All the costume clues to look out for in Big Little Lies season 2
Alix Friedberg is no stranger to murder mysteries. The costume designer behind HBO hits and , won an Emmy in 2017 for her work on the first season of The TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling novel became a global phenomenon – winning four Golden Globes, turning the Californian coastal town of Monterey into a holiday hotspot and sparking serious real estate envy. It also spawned countless articles about style tribes, a testament to Friedberg’s impeccable work when dressing the show’s five leads: preppy perfectionist Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), elegant Celeste (Nicole Kidman), high-powered CEO Renata (Laura Dern), boho Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) and casual Jane (Shailene Woodley). But when returning for the second season, how could she improve upon perfection?
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For Friedberg, the answer was simple: if season one was about establishing the characters and their distinctive looks, season two is about watching them unravel. “We’ve already nailed down each woman’s silhouette and colour palette,” she tells , “but this season, a lot has changed. Some characters aren’t coping well with what happened and others are rising above it. We tried to reflect their emotional journeys through their costumes.” This plays out most noticeably with Celeste, the former lawyer and mother-of-two who is still reckoning with the death of her abusive husband, Perry.
“Celeste’s look has always been about luxurious fabrics and classic design,” says Friedberg, of her season one neutral separates by Chloé, Max Mara and The Row, carefully hiding her bruises beneath turtleneck sweaters and cosy scarves. Now, free from the trauma of her marriage, she feels conflicted and guilty. The first episode of season two, titled , marks a departure from Celeste’s polished aesthetic. “She’s grappling with grief,” explains the designer. “She’s not as effortless as she looked in season one and her survival mechanism has kicked in.” While high-end outerwear remains a crucial part of her wardrobe, season two also sees Celeste donning T-shirts and soft knits. “You can sometimes see her wearing Perry’s old T-shirts and sweatshirts – things she can still smell him on – and that’s another expression of her grief,” adds Friedberg.
Also struggling to deal with Perry’s death is Bonnie, the free-spirited yoga instructor, who feels wholly responsible for the incident. Incorporating flowy kaftans, slinky workout gear, turquoise jewellery and barely-there slip dresses, Bonnie’s wardrobe was one of the sartorial highlights of season one. “Her vibe is bohemian, printed and light,” says Friedberg, referencing brands like Anthropologie and Free People. “But she’s really darkened this season and taken on the burden of Perry’s passing.” In place of her usual loosely draped robes and vintage maxi dresses, Bonnie’s look becomes more protective as she hides herself in argyle jumpers and figure-swamping blazers.
The opposite is true for Jane. “In the earliest episodes, she was feeling self-conscious about her body, wore deliberately shapeless clothes and just wanted to be invisible,” explains the designer. “This season, she’s got the light back in her eyes. She has a new job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, she’s moved closer to the ocean and she’s adopted this vintage, Californian, surfer vibe. It’s still a lot of recycled, sustainable and vintage clothes, but you see more of her skin and her shape. There’s a newfound sense of confidence.”
Two characters certainly not lacking in confidence are Madeline and Renata. In season two, both deal with personal crises by amplifying their style. Stay-at-home mother Madeline has a new job as a real estate agent and is hiding the true cause of Perry’s death as well as an affair with her community theatre director Joseph. “She loves bold colours, prints and feminine silhouettes,” says Friedberg. “That perfectly put together Madeline look is a mask for what’s happening in her personal life. Her marriage is crumbling and her daughter is making poor choices.” The designer relied on many of the same brands she gravitated to in season one – Dolce & Gabbana, Red Valentino, Zara – and added accents including a Prada bag in a signature shade of sugary pink. “Madeline mixes high and low end,” she adds. “It doesn’t need to be at Renata’s level of fashion.”
The latter’s wardrobe is easily the most glamorous of the group, comprised of Stella McCartney jumpsuits and Azzedine Alaïa dresses. “I’ve definitely cranked it up with Renata,” says Friedberg, referring to the season two scene where the CEO wears a floor-length gown for a photoshoot in her own home. “She’s always been structured and rigid, but now she’s even more over the top. She relies on her clothes to make her feel more powerful.” This intensifies later in the season when that power comes under threat. “She’s worked so hard to be as wealthy as she is,” adds the designer. “So, when she’s in trouble, Renata clings desperately to her possessions. She’s strong and stoic but later on, there’s a sense of desperation in the way that she’s dressing.”
While costuming the Monterey Five is second nature to Friedberg, season two presented a unique challenge: dressing new addition Meryl Streep in the role of Mary Louise, Perry’s mother who arrives in Monterey to solve the mystery of his death. “It’s been one of the highlights of my career,” says the designer of working with Streep. “When it came to dressing Mary Louise, the thought process was that she’s dealing with her own grief and it manifests in her clothing. She has a uniform and it’s very prim, very tailored, very expensive – soft Belgian loafers, shirts made in France, an Hermès scarf. They’re beautiful pieces, but quite colourless because she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. And that beige coat she wears? It’s almost detective-like.”
Mary Louise is on the hunt for clues about the night that Perry died – the night of Otter Bay’s Elvis and Audrey-themed fundraiser which garnered the show’s most memorable costumes to date. Is there anything new that could rival those ensembles in season two? “There’s an episode where Renata throws a disco-themed party,” says Friedberg, alluding to a scene that briefly appears in the trailer. “She and her daughter have matching costumes and they look amazing – it’s Renata and so much fun. That’s my favourite and definitely one to look forward to.”