Warning! Spoilers ahead for season two of The White Lotus.
The second series of The White Lotus, which ended on Sunday 11th December, has not only provided a welcome winter escape (thanks to its setting in picturesque Sicily) but it’s also brought us many love-to-hate characters, incessant fan theories and incredibly nuanced costume design. A satirical portrayal of the super-wealthy on a resort holiday, this season was stuffed with symbolism and Easter eggs that manifested impeccably through the characters' wardrobes. The show’s costume designer, Alex Bovaird, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the first series, tells Refinery29 that this round of costumes demanded "more of everything".
"Since it’s about people going on holiday, we crank it up deliberately as there’s a certain amount of projecting that we all do when packing our suitcases," Bovaird says. "We ask, Who do I want to be on vacation? Did I go out and buy certain things? Am I upping my game because I’m in Italy? This adds an extra element to the design, which is super fun." With film credits including The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Jordan Peele’s Nope, Bovaird’s work almost requires a second pair of eyes to spot all its greatness. Take, for example, the floral dress in episode three that foreshadowed this season’s finale. "The babydoll dress was something we made ourselves from some beautiful Emanuel Ungaro fabric," Bovaird says. "We needed six of them in total." With brands such as Moschino, JW Anderson and Casablanca making appearances on the small screen, there were clearly plenty of eyes on the costumes this season.
Portia (played by Haley Lu Richardson) is your archetypal Gen Z girlie with an algorithm-informed wardrobe to match. From the moment she appears on screen, her patterned House of Sunny sweater vest, marbled Crap Eyewear sunglasses and array of beaded necklaces create a picture of someone who is chronically online. The juxtaposition of her pastel, sticker-covered Away suitcase with Tanya’s (played by Jennifer Coolidge) multiple quartz-pink Rimowas instantly indicates a class and cultural divide before either character opens their mouth – and that’s on Bovaird. "I love observing people. I base it off reality and then up the eye candy," she says. "Costume design should serve the story and make sense for the character – sometimes it’s so good that you don’t really notice it."
In subsequent episodes we see Portia in an array of haphazard outfits, all of which make her look like Urban Outfitters threw up on her. It’s a well-known aesthetic, perhaps best described by TikToker @mirandawaldron in a now-viral sound: "Gen-Z will be like ‘I have such a unique sense of personal style’ and then they just wear a top and a skirt that don’t go together with cowboy boots." Like many other young people today, Portia is lost, and before her character gets a chance to explain that, her outfits do it for her (albeit with a pair of chunky white sandals instead of cowboy boots).
This hasn’t stopped the internet raging at Portia’s terrible sense of style, from her upcycled Tommy Hilfiger cropped polo shirt and crochet bucket hat to her zebra-print bikini top and rainbow micro-hoodie-slash-cardigan combination. "It’s fascinating to be part of a discussion on what costume design is and what constitutes style," Bovaird says. The audience reaction is all the more interesting, given that Portia’s wardrobe was a collaborative effort. "Haley Lu wanted to wear her own bucket hat, the denim cutoffs are hers. She was very involved with mismatching her clothes, making sure Portia sometimes looked a bit of a fail while also having her own sweet, kooky mojo."
As with all of the characters in The White Lotus, the brilliance lies in Bovaird’s accuracy; perhaps with Portia she has held the looking glass a little too close for comfort. "This one has struck a chord, maybe because people who care this much about outfits have all looked back and cringed at some of their own? I know I have," Bovaird says.
Resort manager Valentina (played by Sabrina Impacciatore) was Bovaird’s favourite character to dress. A tirelessly uptight woman with lashings of charcoal eyeliner and over-styled dark hair, she wears exclusively two-piece suits and patterned shirts. "A lot of the characters have an eclectic wardrobe but it’s fun to home in on one thing, creating her rigid style with sharp suits and pointy shoes," Bovaird says. "It just felt like you’re getting to know exactly who Valentina is every time we dressed her."
