Take a peek at any recent street style photo of Blake Lively and you’ll notice her donning suit jackets and matching trousers in a variety of vibrant hues: from pale pink patchwork to bold lime green and a daring velvet navy number paired with a vest. Statement-making sartorial decisions aside, Lively has taken to dressing like character Emily Nelson from the upcoming suburban noir film A Simple Favor to a whole new level. In every scene, Emily is equal parts troublesome and mysterious, with an unmistakable dark past that she hides behind sleek menswear and suiting.
As it turns out, it was Lively’s idea to dress Emily in pantsuits from the very beginning, according to costume designer Renée Ehrlich Kalfus, who shared sketches of the clothes exclusively with CR.
“Blake was like a kid in a candy shop,” Kalfus says. “She really came to me and said I think I should be in pantsuits, and it was sort of an open door from there. She wanted to brand herself, was the term she used, and to be recognizable. We went to Paul [Feig], the director, and asked how do you feel about pantsuits? Paul wears an elegant ’50s suit every day and Blake and I thought at the same time ‘Oh my God, she should dress like Paul.'”
Kalfus then got to work, compiling extensive research and poring over archives from Helmut Newton, old photos of Marlene Dietrich, and vintage Chanel pantsuits. Newton, in particular, became a main inspiration for Emily’s wardrobe and soon enough, Kalfus had an entire mood board of his portraits: black-and-white photographs of a woman wearing a suit holding a cigarette, a table full of women all in menswear, Lauren Bacall leaning impishly against a couch. All contributed to the mood of the film and the aesthetic from which Emily’s clothing was based.
“Helmut Newton’s photos push this masculine-feminine concept and we wanted to establish that for Emily,” Kalfus says. “Her style is very strong, very recognizable, intimidating and haughty. At the same time, the men’s tailoring becomes very sexy. In terms of character, it was a way she could almost shield herself. This was a woman who didn’t want to fit in with the other mommies and it was how she kept herself distant from this small community.”
Lively also played a pivotal role, sometimes spending upwards of three hours in wardrobe with Kalfus trying on the different suits and finding the right combination of clothes. It was Lively who, alongside Feig and Kalfus, approached Ralph Lauren and asked if they could have access to the designer’s archival collections. From there, the majority of Emily’s pantsuits were a mix of vintage Ralph Lauren womenswear and men’s suits.
“It was a dream come true,” Kalfus says. “A gold mine. There were the one-off pieces that he gave us that were a lot of fun. There wasn’t a enough time or money to build these suits, so to be able to get the perfect ones and for it to inform the character really worked.”
Meanwhile, the accessories for Lively’s character were plundered from the ’20s and ’30s, coupled with briefcases, purses, Victorian ties, and cufflinks that Kalfus found in old vintage shops. By the time Emily’s complete look came together for her first scene in the film, she’s wearing a stark navy pinstripe pantsuit, Christian Louboutin heels, and holding an umbrella in the pouring rain. The moment is striking and meant to present a foil to Anna Kendrick’s unabashedly feminine and sweet character, Stephanie Smothers. Emily then takes Stephanie under her wing, teaching her how to mix the perfect dry gin martini and rebuking her for apologizing too much. When Emily suddenly disappears one day, Stephanie tries to piece together her new friend’s mysterious past and uncovers a few dark and sordid secrets in the process.
By the time filming wrapped, Lively wasn’t ready to give up wearing the suits completely. What started out as character inspiration became the actress’ wardrobe for the press tour: “It’s often that at the end of a movie, the actor will walk away and say ‘I love this stuff. I want to wear it in my real life,'” Kalfus says. “I think Lively’s so clever with her own styling that she’s referencing the pantsuit.”END
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