‘Queen and Slim’ Designer Shiona Turini on the Power of Costumes

When costume designer Shiona L. Turini saw Daniel Kaluuya’s classic Reebok with the rubber sole, she knew she had found her sneakers for “Queen & Slim.”

The beautifully crafted road movie follows a young black couple who go on the run through the South after a police officer is killed in self-defense. When we first meet Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya), the two are on a first date in a diner.

“When it came to the design, it was so important to screenwriter Lena [Waithe]. We put a lot of care and attention into the waitress’ costumes that you see in the opening,” Turini said. “I wanted it to be that perfect shade where it’s not too pink and too red.”

For Turini, earrings were the standout costume piece.

“It told such a cultural story at that moment,” she said. “The iconic hoop earrings were so iconic. [Director] Melina [Matsoukas] wanted the first half of the movie to feel very cold, so with the costumes we used very cool colors.”

With waitresses setting the tone, we also see how Queen is out-of-place. Her outfit is an elegant turtle neck. That look, Turini says, was inspired by political activist Angela Davis.

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“I looked at the Black Panthers. Their words and actions did the work, so their clothing didn’t have to,” Turini said. “I wanted to convey that with Queen. She is fighting for the freedom of black men and women throughout her career.”

Queen and Slim’s road trip leads them to Uncle Earl, a superb turn from actor Bokeem Woodbine.

“His look is a throwback to culture and fashion,” Turini says of his classic old school Gucci attire. “We collaborated with Dapper Dan for that because he’s such an icon in fashion. We wanted it to feel old school. Being able to sketch that and use the rich yellow velvet, I was so pleased with how that turned out.”

The stop at Uncle Earl’s allows the characters to change. “Lena wanted Uncle Earl to have a closet of tracksuits.” It’s not just any old tracksuit, Turini and Matsoukas discussed the look and color in-depth.

“We wanted a color to stand out at night, and we wanted a color that looked beautiful against black skin,” she said. “We camera tested so many different looks. I even flew back to New York one weekend to test more red velvet. We wanted it to feel very rich in texture with a rich sheen.”

Aside from the right shade of red, the piping was important to completing Slim’s look. Turini added in the white piping so the stripe could be seen no matter which angle he was standing.

It’s not just Slim who changes, Queen steps into an animal print dress. It’s a revelation, an even more empowering look. At this stage, Queen also removes her braids, showing off her natural short hair, and it’s striking.

Despite being on the run, the duo later make a stop at a juke joint where blues musician Little Freddie King is playing. “I collaborated with designers for his look,” Turini said. “I noticed his personal wardrobe is filled with life. So, we had him in that red suit. I wanted that look in that joint to feel authentic with the women dressing over the top, and others in just jeans and a tank top.”

Chloë Sevigny’s character provides a temporary sanctuary for both. “She’s like the Tory Burch woman.” laughs Turnini, describing her as the woman who would be in line at the outlet to get a cardigan. “I loved her outfit. When she sits down and you see the gold and her shoe. That’s the ultimate Tory Burch woman.”

Turini used the power of the costumes to tell the visual narrative of “Queen & Slim” and propel the film’s themes of power and resilience. “We used very cool colors for the first half of the film. As they’re traveling through the south, it becomes this explosion of culture and personality.”

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