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‘The White Lotus’ Costume Designer Created One Last Look Before Tanya’s Plunge

Crafting the farewell ensemble for Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) — before she shoots up a yacht of murderous gays and tumbles into the sea to her untimely death in the season two finale of HBO’s The White Lotus — was a labor of love for costume designer Alex Bovaird, who has delighted in conjuring up Coolidge’s outfits since she first arrived at the White Lotus resort in Hawaii for season one. Bovaird reflects to THR on the surprisingly technical process of constructing Tanya’s final floral dress, which had to be re-created multiple times to be shot in the ocean, in a controlled tank and using stunt doubles.

The script described Tanya, in death, as floating, peaceful and serene while a Puccini song plays. “I worked back from that. We wanted her to look like a jellyfish or a sea creature,” says Alex Bovaird, who knew the dress would need to be custom-made because multiple versions would be used to capture the scene on doubles and dummies, some footage taken on location and others in a tank. “We had an Italian seamstress make the dresses. I think we ended up with seven.”

There was a large technical component to getting Tanya’s final costume moment right. “When she goes into the water, we didn’t want the dress to just rush up over her head,” recalls Bovaird. “We put some fishing weights [in it] so that when she goes in, the dress stays down. Otherwise it would just unflatteringly come above her. But then there was a shot we were aiming to get where the dress does float up, in a very elegant way, and so we had to make sure that was less weighted. There was a lot of trial and error.”

The jewelry was purchased in the Sicilian town of Taormina, “from local artists,” says Bovaird. “We loved the idea that everyone buys stuff when they’re on holiday, so those were just something she would have picked up from a local store.” Aside from that, Tanya wears her signature Kate Spade cocktail ring.

Jennifer Coolidge sketch

Jennifer Coolidge sketch Courtesy of HBO

Tanya’s purse is Valentino, because “she talks about Portia [her assistant played by Haley Lu Richardson] stealing her bags,” says Bovaird. “It was important that she carry a notable designer purse.” The costume team gravitated toward Italian brands this season, so Valentino “was just very fitting and romantic, and this bright pink purse — she kind of uses it as body armor.”

The shoes are Betsey Johnson. “They had a turned, wonky heel, which was funny because Tanya always felt a little bit wonky,” says Bovaird. “They had a mirrored facet, kind of like a disco ball.” For the various aquatic shots, four additional pairs of shoes were required — “in case you lose a shoe in the sea.”

“We searched high and low for this fabric,” Bovaird recalls, describing how countless options just weren’t quite right and how her team searched all over Italy for the correct floaty chiffon. “All our characters, [Tanya] included, have Italian-influenced prints: In Italy, they do have a lot of florals and fruits on their summer dresses,” she adds. “This one has tulips and peonies, and it’s by Emanuel Ungaro. He was one of the hot designers of the ’60s, and we always leaned into this romantic vibe for her. In the end, we found [the fabric] in Sicily.”

Tanya goes for a bit more of an elegant, streamlined silhouette than some of her wackier looks in the first season. But by the end of the second season, “she talks to Quentin [Tom Hollander] about how her mother used to dress her like a little doll,” Bovaird points out. “We wanted to bring a little bit of that fragile Tanya back. The last few dresses are very baby-doll.”

Bovaird had conversations with Jennifer Coolidge about keeping the looks grounded. “She wanted to make sure she wasn’t ‘crazy lady.’ We walked the ground between making her elegant and making sure she comes off as a little chaotic — walking the line, if we could, between reality and comedy.”

Jennifer Coolidge in the HBO drama series The White Lotus

Jennifer Coolidge in the HBO drama series The White Lotus Courtesy of Fabio Lovino/HBO

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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