When Elite first debuted on our screens, it had all the essential elements to get us hooked. Prep school drama? Check. Murderous intrigue? Check. Star-crossed lovers? Double-check. At first, this show about three scholarship students at Madrid private school Las Encinas began predictably enough as a paint-by-numbers homage to old classics like Cruel Intentions and Gossip Girl, with a dash of Scream Queens. While we do love to see the privileged backstabbing and playing games, Elite has surpassed its predecessors in tackling issues like Islamaphobia and queer identity while also addressing the classism that permeates Las Encinas.
One common thread running through the series has been the wardrobe, overseen by costume designer Cristina Rodríguez. Rodríguez is responsible for some of the show’s most memorable looks, from Lu’s headbands, pearls, and heels to Carla’s femme fatale glamour. Within Rodriguez’s role, she’s also able to further some of the issues discussed within the show, such as celebrating the once-reviled choni aesthetic associated with Spanish trap culture or exploring the nuances of modest dressing.
To celebrate the recent release of the series’ third season, Teen Vogue chatted with Rodríguez to learn more about Spanish Gen Z fashion and crafting a distinct fashion identity for each of Elite’s protagonists…despite them spending most of their onscreen time in school uniforms.
Teen Vogue: When you first came onboard as costume designer, what was your approach to the wardrobe for Elite?
Cristina Rodríguez: Often in TV or cinema, the wardrobe is supposed to fade into the background to let the acting or the story stand out, but I think that’s a bit outdated. We’re in an era when things like Instagram and Twitter make aesthetics an important factor for any story: whether it’s about a housewife with two kids or whether it’s Elite. So for Elite, we had the idea that the wardrobe would have to be as important as the story, that it would have to function as a character in its own right.
TV: I also feel like the wardrobe for Elite is especially important as appearances are everything in the world of Las Encinas.
C.R.: Appearances are important in the series but also in real life, right? Even before you speak, the people in front of you judge you by your hair, your makeup, or your clothes and they’ve already decided what they think of you. Later, when you do speak, you can change their opinion, but that first impression has already been made.
TV: Sad but true! Something that really interests me about the wardrobe in Elite is that the main characters wear uniforms during most of their time onscreen. Was that a challenge?
C.R.: It was tricky thinking about the uniforms and how each of the characters would personalize or customize their uniforms and what accessories they would wear. You have to be able to express a lot through small details. At the beginning, we thought of it as a problem, but in the end, it turned out really well.
TV: One of the characters who successfully customize their school outfits is Lu. She looks like Blair Waldorf with all of her headbands and pearl sets! What has it been like creating her look?
C.R.: The actor that plays Lu, Danna Paola, is probably the most in touch with the fashion world out of all of the cast. She loves fashion and she’s been in the entertainment industry since she was five, so she and I have worked a lot together on creating Lu’s visual identity. Lu as a character has been like my Barbie. I can put anything on her and it looks good, so it’s been great playing around with her.
TV: Lu’s style has been a standout from the beginning, but I’ve noticed that Carla and Nadia’s style has really evolved since the first episodes. Why is that?
C.R.: We’ve had three seasons and the characters’ styles have to evolve, I would get bored otherwise and so would the audience. And I’ve always thought it’s really weird when things in life happen, like going through a breakup or getting fired, and it doesn't impact the way you dress. With Carla, in the first season, we made her look very preppy and as the seasons have progressed we’ve been dressing her in a way that’s more voluptuous and grown-up. And with Nadia, I think Catholic society can still be quite prejudiced against other religions, so it was important to show more and more that you can wear a hijab and be a modest dresser but still be pretty and stylish.
TV: Obviously since the show’s set in Spain, the wardrobe choices pick up on Spanish trends that might not be well known to viewers in the States. What would you say are the biggest trends for Gen Z in Spain right now?
C.R.: I’d say chonismo is a trend that really stands out here. Chonis used to be looked down upon but now, because of the influence of trap and Rosalía, we think of chonis as young women with an interest in fashion and music, who know who they are and who are at the cutting edge. I’d also say that fashion is becoming genderless among not only Gen Z in Spain, but also across the wider world. I’ve been pushing for unisex fashion since day one on the show and we experimented with that in the third season with a party where gender roles are swapped and the girls go more covered up while the boys wear clothing that is more revealing.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue