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‘Poor Things’ Costume Designer Holly Waddington on Creating a Sexually Liberated Fashion Fantasia

In Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’s surreal new sci-fi period piece, the costumes that Emma Stone dons to play Bella Baxter, a Victorian woman whose brain has been replaced with that of an infant, are as eccentric and exhilarating as the film itself—jaw-dropping creations that immediately transport you to the eye-popping parallel universe in which this tale is set.

In the wake of her transplant, a wacky experiment dreamed up by her guardian, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), she’s effectively a toddler, learning to walk and talk in a series of elaborately ruffled, puff-sleeved babydoll dresses, Victorian bloomers, and nightgowns. But then she discovers sex, and this changes everything—the hazy black-and-white cinematography gives way to lush color and, as Bella joins her new lover, the caddish Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), on a whirlwind trip to Lisbon, Alexandria, and Paris, she finally gains the freedom to experiment with her wardrobe, pairing diaphanous skirts with cropped silk jackets and bright yellow raincoats with flesh-colored blouses. From then on, as she evolves—from dabbling in philosophy and taking a job, out of curiosity, at a Parisian brothel, to developing an interest in socialism and, eventually, aspiring to become a doctor—so do her outlandish ensembles.

“I knew that Yorgos didn’t want this to look like a sci-fi or period film,” Holly Waddington, the wildly talented costume designer behind the looks, says. The costumer is no stranger to period dramas with a modern bent, having outfitted Florence Pugh for the steely thriller Lady Macbeth and Elle Fanning for the raucous romp The Great, but for this, she says, “anything like lace, beading, or embroidery felt absolutely wrong.” Instead, she took inspiration from Victorian patterns with exaggerated silhouettes and breathed new life into them through the use of modern fabrics like plastic and latex. The effect is wondrous and discombobulating, both accentuating Bella’s otherworldliness and confirming her to be a heroine far ahead of her time.

Below, Waddington talks us through all of Bella’s key looks and phases, from the sculptural bustle cage inspired by a Moncler puffer, to the mac designed to resemble “a period condom.”

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