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Kate Beckinsale is looking to tie the knot in Love & Friendship, a romantic comedy set in the 1790s that reunites the English actress with Chloe Sevigny and director Whit Stillman (who directed both stars in 1998’s The Last Days of Disco).
Based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, Beckinsale stars in the pic as Lady Susan Vernon, a grieving young widow on the hunt for a new husband for herself and her timid daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). With the film centered around Lady Susan, the outfits played an important role in transitioning her from one in mourning to a lady of luxury. That’s where costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, who also worked on the Jane Austen film adaptation Becoming Jane (2007), comes into play.
“It’s all about Lady Susan and her relationship with everybody else,” Mhaoldomhnaigh tells Pret-a-Reporter. “She bounces off of everybody and their reactions to her. She sashays in a room and, ‘Oh my gosh, here she is again.’ She kind of has to have a dramatic entrance.”
Mhaoldomhnaigh helped elevate Lady Susan’s fearless behavior through a series of costume changes, starting with an all-black ensemble that revealed her as a mourning widow. But as the film progresses, Lady Susan starts shedding off her grief.
“If you actually laid out the costumes, it goes from black to black and grey to mauve, more of the mourning colors for the time, and every time she’s in the country she’s affecting the widow and trying to be discreet,” says Mhaoldomhnaigh, who designed all of Beckinsale’s wardrobe. “But when she goes to London, the colors change.”
That’s when Lady Susan starts to embrace brighter hues, wearing corseted gowns in light pink, scarlet, and purple (with black lace), which Mhaoldomhnaigh is quick to note is also a grieving hue, “[but] she’s very slowly discarding her widow’s weeds, getting rid of her mourning colors.”
Adds the Irish costume designer: “When she’s in London, she’s a social butterfly. She starts to wear colors and is back on the scene.”
Mhaoldomhnaigh balanced the bold colors on Beckinsale’s character with more subtle washes for Sevigny’s character, Mrs. Alicia Johnson.
“It wasn’t so much color-coded, but I used very bold colors for Kate and then with Chloe we used a lot of blue, gold and bronze,” says the designer. “Chloe’s character is an American city girl, she doesn’t know much about the country life, which was totally important if you were an English woman at the time, and I just wanted her to really look like somebody who looked like they lived in the city.”
To capture that, Mhaoldomhnaigh wanted “her to look quite ornamental and that she spends a lot of time on what she wore.” That includes large corseted gowns with ruche shawl necklines and oversized cloaks.
“The brilliant thing about this film — because all the characters are heightened versions of themselves, it gives you leeway to be bold and use color and texture … so the costumes can be be heightened as well,” concludes Mhaoldomhnaigh.
Love & Friendship opens in theaters Friday.