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Poor Things, a masterful approach to costume design 

Twisted, provocative, and expressive. Poor Things, by Hollywood director Yorgos  Lanthimos, has been adapted from the 90s novel of the same name by Scottish author  Alasdair Gray. This postmodern revision of Frankenstein brings an inventive aesthetic  proposal through the lenses of costume designer Holly Waddington.  

The Greek director, who has previously directed period dramas such as The Favourite,  introduces the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a beautiful young woman who is  brought back to life via brain transplant to then embark on an odyssey of emotions and  self-discovery.  

Although the story is based in Victorian London, its aesthetic is definitely influenced by  the darkness of Gray’s natal city, Glasgow, which gained prosperity in times of the  Industrial Revolution. Obscurity meets historicism in a city known for its contribution to  architectural styles. 

Poor Things has proven to be one of the season’s awards favorites with its multiple  nominations across different categories such as the Academy Award Best Actress, which  gifted Emma Stone her second statuette the past Sunday. 

Waddington, who had previously worked with elite costume designers such as Sandy  Powell or Jaqueline Durran, brought her masterful vision with a particular focus on the  blissfully obscureness aesthetic of the film and not the period in the drama it was set in.  “I’ve often found it frustrating when periods are recreated exactly as they were, and I’m  more interested in the scope to play with ideas.” Stated Waddington.  

The Victorian era was marked by restricting corsets that dictated a way of dressing and  walking, they forced a certain pose and body structure that was much in line with the  patriarchal thought of the time. Corsets, however, do not appear in this film, showing the  rebellious modernistic approach that Holly Waddington has taken.  

The film provides a Neofuturistic tint to the end of the 19th century, where cars fly and  architecture takes an avant-garde turn. The rich-colored garments are the perfect  conducting thread to the plot as they evolve with Bella Baxter. As the protagonist grows, 

evolves, and educates herself, her style becomes more refined and complex, although  maintaining her core absurdist essence.  

At the beginning of the film, we are presented with a baby-like character who is still  dressed by her maid and whose outfits are principally based on voluptuous dresses and  pompous sleeves that tangle between a Victorian woman and a child from the same  period, just as her, although these mature with Bella. The puffy sleeves add an otherness  allure to the costumes, creating a sense of empowerment through its amplitude. 

Conversely to her London home long skirts at the beginning of the film, Bella wears 30s  French knickers when in Lisbon, a sort of “tap shorts” that represent the comfort she  needs to explore the city. Think of a child and the way their clothes change throughout  the day, how these decompose and come to pieces given the children’s need for  freedom.  

As the movie changes the scenery and Bella travels to new locations, she rediscovers  herself and starts making her own style choices, which results in more discombobulated  outfits. 

As the set design, Bella’s style choices often draw inspiration from the cities she travels  to, which is a central part of her growth and influence. Our highly sexual protagonist  contrasts with the restrictive clothes she wore at the prelude, and these change as the  character awakens her primitive desire, reaching its pinnacle on the exquisitely sensual  designs she wears during her time in the Parisian brothel and which palette reflects on the  human body rather than on the highly sexualized black and red tones. 

The character arc is also reflected through the texture of the fabrics which are luxurious at  the beginning of the piece, reflecting her background, to then adapt to whichever  situation she gets into, and making Bella aware of her privileged social position. The color  palette also takes interesting turns stepping from colorful pieces in her vibrant stay in  Lisbon to more somber tones while in Paris that make her look more intellectual,  showcasing her hunger for knowledge, books, and socialism as well as the brilliant  adaptation skills that kids possess.  

By the end of the film, Bella has learnt hoe to assemble outfits that showcase her  personality and project her vision of the world. “I just wanted it to be like she just found 

herself, she knows who she is.” Appointed costume designer Holly Waddington. This  aesthetic proposal and exquisite plot will be remembered, no doubt, as one of the best  movies of 2023 while its costume design will serve as an example of balance between  innovation and historic design. 

Words: @edugilhurta