Recreating classic ‘70s style with the costume designer of HBO Max’s ‘Love & Death’

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Candy Montgomery in HBO Max’s ‘Love & Death.’

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You know what they say: What goes around comes around. References in conversations and karma alike, this notion rings especially true for the 1970s. On one hand, ‘70s fashion is seeing a booming revival on social media and in real life, and on the other, true crime stories from the era are earning their 15 minutes of fame, nearly five decades later.

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Touching on the latter, perhaps you’ve heard of Candy Montgomery, the Texas housewife who brutally murdered her neighbor and friend following an affair with said friend’s husband. The story was first told in Hulu’s Candy in 2022, and now Max has released its take on the titillating drama with its latest series Love & Death. The finale is available to stream now (which means you can feast on the entire 7-episode miniseries without having to wait for weekly releases).

As jaw-dropping as the suburban homicide is, perhaps even more compelling are the looks that costume designer Audrey Fisher conjured up to tell the story some 40 years after the fact. Keep reading to learn more about her process and what it takes to tackle a period piece.

Stream 'Love & Death' on Max

Embodying late ‘70s style in small town Texas

Audrey Fisher channeled classic ‘70s style while costuming ‘Love & Death.’

Fisher began her costume creation process by fully immersing herself in the Candy Montgomery story. She took a deep dive into creator David E. Kelley’s scripts, Texas Monthly articles, and the non-fiction book, Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs.

“I took detailed notes on any descriptions of the characters that we were going to portray,” says Fisher. “I also searched for documentation of our characters in their lives leading up to the murder—wedding photos, school portraits, family photos, business headshots, newsworthy moments (for instance, Jackie Ponder made news as a female Pastor). These images can provide incredible context and clarity in terms of establishing character looks.”

Considering Love & Death has a religious undercurrent, Fisher also turned her attention toward the church. “Small-town Texas Methodist Church Directories (like early Facebook for the Church community) provided excellent inspiration,” she admits. “Portraits of Church members in their ‘Sunday best’ were very specific, and really helped me capture the vibe of late ‘70s Methodist church-going folk.” The same was true of browsing High School and College yearbooks, she says.

When researching late '70s fashion trends, Fisher relied on well-known shopping catalogs of the era, such as those from Sears and Montgomery Ward. She also flipped through pages of fashion, pop culture, women’s, and news magazines, including Vogue, Seventeen, People, Rolling Stone, Rebook, Cosmo, Life and Time. “They all provided an extraordinary window into that time,” she says. “The advertisements in the magazines alone demonstrated the aspirational style that our characters would have admired as they flipped through the same magazines pages.”

Telling a story through costume

The costumes featured in ‘Love & Death’ work are carefully assembled to tell you in one glance, everything you need to know about a character.

Once Fisher had mastered the late ‘70s small-town Texas wardrobe, it was time to apply it directly to the characters in the film. While dressing background actors was rather straightforward, outfitting leading stars Elizabeth Olsen (Candy Montgomery), Patrick Fugt (Pat Montgomery), Lily Rabe (Betty Gore) and Jesse Plemons (Alan Gore) was a bit more nuanced.

“In the source material, Candy was described as ‘the belle of the ball, a cocktail of warmth, vivaciousness and goodness, who casts a spell on those around her’—so I leaned into pretty, flirty, self-possessed looks for Elizabeth Olsen to embody coquettish Candy,” Fisher says. “Since there were 120 costumes for Elizabeth, we had a lot of opportunity to express her character’s personality. We loved her in fuchsia, adorable tees and jeans, and darling dresses.”

To complement Elizabeth’s Candy, Fisher dressed Pat to portray the “devoted, goofy, sweet husband” that he was. “He wore suits to his office, but he had some great at-home suburban Dad looks—his lawn-mowing outfit is a fave,” Fisher says. “I kept him in primarily warm tones—tan, burgundy, and brown—to blend with the warmth of Candy.”

Betty’s costume was perhaps the more challenging persona to accomplish. “With Betty, I had the challenge of embracing her faith, her identity as a schoolteacher, and her history as a Kansan, but also had to touch on her deep insecurity within her marriage (she was pregnant in our story, then struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter),” Fisher shares. “I leaned into more traditionally feminine looks for Betty, signaling she’s a little more old-fashioned, and significantly more demure than Candy.”

