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'Put on more makeup,' 'no brown dresses': Sofia Coppola's Unique Depiction of Elvis and Priscilla's Toxic Relationship through Fashion

CEO Tinh Phung
Germany, 1960. A 15-year-old Priscilla (played by Cailee Spaeny) finds herself lost in her thoughts, surrounded by the trappings of her teenage years. Floral wallpaper, cherry-colored nail polish, and fashion magazines adorn her room. But...

Germany, 1960. A 15-year-old Priscilla (played by Cailee Spaeny) finds herself lost in her thoughts, surrounded by the trappings of her teenage years. Floral wallpaper, cherry-colored nail polish, and fashion magazines adorn her room. But it's the military jacket worn by Elvis Presley during his military service in West Germany that tells the story of Priscilla and the iconic rock star's passionate romance. Sofia Coppola's biopic, "Priscilla," based on Priscilla Beaulieu's memoir "Elvis and Me," takes the audience on a journey through the complex relationship between the two, using clothing as a powerful storytelling tool.

Captivating the Viewer with Aesthetic Excellence

For viewers familiar with Sofia Coppola's work, her distinct visual style is instantly recognizable. Each scene feels like a curated collection of still photos, capturing the essence of the characters and their emotions. Coppola's attention to detail and color palette, reminiscent of photographer William Eggleston's work, sets the stage for Priscilla's emotional journey. From the sugary songs of the past to the lingering shots, costumes become an integral part of Coppola's storytelling. She effortlessly transports her distinctive vibe into any historical period, creating a cohesive visual narrative.

The Language of Clothes

Priscilla's wardrobe, meticulously designed by Stacey Battat, plays a crucial role in framing her character's evolution. Each garment reflects a specific phase in Priscilla's life, from her youthful adolescence in Germany to her final days at Graceland. Battat explains that her approach was to use clothing to convey Priscilla's emotions and the changes she undergoes throughout the film. From ample skirts and flouncy crinolines in her youth to straight and pencil skirts as she matures, each outfit symbolizes a pivotal moment in Priscilla's story.

Colors and Reflections

Color also plays a significant role in portraying both the historical context and Priscilla's personal growth. In Germany, Priscilla's wardrobe consists of grays and pastel pinks, reflecting her age and state of mind. However, as the story progresses and Priscilla finds herself in Memphis, the colors transition to more saturated tones, representing her coming-of-age and personal transformation. The poetic depiction of Priscilla's evolving style aligns seamlessly with Coppola's vision of her character's journey.

The Art of Recreating Eras

To maintain historical accuracy, extensive archival research was conducted to recreate the fashion of each era featured in the film. Battat studied numerous photographs of Elvis and Priscilla as well as consulted the textile library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While some original outfits worn by Priscilla were included in the film, the majority were custom-made to ensure authenticity. Battat emphasizes the efficiency and affordability of creating new garments rather than relying solely on vintage pieces.

Bringing Characters to Life

Sofia Coppola took full control of the aesthetic vision for each character, paying meticulous attention to detail. Battat consciously avoided reading Priscilla's biography to ensure her interpretation of the wardrobe remained true to the script. By focusing on Priscilla's private life, the undocumented part, Coppola aimed to capture the essence of her character's persona. The bedroom scenes and hair salon shots allowed Battat to let her intuition guide her, adding a sense of authenticity to the film.

The Unveiling of a Toxic Relationship

Beyond aesthetics, the film exposes the toxic aspects of Priscilla and Elvis's relationship. Priscilla's wardrobe becomes a reflection of the dysfunction and abuse she endured. Through subtle clothing choices, Sofia Coppola and Stacey Battat reveal the manipulative nature of their relationship. Elvis's controlling behavior is evidenced by his commands, such as forbidding Priscilla from wearing brown, insisting she wears more makeup, and not allowing her to wear prints. Priscilla's wardrobes transforms her into Elvis's doll, exposing a darker side to the iconic artist.

Aesthetic as Redemption

As the relationship crumbles, Priscilla's aesthetic undergoes a significant shift. Stripped of excessive makeup and false lashes, she appears in a simple shirt and pants, embracing her natural beauty. This symbolic transformation signifies Priscilla's liberation from the glamour and control imposed by Elvis. With a newfound sense of self, Priscilla finds the strength to walk away from the toxic relationship and pursue a life of her own.

Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla" skillfully uses fashion as a means to tell a captivating and poignant story. Through careful attention to detail and the artistic collaboration of Stacey Battat, the audience is immersed in Priscilla and Elvis's tumultuous relationship. As the toxic dynamics unfold, costumes serve as a visual manifestation of the emotional journey that Priscilla endures. Ultimately, "Priscilla" is not just a biopic but a powerful testament to the transformative power of clothing and personal style.

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