Valentina delivers the line of the series when she bluntly tells Tanya, who is dressed in head-to-toe Alice Temperley, that she looks like Peppa Pig. Valentina’s tough exterior, consisting of quintessential Italian labels like Trussardi, Pinko and Max Mara, acts as a mask to conceal her inner struggles, which are revealed over the course of the season. The final episode ushers in a newly liberated Valentina, symbolised through her unbuttoned Moschino blouse from the night before.
Bovaird confirms she pulled "lots of Italian designers and lots of vintage" to dress the protagonists of this dark Sicilian adventure. Billionaire heiress Tanya’s hot pink Valentino bag has a recurring role, with the assembling of its gold chain straps often acting as an emotional crutch. Harper (played by Aubrey Plaza) on the other hand opts for Loewe’s Flamenco bag, interspersed with a couple of Bottega Veneta options, all of which are fitting for a high-flying New York lawyer. Her quiet luxury wardrobe, largely made up of Sandro basics, arguably makes her the best dressed character on the show – especially in proximity to the brashness of affluent couple Daphne and Cameron (played by Meghann Fahy and Theo James).
@catquinn Replying to @catquinn Aubrey Plaza’s style as Harper in the White Lotus was inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, costume designer Alex Bovaird told Fashionista. #thewhitelotus #thewhitelotusseason2 #aubreyplaza #harper #greenscreen ♬ Renaissance (Main Title Theme) [from "The White Lotus: Season 2"] - Cristobal Tapia De Veer
The word 'delusional' comes to mind for these two. Daphne’s whimsical prints and patterns from Moschino, Louis Vuitton (in the form of several giant monogrammed totes) and Sicilian swimwear brands Reina Olga and Mavì Bikini are an extension of the fantasy world that she and her husband live in. Cameron’s penchant for statement shirts, purchased from the local town after the airline loses his suitcase, screams self-absorbed narcissist – particularly the silk, cocktail-printed Casablanca style he wears in episode three. A spokesperson for the luxury fashion house tells Refinery29: "Once that episode aired, we had so many people reach out saying they had spotted a Casablanca shirt. It highlighted what a varied audience the show has, how identifiable Casablanca is in its designs and the thought that Alex put into this not only in the selection of the brands but which character wore them."
Perhaps the characters with the most fun wardrobes are Mia and Lucia (played by Beatrice Grannò and Simona Tabasco), the two sex workers who blag their way into the five-star resort. In episode two they are seen staring into a boutique window, gazing longingly at a glitzy bodycon dress from London-based designer Clio Peppiatt, which they later purchase with their earnings.
"Alex was lovely to work with and her vision for the scene meant she knew exactly what styles would work best for the characters," Peppiatt tells Refinery29. "As a big fan of The White Lotus, it’s really special to see such out-there pieces make an appearance." In the closing scene we see the pair wandering the streets of Sicily, flush with swindled money, their mood heightened by their complementary bright, fruity and floral ensembles. It’s easy to see them as the winners of the show. "I wanted them to pop in the crowd," Bovaird says. "It’s also my own little homage to one of my favourite films, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, about a badass woman who out-scams the scammers."
Without Bovaird’s work, the characters of The White Lotus wouldn’t have been as compelling, chaotic and complicated as they are. The situations they find themselves in may be unimaginable to the majority of us but Bovaird's razor-sharp observations of different types of people and how they dress make them somehow relatable. We’ve all encountered a blissfully ignorant alpha male like Cameron or a socially conscious yet self-absorbed young person like Portia. In fact, we can probably see a piece of ourselves in all of them (as much as we wouldn't like to admit it).
Bovaird believes costume designers are earning more widespread appreciation. "It seems like they are getting recognised for their synergy in reflecting and projecting the world around them," she says. "There is a campaign for more equal pay and credit which, given the crucial role they have in storytelling, is long overdue." Her hopes for season three’s destination? "Somewhere with mysticism and magic like India or Egypt." It’s just a shame we won’t get to see Tanya’s wardrobe make that trip.