A Vacation To Remember – Designing The Costumes of The White Lotus With Costume Designer, Alex Bovaird

Is anyone in need of a vacation? After binging the first season of The White Lotus, I certainly am! The White Lotus is a dark comedy directed by Mike White packed with an all-star cast that follows the misadventures of vacationers staying at The White Lotus resort in Hawaii. I am not exaggerating when I say I was laughing through every episode, and when I wasn’t laughing, I was pacing around my home in anxiety. But perhaps the best part of The White Lotus is of course the costume design by 2022 Emmy® nominee for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes, Alex Bovaird.

After the 2022 Emmy® nominations were announced, I reached out to costume designer Alex Bovaird to discuss her first nomination and The White Lotus costumes!

It’s pretty cool! I found out in the morning. My husband and I were looking online, and we were like… “does this really mean we’ve been nominated? What does this mean? How do we know this is real?” It is a bit strange but really, really nice! I’m happy for the people on my team who contributed so strongly to this very special project in Hawaii. I’m just so happy for everybody!

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
The White Lotus Costume Design by Alex Bovaird
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

When watching The White Lotus, it is impossible to not be struck by the incredible vacation costuming. Any vacation from this point forward will be somewhat inspired by what Alex Bovaird and the team did for this show. Alex spoke to the overall vibe she tried to create with the costumes

Mike recently described it as a fever dream. It was really about creating this experience that you just really enjoy watching while giving you the chance to get to know these characters. We had this fun, inspiring palette to work with. We did our research by really engaging with that world of wealthy vacationers and seeing what they actually wear while trying to base it on reality.

From there, we decided to heighten it a bit. Sometimes people just go on holiday in their sweatpants, and we definitely didn’t want to do that. When you go on vacation, you are putting on somewhat of a little show. You imagine how you want to be when you’re on holiday. “Who am I on holiday? And what am I gonna pack?”.  So there’s an element of costuming yourself that we tried to put in there. 

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Connie Britton and Sydney Sweeney - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

As Alex described it, her “appetite for prints and textures” knew no bounds! The White Lotus is a masterclass in the use of prints and textures. I was very impressed with how the costumes worked with the detailed environment through wallpaper, furniture, animals, and textures.

We focused a lot on the colors of Hawaii, the fruits, and the flowers. We were inspired by mango, the blue of the ocean, pineapple, and we did lots of floral prints and vibrant colors. We just wanted to go all-out tropical. 

As a costume designer, my appetite for prints and textures knows no bounds. We were trying to paint the canvas with lots of different textures and prints. No one could really argue that they should wear black or gray. Our director Mike White wanted to go there! He wanted to have a lot of fun. He didn’t question it and trusted that I was thinking of the entire cast when I was showing him certain things. We wanted richness and diversity in the animals and the flowers, which also entwined with the production design. We would meet and talk about the wallpapers that ended up being used in the opening credits too.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
The White Lotus - Costume Design by Alex Bovaird
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

As someone who has unfortunately never made my way to Hawaii, I was fascinated to hear how essential the ‘Aloha Shirt’ was to the show. It’s more than just a shirt; it’s about a way of life. The staff uniforms were also fun to look at, showing strong color palettes and different silhouettes.

The White Lotus is supposed to be like a Four Seasons. So there is supposed to be a somewhat formal feel, but then you’re in Hawaii, which means it is very relaxed. I remember when I first went to Hawaii, I couldn’t believe that all the guys were wearing Aloha shirts! They really wear Hawaiian shirts. That’s a real thing. One of my costumers who was working with me said the look we were going for was called “Hawaiian business.” That means they’re wearing an Aloha shirt and a pair of slacks. If you haven’t been to Hawaii, you need to get yourself on a plane. It’s really a magical place. So we had to incorporate that spirit into the uniforms because that’s really part of dressing up.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Murray Bartlett as Armond - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

One of the most fantastic characters of this show was Armond, played by Murray Bartlett. Armond was so charming and welcoming, yet he was quietly struggling with a lot of internal conflicts. As the season continues, you can see the slow unraveling of Armond on his suits.

Linen is a great fabric because it wrinkles up nicely. Armond’s suit just gets annihilated in the last couple of episodes because he’s really deteriorating. It’s important that he sweats into his linen suit, and it looks ragged so that you can really see the disintegration of his mind and clothes.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Murray Bartlett as Armond - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

I was captivated by Armond’s finale shirt. I have never fallen in love with a shirt so quickly! Interestingly enough, this shirt also becomes Armond’s last costume…ever. As Armond starts to fade away in his final hours, it feels like his shirt fades in color – hinting at his conflicts catching up with him.

We killed Armond in that crazy shirt that he spends the whole episode in. We knew we wanted him to go out with a bang. The shirt is based on a vintage Hawaiian shirt. That’s why it looks a little more faded. It’s by a company called Reyn Spooner, specializing in these vintage prints. It’s got this crazy sea snake and blue coral. It was difficult. We had to get a lot of them and try and copy them. The trouble is if you want to kill someone off in a printed outfit, it’s very difficult to match the prints. We had to get a lot of these shirts and try and line up the seas snakes in exactly the same spot. The mechanics of filming make it very tricky unless you have an identical shirt. I love that shirt too, and I’m glad we went for it. I’m also lucky that Mike White loves pink because it’s my favorite color!

