Holly Waddington received an Academy nomination for her costume design work for Yorgos Lanthimos’ dreamy Victorian sci-fi Poor Things earlier this week. However, the film didn’t set out to look like either a period piece or a sci fi movie.
Even though Poor Things is set in the 1880s, there are no corsets present in the costuming of Emma Stone’s character Bella Baxter. Her clothing needed to feel free and liberated and completely unrestrictive. Waddington began with a basic Victorian line and stripped elements away. She wanted a messy quality to Bella’s costuming but also sensual with the use of sheer fabrics. She wanted her costumes to give the sense of something organic with lots of movement. She told the Barbican “I was gathering references of things that live under the sea, strange creatures, looking at the tactile surfaces of organisms; giving this sense of everything breathing and living.”
Her character changes throughout the film, going from a child to a fully formed person and the costumes changed with her, resulting in a large wardrobe. At the beginning of the film, she often wore disassembled outfits such as appearing in a bustle, bloomers and blouse with the skirt having been discarded throughout the day.
Waddington looked to Victorian fashion magazines for inspiration in creating shapes. Yorgos really wanted to embrace the big billowing sleeve styles of the 1890s as they seemed conceptually empowering, even though they wouldn’t have been seen in the period the film is set in. @rebeccasweeting revealed on instagram that Holly had used some of her 1890s patterns as reference.
One memorable costume was a yellow pair of 30s-style tap shorts, a modesty piece/partlet worn on its own and a blue crop jacket for an adventure around Lisbon! Bella was pulling things out of her trunk and dressing herself at random.
She attends socialist meetings and studies in Paris, becoming more mature and wearing black to blend in with men in tailored suits. The black coat she wears was actually a jacket that originally had a skirt with it but when Emma tried it on, it felt right so they ended up leaving the jacket on its own, creating somewhat of a minidress.
The sexual revolution is referenced in Bellas’ white Victorian booties turned vinyl go go boots with Courrèges inspired Space Age cut outs.
In Paris, Bella dons a yellow latex cape which evokes period condoms for her introduction to the Parisian brothel scene.
Willem Dafoe’s character was based on photos of the author of the book Alasdair Gray, who was a little bit thrown together in an artful way. He also wore boiler suits inspired by Winston Churchill.
Yorgos did not tell Holly until 2 weeks before shooting that the first portion of the film would be in black and white. This resulted in Holly having to remake a lot of things last minute in high contrast fabrics.
Holly had a buyer in London to source materials while they were shooting in Budapest but because of Brexit and covid, sometimes things would take up to a month to arrive to them which caused many meltdowns. But it was all worth it in the end!
The costume above reminds us of this 2 piece 1890s set we have in our rentals collection:
We also put 2 items together to recreate the look of Bella's garden costume below. The skirt and cardigan are available to purchase through the links under the image!
1940s maxi skirt:
Austrian puff sleeve cream cardigan:
All in all, the costumes are a feast for the eyes! Impeccably conceptualized and executed, creating a unique fantasia wholly deserving of the Academy nomination. A selection are currently on display at the Barbican Centre in London.
Holly is an English designer who has previously designed the costumes for The Great (2020), Lady Macbeth (2016) and Ginger and Rosa (2012).