Netflix’s big budget remake of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is about to hit your screen with Lily James and Armie Hammer taking on the gothic novel’s leads. Fashion is as much the heart of this story as the chilling narrative. Stylist sat down with costume designer Julian Day to find out exactly how he brought the looks to life.
It has been 80 years since the last big screen adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic novel, Rebecca. The previous incarnation was a chilling Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, and this time Du Maurier’s seminal work has had a glossy big budget Netflix treatment. Armie Hammer takes on Maxim de Winter, the handsome widower of the titular Rebecca, and Lily James plays the unnamed young woman who meets de Winter in the south of France, quickly falls in love and marries him to become Mrs. De Winter.
After their whirlwind romance under the Monte Carlo sun, the duo returns to de Winter’s imposing English estate, Manderley. It is here that the film takes its most chilling turn as the new Mrs. De Winter realises she is living in the shadow of her husband’s first wife and is slowly being terrorised by the reminders of her and the estate’s formidable housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.
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The characters are rich and electric, the narrative gives you chills and the cinematography makes you want to run away to the sumptuous South of France, however, it’s the clothes that really bring this adaptation to life. Until Lily James’ character moves into Manderley she is unnamed. Dialogue presents snippets of information about her character, but for the most part we are reliant on her clothes to give us a sense of identity. The clothes much like the character take on a journey, one rich in detail and underlying meanings. From deliberate femininity, to menacing tailoring the fashion in Rebecca is a visual feast.
We had a (virtual) sit down with Rebecca’s costume designer Julian Day – the creative who previous brought Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocket Man to life – to find out how you piece together a nameless female lead.
“With every film you start with a script and what was really special about this script was that there is so much background material from the novel. It’s a classic, gothic, horror, thriller so all those elements make for an easy start. Then you have these incredibly fleshed out characters that change as the story goes along and you get to adapt with that.”
The trajectory of Mrs. De Winter’s wardrobe goes from frumpy, heavy, dark skirt suits when we first meet her as a lady’s maid, to light and freeing colours and fabrics when she is falling in love with Maxim all the way through to powerful pieces she uses to exert her position as lady of the manor.
Day explains, “For Lily’s mood board her style and her mood changes throughout the film and we had to reflect that. I started by looking at strong female actors from that time, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich – they were ground breakers when it came to style. I really wanted to get across this idea of a really strong woman. Yes, she cracks and she stumbles, but essentially she is an incredibly strong character and I wanted to give her not necessary masculine silhouettes but something that reflected that power.”
“We take so much fashion now for granted, that we can wear suits and ties and sportswear, when there was a point in time not even that long ago where you had to be a real pioneer to do that and that’s what I wanted to focus on. We started with the sun-bleached south of France – classic linens and silks and cottons. Then we go to Manderley and it’s the dark, dank English countryside with tweeds and pearls and twinsets. Finally finishing up with this gold fabric which I found in a vintage store in Paris and turned into the two piece we see that reflects Mrs. De Winter’s armour in the final scenes of the film.”
“What I really like about Mrs de Winter’s character is the transition from dowdy lady’s maid to the romantic, love-struck innocent girl in the south of France where she falls in love with Maxim. Then we go to Manderley and she starts to take on the essence of the house and the echoes of Rebecca, the ghost of Rebecca in a sense really. Mrs. De Winter starts buying pieces from London, and she gets much more interesting clothing and then we finish with this very strong dominant silhouette with her two-piece suit and hat. For me, it was important to show how she moves from each location and transforms because of it.”
“There is always a favourite look in a film, an iconic moment that is imprinted on the mind and for Day it’s this: “My favourite look has to be the ruffled shirt with the ditsy print with blue palazzo pants and the little straw hat because it’s so evocative of the era.”
What’s most noticeable in Rebecca is that although set almost 100 years ago, the fashion still resonates with viewers today. There are big collard blouses that you would easily pick up on the high street, ditsy floral dresses not unlike the ones you just packed away from the summer and tailoring that will make you ache for an occasion.
Get ready for your most thrilling Netflix adventure yet.
Rebecca is in select cinemas from October 16th and on Netflix from October 21st