Thandie Newton

Look of the Week: Thandie Newton's Star Wars fashion legacy

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May 20, 2018

Welcome back to Look of the Week! Celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence past and present, across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

You don’t have to go to a galaxy far, far away for the best in Star Wars-inspired couture. Instead, look no further than the super-glamorous European premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France. Thandie Newton had more than a casual hand in her gown decision, which celebrates her place in Star Wars history while also highlighting the lack of diversity in the previous nine movies.

The custom Vivienne Westwood gown features images of the black characters from the franchise. They all just happen to be men; Newton is the first black woman in a leading role (non-CGI, for those about to mention Lupita Nyong’o) to star in this iconic cinematic universe.

Thandie Newton
Cannes is one of the biggest movie calendar events of the year; making a statement on this stage means the world will take notice. This isn’t just about wearing a fabulous frock—and this dress is fabulous—but highlighting why representation matters in the casting of these movies. The fact that it has taken over 40 years for a black woman to play a major, non-CGI role speaks volumes. However, the dress isn't particularly crowded with faces from a franchise spanning decades.

Stylist Erin Walsh explained the design process for this handcrafted statement gown on Instagram, as well as sharing a sketch and close-ups of the exquisite detailing.

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It was Newton’s idea to make a dress featuring the black actors who have previously featured in Star Wars. The personal touch goes deeper than simply picking images from the movies. Instead, photographer Christian Högstedt took shots of the figures from Newton’s personal collection, which were then digitally printed and layered over Vivienne Westwood’s “Absence of Rose” print. Faces include Finn (John Boyega), the original Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), and Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie). The visual wow factor is elevated by Swarovski gold crystal embellishment, adding a touch of glitz to this already stunning frock.  

In an interview with Vogue, Newton spoke of her love for these movies growing up while noting the lack of representation. “No one looked like me, except perhaps the slave dancer in Jabba the Hutt’s iconic scenes.” Now there is Val, a mysterious outlaw in Solo. We're pretty sure the phrase "squad goals" will be getting invoked after seeing this movie. Newton is excited about becoming part of the global phenomenon, including the matter of being immortalized in plastic. Now her children will also have a figure of their mother to add to the previously all-male black character toys from this franchise. “I make sure that there’s diversity in everything around us at home—brown faces in art, photography, toys, fabrics, picture books—everywhere,” Newton told Vogue.

Solo Cannes Premiere
Not only is this dress a celebration—and an indictment—of this Star Wars casting milestone, but it does so ethically. High fashion doesn’t have to come at a high cost to the environment. Instead Swarovski crystals have been upcycled, the organic peau de soie silk material passes the green carpet challenge, and the Chopard jewels are ethical, as part of the brand’s Journey to Sustainable Luxury program.

This isn’t the first time Star Wars has inspired fashion designers. At the Met Gala four years ago, Kirsten Dunst wore a Death Star graphic print dress from the Rodarte Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear collection, which also included Yoda, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, and R2-D2. Fall 2014 saw Preen by Thomas Bregazzi featuring Darth Vader on frocks and blouses. And two years later, Vetements included Star Wars imagery in the form of “Star Girls” on the runway. Let’s also not forget the recent Rag & Bone limited-edition collab that was inspired by The Last Jedi.

But none of these offerings hit the heights of Thandie Newton’s custom Vivienne Westwood, which is infused with personal meaning. It is a celebration of her role in Solo that also highlights the lack of roles for black women in this expanding franchise. The fashion Force is strong with this one.