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The Secret Story Behind Each Of The Gorgeous Costumes In 'Little'

Clothing

We chat with Danielle Hollowell about how she uses clothes to make audience's "eyes dance across the screen"

There's a moment in a lot of women-led films when the main character undergoes a transformation of some kind. She appears strutting down a hallway, usually in slow-motion, with a new head-turning look. That moment comes about midway through Little. Marsai Martin's character—who plays a shrunken-down version of Regina Hall's character Jordan—has just endured a triggering moment of being made fun of by her fellow classmates. The next day, she returns in a bright pink Fendi suit and a glow-up that Issa Rae's character, April, might compare to that of Gucci Mane's.

This is the outfit that the film's costume designer Danielle Hollowell gets asked about the most, and it's also the one she holds closest to her heart. She first saw the pantsuit in the brand's Spring 2018 collection. The image stuck with her and, when working on Little, she reached out to Fendi who delivered on producing something similar. There were a few factors to keep in mind, though, before landing on the pink number. One being that the character who was wearing it was an older businesswoman stuck in a 13-year-old's body.

"I'm very cognizant of the difference between dressing children and dressing adults; I'm aware of how they should be presented, and I design that way," Hollowell tells us. "I don't try to mix the two things. And especially because little Jordan, her mind is still an adult, I had to be very aware of the fashion choices that I made there." She had to find something both a 13-year-old and an adult woman would be drawn to (same goes for the tan Birkin bag, a staple for Martin's character), but also something little Jordan's classmates would envy. "We knew it had to be impactful and that's why the pink was chosen, because it's a really amazing color in all the different hues that it comes in. Especially in a sea of these kids at school." She balances the look with a pair of Jacquemus shoes, which is also a nod to the younger Jordan. "If you look at them closely, one has a square heel, and the other has a round heel, so it fits in with a theme for a child."

Mini-Jordan isn't the only character who undergoes a style shift in the film; each character has a fashion arc of her own. When we first see April, she's wearing Hollowell's favorite piece from the film: a Hollowell-designed jacket that says "Black People Read" on the back. It's evident that April is a millennial with a creative side, and, like so many in her generation, she's underpaid. So, she makes due wearing lots of thrifted items, like the vintage Escada "swashbuckling-meets-Robin Hood" shirt that Hollowell found at a secondhand shop on L.A.'s Melrose Avenue. "It's awkward and interesting and textured," Hollowell says about the top. Just like April.

But as April's status changes from lowly assistant to invaluable asset, who protects little Jordan's secret, her outfits change too, and reflect her desire to dress like a boss—even if it's one who's trying way too hard, and so sports a metallic skirt, leopard-print shirt, and way too much gold jewelry. It is, little Jordan notes, something Cookie from Empire would wear. But April reels it in again, once she starts to feel more comfortable with and valued for who she is, and so she ends the film in a perfectly chic, black Alexander Wang outfit. "April starts out not having as much confidence, then ends up overcompensating, before actually figuring out who she is, style-wise," Hollowell says.

Hall, as big Jordan, only goes through a handful of outfit changes before she turns little, and then only a couple more when she returns to her regular self, but they also help tell the story of her transformation. Her first look is a red-and-blue, pinstripe Virgil Abloh shirt (Hollowell made it a point to incorporate a number of Black designers, including Abloh, Cushnie, Romeo Hunte, Brother Vellies, and Agnes Baddoo), which she pairs with red pants. "I had a discussion with Regina early on, and we were talking about the color red and how a lot of people are scared of it, but a lot of people love it, too," she says. "It means power, and most men, they wear these power red ties. Well, she's a powerful woman so let's go for this powerful red color."

When we see her character again, she's gone through a significant personality change, which is displayed in the color and the lightness of her clothes. "She's bringing in a new day," Hollowell says. "When she appears at the board meeting, she appears softer to everyone, and I needed to communicate that through the clothes."

For Hollowell, costume designing isn't just about "putting pretty things on people," it's about making an impact. "When I design, I want the audience to go on a journey, and I want their eyes to dance on the screen," she says. "I knew that I had to have texture, I knew that I had to have movement in almost every thing that I put on these characters." The job is also about portraying, she explains, who that person is through the clothes they wear. "Every day, people get dressed, so it's my job to communicate what their emotions are or their socio-economic status or their feelings that day," she says. "It's a way of communicating the way people live their lives."

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She considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth"

Dani Okon, NYLON's associate creative director of video, sat down with her great-aunt, May Okon, to talk about their shared experiences—despite vastly different time frames—living as queer women in New York City. Prior to retirement, May was a journalist for the New York Daily News, having first entered the male-dominated workforce when "the boys were all at war." And, of course, she absolutely killed it. Her only regret? "Retiring at 55," she tells Dani, joking, "Who the hell knew I was gonna live to 100?"

Upon retiring, she moved out to the Hamptons with her partner and bought a home. If she had to do it all over, May says "there are a lot of things I wouldn't do," but she still considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth." Get to know May in the video, above.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Marlene Colburn and Naima Green
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by: Alexandra Hsie
Camera: Gretta Wilson + Katie Sadler
Edited by: Madeline Stedman

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Here's how they're making sure it doesn't happen

Lauren Morelli, the showrunner and executive producer for the new Netflix show Tales of the City, is fostering a space where multiple queer realities can be shown on-screen. She spoke with one of the cast members, trans actor Garcia (who plays Jake Rodriguez on the show), and, in the video above, they explore why it's wrong to treat queer stories as representative of the entire community. Tokenization is something that they both want to avoid at all costs, and they're on the right track.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
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Edited by Gretta Wilson

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"Nothing is truly a binary"

We put non-binary activist Eddie Jarrel Jones and The Phluid Project founder Rob Smith in conversation with each other, and the two spoke some powerful truths about the continued gendering of products like makeup and clothing. Smith recalls that 30 years ago, the only way that he was able to experience the joys of playing with makeup was to work at a beauty counter. Even today, Jones notes that it's hard for non-binary femmes like them, or even trans women, to get that experience in stores.

In the video above, get a sense of why Smith created a genderless store, and see how important it is for people like Jones to have a space where they don't feel criticized for dressing like they want.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Charlotte Prager + Dani Okon
Edited by Gretta Wilson

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