Fashion choices have long served as a hallmark of writer-director Sofia Coppola’s films, from the gauzy underwear in the hazy, dreamlike opening of “Lost in Translation” to teenage Marie Antoinette’s choice of blue Chuck Taylors.
But in her new movie “The Bling Ring,” about real life Hollywood-obsessed Valley kids who stole from the rich and famous, clothing isn’t just about what the characters are wearing. It’s a plot device.
“We kind of immersed ourselves in tabloid photos” to see which labels would have been taken from each house, says Coppola of the June 14 release, which is based on the band of teens and twentysomethings who burglarized the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox and other A-listers in 2008 and 2009.
In the film, newcomer Katie Chang plays Rebecca, a character based on the ring’s leader, Rachel Lee (who served two years in prison for the crime). Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard and Claire Julien round out the movie’s purloining posse.
Coppola herself is no stranger to luxury lines. She interned at Chanel and co-founded the clothing line MilkFed. A close friend of Marc Jacobs, she’s designed bags for his Louis Vuitton line that have a bit of a cult following.
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“Bling Ring” distributor A24, which declined to comment on the film’s marketing and promotion, found interesting ways to play up the movie’s sinister fun factor. Its website shows movie stills with descriptions of outfits, along with suggested retail prices — though you can’t actually buy the merchandise through the site. The distributor’s social media campaign features Pinterest boards for each character and coveted fashion items reflecting their individual tastes. The soundtrack includes songs with names like “Gucci Bags.”
Hilton, who let the production shoot in her house, has a cameo in the film, lounging in a tiny white dress dripping with diamonds. “She’s shiny like a Barbie doll, and they want to be like her,” says the picture’s costume designer Stacey Battat. “She’s like this golden chalice.”
If this were a movie that wasn’t about teenage burglars trading their rags for riches, the product tie-ins would be obvious and endless.
Coppola says no one approached her about such tie-ins. However, brands she had relationships with — including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Versace and Herve Leger — did bless her use of their products in her film.
“It’s not really the way they wanted to be portrayed or something they would pursue,” Coppola acknowledges, “But … I’m grateful that they supported my work and let me use them, because we wanted it to be authentic, and it felt so much stronger to use the real brands.”
Some, like eyeglass designer Oliver Peoples, even issued press releases to boast about which characters wore their products. And yes, there is some irony that these brands are proud to be associated with a movie that can be interpreted as labeling their buyers as narcissistic and shallow.
“I think a brand has to have a sense of irreverence and humor to do something like this,” says Raina Penchansky, chief strategy officer for marketing firm Digital Brand Architects, who has worked with labels that include Jimmy Choo, Juicy Couture and Coach. “For the right brand, there’s a sexiness to it. … It’s that Sofia Coppola cool, sexy factor, and that’s a direct relationship to marketing to youth.”
Like other truth-based films of crime that have piqued teens’ interest (think Nick Cassavetes’ 2006 pic “Alpha Dog,” also based on a Southern California crime story), there is a risk of over-glamorizing.
“Because I wasn’t making a documentary, I wanted it to be authentic, but I felt I could make my own version,” Coppola says. “I tried to show it in a real way and make all the stu they were into look seductive so you could understand why they were into that stuff. So I’m kind of showing it like candy. And then the story and the way it ends and what happens to them, hopefully is not glorifying it. You kind of overdose on the end.”
Even then, the characters went out in style. Those Oliver Peoples sunglasses? They were worn by Emma Watson’s character in court.