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In director Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, the hottest guy on campus has the most questionable fashion sense—and not just because the steamy, twisty, and, at times, cringey thriller kicks off in 2006, the era of Ed Hardy and skinny jeans.
Standing at six-foot-five and blessed with a similarly soaring bank account from his titled family, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi, with a posh English accent) never has to try. On the first day of freshman year (or “first year,” as the Brits say), he effortlessly holds court in a slouchy, too-short, blue Ralph Lauren V-neck over a mussy white T-shirt and loose dark-wash jeans.
“Felix, the most beautiful man in the world, wears the worst clothes known to man,” Fennell told GQ following a screening of the film at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. “Because boys like that don't have to dress well.”
Eager scholarship student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), however, enters the gates of the illustrious university deliberately attired for the occasion: conservative blazer, Oxford crest necktie, striped Oxford scarf. “Hey, cool jacket,” sneers Felix’s American cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe). Surveying the scene, newbie Oliver’s wide-eyes land on Felix in his signature low-effort, but high-reward ‘fit.
“In England, the richer and more old money people are, the more in disarray their clothes. So it was important that right from the get-go. Oliver was the person who was trying desperately to fit in by wearing the blazer and the tie,” says Fennell, an Oxford alum. “Then he realizes that the A-team on campus—we call them the ‘Alpha Hotties’—just wear pajamas and Ugg boots. Farleigh comes in with glitter still on his face.”
To accurately depict the style of mid-aughts landed gentry, costume designer Sophie Canale raided her own early Facebook archives and gleaned inspiration from scions of the oldest money family in the UK: Prince Harry and Prince William, whose mid-aughts “relaxed cuts and silhouettes” Canale referenced heavily. She also dressed Felix in their preferred labels, like Abercrombie and Fitch rugby shirts and jeans, alongside polos by Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Dunhill, and Superdry.
At one point, when Felix offers Oliver sincere sympathy, his face is framed by his polo shirt’s aggressively-popped collar. “That was just British fashion of that period,” Canale says of the upper-crust fashion flex. “We couldn't not put a popped collar in.”
Unlike his cousin, Farleigh does make an effort with his appearance, in an attempt to remind others he’s special and worthy. With his mother cut off from the Catton coffers, he depends on Felix’s parents, bumbling Sir James (Richard E. Grant) and former model/Britpop paramour Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), to pay for his fancy education (and, presumably, his considerable wardrobe). When we first meet him, he’s dressed like the sixth member of The Strokes in a studded denim jacket by Youths in Balaclava, printed Wales Bonner trousers, and an Adidas tee. (Like several of Saltburn’s music cues, Farleigh’s look is a charming anachronism: Wales Bonner and Youths in Balaclava launched in 2014 and 2015, respectively.) His louche mix of vintage designer knits and sportswear feels impetuous and subversive, like what you’d expect from a profligate teen with an impressive record of expulsions. “We thought he would be much more likely to repurpose his mother's Hermès scarf,” says Fennell, who imagined Farleigh hailed from New York City and was deep into the 2000s indie music scene. To reflect the era’s graphic T-shirt dominance, Fennell also asked Canale to give Farleigh a (now very timely) version of Britney Spears’ infamous post-Justin “Dump Him” tee from 2002. “He's just an ironic dresser in general,” Fennell adds.
Meanwhile, Oliver subliminally uses his limited wardrobe of high-street clothes to ingratiate himself with Felix, the most alpha of the Alpha Hotties. Upon their chance meeting, Oliver— previously seen in drab grays and tans—already mirrors Felix’s penchant for blue with his own blue gingham button-down. A hard-partying montage, set to the MGMT earworm “Time to Pretend,” reveals Oliver increasingly adopting Felix’s collegiate style. “Oliver gets brighter and we see the hoodie, the polo shirt… but [he still wears a] plaid shirt, so he hasn't completely lost himself,” says Canale.
At the end of term, Felix invites Oliver to spend the break at his family’s dark fairytale-esque palatial estate, Saltburn. When Oliver drags his single rolly suitcase up the interminable drive he’s wearing his nicest plaid button-down, from Uniqlo, which he’ll repeat several notable times over the visit.
At Saltburn, they dress black-tie for dinner, but a barefoot Felix is completely at home in a wrinkled Ralph Lauren linen button-down and his usual baggy jeans. As he treats Oliver to a tour through a maze of cavernous rooms filled with precious antiques, sunlight streams through the windows thus rendering Felix’s gossamer-light buttercream shirt resplendently see-through. “That montage is so lovely, when he's walking through the house,” says Canale. “The way they talk to one another, there's this translucency. I wanted [the shirt] to make Felix look sexy.”
The film’s dysfunction, infatuation and deception reach a fever pitch during a Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed masquerade bacchanalia. “Midsummer felt right. It’s the time when everything gets turned upside down, so it was all about going into the forest and playing different characters,” says Fennell, whose vision for the fashion fever dream resembled, “a mixture of Leg Avenue—the equivalent of slutty Halloween—mixed with beautiful old things… and then dodgy neon sunglasses.”
Oliver embodies the Changeling Boy, who’s fought over by King Oberon and Queen Titania, in an intricately embroidered white shacket—worn open with nothing underneath—and somewhat menacing antlers. Canale’s sister Alice designed the Easter egg-filled, leaf-motif shirt, which was then custom-made by tailor Chris Kerr. “There are hidden moths within the illustration,” says Canale. “He has a moth necklace, as well.”
Sir James and Elspeth dress as the aforementioned royal fairy couple, while Farleigh, as Bottom—the play’s comic relief/weaver-turned-literal jackass—dons breeches, an elaborately quilted tunic and a paper maché donkey head. But a brooding Felix looks like he just grabbed a ribbed tank and his usual denim out of his messy drawers (or off the floor), and slapped on a pair of off-theme wings. “Felix is what Felix would always be, which is a miscellaneous fairy,” says Fennell, who points out that his feathered accouterments exemplify angels rather than Shakespearean sprites. “Because he can't be [bothered]. So he's just bunged on some wings and said, ‘be done with it.’”
And, yes, Canale did study Claire Danes’ heavenly white ensemble, by costume designer Kym Barrett, in Baz Luhrman’s ‘96 adaptation Romeo + Juliet. “You can't not look at different references from films,” says Canale. “But, we sprayed [his wings] golden.”
Despite his glowering disregard for the fancy dress code, or any dress code whatsoever, Felix still looks like an absolute Adonis. “He’s so chill, and everyone else is making this effort,” says Canale. “He's just too cool for school.”
Originally Appeared on GQ
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