“We get dressed here for dinner,” explains Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi, in the trailer for Saltburn. With a shrug and an air of insouciant ennui, he then mutters, “It’s like, ‘black friend.'” Does your family not put on formal clothes to eat?
Inside the country estate of the film’s title, fashion is only one of the many ways in which the Caitians view the status quo – and their privileged place within it. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell (also writer-director of 2020 Crazy Young Woman), the film follows working-class outsider Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) who is sent to spend the summer in Saltburn to be swept up in family madness. Critics are calling this film a psychological thriller, but Saltburn There is much more than that. It’s warm, funny, twisted, mysterious, and has more twists and turns than a 17th century hedge maze. It’s hard to explain without spoilers, but let’s call it Call Me By Your Name together Downton Abbey together Cruel Intentions together… American Psycho?
Fashion plays a huge role in the film – not only to remind us of the Cattons’ old money, but also to emphasize Quick’s outsider status. Within the first five minutes, we hear a classmate say that Quick shouldn’t be invited to a party with the brave students because he looks like he’s shopping at Oxfam. Upon his arrival in Saltburn, Quick is swept into a decadent, deranged, and very well-dressed world, where dinners are black tie, the butlers wear fine lotion, and vintage Miu Miu shoes are worn to drunken post-prandial tennis. to play. At the film’s climax (again, no spoilers), a “fancy party” sees dad cleaning out the family’s old suit of armor for A Midsummer Night’s Dream– a themed bacchanal in the estate’s gardens. What fun!
The film is an unforgettable romp back to the 2000s – with bootcut jeans, oversized rugby shirts, and plenty of Nasty Gal. It was the last time we spoke to the costume designer of this film, Sophie Canale, for her work on Bridgerton. And while that nostalgic horror and this turn-of-the-millennium dark thriller may not inhabit the same aesthetic universe, they draw interesting parallels around ideas of Britishness and class, and explore character’s inner life through costumes. Here’s what Canale had to say about how deep the fashion rabbit hole goes Saltburn—and can we expect those wide statement belts to make a comeback anytime soon.
Sophie, wow. This movie. It was a lot of fun to watch – and I was impressed by the big role the clothes play. How did you develop these characters through their clothes?
I think clothes are really important to who and how people are. We are all part of tribes, even if we don’t intend to be. Especially for an age group of university students as we see in this film, you are so easily respected by what you wear, and it was so important here.
The first line of the film is someone snidely telling Oliver, “Nice jacket.” This way of clothing reminds the characters of what social stratum they belong to.
Along with Oliver, he had this vision of the university that was to be. He buys the blazer, he buys the tie, the scarf. He had this look of how he expected everyone to be, and then he was quite surprised at how everyone at school is actually dressed. Within the Saltburn family, everyone is on their own journey, but certainly at university it’s about understanding who fits in and who doesn’t.
The choice of the 2000s feels like an interesting time period. Did you get a lot of vintage, or did you end up building a lot of these costumes?
The 1990s are very popular in the UK at the moment, but the 2000s are a strange period of fashion that hasn’t come back as much. It’s an interesting time for clothes, because they’re not quite in the clothes houses yet, but they’re not in the shops anymore. So we went online and searched for British brands of that period—Jane Norman, Jack Wills, Kookaï. We went on websites like Depop and eBay and all sorts of vintage shops and we were basically buying from the back of people’s wardrobes.
I love the idea of selling some 2000s stuff from my closet on eBay and finally having it up on Jacob Elordi. Have you worked with any brands to find archive pieces from that period?
In my research, I looked at pop culture of who was popular in that period, and Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen and Kate Moss were big references for Topshop, so we looked at brands that worked with them at the time. We have worked with several brands. Jenny Packham was very generous. The two [Carey Mulligan’s and Alison Oliver’s characters] Pamela and Venetia wore Christopher Kane from the 2007 catwalk. Venetia wore an Agent Provocateur two-piece: a leopard-print suit with a cowboy hat, and this other bodysuit with stars on it. For [the family matriarch played by Rosamund Pike] Elspeth, we had a mint green silk dress with a big red bolero and a gorgeous gold dress – that was Valentino. And Chanel was very generous when looking at Carey’s character Pamela. We went back into their archives and found pieces that would work, and they said, “Why have two bracelets when you can have 12?”
When you and I last spoke, it was over Bridgerton, which had almost all the equipment to build. But like this, you were more of a scavenger, trying to keep the right mix of everything.
It’s a different skill set from buying fabrics and designing. Styling is a skill in itself, because you want to make sure that you are engaging the whole world and get it right. It’s challenging in many ways, but it’s a lot of fun. That’s the beauty of filmmaking: Every job can be a different challenge.
What is the hardest part to get right?
Venetia wears a spider dress – this piece of jewelry was a dress. It was challenging to create a piece of jewelry as a dress, because every time we moved the cob web, it was challenging to get it to sit on her body in the right way. But it is better to work on those challenges.
My favorite character in this movie is Elspeth. She’s funny, tough, judgmental, so incredibly campy, but she also has this darkness. How did you bring his style to life?
First, we looked at magazine editorials from the period to see what people were wearing. Each character has a backstory, and Elspeth was a model, so she has this relaxed, almost bohemian edge that gives her clothes a relaxed look. I wanted to convey that she has been a model of collecting clothes over the years, so that we have her in important vintage pieces that she is collecting, but also the current cut of jeans from that 2000s period. Because her character is so judgmental, I also wanted her clothes to have a laid-back element, so she didn’t look pretentious. And compared to her husband, James, who has old money, I didn’t want her to be stuffy and on trend, but in this bohemian, older way, rather than straight dress of that period. She wore vintage Alexander McQueen. There is a real calm about the way she moves herself around the house and walks through the gardens.
One of my favorite moments comes earlier in the film, when the group heads out for a champagne-fueled post-dinner round of tennis in their tuxedos, and Venetia is wearing this amazing colorful metallic fringe jacket.
That’s by Nasty Gal and her sweater dress is by Dundas, and she’s wearing vintage Miu Miu shoes. I loved that scene, and it was such a joy to shoot.
Have any of your actors tried to steal from a set?
Oh, they had a long list, which I think is always a compliment. There are definitely pieces that you see in the film that are now living in people’s closets. There were long lists that I sent to the producer for approval.
The 1990s have been trending for a while in fashion, but I’m thinking of the 2000s. This movie makes them look so cool and fun. Plus, there’s a big Amy Winehouse biopic coming out next year, Back to black, which I’m sure will change interest in that period, and it also finally feels like there are a lot of areas that make the 2000s feel like “vintage.” Do you think that decade is coming back in fashion?
Who knows? The higher end brands certainly had some beautiful key pieces from that period. But those wide belts? And the bootcut jeans? There is a place in time for things, and I think those need some time to come back.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You might like too