How Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla Tells A Coming-of-age Story Through Fashion Leave a comment

Minor spoilers for Priscilla ahead. With his flashy onstage costumes and larger-than-life fashion, Elvis Presley influenced a lot of the ‘60s and ‘70s style. But in Priscilla — the Sofia Coppola film starring  Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and his ex-wife, based on Priscilla Presley’s book Elvis & Me — the clothes tell a more understated, intimate story of a woman crafting her own identity. 

For costume designer Stacey Battat, who also worked on Coppola’s The Bling Ring and The Beguiled, Priscilla’s costumes started with a 1970 photo of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, where, according to her, it was noticeable that the two had diverged, not only in style but also in real life. “I think early on Sofia and I looked at that photo and noticed how she just looks so uncomfortable,” says Battat. “I think that photo just informs so much of how we saw them later in the movie.” 

At the beginning of the film, viewers meet 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, who is living in Germany with her family on a US Army base, wearing pastel-colored cardigans, cutesy A-line skirts, and a heart choker necklace. In preparation, Battat and her team researched fabric choices and silhouettes of the late ’50s and early ’60s, looking to old issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar for inspiration. They also looked at a real-life photo of Priscilla waving goodbye to Elvis as he left Germany for the United States, wearing a plaid dress and a sheer scarf worn over her head, which they recreated for the film. 

Later, Priscilla moves to live with Elvis in Memphis, Tennessee, where she undergoes a makeover, going from plaid skirts and hair bows to opera gloves and glamorous mini dresses. When the couple goes shopping, viewers see Elvis telling Priscilla what she should wear. “That obviously inform[s] the costumes that she wears later,” says Battat of the scene, where Elvis also requests Priscilla dye her hair from brown to black and start using eyeliner. From then on, we see Priscilla in a revolving door of Elvis-approved blue and pink outfits (no prints or browns that Elvis hates). 

While much of Priscilla is told through more intimate moments between the couple — like at home where Priscilla wears pastel-colored lingerie sets and nightgowns —  the film does show the couple’s 1967 wedding. For the looks, Battat worked with Chanel and Valentino, who made Priscilla’s gown and Elvis’ suit respectively. True to the photos from the Las Vegas ceremony, Battat and Chanel’s Virginie Viard created a long-sleeved, lace-embellished A-line dress for Priscilla, paired with a tiara and waist-length veil. “The [look] had references of the original dress,” says Battat. “And then we kind of adapted some of the stuff just to fit Cailey’s [five-foot-one] frame.” Similarly, Battat recreated the outfit Priscilla wore after giving birth to their daughter, Lisa Marie, staying true to the original with a bubblegum pink dress.

The last half of Priscilla sees Elvis Presley at the height of his career in Las Vegas and Priscilla alone in Los Angeles. As the two grow apart, they also dress differently. The singer-actor trades his leather jackets and evening jackets for vibrant jumpsuits — for which Battat worked with BK Enterprises — while Priscilla embraces the freer nature of ‘70s style in pants and prints and her natural brown locks. 

“We looked at historical images of Elvis and Priscilla and thought about what was the image which they projected out into the world,” says Battat. “I think he became so much more theatrical and masked — a lot of makeup, jewelry, big sideburns. She becomes unmasked.”

Priscilla is now in theaters nationwide.

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