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How ‘Killing Eve’ Turns Clothes Into Characters

A Q&A with costume designer Phoebe De Gaye

BBC America/Ringer illustration

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve has been one of the most pleasant surprises on television this year, combining the classic detective drama with delightfully dysfunctional female characters and resulting in something entirely unique. But the show’s standout costuming, which varies from frothy pink dresses to brocade suits, is courtesy of another Phoebe. Veteran costume designer Phoebe De Gaye spoke to The Ringer about putting her own spin on assassin chic.

Clothes are central to Killing Eve, both in terms of the story and the general feel of the show. How did you come up with such a distinctive style for the series as a whole?

I consulted with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Sally [Woodward Gentle] and Lee [Morris], the producers, and it was just kind of a process. The script sparks the ideas, you know. She’s a great character, Villanelle—there’s this fascination with clothes and the way that she uses them. So it was a good opportunity to develop that sort of chameleon quality she’s got, where she’s always keeping you guessing, and you can’t quite pin her down. I wanted to try and get as many kinds of dramatically different looks for her as possible, so they were always very different.

She has this signature wardrobe, even though she’s kind of always playing a part.

There’s a bit, when she’s in Berlin: She goes along and she looks in a shop—it’s just whatever would catch her eye, because she’s a bit of an impulse shopper. She does a kill and then she rewards herself. It’s all done on impulse, it’s not planned, really. She’s impulsive, but she’s also scheming, isn’t she? She’s highly manipulative. She would be very aware of the effect of her looks on everyone around her. So that’s how she can create these disguises and play these different roles and parts. She’s got that sort of classic, high-bourgeois look at the beginning in Vienna, for that Viennese kill. And then that sort of subversive, mad-little-girl look with the psychoanalyst. Then she’s got that classic look, and then she’s dressed as a waitress. Have you seen the bit in Berlin, when she kills that poor man? [Laughs] She’s got that weird sort of fake nurse’s outfit on. And then she’s got a very mannish look, hasn’t she, with that suit. So it’s all sorts of different feels to the image she’s projecting of herself.

BBC America

That suit that she wears in the club is so amazing. How did you decide on that outfit?

I thought the colors and the sheen on it were fantastic, and they’d look great at night in that club, with the strobing colored lights and all that. It’s got almost that metallic sort of sheen to it. We work with the lighting, with the production design as well, so it’s making sure we get the maximum impact with the clothes in that context, as well as the context of what the character is trying to say with their clothes, so you’re creating a strong image in the frame. I really liked that suit, she looked great in it. She’s really good at wearing clothes, Jodie [Comer]. She chucks them on. [Laughs]

I also have to ask about that pink dress she wears in an early episode. How did you decide on that dress?

In the script, Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote it as “a poofy dress.” I thought well, what’s more poofy than this Molly Goddard dress? It was perfect, in that sort of bubblegum pink. And Villanelle’s putting two fingers up to the psychoanalyst, isn’t she? She’s basically saying, “Oh look, I’m a little girl! Except I’m not.” So we stuck the boots with it as well.

BBC America

Yes, the boots! I was going to ask about those; it was such an unexpected pairing.

Yes, I really liked that combination. There was a discussion about putting ballet pumps with it, but I think it’s much better with the boots. You need something to cut across it, don’t you? Rather than just a complete little-girl look. You want something to make it more subversive.

Did you get to choose what clothes would be in the suitcase? Those sweaters, that black and white dress—what was the process of deciding on those?

There was a big decision about the dress that she puts on. We tried about four or five dresses. It had to be a black dress, and there were a few different ones. We tried a Simone Rocha dress that [Sandra Oh] looked absolutely amazing in, but it was quite an eccentric dress—gaudy, with bits of marabou and things. Then we tried a very classic Prada dress on her that she did look beautiful in, but it was so classic. The dress that we used in the end was a Roland Mouret dress that was very tailored, very fitted. It had the most contrast with her other clothes. It had to look completely different from anything that she would ever dream of wearing herself, and it had that tailored cut that really shows off Sandra’s lovely figure, which most of the time is hidden under all of the dreary clothes that she has to wear. [Laughs] And it had that zipper up the back; you really saw what a lovely figure she has—which is also something that Villanelle has noticed and wants to manipulate, in a way. She wants to manipulate Eve into seeing her own beauty. So that dress was the best way to show off all those things.

It was quite a moment.

Yeah, good! And poor girl, she gets right in the shower. [Laughs] A short moment, as it were.

BBC America

She changes from that dress into a sweater, and there’s that great line, “Is that a sweater attached to a shirt?” Is it a sweater attached to a shirt, or is it two different pieces?

Oh, no. It’s a sort of sweatshirt thing, and it’s got a blouse, which is only a collar, which is attached at the neck. And then it’s got these terrible tail bits stitched into the hem. So it really is like that. [Laughs] And that was Charlotte [Lucas, the costume supervisor], who was helping me. She pounced on that when she saw that. Because it was just perfect for that line.

It was very relatable, as well. I feel like a lot of women have something similar in their closets.

[Laughs] Yes, exactly. It’s easy to launder, you know. Actually, I think it’s hanging up, drying in the kitchen, isn’t it? Eve’s clothes were supposed to be—she never thinks about what she looks like at all. She just buys what’s practical, and she leaves it in a heap in the corner somewhere. So she’s very distant from Villanelle.

Do you have one favorite clothing item from the series?

Yeah, I think that pink frock is it. I love it. But Jodie was so great, I can’t stress it enough. Because it all depends on the actor, you know? You can offer up these things, but it’s how they run with it, what they do with it. And she just wore those clothes so well. She just sort of tossed them on, and they all looked great. I was very lucky.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.