Site icon The Art of Costume

Behind NEON’s ‘Pleasure’ with Costume Designer Amanda Wing Yee Lee


Pleasure follows Swedish 19-year-old Linnéa aka Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) as she moves to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of becoming the next big adult film star. She meets several people along her journey to stardom, including Joy (Zelda Morrison), her roommate/best friend at the model house, and her biggest challenge yet – Ava (Evelyn Claire). While Bella has good experiences, she also faces many obstacles as she battles between staying true to who she is and wanting to rise to the top – but at what cost?

Amanda Wing Yee Lee – Stylist and Costume Designer

Directed by Ninja Thyberg, the film gives an all-female perspective of the adult film industry. I absolutely love how eye-opening and raw it is. With the help of the all-female department head production team, we get to witness a different side of the industry. Part of the amazing team is stylist and costume designer Amanda Wing Yee Lee! Winning the Swedish Guldbagge Award for Best Costume Design for Pleasure, Amanda’s costumes helped bring this story to life! She has worked on several projects such as Emma’s Chance, Emily the Criminal and How Does It Start which allude to her love of projects that involve controversial and taboo topics. We talked about her journey from wanting to be a film director to a costume designer, her process behind designing the costumes for Pleasure, and the meaning behind certain looks.

Jada: Thank you so much for being here! 

Amanda: Thanks for having me!

Jada: I was really excited to talk to you because you have such a fascinating background. I read that you grew up in Hong Kong and England which is really cool! Could you share a little bit about what that was like? And is that where you first started designing?  

Amanda: That didn’t happen until I came here to Los Angeles. I’m from Hong Kong; I grew up there. I knew when I was 12 that I wanted to get into film but for the first 10 years. I was pretty set on becoming a film director. My parents have always been big film buffs so I grew up watching a lot of films and a lot of European cinema as well. I just knew that film was going to be in the future for me. There was no film elective or anything like that in school. I just collected film books and studied up on my own.

When it came time for college, I knew that I wanted to come to the states and eventually realized that L.A. was the place. I went to Occidental College in Eagle Rock. It wasn’t until Junior year when I took a costume class and my costume professor, Tom Slotte, encouraged and nurtured my curiosity. I definitely was a late bloomer.

After college, I interned at a theater in Glendale, A Noise Within, and assisted three amazing costume designers for about six months. From assisting them and talking to them, I realized a lot of costume designers, at least in theater, tend to go to grad school. I looked into it and decided to do that and further my craft. So I went to Cal Arts and did costume design for my MFA. 

Courtesy of Amanda Wing Yee Lee

Jada: An extensive background! I’m really glad to hear that it did happen, even if it was a little later. Because a lot of people are concerned, thinking, “I need to figure out what I really want to do now!” 

Amanda: Yeah! I mean for 10 years, everyone knew that I wanted to be a film director. I took summer programs at New York Film Academy and like 16mm directing classes. Those were really fun! I wrote, made, and directed some short films in school, but eventually realized that I was more focused on all the visual elements within the frame. When I realized I might not be really suited for this anymore, it was hard because I felt like, “Did I just waste all my time learning this?”

But I think that actually having all of that background helps me a lot in costume. I really believe in learning about the other departments. When I was still figuring it out, I shadowed people and tried cinematography. I was in the camera department then switched to the art department and helped with set decoration for a while and just tried my hands on all the different elements – the visual elements of film. I think it really helps me as a collaborator now to have had that experience in other departments so that I understand their challenges, what they do and how I can be a better team player for them! 

Jada: Yes, everyone has to work together to be able to create this beautiful project.  

Amanda: Yeah, definitely! 

Courtesy of NEON

Jada: Since you did have a lot of experience working in film, did that play any role into helping you get involved in working on Pleasure? Were there people that you knew beforehand? 

Amanda: I read about it online and found out that it was a Plattform Produktion film. They came out with the Oscar and Cannes winning film the year before by Ruben Östlund called The Square and I just loved that film so much! I thought it was so fresh and questioned ethics, social norms, and class. I always knew that I would want to work with them.

