In one of the most sartorially splendid scenes from Jon M. Chu’s new romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” Peik Lin Goh, an energetic and confident character played by Awkwafina, deadpans to her best friend: “You kinda look like a slutty ebola virus.”
No, she wasn’t referring literally to a promiscuous version of the infectious and often deadly disease, but rather teasing about a colorful beaded minidress Constance Wu’s character, Rachel Chu, tries on ahead of Singapore’s wedding of the century.
The ornate dress, which was created by Malaysia-based Carven Ong, is just one of numerous high-fashion pieces costume designer Mary Vogt sourced for the film, which is based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 hit novel. In theaters Wednesday, “Crazy Rich Asians” follows wealthy heir Nick Young (played by Henry Golding), who invites Rachel, his Chinese American economics professor girlfriend, to his friend’s wedding in Singapore to introduce her to his intimidating, traditional mom Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh).
Before outfitting the all-Asian and Asian American cast — the first of a major Hollywood movie since 1993’s “Joy Luck Club” — Vogt chatted with Kwan to get a more thorough understanding of each character.
“He talked to me about where they came from, how they developed and about him and his family,” Vogt said during a recent interview. “Because it sort of originated from his family. And I’m not Asian. So I don’t have that to draw on. Kevin was a great resource for me to get the tone right.”
The film also offers a look at Singapore’s varied definitions of what it means to be rich. Hence, you see that the Young family (led by Young’s mother) is considered to be “old money,” while the Goh clan (fronted by Peik Lin) flaunt its “new money” vibe.
“The easiest way to communicate [the wealth of] the Goh and Young families was to think about what designers they would wear and how they would dress,” Vogt said. “The Young family would never wear Versace, but the Goh family was dripping in Versace.”
As for the Young matriarch, Eleanor gravitates toward high-end designers that are more understated but still elegant with pieces such as a burgundy Valentino gown with a high neckline and flowing cape, a sheer sequin Elie Saab dress and an emerald long-sleeve Diane von Furstenberg blouse. “Emerald green was a color Jon felt that Eleanor would wear,” Vogt said.
Yeoh also provided a personal touch to her character. “She really felt that Eleanor would never wear costume jewelry — whatever she had on would be real,” Vogt said.
Some of Eleanor’s finest pieces, including a necklace with two long strands of diamonds (worn with a Carolina Herrera outfit) and her enormous emerald ring, are from Yeoh’s own private collection. Vogt sourced the film’s jewelry from Bulgari, Chopard, Dubai- and Geneva-based brand Mouawad and Hong Kong-based designer Michelle Ong.
Astrid Young Teo (Gemma Chan), Nick’s fashionable cousin, is just as poised in a pastel pink Dior cowl-neck dress and a sleeveless colorblocked Diane von Furstenberg midi dress. “There’s something about her beauty that’s very poetic,” Vogt said. “You don’t want to take away from it.”
These are really strong characters that just happen to be well dressed. It’s really about the characters and where they’re coming from.
Unlike the Youngs, Rachel typically is dressed in a more low-key wardrobe, given her middle-class upbringing. “Her character wants to look good, but she’s not obsessed with fashion. She shops at Macy’s, Gap or vintage stores,” Vogt said. “There’s an honesty to her clothing.”
One of those pieces includes a cherry red Miu Miu fit-and-flare frock that Rachel hopes to wear to meet Nick’s mom. “It’s a very simple dress with a youthful look to it,” Vogt said. “It looks like something a mother would pick out. It’s almost a little too prim.”
However, in the film, Rachel opts for a sparkly stripe Missoni dress with a plunging neckline to meet Eleanor. She also gets a fashion face-lift for the most anticipated wedding in Lion City. A makeover montage shows Rachel trying on a number of designer dresses (many from Ralph Lauren Asia, according to Vogt) before selecting a romantic sky blue tulle gown by former red-carpet favorite Marchesa that’s unveiled at the ceremony.
“Jon wanted her to look like Cinderella going to the ball,” Vogt said. “We looked at a lot of dresses, and Constance actually sent me a picture of that Marchesa dress. When she put that on, everyone was just like, ‘That’s perfect.’” She removed the original gown’s sheer long sleeves so the actress wouldn’t appear to be drowning in the fall 2016 eveningwear.
Then there’s Rachel’s high-energy friend, Peik Lin, who opts for louder looks such as a silk Stella McCartney dog-print shirt and matching track pants and a Markus Lupfer sleeveless blouse with bunny patterns paired with a statement necklace by Marni.
“Because we were so restrained with the Young family and Rachel — who is also restrained in her own way — then it was like, ‘Here comes Peik Lin,’” Vogt said about dressing the notoriously outspoken character actress. “Even when we’d do a fitting with her, you’d be like, ‘Who turned the lights up? No, it’s just that [Awkwafina] showed up.’ Everything seemed brighter when she’s around.”
Although “Crazy Rich Asians” has numerous style moments, Vogt said she doesn’t consider it a fashion film. “These are really strong characters that just happen to be well dressed,” she said. “It’s really about the characters and where they’re coming from.”
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