“We dress for dinner here,” explains Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi, in the trailer for Saltburn. With a shrug and an air of insouciant ennui, he then mutters, “It’s like, ‘black tie.’” Doesn’t your family put on formalwear to eat?
Inside the confines of the film’s titular country estate, fashion is just one of the many ways the Cattons maintain an appearance of the status quo—and their place of privilege within it. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell (also writer-director of 2020’s Promising Young Woman), the film follows working-class outsider Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) as an invitation to summer at Saltburn sweeps him up into the family’s madness. Critics have been calling this film a psychological thriller, but Saltburn is much more than that. It’s sexy, comedic, perverse, mysterious, and has more twists and turns than a 17th-century hedge maze. It’s difficult to explain without spoilers, but let’s just call it Call Me by Your Name meets Downton Abbey meets Cruel Intentions meets … American Psycho?
Fashion plays an enormous role in the film—not only to remind us of the Cattons’ old money pedigree, but also to emphasize Quick’s outsider status. Within the first five minutes, we hear a classmate say Quick shouldn’t be invited to a party with the posh students because he “looks like he shops at Oxfam.” Upon arriving at Saltburn, Quick is swept into a decadent, deranged, and very well-dressed world, where dinners are black tie, the butlers wear fine livery, and vintage Miu Miu shoes are worn to play drunken postprandial tennis. At the film’s climax (again, no spoilers), a “fancy dress party” sees dad dusting off the old family suit of armor for a Midsummer Night’s Dream–themed bacchanal in the estate’s gardens. What fun!
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The whole film is a fantastic, unforgettable romp back in time to the 2000s—with bootcut jeans, oversize rugby shirts, and plenty of Nasty Gal. The last time we spoke to this film’s costume designer, Sophie Canale, was for her work on Bridgerton. And while that treacly period confection and this dark, sexy turn-of-the-millennium thriller might not live in the same aesthetic universe, both draw interesting parallels around ideas of Britishness, class, and exploring a character’s interior life through costume. Here’s what Canale had to say about just how deep the fashion rabbit hole goes in Saltburn—and whether we can expect those wide statement belts to come back any time soon.
Sophie, wow. This film. It was so much fun to watch—and I was struck by how big of a role the clothes play. How did you develop these characters through their clothes?
I think clothing is really key to who and how people are. We’re all part of tribes, even if we don’t intend to be. Especially for an age group of university students as we see in this film, you’re judged so easily by what you wear, and that was so important here.
The first line of the film is someone snidely telling Oliver, “Nice jacket.” Clothes are this way of reminding the characters which social stratum they belong to.
With Oliver, he had this perception of what university was going to be like. He buys the blazer, he buys the tie, the scarf. He had this look of how he expected everyone to be, and then was quite shocked at how everyone at school is actually dressed. Within the Saltburn household, everyone is on their own journey, but definitely at university it’s about understanding who fits in and who doesn’t.
The choice of the 2000s as a time period feels interesting. Did you source a lot of vintage, or did you end up building a lot of these costumes?
The 1990s are very popular in the U.K. right now, but the 2000s are quite a strange period of fashion that hasn’t quite come back to the same degree. It’s an interesting period to costume, because they’re not quite in the costume houses yet, but they’re not in the shops anymore. So we went online and were looking for very British brands of that period—Jane Norman, Jack Wills, Kookaï. We went onto websites like Depop and eBay and every sort of vintage shop and were buying out of the back of people’s wardrobes, basically.
I love the idea of selling some 2000s stuff from my closet on eBay and having it end up on Jacob Elordi. Did you work with any brands to source archival pieces from that period?
In my research, I looked to pop culture at who was popular in that period, and Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen and Kate Moss for Topshop were big references, so we looked for brands that worked with them at the time. We worked with a number of brands. Jenny Packham was very generous. Both [Carey Mulligan’s and Alison Oliver’s characters] Pamela and Venetia wore Christopher Kane from the 2007 catwalk. Venetia wore two Agent Provocateur pieces: a leopard-print bodysuit with a cowboy hat, and this other bodysuit with stars on it. For [the family matriarch played by Rosamund Pike] Elspeth, we had a mint-green silk dress with a large red bolero and a stunning gold dress—those were Valentino. And Chanel was very generous with the look for Carey’s character Pamela. We went back in their archives and found pieces that would work, and they said, “Why have two bracelets when you can have 12?”
When you and I last spoke, it was about Bridgerton, for which virtually every costume had to be built. But it sounds like for this, you were more of a scavenger, trying to curate the right mix of everything.
It’s a different skill set from buying fabrics and designing. Styling is a skill in itself, because you’re really trying to make sure you capture the whole world and really get it right. It’s challenging in different ways, but it’s really fun. That’s the beauty of filmmaking: Each job can be a different challenge.
What was the hardest piece to get right?
Venetia wears a spiderweb dress—it was this jewelry piece as a dress. Creating a jewelry piece as a dress was challenging, because every time we moved the cobweb, getting it to sit on her body the right way was challenging. But working on those challenges is the best.
My favorite character in this film is Elspeth. She’s funny, intense, judgy, so amazingly campy, but also has this darkness to her. How did you bring her style to life?
Originally, we looked at magazine editorials from the period to see what people were wearing. Every character has a backstory, and Elspeth was a model, so she has this relaxed, almost bohemian edge that gives her clothing a relaxed look. I wanted to give the sense that as a model, she had been collecting clothes over the years, so we have her in key vintage pieces that she’s been collecting, but also the current jean cut of that 2000s period. Because her character is so judgmental, I also wanted there to be a relaxed element to her clothing, so she didn’t look uptight. And in comparison to her husband, James, who is old money, I didn’t want her to be stuffy and on-trend, but rather in this bohemian, older way, rather than kind of dressing exactly of that period. She wore some vintage Alexander McQueen. There’s a real relaxedness to how she drapes herself around the house and walks through the gardens.
One of my favorite moments comes earlier on in the film, when the group heads out for a round of champagne-fueled after-dinner tennis in their tuxedos, and Venetia is wearing this amazing multicolored metallic fringe jacket.
That’s by Nasty Gal and her jumpsuit is by Dundas, and she’s wearing vintage Miu Miu shoes. I loved that scene, and shooting it was such a joy.
Is there anything your actors tried to steal from set?
Oh, they had a long list, which I always think is a compliment. There are definitely pieces you see in the film that now live in people’s closets. There were long lists I emailed to the producer for permission.
The 1990s have been trending for a while in fashion, but I’m thinking about the 2000s. This film makes them look so cool and fun. Plus, there’s a big Amy Winehouse biopic coming out next year, Back to Black, which I’m sure will renew interest in that period, and it also finally feels like there’s enough distance that the 2000s feel like “vintage.” Do you think that decade is coming back into fashion?
Who knows? The higher-end brands from that period definitely had some beautiful key pieces. But those wide belts? And the bootcut jeans? There’s a place in time for things, and I think it needs a while for those to come back.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.