos — and written by Tony McNamara, also of "The Great" — "Poor Things" follows Bella as she embarks on a majestically sweeping coming-of-age journey, calling the shots through her own independent thought and sexual liberation. (In addition to starring in Lanthimos' latest, Stone is also a producer on the film.) It all unfolds like a fantastical Victorian steampunk epic, while transitioning from Old Hollywood black-and-white to vivid technicolor splendor. That energy applies to the hair as well as the clothes.

"Yorgos wanted me to really think big," says costume designer Holly Waddington. She "cast a wide net" for inspiration, looking to "living and breathing organic materials" for Bella's exaggerated mutton-sleeves and undulating and cascading ruffles.

"I had lots of bits of sea creatures, like sea urchins and anatomical drawings, like intestinal lining," she adds.

Moderator Jacqueline Coley, production designer James Price and costume designer Holly Waddington (dressed on-theme) at the 26th SCAD Savannah Film Festival.<p>Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for SCAD</p>
Moderator Jacqueline Coley, production designer James Price and costume designer Holly Waddington (dressed on-theme) at the 26th SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for SCAD

At the SCAD Savannah Film Festival in October, while discussing Bella's billowing sleeves and elaborate ruffles, Waddington dropped the term "vagina blouse," though she clarifies that genitalia wasn't originally on her mood board.

During filming, Lanthimos made the connection of the draping and silhouettes on authentic Victorian blouses to Bella's uninhibited sexual awakening and exploration.

"[Victorian blouses] have a lot of folds in the center front that get whipped in this way, so they create this Georgia O'Keeffe sort of orifice," says Waddington. "I took Emma Stone to the set, and she was wearing this blouse in all different shades of pink, and [Lanthimos] said, 'Oh, another vagina blouse."

Bella (Emma Stone) protects herself from the elements in what Waddington described as her "condom cape."<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
Bella (Emma Stone) protects herself from the elements in what Waddington described as her "condom cape."

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

To express the Victorian-ish setting of the movie, Waddington studied daguerreotype images and Parisian fashion magazines of the period, but avoided fussy sartorial "hallmarks," like jet-beading, frilly flowers and flouncy ribbons. Instead, the costume team created their own animated textures through ruching and smocking.

She expanded her scope into 20th-century fashion, citing 1930s Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet, who popularized the bias-cut dress, as inspirations for an occasion gown shaped with exaggerated puff-sleeves, a high neck flourish and circular detailing throughout. She also infused a "space age '60s" vibe through signatures of Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne and, for Bella's mod white ankle boots, André Courrèges.


Though Bella is physically an adult, she begins her evolution in mental and emotional infancy. She grows her vocabulary at a fairly rapid 15 words a day, as her jet-black hair lengthens one inch every 48 hours.

Hair and Makeup Designer Nadia Stacey — who won a BAFTA for "The Favourite" — reunited with Stone and Lanthimos for this project, which offered its challenges right off the bat.

"I got the email from Yorgos that just said, 'No wigs' — which I always get," says Stacey, with a laugh.

So, she wove and blended a series of extensions into Stone's real hair to reflect the speedy growth. "I had a makeup truck with all these different lengths of hair," she continues, noting how she calculated and "mapped out" the development culminating in "42 inches of this crazy hair."

Stacey based Bella's striking black hair color on a sketch of a young woman by Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele, known for his sexually intense paintings. She suggested to Stone to start with a dark-brown hue, with leeway to adjust.

"I got a message saying, 'ummmm... it's gone quite dark,'" recalls Stacey. "Suddenly, [Stone's hair] was really dark, but it actually was perfect and it's where we would have gone anyway. It just went there quicker than we thought." She also instructed Stone to not pluck her brows, which were then dyed the same shade.

Bella's undone hair.<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
Bella's undone hair.

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Bella, while still in her toddler stages, has her long hair neatly braided, presumably by Mrs. Prim (Vicky Pepperdine), the housekeeper of brilliant scientist and surrogate father Dr. Godwin "God" Baxter (Willem Dafoe). As she becomes more determined, Bella starts wearing it down and unkempt, which actually is a nod to Victorian values (and kinks): Per Stacey's research, Victorian men found long hair attractive, but only worn undone, in private, at home. So, Bella rejecting the period's patriarchy-mandated up-do is a feminist move — but it's also just instinctual, since she's lived free of society's rules (and remorse or embarrassment) while sheltered in God's house.

"There's an ultimate freedom," says Stacey of Bella's wild, untamed hair.


At God's, Mrs. Prim is also tasked with dressing Bella in the morning in a complete, proper outfit, which, over the course of the day deconstructs to its most basic element — similar to an active child stripping off a sweater and bottoms down to a T-shirt and diapers by dinnertime.

