LONDON — The costume designer Emma Fryer didn’t overcomplicate matters when she dressed Emma Corrin for her starring role as the cerebral rebel Constance Reid in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” which makes its Netflix debut on Friday.
“I thought if Connie were here in 2022, what would she look like? What would be in her wardrobe? Where would she go shopping?” says Fryer, who concluded that Connie would be browsing the rails at Selfridges, and wearing labels like Zimmermann, Needle & Thread, Vilshenko and Galanthya.
Fryer also added some period clothing from Britain’s big costume houses, and whipped up a few original looks, such as one of Connie’s more bohemian dresses, which is made from a sari.
The costumes chime with the mood of the film, which was directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Hers is a dreamy, contemporary story of self-realization, told mostly from Connie’s perspective.
In this latest take on the D.H. Lawrence novel, which became the center of an obscenity trial in 1960, upper class Connie and her gamekeeper lover, Oliver Mellors, have much more in common intellectually.
They’re less bound by convention than the original characters from the novel, which Lawrence published privately in the late 1920s in France and Italy.
Fryer says giving the costumes a contemporary feel wasn’t too difficult. Many of the breezy 1920s silhouettes that Connie wears are timeless, and the clothing of the era continues to inspire designers today.
Fryer says she’s fascinated by World War I, and its immediate aftermath, which was a period of immense social and sartorial change.
“We’ve got men going off to war, and women jumping into men’s jobs. Women’s clothing was loosening, and corsetry was going. It’s a really interesting time,” Fryer says.
She adds that Connie’s journey in the film mirrors that change. She goes from a buttoned-up, pre-war newlywed to a sexually liberated lady, a woman taking charge of her body and casting off her old life.
Fryer says she also drew inspiration from the change of seasons and the colors of the landscape where the film was shot, mostly in northern Wales.
When she assembles her mood boards, she tries to see “each frame like a painting” and decides how her costumes are going to sit with the production design, and the camera work. “Everything has to work together,” she says.
Fryer decided that for the London scenes Connie had to look “really rich and exotic and expensive.”
Venice was a different story.
At one point, Connie briefly escapes her husband — the bullying, paralyzed war veteran Sir Clifford Chatterley — and takes a holiday in the Italian city with her sister. Fryer was determined to dress her in green — to suit the city’s chic backdrop.
“Green was very much was the palette for Venice, because of the background and because the people on the streets were wearing beige, muted colors and linens, and I wanted her to jump away from that a little bit,” says Fryer, who dressed Corrin in a Zimmermann dress with green embroidery.
Green gives way to purple after Connie makes a pivotal decision at the end of the film.
“By then, we’re back into winter, and Connie’s very pregnant. She’s wearing this amazing purple coat. It’s such a strong, vibrant color, and different to what she’s wearing in the rest of the film. The scene when she’s driving to meet Mellors wearing that purple coat just stepped her into another world. She was a new person, a different person than we met at the very beginning,” Fryer says.
Color plays a central role in Mellors’ wardrobe, too. He may be a working-class gamekeeper at the Chatterley estate in Derbyshire, England, but in this version, he reads James Joyce in his downtime, and certainly knows how to put an outfit together.
Fryer opted for “layers and textures” of blue instead of traditional brown.
“I didn’t want him to be in brown of-the-period clothing. We had to get away from that. I wanted his clothes to have a contemporary feel,” Fryer says of the character played by Jack O’Connell. She chose a version of “French workwear,” including chore jackets, “which so many guys in London — and Europe — wear today,” the designer says.
“I wanted him to have a different feel, and to give him a look that was very much his own,” she says.
In the liner notes, Clermont-Tonnerre says that with Fryer’s costumes: “You’re not getting the dust of the time. You’re getting something that feels very rejuvenated and vibrant, which I always wanted.”
Of all the costumes, Sir Clifford’s are the most bound to the period, and to his social class. Fryer tweaked his fabrics to suit the seasons, with tweeds and wools morphing into lighter-weight linens as the weather got warmer. Throughout the film, she says, he had a “very buttoned-up feel, which never left him.”
Fryer works both in film and in TV, and she says her eyes are always open to new inspiration — on social media, the streets of London and in museums.
Her research for Chatterley took her to the National Portrait Gallery, “a wonderful place because you can see the fabric in some of the paintings,” and in photographs from that period, too.
Fryer’s work over the years has spanned period and contemporary productions, including Hulu’s “The Great” starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult as 18th-century Russian aristocrats; the new TV series “Riviera” with Julia Stiles, and “The Hustle,” a 2019 remake of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.
In “The Hustle,” she piled on the fashion — and got inventive with it, too. Hathaway’s con artist character Josephine Chesterfield has an ultra-glamorous wardrobe that includes looks by Balmain, Marc Jacobs, Temperley London and Mi Jong Lee.
Wilson’s character, Penny Rust, has a lineup of snazzy looks that can instantly transform into clever disguises, like garbage bags or Christmas presents.
Fryer says her approach to work is always the same. She reads the script, listens to her gut, talks with the director and “builds pictures” in her head.
Whether she’s working on a period film, or a contemporary one, Fryer says she’s always led by the character, what they would want to wear, and what would be in their wardrobes — regardless of which century they’re from, or whether there’s a Selfridges nearby.