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To say that HBO’s new miniseries Big Little Lies is an A-list production would be a dramatic understatement. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoë Kravitz as a quintet of mothers with major secrets, the show (which is based on the Liane Moriarty novel of the same name) packs major star power. It doesn’t hurt that it looks beautiful, too.
Set in posh Monterey, California, the part-suburban melodrama, part-whodunnit series follows overbearing alpha mom Madeline Martha Mackenzie (a phenomenal Witherspoon) as she befriends town newbie and single mother Jane Chapman (Woodley) while grappling with her ex-husband’s decision to take up with beautiful, free-spirited yoga teacher Bonnie (Kravitz). Meanwhile, former lawyer Celeste Wright (Kidman) is quietly struggling with domestic abuse, and cutthroat CEO Renata Klein (Dern) is vying for the position of top mom at Otter Bay Elementary. Oh, and by the way, all of the moms are also prime suspects in a murder case.
It’s a lot of characters and plot lines to keep straight — but for Big Little Lies costume designer Alix Friedberg, it provided ample opportunity for sartorial storytelling. Friedberg began by choosing a distinct palette for each key player comprised of colors that reflected her personality — and hinted at her hidden struggles. “Colors are really important when you have five different characters who are often all in the same room,” she explains.
Next, she went shopping to fill the Monterey moms’ (mostly) cavernous closets, and found herself gravitating toward specific silhouettes and brands for each one. Below, Friedberg explains the link between each Big Little Lies character and the clothing she wears.
“Madeline is the most buttoned-up of the bunch. She’s overly accessorized — the type of woman who wakes up extra early in the morning to put on her makeup and make sure her outfit is completely coordinated, so she’s ready for anything. Her look is very calculated, as is her personality!
We did a lot of Dolce & Gabbana on her; when we were shopping for the first season, Dolce had just put out a collection with a lot of prints that felt right. You’ll notice that Maddie wears a lot of prints, and none of the other ladies do. We did some Carolina Herrera too, since that throwback 1950s shape really works well with Reese’s body, and Oscar de la Renta had some great pieces for her. There’s a little bit of J.Crew cashmere in there, too, and some Tory Burch.
[In terms of outerwear,] she has a very distinctive Burberry coat she wears starting in the first episode and throughout the show. And she has this one camel blazer she wears a lot, which — surprisingly! — is Brooks Brothers. That’s a piece we were happy to find.
But Maddie also has some bags that are last season; they’re not right off the runway. She’s definitely competing with the women who have more money. I mean, she’s the kind of woman who would wear a white floral Dolce & Gabbana dress on the first day of kindergarten orientation! ‘Trying too hard’ is the look we wanted to convey.”
“Celeste’s style always feels effortless. She’s got money and she’s got a lot of beautiful clothes in her closet, but it doesn’t feel heavy-handed; it always feels thrown-on and very aspirational. We chose very soft palette for her; a lot of camel, champagne, pale blues, creams — all colors that look incredible on Nicole. Nothing too intense.
In terms of brands, we kind of ran the gamut; she wears some Céline, some Zimmermann, some Gucci, quite a bit of Max Mara. In episode 2, she wears this really pretty floral Chloé dress. She’ll also wear J Brand jeans, though. Nicole Kidman can wear anything! She really does look good in absolutely everything.
[She wears a lot of turtlenecks and long sleeves] because she’s bruised a lot of the time; she’s trying to hide what’s happening in her life at home. It was a big challenge to dress Nicole for the scenes in which she’s abused — those scenes were highly improvisational, so we wanted to protect her as much as we could through her clothing. Of course, we also needed to have multiples of everything.”
“Jane wears kind of a bruised palette, a bit darker. There’s a functionality about what she wears, and it’s all very practical. There’s also a lack of sex appeal — the shirts are a bit ill-fitting, for example. She’s not at all trying to appeal to the men of the town, nor to keep up with the moms.
Jane’s clothes are older — she doesn’t have any money, so a lot of her wardrobe is thrifted. For scenes where we needed multiples, we went to Gap or Madewell — those were good standards for her. She wears Frye boots. We also mixed in Vans and some things from PacSun, younger inexpensive brands. And her bag that she carries every day is from Target.
There are specific moments where she’ll wear a collared shirt and go a bit preppier. And she gets to have a Pretty Woman moment at the end of the season, when she dresses up like Audrey Hepburn and looks really beautiful. It’s the first time you get to see her shape; you really don’t get a sense of her body before then.”
“I’ve worked with Laura Dern several times, and we’ve always done these sort of wacky, boho characters, so it was so fun to do something different this time and shop designer. Her character is all about designer everything — she’s very label-conscious, and whereas Celeste wears designer in an effortless way, Renata clearly tries very hard.
Her wardrobe is the most expensive one on the show; every accessory, even, is a label. There’s a lot of structure in her clothes, and they tend to be darker; we do a lot of black on her.
One of my favorite looks of hers was head-to-toe Alaïa, this plum knit dress with a knit jacket worn over it. It was just so wonderful. She wears a lot of Stella McCartney too, but Alaïa was a real go-to. She has some great Roland Mouret looks coming up, too.
For [her daughter] Amabella’s birthday party, she wears this amazing printed Stella McCartney jumpsuit. Only Laura Dern could rock that! She’s never fearful of upstaging her daughter or upstaging anyone else in the room — it’s all about her.”
“Zoë Kravitz has such a natural coolness to her, so my job was making her more accessible, really! We did a lot of vintage on her — all her jewelry is old, mostly things we found around town. We did a lot of thrifting in LA, since we did most of the shooting there, but Monterey is very bohemian and outdoorsy, and has a lot of artisans who make jewelry and bags and crochet pieces.
We also mixed in some Anthropologie, some Free People, a few Zara dresses. It’s all very organic and flowy. Bonnie’s not trying to upstage anyone — she just naturally does because she’s so beautiful! She makes Zara look like a million dollars.”
“The kids’ clothes are really important to me. I have kids that age, and I feel like so often, people get it wrong — they dress kids in a very generic, colorful way. And kids are so conscious of what they wear, and they express themselves so beautifully through their clothes.
Chloe’s look has a very Janis Joplin feel — duster skirts, lots of bracelets, flowers in her hair. She has these old cowboy boots she wears all the time that feel very ‘70s rock-and-roll flower child — which of course stands in direct contrast to her mom’s style, and what her mom might have picked out for her. You get the sense that Maddie’s sort of given up and just let Chloe be more free-spirited. Same goes for Abigail, who’s very anti-fashion.”
Big Little Lies airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.