“I really, really enjoy doing this job,” says Alex Bovaird, the Emmy-nominated costume designer for The White Lotus. She is all anyone is talking about right now — just perhaps not necessarily by name.
The outfits of messy Gen Zer Portia have spawned countless think pieces and thousands of opinionated tweets. Jennifer Coolidge has become even more of an icon, if such is possible, since her kaftan-clad appearance in the first season. Aubrey Plaza has gone from beloved alt-witch weirdo to the best-dressed woman on television. And it is Bovaird behind the scenes, pulling all the strings.
Of course, she loves doing this job. HBO’s The White Lotus has been a hit from the off, with production taking Bovaird from the picturesque beaches of Maui to the chic streets of Sicily, where she dresses the enviable cast in outfits which only get more ostentatious by the episode. It’s a costume designer’s wet dream.
Right now, Bovaird is in quite a different predicament. She is Zooming in from Iceland, where she’s dressing the cast of the next True Detective series — a complete vibe shift from her months in Sicily kitting out the fictional upper echelons earlier this year. Despite discourse online, begging for a ski-resort-themed third season, Bovaird is resistant. “It would be really fun to do all the fur, and the après ski, and the fireside mayhem, but I’ve just done six months in Iceland — I’d much rather go to Bali or Thailand,” she laughs.
She’s got this eclectic, eccentric wardrobe that I think Gen Z people really adhere to
In her downtime, Bovaird has been keeping up with the reception to this season’s The White Lotus outfits, even if she wishes she wouldn’t. “I wouldn’t say I ever set out to make bad outfits,” she says, referencing her highly critiqued options for Portia, played by Haley Lu Richardson. “Portia, to me, sometimes looks really good, and sometimes she looks a mess […] She’s got this eclectic, eccentric wardrobe that I think Gen Z people really adhere to.” For Portia, Bovaird says her ethos was the opposite of Coco Chanel’s — before you go out, put one more accessory on.
She’s also dubious of the Portia criticism, for reasons beyond being precious about her work: “If [Haley Lu Richardson] was like, 5ft 11in, really skinny, would people still be saying this? If she looked like Gigi Hadid? Some influencers on Instagram wear the craziest s***, but they’re also very conventionally beautiful.” Bovaird admitted she gave up following the online chatter the day she saw a tweet which read: “Death to The White Lotus costume designer”.
Despite her Portia protectionism, the messy Gen Zer wasn’t Bovaird’s favourite character to dress. “I really enjoyed doing ‘the gays’, as we called them,” she says, referring to the posse of men who surround Tom Hollander’s ill-intentioned character Quentin. “One of the men, Didier [played by Bruno Gouery of Emily in Paris fame], is always carrying around these little man bags every time he’s on camera. It’s very European, and they’re often JW Anderson, Loewe, and Gucci.”
Bovaird didn’t have the budget to work with that The White Lotusguests would have — “It’s not Succession, you know!” — so she went extra hard on the accessories to illustrate the wealth of the characters. “Since bags and sunglasses get lots of screentime, I could snag some goodies from Bottega [Veneta] and Louis Vuitton, especially after Rachel [played by Alexandra Daddario] in season one carried around this Goyard bag the whole time, and that led to a lot of coverage.”
She also used the accessories to send signals, planting Easter eggs about the characters and their intentions. “Lucia, for example, has this charm necklace that I designed with a friend of mine in London — if you look, it has a little Aphrodite, a love heart, and a pentogram.” There are more telling Easter eggs within other outfits, but she refuses to tell me what they are in case they give the game away.
Fan-favourite — and the only cast member from season one to reappear — Tanya McQuoid, played by Jennifer Coolidge, was the most fun to dress. Bovaird says her style is what truly encapsulates the spirit of The White Lotus. “She helps to walk the line that we try to follow with all the costumes. We are observing these people, and slightly laughing at them, but I mainly wanted all the looks to be outfits that people see and say, ‘God I really like that outfit’ […] We wanted it to be a feast for the eyes.”
If that’s the MO, then she has succeeded with Aubrey Plaza’s character. She plays the reserved and scrupulous Harper, an entirely new turn for the typically quirky and offbeat comedy actress. Plaza is dressed in uber-chic, Italian-inspired outfits throughout the series, and it’s one of Bovaird’s proudest works. “It’s funny because she’s normally so kooky, so it was fun to give her this style where she looks exquisite a lot of the time.”
As we approach the finale, thirst for the third season has already begun, and fans have taken turns to share who they want to see visiting The White Lotus next year. Fan casting has ranged from the obvious (Lindsay Lohan, the cast of Schitt’s Creek…) to the obscure (the kids from Rugrats), but Bovaird is certain of who she wants to dress next season — in her dream world. “A bachelorette week or location wedding with girlfriends played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jesse Buckley, and Sienna Miller. Then Eddie Izzard as the hotel manager, and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as themselves,” à la The Trip.
Regardless of who gets cast, all eyes will be on Bovaird, eager to see how she chooses to dress her new gaggle of actors. And, if her run of looks for season two is anything to go by, we’re in for a real treat.