Bella's puffer train outfit, in color, shot by the director.<p>Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.</p>
Bella's puffer train outfit, in color, shot by the director.

Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

At one point, Bella causes a disruption at breakfast, then steps out into the garden in original Victorian sunglasses, a ruched neckline top and bloomers augmented with a buoyant quilted train. The latter futuristic attachment references a circa-1880s crinoline bustle that Waddington found in "a dusty old costume history book."

"It's very period, but it's also super modern," she says. She built a lighter version out of Bangladeshi paper silk: "It felt Moncler-ish, a bit puffer jacket-y."

Bella sneaks out of her room at God's, with Duncan (Marc Ruffalo).<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
Bella sneaks out of her room at God's, with Duncan (Marc Ruffalo).

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

When creepy lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Marc Ruffalo) invites Bella to Lisbon with him, she takes it as an opportunity to explore the world — and herself — on a "Grand Adventure."

"Lisbon was always going to be this vivid, beautiful explosion of life and color," says Waddington, who progressed Bella — armed with finery packed by Mrs. Prim — into "upbeat and positive" blues, pinks and yellows.

"Yellow is very arresting with the black hair," says Waddington, with Stacey adding: "[Her hair] such a marker against society. She knows who she is."

The yellow and black also sends a visual signal, according to Waddington: "The combination is nature's warning colors. It triggers a beware response. She's a beacon. She's definitely a force that you can't really ignore."

"That's the most challenged outfit," says Waddington of the yellow bolero worn over another fill-in and slip. "I don't particularly love it, but I liked how discordant it was."<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
"That's the most challenged outfit," says Waddington of the yellow bolero worn over another fill-in and slip. "I don't particularly love it, but I liked how discordant it was."

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Waddington played with more "complex" yellows, like a pleated marigold bolero (above), intentionally mismatched with satiny pastel blue and pink, as well as an ethereal chartreuse balloon-sleeve long silhouette (top). These choices, plus her wandering about in her silk dressing gown, represent Bella dressing herself — without Miss Prim.

"Everybody's wearing these formal white Victorian outfits, and she's going into her trunk and just putting it all together in her own way," says Waddington.

After overindulging on pastel de nata, fresh oysters and other worldly pleasures in Lisbon, Bella ventures out on her own into the bustling city. She's deconstructed her baby-blue travel ensemble into a mutton-sleeve jacket, a crop-top-like ruffle-front "fill-in" (or dickie) and A-line shorts with a basque-waist impression detail.

Bella tours Lisbon in her jacket over her fill-in and underpants.<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
Bella tours Lisbon in her jacket over her fill-in and underpants.

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The "knickers" or underpants, made in a series of gossamer light hues (which Bella wears as outer-clothes) are "really straight out of the 1930s," says Waddington, who discussed a few vintage underwear options with Stone during an initial fitting. "We just embraced the A-line because they look good, and also they're a bit more sophisticated than [the bloomers from] before."

Bella also discovers the exhilaration of dancing — because it's not a Lanthimos movie (or a McNamara script) without janky, anachronistic choreography. She finds her groove in a ruffled halter top and a sheer mauve-pink ombré maxi skirt (below), forgoing a dress over her fill-in and Victorian bustled-slip.

It's a banger!<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
It's a banger!

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

"I wanted everybody else to be in these period-correct outfits and then for her to be in a see-through, silky petticoat [where you] can see the knickers underneath," says Waddington, enjoying the dynamic movement of the billowing ruffles — especially as a brawl ensues. "It's flailing all over the place and completely at odds with what she's doing. It's very fun."

No spoilers, but Bella makes her way to another European capital, to excel in a male-dominated space — and she's still wearing her Victorian layers in her own confidently unconcerned way. She wouldn't look out of place at a Thom Browne show in her black puff-sleeve, ruffle-trimmed coat-dress, worn over a button-down and tie, with a flash of thigh peeking out above her over-the-knee socks and tall boots (below).

Bella pioneers the no-pants trend in Victorian times.<p>Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>
Bella pioneers the no-pants trend in Victorian times.

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Waddington incorporated a "1960s beatniks and mod" feel onto a silhouette inspired by a real Victorian riding jacket. With her hair woven into a long, low braid, Bella blends in with the men, but also stand out sans pants (or a skirt).

"Bella's continuing to be subversive," says Waddington. "By this point, she's clear about what she wants to do with her life, so it's no longer that lightweight, drifty, airy aesthetic. In the fitting with Stone, we just looked at each other and just said, 'Bella wouldn't wear skirts.'"

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