Fashion

BEHIND THE SEAMS WITH JULIA STILES

An oral history from Hollywood’s original teen queen

26.10.2020

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Obsessions are one thing. Teenage girl obsessions? Another. League. Entirely. They’re all-consuming affairs; from liking someone properly for the first time or that movie you feel compelled to consume on the reg. Everything is a heady first and the ending of such delights is simply too much to bear. Of the latter, the reasoning is somewhat complex. Though, if you were coming of age in the early noughties, there’s a strong chance Julia Stiles had something to do with it.

Her portrayal as Kat Stratford in - perhaps one of the most quoted rom coms of that MTV era - 1999 classic 10 Things I Hate About You (a modern-day adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew), is as inspiring as ever. She’s the sole reason I asked for a copy of The Bell Jar one Christmas; actually way too complicated for my 12 year-old brain to fully grapple with, but still. Why, almost overnight, I had fallen hard for camo print. Vests, specifically (that’s what she wears in the film). Because when fandom truly takes over, imitation is the only recourse.

Even Stiles herself is influenced by her on-screen personas. Like her role as the hyper-glamourous Georgina, in sun-soaked drama Riviera (now in its third season on Sky Atlantic). “I definitely make an extra effort to wear actual clothes in my day to day life, not wear pyjamas all day,” the actress tells me down the phone from her home in Vancouver, multi-tasking a day of press interviews with keeping her three-year-old son entertained. “Have you heard the expression hard pants? It’s an American thing.” Translation: “denim or fitted pants that you’d normally wear, but we’ve stopped wearing because of Covid. I like leggings but I try to wear hard pants once a week.” Read on for Stiles’ take on the ghosts of her (characters') wardrobes past.

ON KAT IN '10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU'

“Kat Stratford’s style was not particularly feminine or princess-y. It was pretty casual 90s grunge - a lot of camo! I liked her prom dress - very simple and understated. I mean, she was sort of anti-prom, wasn’t she? I personally went to a performing arts school and my gay best friend, who was a little older, invited me to his senior prom as his date. I’m still friends with him [and] I made him my date for an awards ceremony for CNN; I was dying to have side-by-side photos of us then and now, 20 years later. Back then we thought we were too cool for school and didn’t take prom too seriously. I remember wearing a really long skirt and a top, it was like a funky metallic - way too colourful. I didn’t actually go to my own senior prom because I wasn’t in school that much, that’s when I started working more regularly, I think.”

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ON SARA IN 'SAVE THE LAST DANCE'

“Mmm, I’m not into her cargo pants - so I’m a nay on that! I just feel like they’re ugly and you have to do a lot of compensating in other parts of the outfit in order to make them [look] cool. Though, I’ve had similar moments to that scene where Kerry Washington’s character styles me, before going into the club. I was going to a movie premiere once - I wasn’t in it, I just wanted to see it - and I was scrambling to put together an outfit from whatever I had. My neighbour, who was this really eccentric and fabulous French woman sees me walking to the elevator. She stops me and says, “Oh No, No, No, No!” She went and got this purple vintage Chanel purse, hands it to me and said, “you take this tonight.” It made the whole look more special.”

ON JOAN IN MONA LISA SMILE

“The costume designer on that movie was so dedicated to using vintage, so it really was from that time period. That fashion era [the 1950s] is really flattering, with the cinched waist and full skirts. I remember one of my favourite looks was this blouse that has very puffy sleeves and a pencil skirt. The fabrics weren’t very comfortable, though - it was mostly wool. I’ve found that, throughout my career, clothes help me get into character. If I wear things that are too close to my own style, it can throw off the whole rehearsal process.”

ON GEORGINA IN RIVIERA

“If I had to save one item from my closet it would be a nice Burberry Trench coat I bought from Riviera. We had this coat we were obsessed with, but it never made it onto the show because we were always shooting in the summer. Then, when the costume designer was returning it, I asked to buy it. I did actually pay for it, so I do rightfully own it!

More and more fashion makes me feel powerful walking into the world. I remember there was a lot of trial and error getting dressed for the red carpet in the late 90s, early 00s. We didn’t really have a stylist [then], sometimes showrooms would send you pieces but you still had to put [the look] together yourself. Or I would pull things from my own wardrobe. It was less controlled, more innocent, then. Though I think my sense of style has grown so much because of being able to consult with stylists. Wearing something that fits well and feels good, it instils a level of confidence.”

Riviera season 3 is available to watch on Sky and NOW TV

IMAGES | SHUTTERSTOCK

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