I was keeping a close eye on their upcoming projects and when I read about Pleasure, I knew instantly that I wanted to get involved. I’ve always been fascinated by stories about marginalized communities and taboo subjects, because it makes you question your beliefs and biases. At our premiere, Ninja Thyberg said before the screening, “Maybe you would hate it and that’s fine because it means that we get to talk.” That’s something that I really appreciate and look for in projects. I think anything that gives people a strong reaction is good.

The fact that this story was written and directed by a woman. That’s hard to come by. Obviously, in recent years, we’re seeing a lot more films written and directed by women and that’s awesome. But we need to keep churning out more.

Jada: I definitely agree. That’s another reason why I was so excited to talk to you because this film is about the adult film industry which is a very taboo subject. But I feel like it’s important to talk about, or at least acknowledge it!

Amanda: Yeah, it’s so interesting to me because we are used to seeing sex in film and television now, more than ever. And yet, it’s hard for people to want to really dive in and address what that means and how we feel about it. We tend to skirt the issue by sensationalizing it instead of understanding. We’re all a little afraid to bring it up and to dissect it. So I’m really proud to be in this project. Whether or not it’s received well, I think it brings about a conversation that’s important.

Jada: I’m glad that you all are taking that step for us to further push the conversation!  

Amanda: Thank you! 

Jada: Was this your first time designing for the adult film industry? 

Amanda: It is my first time, but honestly, I don’t think it’s any different from designing for other industries, communities, or topics. I approach them all the same. These are characters; whether or not they are portraying real people or fictionalized characters, I like to just think of them equally and try my best to tell it honestly, whatever that may be.

Jada: I love to hear that! And I would love to talk about the process behind the looks. You had to create SO MANY for this film!  

Amanda: We had 40, maybe even close to 50 looks to begin with. I want to say they were 30 looks in the final cut for Bella.  

Jada: Wow 30 just for Bella! 

Amanda: There are definitely pieces that got reused a lot. It’d be different if it’s a stylized film, but to me, it’s important to show that they are people like us. And we don’t wear head-to-toe, all-new pieces every day. I like reusing and seeing the same piece in different contexts. When different emotions are going on, it changes how you look at a piece of clothing.   

Jada: Yes! Those reoccuring pieces that she wears are what I called her “Suitcase Wardrobe” *laughs* That’s something that I really loved about the movie because while I was watching I was like, “Oh, I saw that piece early on,” or the “Girls Run Thangs” shirt, I was seeing that throughout and thought, “That’s really cool!” In a lot of movies, characters do always have different outfits every day. Never the same! 

Amanda: Thank you for noticing! *laughs* 

Jada: You’re welcome! *laughs* And when it came to designing the looks, were you ever inspired by anyone else or did you work closely with the actors to figure out what they wanted?  

Amanda: I collaborated closely with Ninja and Paula Loos, production designer and Erica Spetzig, hair and makeup artist and the cinematographers. It was probably the most incredible pre-production, design process I’ve ever experienced in that, first of all, we had all-female department heads, which I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. Maybe majority women, but never all women. It was so powerful! It was really empowering, and we would have long discussions on being women in the world, and how we approach our own sexuality and relationships. Mostly, my designs were born out of those conversations as well as my interviews with some of the adult film stars that Ninja connected me with because obviously, she had done years of research at that point. I love her research, but I needed to do my own. So I talked to some of these adult film stars for firsthand information on where professionals shop and really dig deeper into the different genres of the industry.

Sofia Kappel as Bella Cherry in Pleasure. Courtesy of NEON.

Each time Bella performs, her costume is very different. I took cues from some of the adult film stars and they explained to me the specifics of different genres and their target audience – what they’re looking for. There are pretty strict parameters within each genre. And a lot of times an adult film performer may start off in one genre and they don’t always perform in the other genres. You have your niche and I think Bella actually talks about it in one of the scenes where she’s found her niche. So, I didn’t necessarily model the character styles after any particular adult film stars, but they were more inspired by the genres.

Even with some of the other models within the model house, even though we never see them perform in the film, we discussed in pre-production, what genres would they be in? What is their niche? How, or if that feeds into their personal style, because we only see those characters outside of their work, in the model house or when they’re hanging out. For Bella, she also needs to be quite a bit different from the rest of the girls in the model house because she’s new to the industry; from Sweden. I wanted her to have this sporty look. Whenever we see her outside of porn, she’s not necessarily trying to dress “sexy or provocative.” She’s comfortable. There are moments when she’s performing on her social media, where we see her putting on a costume. But then when we see her with her friends out and about, yes, we see some of that personal style seeping through, but she’s not dressing for other people. And that was important to me, to show the difference.  

