How Fashion Became the Bonus Star of A Simple Favor

E! News/September 14, 2018

When Blake Lively‘s character makes her first appearance in A Simple Favor, we notice her stilettos before we notice her.

It’s meant to be that way. The camera zooms in on her heel hitting the pavement in the rain while the clack of its bottom hitting the ground is so crystal clear, it induces a shiver in the fashionistas watching. From that moment on, we’re not only introduced to the enigmatic Emily Nelson, but also to the film’s bonus star: fashion.

As director Paul Feig explained to E! News, style was essential to the film as both a logistical element for the plot and also an intruding force. “Since Blake’s character is like this alien that drops into this suburban world of parents and the lululemon pants and all that—I really wanted it to be a blast for Anna’s character because basically we the audience are Anna’s character and here comes this creature,” Feig told E! News. “It just felt like the clothes have to be such a part of it.”

“It was already scripted that Emily works for a fashion designer,” Feig added. “I’m always looking to try to bring style into my movies, but my movies tend to be a little more not about that, so when I had the chance to do it with this it was really exciting. We just went for it.”

They went for it, indeed. It’s hard not to notice Nelson’s bold aesthetic from the start: rich menswear-inspired suiting complete with all of the dazzling accoutrements, like neckties, pocket squares and fedoras. As it turns out, Blake didn’t have to look too far for inspiration.

“I modeled my entire character’s look after [Feig],” she previously revealed to E!’s Zanna Roberts Rassi. To bring that vision to fruition, award-winning costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus was allowed into the archival closets of Ralph Lauren, where she pulled a lot of the suits viewers ultimately see Lively in.

“That was really kind of great,” Kalfus told E! News of the opportunity. “It’s coinciding with [Lauren’s] 50th [anniversary].” While the garments are stunning on their own, Lively really brings them to life as she saunters through the movie’s humdrum suburban world like a towering feline from another dimension. From the early way Emily swiftly rips off her undershirt in front of her new friend, turning her pinstripe ensemble into a sultry jumpsuit in one fell swoop, it’s clear that the character has a few tricks up her sleeves—and they don’t all involve her wardrobe.

The clothes also speak when Emily isn’t saying anything at all. In a following scene, she’s dressed in a tuxedo look, complete with a crisp white bowtie and red leather glove worthy of the pages of vintage Vogue. Of course, the character stands out completely as she joins Anna Kendrick‘s Stephanie Smothers to pick up their sons from a playdate at the park. Even when she’s trying to be low-key, the vibrant red bottoms of her Christian Louboutin boots are a fun, colorful flash in the dark and twisted tale.

If her outfits seem entirely ridiculous in the on-screen setting, that was the point. “She was a very intimidating character and she absolutely did not want to fit in,” Kalfus explained to E! News. However, while Emily clearly has no reservations about standing out from the crowd, Kalfus noted to E! News that her elaborate ensembles were also meant to serve as a sartorial “shield” for the character, as if she is “guarding herself.” By the end of the movie, you realize there are as many layers to Emily as her chic looks.

As a severe foil to the intimidating Emily, a Director of Public Relations at a savage fashion company, comes Kendrick’s Stephanie, a single mom who has found her audience online as a video blogger. With a smile permanently glued to her face and an incessant can-do attitude that is simultaneously endearing and frustrating, the character couldn’t be more different from her borderline menacing new mom friend—and it all shows in her clothes.

Stephanie’s aesthetic is a colorful one as she sports sweaters layered over patterned collared shirts, embroidered skirts, ruffles and other approachable garments to fit her cheery demeanor and, as Kalfus noted, simultaneously brand herself “so that she can have followers.” At one point, she sports a sweater adorned with pom-poms while hypnotized by the pristine contents of Emily’s couture closet and one black gown in particular. Stephanie is so transfixed that she ultimately tries it on.

Just like that, the fashion has successfully sucked Stephanie—and the audience—right in.

Into what? Well, that’s for you to find out. A Simple Favor is in theaters now.

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