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Murray Bartlett as Armond - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

If you love big hats, big sunglasses, and Gwyneth Paltrow then you are sure to have loved Nicole Mossbacher played by Connie Britton. Nicole knows who she is. She is a strong businesswoman and knows how to dress. She is very conscious about her image.

Connie plays Nicole, and she’s the CFO of a company that’s similar to Goop. There’s a little bit of Gwyneth Paltrow in her. But nobody gets away with a muted palette on The White Lotus. She gets colorful outfits as well. Nicole also knows exactly how to dress and has the fabrics for Hawaii. She has breathable cotton, wears silk at night, and we always thread vintage into the clothes. 

This was shot at the beginning of the pandemic. There weren’t many shops open. I had to go far and wide to pull the costumes together and use a lot of secondhand and vintage.

Nicole also likes her hats. Connie was really game. I was really lucky with the cast of The White Lotus. They were willing to go there for their characters and really got into the Hawaii of it all.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
The Mossbachers - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

Olivia Mossbacher (played by Sydney Sweeney) and her friend Paula (played by Brittany O’Grady) were very stylish. Living in Los Angeles, I felt like I knew these girls and their styles which likely has to do with their thrifted looks.

The girls are very self-assured. They are Gen Z. They do a lot of thrifting and are eco-conscious. They have an issue with fast fashion and are very aware of what they wear. We very carefully put their outfits together so that they seem just thrown together. But like the other characters, Olivia and Paula are painted with color.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

We need to talk about Shane and Rachel Patton. These two characters were perhaps the most unsettling, and part of that came from the costuming. Shane’s look was… well, he is a bro wearing a Cornell University hat. I LOVED it. Then there is Rachel and honestly, she is hard to read. Does she have her own style, or is she still trying to figure herself out?

I love the Cornell hat. We talked a lot about what college it should be. Shane is kind of a bro. Jake Lacy actually has a lot to say about clothes, and we wanted to make sure that he looked good. He’s the Vineyard Vines guy. We did more alterations on Shane than anybody else. We wanted to make sure the shorts fit just right. Not too short, not too long. Shane is a little more fashion-conscious than the guy you might encounter on the ferry from Nantucket. 

Rachel’s costumes were based on someone I know that I used to hang out with in the East Village. She married someone in finance but was also an artsy chick. Rachel married Shane, but they haven’t been together that long. She is still trying to figure herself out and still asking questions about why she married this guy. Their values don’t totally align, and they come from slightly different worlds. So we did translate that into her clothes. She also has some vintage pieces mixed in with her Lilly Pulitzer dress and her Goyard bag.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Shane and Rachel Patton - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

The Pattons had a special surprise arrive at The White Lotus. None other than Shane’s mother, Kitty (played by Molly Shannon). Based on her costume, you know precisely who Kitty is the moment you see her. She is wearing very bold, bright colors and lots of jewelry. Of course, that is Shane’s mom!

Kitty was really fun! I’m hoping she’ll come back. I want her to come with her friends on a girls’ trip. Molly is so fun and has that background in sketch comedy, so clothes are really important to her. The fittings with her were really hilarious. She knows what she wants but is also very deferential and wants to know what you’re thinking. Her clothes are very bold, and she’s large and in charge. We wanted her costumes to reflect that. We made sure to give her frills and bows like she’s always been a princess.  She is wearing a lot of hot pink and very strong prints. Kitty also wears really expensive jewelry. She’s covered in hundreds of thousands of dollars of bling!

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Molly Shannon as Kitty Patton - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

Alright, we have come to the moment we have all been waiting for… Tanya McQuoid, played by THE Jennifer Coolidge. Tanya had the greatest costumes of the show, hands down! Every single look was a treat. They were often slightly over the top, created with great prints and colors. I found myself constantly looking forward to seeing what Tanya would wear next.

Oh my God. She’s so fun! Jennifer is a hoot to work with. We wanted her to look like a little bit of a hot mess but also wanted her to look appealing. We didn’t want to laugh at Tanya. Her ensembles are kind of out there, but we also wanted the audience to like Tanya. We tried to walk that line. She’s kind of a bad egg, but she means well. Jennifer likes tailored clothing. So we always had to make the costume flowy but tight at the same time and find that balance. We also tried to use soft, sheer layers to show that vulnerability. If she were too tailored, then she’d be too strong, and we didn’t want the audience to think Tanya is that put together.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
The White Lotus - Costume Design
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

I couldn’t help myself, but I had to ask Alex Bovaird what her favorite Tanya looks were.

I like the Palm tree look and then that lilac and orange monkey print that she arrives in. I think those are my favorites because they’re just very strong. She comes off a bit mysterious. She clearly has money, but we tied her looks slightly wonky, so she seemed a little off.

Alex Bovaird, The White Lotus Costume Designer
Jennifer Coolidge - The White Lotus
Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

I loved The White Lotus, and I am so excited that Alex Bovaird picked up a Emmy® nomination. I had such a great time speaking with her, and I am beyond thankful to Alex for giving me her time. Again, if you haven’t watched The White Lotus, do so immediately and get ready; Alex also did the costumes for season two!

The White Lotus is streaming now on HBO Max

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