Then there was Allan, a multi-faceted man that required careful consideration when recreating his persona. “Allan’s costumes were very matter-of-fact: gray and navy suits with repp ties for the office; his casual looks were short-sleeve button front shirts with slacks, and a windbreaker,” Fisher says. “Allan’s simple style needed to work against the fact he winds up having an affair that gets his wife murdered.”

Candy’s coat, some 40 years later

Fisher managed to find an authentic copy of the real-life Montgomery’s toggle coat.

As accurate as wardrobe depictions may seem in biographical television shows and films, more often than not, the garments showcased don't come from the given time period. While some may be sourced from vintage shops and dealers, others are custom-made to look as if they’re from the decade in which the story takes place.

In the case of Love & Death, Fisher says that a mix of retro, modern, and custom-made pieces were used to outfit the cast. However, there’s one garment in particular that stands out. “Candy wore a very specific wool overcoat during the trial—she’s photographed in it several times—it was beige wool with horizontal stripes in brown, with a hood, and wooden toggle buttons,” Fisher says. “We searched high and low, and couldn’t find anything that was right.”

After a seemingly endless hunt, Fisher’s assistant designer, Brie Harris, was about to give up and just have the coat custom-made in the team workshop, when a miracle happened. “After months of searching different vintage sites, calling all our vendors, and scouring the rental house, she found that very coat on Etsy,” Fisher recalls. “Brand new, dead stock as we say…with tags still on…in Elizabeth’s size. When it arrived, we unpacked it in all its perfection and I had to pinch myself.

Bringing non-flashy ‘70s style into the modern age

Add some trendy ‘70s-inspired style to your wardrobe with these pieces from Tuckernuck, Reformation and Good American.

Looking to incorporate Love & Death-inspired style into your 2023 wardrobe? Fisher says to start by understanding the landscape. “Love & Death’s costumes aim for authenticity, and they support the narrative of late 1970s life in small-town Collin County, Texas,” she explains. This is important to note considering some of the boldest ‘70s trends (think: tie-dye, bell bottoms, colorful prints, and disco ’fits) are currently having a revival—but they’re not part of the fabric of the Love & Death story.

In place of the more flamboyant ‘70s styles circulating social media, Love & Death focuses on streamlined silhouettes, ideal for everyday small-town life. To start, Fisher says to work timeless ‘70s styles into your jewelry box. Her top picks are gold hoop earrings such as the Rellery Midi Hoop Earrings which feature 18k gold over sterling silver, delicate gold chain necklaces such as the Mejuri Boyfriend Bold Chain Necklace which is made in 14k yellow gold, and long pendant necklaces like the Child of Wild Ponte Vecchio Necklace, which is 20 inches long and made of 14k gold fill.

In terms of clothing, Fisher says that “the workhorses of the everyday late '70s”—cowl turtlenecks, scoop neck tees and striped tees—are all fair game—as are flare jeans, pussy-bow blouses, plaid A-line skirts, velvet blazers, quilted vests and jackets and knee-high leather boots.

For flares, consider a pair of rich indigo denim, like the Good American Soft Sculpt Pull-On Flare Jeans. The stretchy jeans are sold in women’s sizes XS to 5XL and feature a form-fitting silhouette, sans pockets.

For a full ‘70s-inspired ensemble, you could pair the jeans with the Reformation Freya Top. The sheer, cream-colored chiffon, button-front blouse features a relaxed, long-sleeve fit with a statement bow at the collar and fabric-covered buttons on the cuffs. It’s sold in women’s sizes XS to XL.

If it’s chilly out, try bundling up with a quilted jacket and/or one with toggle buttons à la Candy herself. The Tuckernuck Cream Toggle Ali Coat, sold in women’s sizes XXS to XXXL, fits in with the warm, neutral color palette of the ‘70s thanks to its cream-colored design complete with chestnut brown toggles.

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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: How to recreate ‘70s style with the costume designer of ‘Love & Death’