Jada: Woah, that’s something that didn’t even cross my mind- how you had to take into consideration how they would dress when they’re performing versus their everyday style and if there was any impact. I didn’t think about that! *laughs*

It does make me think of Ava though. I feel as though Bella did sort of start to have a little obsession with Ava and I was curious if her style was impacted by Ava in any way? 

Amanda: Ava is in all black for the majority of the film. And especially with her jet black hair as well, it really stands her out from all the other girls. It’s important to us to put her on a pedestal in a way that explains to us why Bella is so fascinated by her, even though she would probably never admit to it, that Ava is kind of like this ultimate goal that she is inspiring to have for her own career.

Evelyn Claire as Ava and Mark Spiegler with the Spiegler girls in Pleasure. Courtesy of NEON.

So, it was important to me to show this other side of the industry that there is a hierarchy and that there are different companies that are more successful. These popular porn stars look different from performers from lesser companies. There is an effortless elegance to Ava as well. It was important to have all her looks be really put together, in a way that isn’t for the other girls, something that they aspired to be. Even though they make her their common enemy.

Sofia Kappel as Bella Cherry in Pleasure. Courtesy of NEON.

In terms of Bella, the first time we really see her look changing, although I think it is subtle, is when she goes to Spiegler (Mark Spiegler), which is this adult film big league talent agent and producer. The silhouette has changed, her clothes are a little more mature, more form fitting, and she has her hair back. She’s really making an effort to look like a serious businesswoman. She’s a go getter! Gradually, we see her taking on Ava’s palette. When she finally gets to Ava’s level when she gets included with the VIPs at an industry party. From then on, there’s a big shift in the power dynamics between Bella and Ava after they perform together, which is, evidently traumatizing for both. It’s interesting to highlight how Bella got to where she wanted to be but at what costs?  

Sofia Kappel and Bella Cherry (left) and Evelyn Claire as Ava (right) in Pleasure. Courtesy of NEON.

Jada: What a very interesting point. It brings me to one of the last topics that I did want to talk about which was the film’s message surrounding the adult film industry. Bella, I feel kind of shifts towards the end. And after that final, very intense performance and the end of the movie, there’s a scene of her and Ava in a car. Bella is wearing black lingerie and Ava is in a white dress. I wanted to ask: Does this send a certain message? 

Amanda: It’s ironic, right? Because things are not black and white. I think throughout the film, Ava’s painted as this common enemy to Bell and her friends even though she’s really not done anything terrible to them. Other than being a successful performer at the most sought-after company. I wanted to show with the color reversal in their costume, “was she the real enemy here?”

I think it’s also really challenging that we live in a world where women are pitted against each other so much, even when there’s no reason for that. And in that intense scene, they are literally told to fight and hurt each other. It’s like they were thrown in the ring. In that moment to Bella’s horror, towards her own actions, she becomes her own abusers. What I love about that skirt Bella wears in the car scene even tough – we only see it for a split second when she gets up *laughs* – that skirt is a cage! Yes, she’s risen to fame the way that she strived to but, now she’s trapped. People are complicated and are never purely good or bad.

In the film, there are real friendships and support for each other. Bear, who has her back, Bella’s friend Joy, and the other models in the film. So it’s also important to not cast that judgment on them. I hope my costumes helped facilitate that.

Jada: Yes, they did *laughs* I saw throughout the movie that there was so much support, and the characters were looking out for one another. And as you know, even though at some times they were pitted against one another, their kindness shined through.  

Amanda: Yes, I think my work was really to help Ninja with her vision and she really immersed herself in the industry for years to gather information and research. I hope that it shows. 

Jada: It definitely does! I really do appreciate your work and I had such a great time chatting with you. Thank you so much! 

Amanda: I did too. Thank you for your time! 

Thank you again to Amanda for talking with me! Her thought process behind her costumes and the reasoning behind her work is so admirable. I’d highly recommend watching Pleasure if you haven’t. See if you can catch any of the looks we talked about!

Exit mobile version