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“Last Night in Soho,” directed by Edgar Wright, starts as a quick-witted coming-of-age tale about a first-year fashion student and promptly descends into a ghoulish, blood-soaked fantasy thriller fit for its Halloween weekend release. But while the plot doesn’t concern itself too much with reality, for costume designer Odile Mireaux-Dicks it was the top priority.
Clothing, after all, is at the film’s center. The story follows Eloise, played by New Zealand rising star Thomasin McKenzie, who is the newest country bumpkin to land in London with lofty dreams of becoming a designer. But her studies at the London College Fashion soon take a backseat when she moves to an antiquated bedsit in the depths of Soho, where she begins to dream of a young wannabe singer from 1966 named Sandy.
At first, visions of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy) frolicking around the West End’s cabaret circuit imbue the reserved Eloise with a lust for life. She bleaches her mousy brown hair to resemble Sandy’s blonde, Bridgette Bardot-esque bob and poaches the starlet’s charismatic one-liners, dropping them awkwardly into her own conversations with fellow students. As Eloise spends more time in 1960s Soho, her college work deviates from original designs to look more like exercises in fashion history.
“Everything was better in the ’60s,” she declares at several points throughout the film.
But as she watches her idol, Sandy, navigate the seedy, male-dominated entertainment industry, the veneer of glamour soon falls away. What’s left is an unsavoury reminder of “Sixties sexism”: the rampant misogyny that occurred during a time when women couldn’t even own their own credit card.
The film links Eloise and Sandy through fashion – from matching white vinyl mac coats to red balconette dresses, Wright uses costume to join worlds and blend the two characters together. Such a style-conscious film could be considered a costumer’s dream, but it didn’t come without its challenges, says Mireaux-Dicks.
A lesson in fashion
Almost every look in “Last Night in Soho” is a bespoke reinvention of a real-life vintage garment Mireaux-Dicks found either rummaging in one of London’s many second-hand stores or in an old sewing pattern. In many cases, genuine articles of 1960s clothing (like the white André Courrèges go-go boots the team found in Paris) were meticulously recreated so that they could be used in several scenes at once. Wright gave the costume department around 15 films to watch as research, including the 1960 movie “Beat Girl” and “Darling” featuring Julie Christie.
But for Mireaux-Dicks – who designed the costumes for the 1950s romantic drama “Brooklyn” (2015) and the 1960s coming-of-age story “An Education” (2009) – the real challenge was creating looks for the modern-day fashion students.
“I think I must have taken 500 pictures of fashion students up at Central (Saint Martins),” she said in a video call from London. “I studied at Central (Saint Martins), and my assistant had just come out of art school, so she got me in and we discussed all (the students’ looks).”
Even with all the research, Mireaux-Dicks found creating believable present-day styles daunting. “I think contemporary (fashion) is harder in some ways,” the designer noted. “People have more opinions about it because you’re dealing with (these trends) now. Whereas in the ’60s, (my team) are very much trusting my knowledge and judgment.”
She also commissioned an on-site fashion consultant, Phoebe English, to help the college classroom scenes appear as authentic as possible. She was concerned her designs wouldn’t be feasible for a first-year fashion student. “Would you believe this? Is this possible? Or have we made it too sophisticated?” Mireaux-Dicks recalled asking English. “It has to be convincing.”
The film’s pièce de résistance, however, is a peach-hued shift gown modeled after a 1960s overdress Mireaux-Dicks had found in an old paper pattern. Originally, the dress required an undergarment. “But I really liked the idea of it being see-through,” Mireaux-Dicks said, “and of course, Anya really made it work by the way she wore it.”
The frock appears in the film more than once, including as one of Eloise’s designs for her college fashion show. “I was quite strong willed about having something that (Eloise) could have made,” Mireaux-Dicks added. “It’s important that the audience really believe in her.”
Add to queue: A sartorial scare
Watch: Personal Shopper (2016)
Maureen Cartwright (Kirsten Stewart) is a young American working as a personal shopper for supermodel and fashion celebrity, Kyra. Cartwright’s role is to pick out the most lavish designer clothes and deliver them to Kyra’s picture-perfect apartment. But unbeknownst to her client, Cartwright is a medium. The film takes a tonal shift from fashionable to frightening once spirits start to reach out.
Listen: Forgotten Women of Genre, Eiko Ishioka episode (2019)
Co-hosted by Cher Martinetti (founder of female-centric science fiction review space “SYFY FANGRRLS”), as well as writers Courtney Enlow and Preeti Chhibber, this episode is an interview with Eiko Ishioka – the Japanese costume designer who created the regal garments for Bram Stoker’s 1992 film “Dracula.”
Watch: Neon Demon (2016)
Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles at 16 in the hopes of launching a successful modeling career. But the fashion industry proves too much for her. In representing the dark side of this glamorous world, director Nicolas Winding Refn takes viewers on a nightmarish journey filled with cannibalism, necrophilia and murder.
Read: Jennifer’s Body the graphic novel (2009)
Jennifer (Megan Fox) is a demonic cheerleader hellbent on devouring teenage boys. In the accompanying graphic novel to the 2009 film, Jennifer’s early aughts costumes appear more like fashion sketches than typical anime.
Watch: The Heathers (1989)
Winona Ryder stars as Veronica in this black comedy classic centered around a cruel high school clique. Veronica and her boyfriend (Christian Slater) devise a plot to get revenge on the school’s uber-fashionable girl gang, all named Heather, in this goofy, gory thriller.