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‘The Souvenir’ Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film that screamed ’80s,” says costume designer Grace Snell, who, instead of browsing fashion magazines for secondhand ideas, mined Hogg’s old Polaroids and Ray Roughler Jones’  “3000 Hangovers Later,” a pictorial examination of Notting Hill decadence in the ’80s, for inspiration. The result is a softly nostalgic film that avoids the stereotypical shoulder pads and lamé of the era.

Snell distilled Julie’s artistic spirit, her preppy or “Sloanie” fashion sense (cashmere/silk instead of wool/polyester) and her chameleon-like desire to mimic Anthony to create an aspirational closet. For the couple’s first date, she dressed the student in Vivienne Westwood pirate buckle boots, as well as including daily staples: Levi’s, tomboy shirts (Ben Sherman and an ’80s original Katharine Hamnett) and various 1950s blouses from Norwich’s Lulu Vintage. For Julie’s classic-inspired loungewear, Snell considered the young woman’s evolving sensuality. “Phantom Thread” head cutter Cecile Van Dijk was brought on board for the Charles James-inspired couture gown (an original design by Snell), in which Julie elegantly strides in a scene set in Venice. On the train ride there, she wears a Hitchcockian, uncharacteristically waist-cinching gray skirt suit (another original) — a nod to Kim Novak in “Vertigo.” 

For one of Anthony’s signature looks, Snell notes that Hogg wanted a pinstripe suit. “We went to Earl of Bedlam,” a punkish South London fashion house that Burke favors. “The fabric is Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, blue chalk stripe,” she notes. But to amplify the precise character that defines much of Anthony’s wardrobe, Snell gave the suit a pink lining. His shirts were custom-made, but his silk bow ties were original ’80s pieces, hand-painted by Hugh Dunford Wood. Costume trainee Harriet Waterhouse made the dressing gown Anthony wears throughout the film: a military-style piece imagined as an old school coat. 

Snell had fun with the film’s mother-daughter facet, with Tilda Swinton, Honor’s real-life mom, playing that role for Julie. For an intimate birthday dinner scene, she put the duo in Fendi geometric prints; she also created subtle mirror-image moments between the two. “Maybe they swap clothes,” Snell suggests. “I imagined Julie had been given her scarves by her mother for Christmas.” A sizable portion of Swinton’s wardrobe, which conveys the character’s loyal commitment to ’60s style, came together thanks to a coincidence at a Norfolk charity shop, where Snell spotted a man donating boxes of clothes from a late family member. She bought the lot, discovering pristinely pleated petticoats, matching handbags and shoes and floral dresses. She added a red Mackintosh raincoat and vintage Wellington boots to the mix, as well as various silk scarves, including one of Swinton’s own.

The designer, who’s currently working on Bassam Tariq’s “Mughal Mowgli,” can be seen in “The Souvenir” in a fun cameo. “I’m the seamstress when Julie’s being measured,” she says proudly. 

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