Darlings! Did you think our gushing podcast review and endless red carpet coverage of Crazy Rich Asians, the most fabulous film of the year, was at an end? To quote the Lesser Cher, “As IF.” No, you just knew we were going to have to take a closer look at the style decisions of the film’s costume designer, Mary E. Vogt, who had the task of using existing high-fashion items to construct characters and help the story along. Since the film indulges in fantasy-based Aspiration Porn at a level most people don’t even bother to aspire to, she had free rein to go as wild as she wanted to in order to produce the amazing visual and fashion moments of the film. We’re going to look at some of the most notable high-label items of the film and what they say about the characters, but we will only be discussing the bare bones of the plot and won’t be giving away any spoilers.
Ironically, no one character serves as a better example of the Aspiration Porn model of costume design than Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu.
An American college professor, she’s presented as the outsider and the audience identification character, overwhelmed by all the ostentatious wealth on display and put in a position to defend her American-ness. She is modest and unassuming in comparison to almost all of her contemporaries in Singaporean high society.
She favors frills, florals and ruffles, pinks and lavenders – as you would expect from the ingenue in a romantic comedy. And yet her wardrobe is as expensive and high-label as any of the other, wealthier characters. This is not, of course, meant to be realistic. Instead, Mary Vogt positions her alongside all the other wealthier, more glamorous characters by giving her the high-fashion tools to stand toe-to-toe with them while still telling a story about who the character is and where she stands in the story. In other words, she may be dripping with labels, but the image is one of modern, simple femininity and romanticism.
She borrows this considerably richer-looking, more glamorous gown from her friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina), although it looks nothing like the character’s taste (as you can see below). Still, it sells the point that Rachel can play with the Big Girls in their own sandbox, meaning she can bring the glam, sparkle and fabulosity as easily as they can.
For the wedding, which was a fashion parade to end all fashion parades (and presented as THE social event of the year), she brought her A Game, showing up in a Marchesa gown that no college professor could afford, but that nonetheless dripped with the soft, traditional romanticism that character embodies while not coming off too glamorous or dramatic.
Contrast this with the costumes of her boyfriend’s mother, Eleanor Young, played to charismatic, steel-spined, dignified perfection by Michelle Yeoh:
Diane von Furstenberg
Note how the brilliant green of her wrap blouse ties her very much to the house that she is protecting, with all its green hues. Note how breezily business-like her style tends to be. When she’s not serving high-fashion elegance, she opts for this sort of Jackie Onassis-style of breezy casual or day wear.
Stylish, classic and a bit imposing for her big face-off against Rachel, it has that socialite-in-the-Hamptons vibe that Eleanor’s style tends to favor. The effect is to tell you she’s both a woman of means and a woman of some substance.
Which isn’t meant to take away from her ability to work the hell out of a gown:
We literally got shushed in the theater because we couldn’t stop whispering excitedly about how gorgeous her jewelry is in this scene. Reportedly, Michelle Yeoh accessorized her character with jewelry from her own collection. We don’t know if this is the case here. All we know is that the dress is stately and makes her look formidable while the jewels give her a regal affect. She looks stunning.
Elie Saab Couture
And speaking of formidable, Yeoh’s got such bearing that she can make a sheer bathrobe look practically papal in its ostentation and power. Note that the pale blue color scheme situates her perfectly opposite Rachel, who showed up to the wedding in the same color, but rendered in softly romantic styles instead of in this figure-of-power mode, with it’s thick trim, heavy sparkle and hanging sleeves; like judges’ or courtiers’ robes.
Standing well outside the romance/power dichotomy represented by these two women is Peik Lin, played to perfect comedic-sidekick perfection by Awkwafina.
She’s got a real love of goofy animal prints paired with stripes, it would seem. Note that the metallic Missoni gown that Rachel borrowed from her also had a stripe motif – although that’s literally the only part of that design that even suggested ownership by Peik Lin. She’s American-born nouveau-riche Chinese, so her style is presented as expensive, but comedic and unrefined. She doesn’t live, work or play in High Singapore Society, so there’s no interest on her part in dressing like a typical socialite. The animal motif is a fun, quick way of defining her visually. No one else in the film looked like this, that’s for sure.
On the flip side of Peik Lin’s nouveau riche socialite is Gemma Chan as mega-rich Astrid, serving up the best goddamn modern twist on the classic Audrey Hepburn look that we’ve ever seen on film.
There’s nothing literally Hepburn about this look, but the high neckline, pink color, and enormous shades and up do, combined with the bedazzled bag and shoes and oh-so Parisian undertone, give her an almost cosplay effect; as if she were attending an Audrey Hepburn convention and really needed to ramp things up in order to stand out.
There’s a similar “Breakfast at Tiffany’s But with a Twist” feel to the gown she wears to the wedding. The high neckline, up do, sheath silhouette and bejeweled collar offer a blingier, more colorful version of the classic Hepburn look.
Diane von Furstenberg
Gemma Chan has an almost unearthly beauty on camera, combined with a model’s ability to wear fashion. Any costume designer or director who didn’t capitalize on those very Audrey-like qualities would be making a mistake. There’s a sort of bold simplicity in her costumes, forcing your eye to her with simple shapes and bright colors while setting off her face beautifully.
Which isn’t to suggest she can’t work a little classic sexy when she wants to – like when she’s trying desperately to hold on to her marriage and a husband who seems nothing but distracted and disinterested.
And finally, to round out all the major female characters in the movie, there’s Araminta Lee, the British-born, high-fashion, Boho Chic socialite with the soul of a rocker chick played by Sonoya Mizuno:
She doesn’t get a chance to shine as much as the other characters, but that’s made up for by one eye-popping sequined jumpsuit and what may be the most dazzling wedding scene ever committed to film. If you haven’t seen the film, trust us: these stills don’t come close to just how over-the-top this wedding scene gets. They don’t even show you how unconventional her gown is (although SPOILER: she’s wearing sequined leggings and no shoes under an open skirt). If there’s any one character or scene that sums up the film’s penchant for using fashion to depict a wholly fantasy-based lifestyle, this would be it.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]