How to dress a psychopath

Delving into the wardrobes of the season’s deadliest on-screen psychopaths. The ones that look just like us.

Despite the fact that psy­chopaths only make-up an esti­mat­ed 1% of the pop­u­la­tion, much like Love Island is set to, they’re tak­ing up a lot of screentime. 

Next week, Tate Taylor’s Ma, in which Octavia Spencer plays a psy­chopath who befriends a group of local teenagers lands in cin­e­mas. Next month sees the UK return of Killing Eve and Jodie Comer’s BAF­TA-win­ning per­for­mance as the love­able psy­chopath-assas­sin Vil­lanelle. And next year, Jes­si­ca Chas­tain takes on the tit­u­lar role in Eve, an action thriller about a black ops assassin. 

In many cas­es, a psy­chopath can be hard to iden­ti­fy at first, and their main kick often comes from toy­ing with oth­ers. And their biggest asset? The fact that they look just like us. As cos­tume design­er Megan Coates (who is cur­rent­ly dress­ing Chas­tain in Eve and who cos­tumed Spencer for Ma), tells me, a psy­chopath dress­es for the char­ac­ter they’ve con­vinced them­selves to be. Every piece of cloth­ing is a delib­er­ate choice.” 

Nowhere is this more evi­dent than in the char­ac­ter of Vil­lanelle. Every detail of her look is pre­cise, from the knot tied in a pink over­sized silk shirt, to the tuck of her trousers into a pair of util­i­ty boots. In com­par­i­son, Octavia Spencer’s Ma hides her psy­chopa­thy behind a mask of banal­i­ty. She’s pre­sent­ing her­self as nor­mal” to the out­side world. In this, her dress might be some­what drab or lack­lus­tre in order to blend in,” says Coates. On the sur­face, Vil­lanelle – she of the very large, gold, 1980s Lacroix ear­rings; she who put stud­ded Balen­ci­a­ga boots with a tulle princess dress – seems the absolute oppo­site. And yet, her out­fit choic­es tap into a new kind of ordi­nary – the ordi­nary of the Insta­gram gen­er­a­tion. Like all psy­chopaths, Vil­lanelle strug­gles with emo­tion and anti­so­cial behav­iour; she is self-serv­ing and ego­tis­ti­cal. Like (almost) all influ­encers, she is also a col­lec­tor of beau­ti­ful objects with an appetite for lux­u­ry and a wardrobe which reflects that. 

Char­lotte Mitchell, the show’s cos­tume design­er, had the job of hand-pick­ing each item with­in said wardrobe for the new sea­son of the show. From shop­ping trips with Jodie to search­ing the web for vin­tage pieces, Mitchell spent months plan­ning every look and hunt­ing down clothes across the globe.

Psy­chopaths have no con­sis­ten­cy in their emo­tion, their mood, so how do you dress a psy­chopath? I wouldn’t be able to tell you,” she laughs. Psy­chopaths don’t play by any­body else’s rules, they play by their own rules and are erratic.”

The show has already begun air­ing in the US and one of the most talked about look of the sea­son so far has been a dra­mat­ic black con­fec­tion of a gown worn by Vil­lanelle. Mitchell sourced the dress from McQueen’s 2012 archive. Villanelle’s ver­sion of casu­al’ is a t-shirt paired with a beau­ti­ful­ly cut Alexan­der McQueen jack­et and flo­ral Etro trousers, and that’s her play­ful mood. Where­as when she shows dra­ma she’ll wear a floor-length cou­ture dress.”

McQueen has been a favourite for Mitchell this sea­son. Although Villanelle’s pieces are by Sarah Bur­ton, the spir­it of the brand is a fit­ting match for the char­ac­ter giv­en that Lee McQueen was well known for ref­er­enc­ing the art of female evil – includ­ing the 1983 vam­pire film The Hunger and Eliz­a­beth Howe, McQueen’s dis­tant rel­a­tive who was sen­tenced to death in the Salem witch trials. 

I love test­ing the fash­ion press, that’s why I loved get­ting the vin­tage pieces because it made it more dif­fi­cult,” par­tic­u­lar­ly after last season’s pink Mol­ly God­dard moment which the press spot­ted instantly.

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Vil­lanelle is a psy­chopath, but she is also a cura­tor and col­lec­tor. She does not buy expen­sive cloth­ing because of the label attached to it, but for the feel­ing of own­ing lux­u­ry. We were film­ing it last year so we were look­ing at the end of Spring/​Summer and the begin­ning of Autumn/​Winter col­lec­tions. Saint Lau­rent had some amaz­ing pieces, McQueen had some amaz­ing pieces; I looked at Erdem, Ellery, Dries, but Vil­lanelle isn’t a label whore’, she just loves lux­u­ry and beau­ti­ful items.”

Though their wardrobes reflect very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, Ma, Eve and Vil­lanelle all dis­guise them­selves well. Whilst Ma may be hid­ing behind the ordi­nary, Vil­lan­nelle hides in plain sight – and in the process becomes the ulti­mate assas­sin for the Insta­gram generation. 

As Megan Coates put it, to present one­self as harm­less is a big aid in catch­ing one’s prey off guard.”


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