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Okja, the controversial meat-is-murder movie that premiered at Cannes to both jeers and cheers last month, is the rare sort of film that combines a sad ending — we’re talking opening-scene-of-Up! sad — with moments of zany hilarity. Directed by Snowpiercer’s Bong Joon-ho, it tells the story of a genetically engineered “super pig” (the titular Okja), who’s eventually destined to become dinner. But first, as part of a clever marketing ploy, Okja is sent to a farm in South Korea to fatten up, where she bonds with young Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn). Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the Mirando Corporation comes to collect its prized pig — and Mija embarks on a quest to save her best friend’s life. Think of it as a futuristic, R-rated Babe — with better clothes.
Most of the film’s best fashion moments come courtesy of Tilda Swinton’s Lucy Mirando, the Mirando Corporation’s Chanel-clad, Ivanka Trump-like CEO. Okja marks the third film collaboration between Swinton and costume designer Catherine George, who admits she was anxious to work with the style icon when prepping for their initial project together, 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. “Her fashion persona sort of intimidated me the first time I worked with her, but she’s completely collaborative and up for anything. And very playful! Our fittings are really fun.”
In the movie’s opening scene, Swinton’s Mirando wears a white shirtdress and matching stilettos — further accessorized with adult braces — to announce her bonkers “Super Pig Project” to the world. “We had a fitting early on and decided that that white dress suited the scene,” George says. “The director wanted her in white, and it had a spa-like feeling, very eco.”
Lucy Mirando’s real sartorial showstopper, however, appears toward the end of the movie, when she hosts a promotional parade in New York in Okja’s honor. “There was a lot of back and forth about [what she should wear],” George remembers. “I was Skyping with the director while he was shooting the early scenes in Korea, and Skyping with Tilda while she was in Scotland.”
Eventually, the trio’s research led them to photos of British business magnate Richard Branson. “When he has a big event in a certain country, he’ll dress up in the clothes of that country,” George explains. “It’s sort of funny, quite comical, some of the looks he wears. So we were like, of course we should be looking at a typical Korean dress!”
Once George saw a photo of the closing look from Chanel’s resort 2016 collection, which was staged in Seoul and inspired by Korean culture, it was game over. “Of course Lucy Mirando would wear the Chanel version of that dress!” she laughs. “Tilda has a relationship with Chanel, so she approached them and they were very excited. They made us a custom [version] for the movie; they even changed the color of the ribbon to match the Mirando company color.”
As for the matching set Mirando requires Mija to wear to the parade? “Once we’d decided on Tilda’s dress, we worked off of that design and had Mija’s look made in Korea by a traditional hanbok maker,” George explains of the pink-and-green pajamas. “The thought was that Lucy Mirando would have designed that outfit herself — because everything always has to revolve around her.”
In a later scene, we meet Lucy’s sister, Nancy Mirando — also played by Swinton, of course — who is quite literally her evil(er) twin. Considering her status as the head of the Mirando Corporation’s UK branch, it feels fitting that she wears head-to-toe Burberry plaid (“down to the matching travel pillow,” George notes) to contrast with Lucy’s pastel Chanel. “When we tried that [plaid-trimmed] jacket on Tilda... well, you know you’ve got it right when Bong starts laughing!” George says. “It had to be that look.”
As if two Tildas aren’t enough to convince you to see Okja, the movie also stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a screechy, sweaty TV zoologist who happens to be the public face of the Mirando Corporation. “For his character, I looked at photos of Steve Irwin and Jack Hanna and this British TV host called Johnny Morris who had a show called Animal Magic,” George says. “[Dr. Johnny] is sort of an amalgamation of those three animal experts.”
It’s truly Gyllenhaal’s weirdest, wackiest performance to date, and George says that the clothes helped the actor take on Dr. Johnny’s positively unhinged persona. “We had the first fitting with Jake, and he jumped into the first outfit and just went for it, hitching up his shorts so they became short shorts — and the director loved it,” she says. She even designed him a ringmaster-style striped blazer to wear with his knee socks and safari hat during the climactic parade scene. “We were going for that circus-like, lion-tamer feel,” George explains.
Okja hits Netflix on June 28th.