Palm Royale, The New Look and Fellow Travelers Designers on Menswear

1943

Like his game-changing 1947 debut collection, Christian Dior’s (Ben Mendelsohn) classic pinstripe suits in German-occupied Paris in 1943 reveal much about the world-weary designer and high society. Along with his allies and rival, Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche), Dior tries to escape World War II while struggling with grief and guilt after the Nazis capture his younger sister, resistance fighter Catherine (Maisie Williams). „There were all these personal tragedies going on in his life,” explains fashion designer Karen Müller Cerro, who visited the Dior heritage archive for in-depth research.

Reflecting the harsh war years and his limited financial means as a mid-level designer under a couturier named Lucien Lelong (John Malkovich), Dior still dresses in late 30s Italian and English tailors. „It was actually a bit of a rage for people to wear brand new things,” says Müller Cerro, whose Dior suspenders instead of a belt represent the era’s scarcity of leather. „I really wanted to get this sense of vulnerability in wartime.” To depict Dior carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, Müller Cerro brought in a heavy vintage wool from England and „carefully aged and dyed the choice pieces to make everything look a little worn,” he adds.

In Lelong’s atelier, Dior resigned himself to painting a ball gown for the Nazi Galata. He toils through the night, sans jacket, with his shirt unbuttoned and his sleeves rolled up. „I was always invited to the set when we were removing anything,” says Müller Cerro, who discussed the psychology behind deconstructing Dior clothes with Mendelssohn.

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“It was [evoke] What he was doing: his sister being a camper and his mood,” he continues. „Everything in his personal life is very difficult, and it affects the way he dresses.”

1953

“For almost all the characters fellow passengers, their clothing becomes a shield that protects them,” says fashion designer Joseph La Corte. But as a black queer journalist during McCarthy and Lavender’s terrifying harassment, Marcus Gaines (Jelani Aladdin) saves himself on multiple fronts with his meticulously professional wardrobe. Gaines layers up with a tweedy notch lapel blazer, a knit vest over a crisp shirt, a meticulously knotted silk tie and pressed trousers. In an on-air battle in the competitive DC press pool, Gaines, the only black reporter on the Senate beat, wears his metaphorical helmet: a commanding fedora.

„Marcus was always trying to make his voice heard in an ever-changing political landscape,” says LaCorte, who drew inspiration from three trailblazing black journalists of the time: Simeon Booker, Vernon Jarrett and Louis Lautier. „We saw how well-dressed these men were because they were trying to blend into the white world, literally, in the press.”

In the office he shares with other black male reporters, Keynes prepares to investigate the communist influences on the work of poet Langston Hughes in 1953. In an unfiltered, safe space, his peers shed looser-fitting clothing, rolled up their shirts, and spread sexist comments and homophobic jokes. Keynes, immersed in the Hughes poem „Kids Who Die,” pushes back. He blends in without a jacket, but looks different from the pack in his suit and tie.

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„He cares about Langston, and they’re all fun,” says La Corte, who gives Gaines vintage pieces from the late ’40s and early ’50s to illustrate his re-wearing of an arsenal of „high-end” pieces. „They’re all disbanded — no shirts, no ties — while he’s nice and put together.”

1969

Closet bartender Robert Diaz (Ricky Martin) lends a sympathetic ear to the cutthroat Palm Beach Society organization — and knows their darkest secrets, thanks to being a caretaker for comatose but still reigning doyenne Norma Dellacorte (Carol Burnett). But Robert keeps his own secrets close to the vest, or rather, in his button-up pam royal bartending uniform.

When Maxine Dellacorte (Kristen Wiig) enters her aunt’s palatial manor, she finds Diaz revealing his true nature. She conducts her housekeeping routine with mid-thigh navy swim trunks, a floating anchor and leather slip-on sandals. “He hides and disguises himself as another boy [in uniform, usually],” says costume designer Alix Friedberg, referring to Diaz’s past as a U.S. Marine. “But really he lives this secret life [Norma’s] This incredible mansion has a pool house and can be by itself.

Later, while Robert retires to the pool house for his own afternoon tipple, the compositionally-challenged Maxine serves the society alphas for uncomfortable cocktails. She wears a plush, vibrant patterned robe with an attractive green color palette. „It had just the right amount of playfulness and sophistication,” Friedberg says.

When socialite-turned-revolutionary Linda Shaw (Laura Dern), in a yellow batik print dress, joins Diaz’s utopia, she matches his nonconformist, outsider vibe — and his vintage clothing. „They have an instant connection. It’s a negative scene, but it’s emotional,” says Friedberg, adding that the Southwestern print was a signature of the counterculture movement Shaw represented in the late ’60s. Diaz’s strong but comforting robes foreshadow her subsequent arc as she becomes the show’s beating heart.

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„There’s an openness, a tenderness and a vulnerability to it that says a lot about him,” says Friedberg. „There’s a quiet confidence in that bathing suit/robe combination that she embodies.”

This story first appeared in the June issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.

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