HBO’s The White Lotus is equal parts fantasy and nightmare, a drawing back of the curtain on the darkness lurking in the private lives of the über-rich set against the heart-stoppingly scenic views of Hawaii. Created, written and directed by Mike White, the series is up for a whopping 20 Emmy awards. One of those Emmys is for the show’s costume design, which provides the perfect balance of luxurious serenity and unraveling chaos to complement the ever-building tensions among the characters.
Costume designer Alex Bovaird, who has also worked on movies such as Jordan Peele’s Nope, undertook extensive research to get that balance just right, using costuming to draw distinctions between resort guests and staff and to illustrate each character’s underlying neuroses and eccentricities. The costuming is as larger than life as the setting and the script, all without ever overpowering the actors wearing it.
We talked to Bovaird recently about walking the line between absurdism and realism, immersing herself in the aesthetics of Hawaii, and how to dress like a White Lotus guest yourself. With the recent Emmy nomination and the resort wear trend reaching its peak, we thought it would be the perfect time to chat with Bovaird and revisit one of the best comedy series on HBO Max.
Talk to us about your initial vision for the costuming when you first read the White Lotus script.
Alex Bovaird: My approach is always to find out what the reality is first. So lots of research and lots of mood boards about luxury vacations, then translating that into something cohesive and thinking about an overall color palette. And then using the tropical palette as a base. So tropical fruits like mango and lychee and pineapple, and then using the blues of the sea, and all the lush flowers, the hibiscus, the reds, the oranges. Then I presented that to Mike White, and he was very excited about all the color and all the freshness and fruitiness they’re in.
How did you differentiate between staff and guests using the costuming?
We wanted to infuse Hawaii into everything. Because it’s alarming, actually, when you arrive in Hawaii, how many Aloha prints there are. We wanted to make sure it looked very site-specific. The fabrics are cheaper, not as luxurious compared to the rest of the guests. They’re in solid colors with maybe little hints of printed shirts. So that you could sort of pick them out and compare them to the guests who are mixing prints and dressing sexier.
In real life, the people who work at the Four Seasons just have elements of a palm tree or a soft leaf print, but we made it pop. For example, Armond looks very distinctive but not ridiculous; we’re right there on the edge so that his performance could be loud, but his clothes sort of just sit right sit right there with him.
And they follow along with him as he unravels.
We definitely wanted him to be more wrinkled and disheveled as he went along, without it looking too obvious. In the final couple of episodes, he’s slept in his clothes, so he’s wearing the same ones. And he takes his jacket off because it’s hot and sweaty because of the drugs. And so he starts to look a little crazier. But yeah, he is pompous. He is arrogant. And he does sort of run the show. So we wanted his costumes to be large and in charge.
Where did you source his clothes?
We had to get a lot of things in California before we left quickly. And we specifically were looking for linen fabrics because we knew that that would give us the result we wanted. We wanted to keep them in a uniform, but we wanted to show the transition because he’s really having a meltdown. So we felt that linen would be by far the best fabric because it just behaves really well. And then, once we were in Hawaii, we were able to get some of the vintage Hawaiian shirts that he wears.
Were his jackets off the rack?
They were all off the rack and then tailored very precisely. Murray [Bartlett, who is Emmy nominated for his performance as Armond] is like a perfect person in terms of fitting. He would probably be like the fit or runway model size; he’s perfectly proportioned. So he made my job very, very easy. We didn’t want him to look James Bond sharp, but we wanted him to be able to pull off a pink suit. So, you know, you have to nip and tuck, but yeah, I was lucky with Murray because he wears clothing really well.
Let’s talk about the guests; I loved the contrast between Steve Zahn and Connie Britton’s characters, married couple Mark and Nicole.
Mark was sort of a good foil for Nicole. Everybody was colorful; it was nice to have Mark in a bit more of a consistent look. We imagined him like “Soho dad,” so he wears John Varvatos T-shirts and Vince shirts and just, like, a casual-chic New York guy. And then I think he was in Eton shirts for dinner when he’s looking a bit more crisp. His Ralph Lauren chinos — all high quality but casual. And he doesn’t change quite as much. We made a conscious decision not to put anybody in jackets; we decided it was just not what these people would wear to dinner.
Now let’s talk about Shane, who I wanted to kill from episode one.
We wanted him to feel like a bit of a man child, like a baby man. And so sometimes he’s wearing outfits that are bordering on the ridiculous, but, you know, because they match his performance, they kind of sit right there with him. His shorts were all tailored an inch shorter; his polo shirts were all a little tight so that when he’s getting wound up, he looks constricted. He wears a couple of really childish pieces; there’s the Brooks Brothers sweater he wears to dinner, and it’s got a sailing boat on it and looks like something you could buy a little boy. And I bought that before I knew before they cast Jake Lacy — I had it in every size because I just thought it was so perfect.
Where should guys shop if they want the White Lotus look?
I would say Saks and Neiman’s, and Ron Herman. Vineyard Vines for the preppy guy. For Armond, it was Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren. There’s a place called Gary’s in Newport Beach, California that’s an old-fashioned menswear store., We got the last shirt Armond wears at a place called Reyne Spooner. For swimwear, a brand called Vilebrequin and Psycho Bunny.
Shop The White Lotus Look
Vilebrequin Men Swim Trunks Marguerites
Roller Rabbit Men’s Monkey Swim Trunk
Reyn Spooner Hanalei Gardens
Reyn Spooner 65th Anniversary Lahaina Sailore
John Varvatos Duke Henley
Vince Puma Cotton Crew Neck Tee
Ron Herman New Yorker Pants