For her new film, The Beguiled, a Southern Gothic set during the Civil War, Sofia Coppola reunited with costume designer Stacey Battat, a longtime collaborator (and close friend), to create the wardrobe for her mostly female cast. The film, which is a remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood classic, takes place at an isolated southern girls’ boarding school—Nicole Kidman plays the headmistress Miss Martha, Kirsten Dunst is Edwina, a teacher, while Elle Fanning is a brooding, rebellious teenager, Alicia—and examines the rarely-depicted female experience during wartime.
Coppola’s version is a lush and gorgeously-wrought thriller that’s already received major accolades, including the Best Director Prize when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The film’s visual riches are all the more impressive given its modest $10.5 million dollar budget and tight 26-day production schedule.
As with most of Coppola’s films, the characters’ costumery was an early and central consideration. In the case of The Beguiled, Battat’s pastel-hued collection of day dresses in muted plaids, stripes, and calico prints—most of which were handmade, along with custom corsets—transport the audience to a sheltered, feminine enclave that is suddenly upended by the appearance of a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell). For Battat, who worked with Coppola on A Very Murray Christmas, The Bling Ring, and Somewhere, The Beguiled was the costume designer’s first period film project.
Aside from the absence of hoop skirts—“There was no one to dress up for and [the women] also had to work in the garden,” Battat explained—the soft, diaphanous fabrics, waist-cinching silhouettes, and long skirts with their subtle swishes, coupled with braided hairstyles and face-framing updos by veteran stylist Odile Gilbert, lend an unexpected allure to the women’s outfits.
While The Beguiled’s official prep time between budget approval and the start of production was only six weeks, Battat had begun immersing herself in research materials several years before the film was actually green-lit. “We knew we wanted to make this movie—and believed it was hopefully going to happen,” she said. “It was always somewhere on my mind, even if on the periphery.”
She and Coppola met and became friends while Battat was working for Marc Jacobs at his shop on Mercer Street in New York nearly two decades ago. From there, Battat went on to styling (occasionally collaborating with Coppola in that capacity), and eventually landed in costume design