The Misfires Are the Point: Dressing Gen Z for ‘The White Lotus’

At a resort in Sicily, the well-heeled travelers in Season 2 of “The White Lotus” take a stab at Italian glamour. They swirl wine here, wear Prada there. Not to be outdone, Jennifer Coolidge’s character, Tanya, weeps at a Puccini opera.

And then there are the show’s Gen Zers, who skip “Madama Butterfly” to go clubbing.

The attire of the season’s five younger characters was intended to reflect a blend of audacity and experimentation, according to Alex Bovaird, the show’s costume designer. Ms. Bovaird drew inspiration from influencers, Instagram it-brands and “Love Island” contestants to create more than 70 looks that young people might realistically wear — misfires included.

Ms. Bovaird, 44, previously designed costumes for Jordan Peele’s “Nope” and was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the first season of “The White Lotus,” an HBO anthology series created by Mike White. That season’s portrayal of Gen Z, as executed by Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O’Grady, rang terrifyingly true to many viewers.

But Ms. Bovaird had never experienced anything like Portia, Tanya’s assistant, the character she said had provoked the most intense online reaction of her career. Played by Haley Lu Richardson, Portia rolls her eyes at paradise in a series of on-trend, off-kilter outfits that reliably set Twitter abuzz. “Portia on the white lotus dresses like an urban outfitters clearance section,” reads one of the kinder comments.

Ms. Bovaird, who did in fact get some of Portia’s pieces from Urban Outfitters, has seen your mean tweets and has thoughts of her own. Ahead of the Season 2 finale on Sunday, she shared them on a video call from Reykjavik, Iceland, where she is bundling the cast of “True Detective” in parkas and snow boots. “There’s nary a flip-flop in sight,” she said.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did you approach dressing so many young characters this season?

I like dressing the younger characters, especially if it’s contemporary. Whereas the older characters on “White Lotus” are more put together and composed, and they’ve figured out who they are, the young characters are expressing themselves in a really adventurous, chaotic way.

Portia serving chaos in a zebra-print Reina Olga bikini, a sweater bought at a vintage store in Los Angeles and shorts from Scout, a store in Rome. Jack (Leo Woodall) was dressed to resemble a “Love Island” contestant.Credit…HBO

How realistic did you want their wardrobes to be compared with, say, the very glam teens of “Euphoria”?

“Euphoria,” although I haven’t seen it, maybe seems to not be so realistic. For “The White Lotus,” we try and make it realistic, but also we heighten it and go a little bit overboard. Mike White really likes color and print, and he likes the frame to be filled with lots of interest. He thinks of “White Lotus” as a fever dream. So even though they’re grounded in reality, they’re a little bit over the top. It’s comedic.

Welcoming You Back to ‘The White Lotus’

The second season of “The White Lotus,” Mike White’s incisive satire of privilege set in a luxury resort, is currently streaming on HBO.

  • Michael Imperioli: The “Sopranos” star is enjoying a professional renaissance after years of procedurals and indies. In the new season of “The White Lotus” he tries his hand at comedy.
  • F. Murray Abraham: The buzzy series is one of several featuring the actor, who at 83 is finding some of the most satisfying work of his career.
  • Season 1: The series scrutinized the interactions between guests and staff at a resort in Hawaii. “It’s vicious and a little sudsy and then, out of nowhere, sneakily uplifting,” our critic wrote
  • Unaware Villain: The actor Jake Lacy plays Shane, a wealthy and entitled 30-year-old on his honeymoon, in the first season. Here is what he said about bringing to life the unsavory character.

How did you build Portia’s chaotic look?

Portia’s look came out of looking at Instagram influencers and how they put things together in a haphazard but accidentally cool way. There’s a girl I follow called Wuzg00d and she wears really colorful ensembles. But we decided that Portia wouldn’t always score — we’d always try and do one or two things that were a little off. If she wore a cute sundress, we’d make sure she had the wrong shoe, or too many accessories. Portia is a bit of a mess. She doesn’t have money, makes some bad choices and spends all her time on TikTok. So we wanted her clothes to reflect that.

Were there any differences between how you dressed this season’s Gen Z characters and last season’s scary duo, Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady)?

Olivia and Paula are definitely cooler. Portia’s not really that cool. They’re all of the same ilk, the same demographic of curating their wardrobe with different ideas and putting them together in a kind of nonchalant way.

Were you surprised by the intense response online?

I don’t know about surprised, but definitely fascinated. It does seem to be really rubbing people the wrong way, but maybe that’s just the Twittersphere. I like the comments that get that she’s a character. Sometimes she looks not so good; other times I legitimately think she looks cute. It’s kind of everything that everyone’s saying, all at once.

I think I’m slightly protective of Portia. When I was, like, 25, I went to Las Vegas and bought a hat at a gas station and wore it the whole weekend. It was the most horrible red felt cowboy hat that I thought looked really amazing. So it was fun to do a character that was getting it a bit wrong, but also having fun.

Ms. Richardson crocheted Portia’s bucket hat herself. Her dinosaur necklace is one of several “sexual, primal little Easter eggs” in the show’s costumes, Ms. Bovaird said.Credit…HBO
Ms. Bovaird dressed Albie (Adam DiMarco) “like a little boy.” His polo is from American Eagle Outfitters and his shorts are from Carhartt WIP. Portia wears a skirt from Urban Outfitters.Credit…HBO

Where did you buy Portia’s clothes?

I bought stuff from House of Sunny and Urban Outfitters. It’s a lot of vintage, a lot of it from the late ’90s or early 2000s. The bucket hat is something Haley Lu crocheted and wanted to wear. I saw her dinosaur choker necklace in a store in Rome. Everyone has some animal jewelry or symbolic print just because of the general commentary on sex and love. There’s a lot of sexual, primal little Easter eggs in there.

How did you dress Portia’s contrasting love interests, Jack (Leo Woodall) and Albie (Adam DiMarco)?

When Jack arrived, I wanted it to be obvious that he was the bad boy and Albie was the safe bet. For Jack, I was inspired by contestants on “Love Island.” I think I’ve seen every season of “Love Island” out of the U.K., and they all wear little short-shorts and tight T-shirts and bold colors. For Albie, I looked at what some kids from Stanford might wear, and there was a lot of normcore, like, New Balance and Under Armour shirts, nothing very flavorful. I also tried to dress Albie like a little boy. He wears cargo shorts and tube socks, and he doesn’t really have any game until he meets Lucia.

Mia (Beatrice Grannò), one of the Italians, wears a shredded “California” T-shirt from a thrift shop in Rome.Credit…HBO

How do the two young locals, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), dress compared with the tourists?

They dress a little bit off key as well. It’s very colorful and haphazard, but in a bit more Eurotrash way. They end up buying clothes from the little shops on the corso, so my approach was, “What would they buy if they had the money and they were trying to fit in?” In the evening, they get sparklier and sparklier as they go along.

Tell me about Mia’s shredded “California” T-shirt.

That is from a thrift shop in Rome. I just thought it had a certain, “I’ve been up all night doing drugs, then I go to another party on the beach” quality to it. Mia and Lucia are both dreaming of getting out of Sicily. Lucia particularly wants to go to L.A.

Do these costumes contain any clues to how the season will end?

You’ll have to see. I mean, there’s definitely some things — there’s more I could tell you. But then I’d be revealing the ending.

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