Netflix has developed a healthy catalogue of thought-provoking thrillers, with The One being its latest series. Starring Hannah Ware as a CEO of a matchmaking app that uses science to find your soulmate, the series is equal parts murder mystery and romantic drama. Amongst all the dramatics and sci-fi elements, however, it is a study about human instinct and how far we will go for self-preservation.
In many ways, the season catalogues the character journeys as opposed to being solely plot-driven. While dialogue is important to showing the audience that development, it was the clothing that illustrated the changes best.
The One is a stylish series, and costume designer Jo Slater considered how much of a statement to make in light of the genre.
“Thrillers are really high drama and so the clothes can be noticed. As creators and costume designers we all like to show off and you often have to reign yourself in. But with The One I was allowed free reign to try and bring something to the show rather than just create characters”, she told The Indiependent.
Costumes are a vital tool in storytelling as you can tell a lot based on attire. It is a designer’s job to navigate how the cast is seen through the lens, not just in real life. Slater continued, “There’s a very obvious journey for these characters. They go from being poor to being rich beyond their wildest dreams. Where do you go with that visually? We all know that on camera something really cheap can look amazing and something really expensive can look really cheap. So, it has to be more than just the quality of the clothes. You have to almost change their style to illustrate that point.”
Ware’s character Rebecca had the most noticeable transformation, both financially and personality-wise; the clothes had to reflect that. When we first see her in a flashback, she is at the start of her career, writing papers and conducting research on a much smaller scale. The laid-back style shown is therefore apt. Though this does prompt the question; did Rebecca voluntarily change her style to align with her new status, or did she feel that she had to for the sake of presenting a stern image?
Slater initially struggled with establishing the ‘before look’, referring to “endless fittings to find the student look”. Producers were keen for it to come across as stylish and expensive even though the characters didn’t have the financial means just yet. “We went for a more boho route because we knew we were going to end up in power suits. There was a kind of freedom to her costumes when we first meet [Rebecca], comfortable in her own skin and we wanted to show that. Then we moved to the buttoned-up, anxious, present-day look,”. This comes across well on screen. Rebecca’s behaviour is even more unscrupulous when she dresses the part of the CEO. In contrast, while wearing the casual garments, Rebecca’s smile appears sincere such as in scenes with Matheus (Albano Jeronimo), an important person from her past with whom she can be herself.
In episode seven, Rebecca attends an awards ceremony in a white dress, with Ethan as her date. “We deliberately dressed them as a bride and groom for that moment because that’s what she’s selling. She wore the white version of the navy dress [from the meeting with Fabio in episode five] for that scene. The subtext is, standing on the stage with Ethan in a tux, a bride and groom. There are very deliberate choices made along the way to bring something visually to the drama.” Slater explained.
Using fashion as this kind of ‘armour’ became a staple on the series as Rebecca was “hiding behind her looks”. Even when meeting James, her business partner and friend, in episode two in the middle of nowhere to ensure his silence on their sketchy dealings, Rebecca wore an emerald blazer worthy of a red carpet. At the mention of this, Slater humorously retorted “that’s her dressing down!”.
Pop culture does indeed love to dress its morally ambiguous characters in fabulous clothing, such as Villanelle from Killing Eve. Similarly on Scandal , the white coat worn by Olivia Pope became a symbol representing ‘wearing the white hat’.
In the case of James (Dimitri Leonidas), Slater revealed “He went from high street shirts to Paul Smith designer shirts. But it doesn’t come across in quite the same obvious and dramatic way, that it can do with a female character”. James’ journey in the season was very personal as he dealt with a sinister secret all alone, as mirrored by his toned-down wardrobe. Subtle changes are effective – less is more and all that.
Interestingly, Slater doesn’t ever want to be ‘fashion forward’ when it comes to dressing her characters. That is the job of a stylist as they predict trends. Unless that’s what the series calls for, “The characters wouldn’t be going to fashion shows. For me, there has to be some reality there. I buy believably what my characters would be picking up”. A vital point to make, as some viewers saw the series as futuristic and almost dystopian. The clothing being relevant to this point in time helps to root this fictional tale in our reality.
Costume designers meticulously plan their characters’ image and, while some details may go unnoticed, they enrich the viewing experience regardless. You can rest assured there is a reason behind each look. Jo Slater proves with this series that she is a master at her craft, and we look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.
The first season of The One is available to stream on Netflix.
Words by Olivia Gacka
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