The films of Sofia Coppola are defined by one word: style. The daughter of the man, myth, and legend that brought us “The Godfather” films, Francis Ford Coppola, she has built a reputation for creating visuals so lush they could double as mood boards. Doting on the appearance of her films down to the smallest detail, Coppola has become the favorite of many style lovers (including Tavi Gevinson and Jeanne Damas) for her costume choices, which mix historical accuracy with a modern heart to deliver timeless wardrobe inspiration. In honor of Coppola’s newest film, “The Beguiled,” making its public debut later this month, here are some lessons from three of Coppola’s most stylish films.
“The Virgin Suicides”
Released in 1999 and based off of the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides, “The Virgin Suicides” was Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, telling the story of the young, beautiful, and tragic Lisbon sisters. Set in the 1970s, the film’s story is told from the perspective of a group of neighborhood boys who follow the Lisbon girls in heart-eyed fascination. The style of the film captures the all too real sting of sexual awakening and first crushes: equal parts innocent, lusty, and obsessive.
Staying true to the decade, “The Virgin Suicides” showers the screen in bell bottoms, 70s stripes, and mary janes. This, combined with the brief subplot of neighborhood boy, Dominic Palazzo, (whose style can only be described as “Italian man living in Capri”) and his lovesick obsession with a local teen tennis player, allows us bask in the impeccable yet borderline-cheesy glory of the 70s.
The Power of Daydreams
Dreamy femininity reigns supreme in the Lisbon girls’ world and wardrobes. They are almost always sporting lace, florals, or light-wash jeans as they listen to records, frolic in fields, or hang their heads out of a car during a furtive daytrip with the neighborhood boys. With clothes that reveal conflicted attitudes, between the desire for individuality and the pressure to stay innocent, the Lisbon girls’ style shows the quiet intensity of soft fabrics.
Attitude Is Everything
Of all the Lisbon girls, Lux (played by Kirsten Dunst) steals the show, and I’d argue that that’s mostly because of her firecracker spirit, which shines through anything she’s wearing (And I don’t just mean when Coppola shows us an x-ray shot through Lux’s sack-like prom dress to show that she’s written a boy’s name on her underwear. Although, that is the most literal example). Lux is the one who puts a deliberate strut in her step while wearing a boxy school uniform, and the sister most likely to let her spaghetti strap slip off of her shoulder. Lux wants to have fun, and her attitude lights up anything she wears, bowling over even the most popular high school boys.
The fashion heavyweight of Coppola’s films to-date, “Marie Antoinette” is a gorge-fest of all things decadent, and watching it feels like running a finger across a cake just to get a mouthful of frosting. By reveling in the indulgent life of the French monarchy, the film captures a glamorous isolation that doesn’t seem far off from what we see in the lives of the super-rich today, making the film a voyeuristic and thought-provoking window into a world of wealth and privilege.
More is More
If the renaissance of mules, pastels and ruffles are anything to go by, the hyper-feminine spirit of Rococo is back in style in a big way (Gucci, anyone?). Practically every scene in “Marie Antoinette” is a sugar rush for the eyes, layering patterns, colors, and fluffy fabrics for an overwhelmingly luxurious payoff. “Marie Antoinette” pictures the relationship between wealth and style, and although it is a period piece, the film’s costumes reveal some of the strikingly timeless elements of luxury — namely, being flashy.
A seemingly more modest lesson that “Marie Antoinette” teaches us is the power of a monochrome outfit. In one pivotal scene, Marie Antoinette’s arrival in France, she wears an entirely powder blue outfit that stands out from the majority of her costumes in the rest of the film, breaking the color up with textural ruffles, ribbons, and bows. Dressing in one color may not be the most intuitive choice when trying to stand out, but if the film’s song choices are anything to go by (“Lady in Red,” “Blue Velvet,” “The Girl in the Yellow Dress”) there is something instinctively attractive about a monochrome look. Throughout history, wearing clothing in certain colors was an indication of wealth and status (like red and purple, which required expensive dyes to make), but a monochrome outfit is most powerful for its surreal memorability: there is something undeniably fairytale-esque about saying, “she was dressed all in _____.”
Let it Get to Your Head
Marie Antoinette and her posse of court ladies are shown in countless scenes sporting major cranial accessories: hats, feathers, flower crowns, and, of course, massive bobble-studded wigs. Yet again, the film’s costuming makes a show of the super-rich penchant for showing off, but we are also given the opportunity to consider the level of confidence and elegance it takes to wear a towering crown. Since posture becomes majorly noticeable when you draw attention to your head and neck, the act of gracefully sporting headgear becomes a symbol for hours of practice moving and balancing. The crowning accessories of “Marie Antoinette” give the audience an insight into these characters’ understanding of the phrase, “see and be seen,” revealing the degree of paranoia that comes with fame and reputation.
Saving the most anticipated for last, “The Beguiled” is a re-interpretation of the 1971 film of the same name by director Don Siegel, starring Clint Eastwood and told from the perspective of his character. In Coppola’s rendition, she flips the script and tells the story from the perspective of the female characters, who are women and girls living in a boarding house-style girls’ school in 1860s Virginia. Forced into seclusion by the Civil War, the group is led by Mistress Martha (played by Nicole Kidman), who makes the decision to take in a wounded Union soldier (played by Colin Farrell) when one of the youngest girls finds him hurt in the woods. Since the movie hasn’t been released (and I was, sadly, not invited to the Cannes film festival) the rest of the story is a mystery, but the definition of beguiled is to influence by trickery or flattery; to mislead or delude; or to take something away by cheating or deceiving, and the trailer lures viewers in with the promise of sex, rivalry, and a sinister twist.
Southern Gothic style
“The Beguiled” is less flashy as a period piece compared to “Marie Antoinette.” “The Beguiled” oozes with sensuous Southern Gothic style, offering equal parts high-collars buttoned to the top and elegant boat neck dresses with lace-accented sleeves. Romantic and sophisticated, these costumes are cut from the same cloth as many of the clothing brands that are getting major attention on Instagram for bringing back the Lady-with-a-capital-L approach to dressing well.
Strength and Sophistication
The women in “The Beguiled” are educated women living alone without men in a time of war. While the characters’ clothes are beautiful, there’s also an unmistakable sense of independence to them. Sleeves puff around the upper arm and tighten around the forearm so they can’t get snagged; linen skirts reveal leather boots instead of heels; even the corsets of the time (which the actresses really wore) were in-part intended to improve posture and prevent back injuries while working rather than to change the shape of a woman’s body. Beauty and strength are not exclusive, and an outfit that reflects that message is pretty magnificent.
“The Beguiled” costumes neutral color palette is gentle on the eyes and serves as a reminder of the beauty of subtlety. The natural, uncomplicated outfits of “The Beguiled” are a lesson in minimalism: the casual cool of a linen pinafore, plain white shirt, or simple pearl earring.
— Gabriella Lacombe, wunderfiend.com