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Look of the Week: Elle Fanning's vintage style in Super 8
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!
Before the wildly successful Stranger Things, there was Super 8. Released eight years ago, J.J. Abrams’ love letter to Spielberg and various ‘80s coming-of-age classic movies is an endearing story deserving of a rewatch. Aliens, treasure, and a dead body provide the jumping off point for E.T., The Goonies, and Stand By Me, with other existential factors feeding this desire for adventure. Loss is often a big ingredient — both the physical loss of a person or place and the ache that comes with growing up — and Super 8 ticks these boxes while feeding into this yearning for the past. Not only is it a surprising source of summer style ideas, but it is an early indicator of Elle Fanning’s bonafide sartorial credentials.The clothing of Super 8 is Jaws-meets-E.T. laidback summer style. Nostalgia fuels fashion and film, with looking to the past for ideas, which is why certain trends keep repeating or rebooting. Spielberg isn’t a guy I would turn to for fashion advice (sorry, Steven), but plenty of his movies have impacted my closet — including the red hoodie I bought last year as a tribute to an iconic E.T. costume moment and as my desire to dress like most of the Jaws principal cast and background actors as soon as it hits July. The latter being the ultimate retro summer clothing inspiration (as I previously documented on SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS). Set in 1979, lens flare is not the only thing being served in Super 8, a time when bell-bottom pants reigned. Costume designer Ha Nguyen not only had to find the right period look for the teen's everyday attire, but she also had to consider what they would be able to acquire for the movie they are making for a film festival. Centering on one detective’s mission to solve a string of murders that sees the victims come back to life, “The Case” is a zombie movie straight from the George A. Romero playbook. Picture oversized trench coats and sports jackets probably nabbed from their parents’ closet.
Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard ticks a number of familiar coming-of-age movie tropes, including being from the “wrong side of the tracks” and the only girl of the group. As the latter, she is also the object of affection for protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney). This crush is made even more complicated as Joe’s dad blames Alice’s dad for the death of his wife. Yep, Joel is dealing with the loss of his mother. This nostalgia-fest sounds a little derivative when sketching out the plot in this manner, but the group of teens and the movie they are making ensure Super 8 is far more than a paint-by-numbers narrative.
A world-weary vibe emanates from Alice when we first meet her. She borrows her dad’s car, even though she is only 14-years-old, which is most definitely not legal. Her clothes lean toward a tomboy aesthetic, all flared pants and knit tanks. A pink floral frock is what the boys have picked out for her to wear in the role of "the wife" in their zombie short, which is hastily thrown over Alice’s regular clothes as the train approaches. They need to get the shot for the much desired “production value.”Despite whatever fit they are meant to have, this frock and trench look effortlessly chic on Fanning. The pearls and handbag are very much the trappings of what these kids think a grown-up would carry, but even these accessories look pretty cool. This feminine vintage look is a low-key version of the red carpet aesthetic she leaned into in 2011 and has revived in 2019 (as seen with her many impeccable fashion choices at this year's Cannes Film Festival).
Alice turns into a zombie as "the wife" but this is not the horrifying image as portrayed on a show like The Walking Dead, even if Alice makes a pretty convincing zombie — Elle Fanning's performance in Super 8 is really special and incredibly layered. As head of makeup, Joe should give tutorials on YouTube. He has got the undead contouring down thanks to the Dick Smith Monster Makeup handbook.
Fanning appeared on the cover of Vogue for the first time in 2017 at the age of 19, but her love affair with fashion started long before this. In a 2010 conversation with Interview magazine, she discusses her preference for vintage clothing, which is evident at the Super 8 premiere in Los Angeles. When looking back at old red carpet photos it is inevitable that there are a lot of outdated and cringe-worthy fashion choices, but this boho vintage frock is not one of those occasions. Fanning could wear this now and end up on the Best Dressed list, a position she is often in.Earlier this year she stunned at the Met Gala as one of the attendees who really nailed the “Camp” theme. As a member of the jury at Cannes, she wore knockout after knockout vintage and vintage-inspired gown courtesy of her work with stylist Samantha McMillen.
Clothes are not her only interest as in the 2017 Vogue profile she mentions her desire to direct. Technically this is something Fanning has already done, as Abrams got the Super 8 teens to write and direct the movie-within-the-movie, "The Case." Fanning explained the only story direction from Abrams was that it was a zombie movie otherwise, “we wrote all the lines out and we would hand the scenes to J.J. and he would read them and tweak them. But we basically made that film and we had a camera there that filmed us, so we could all say that we've done what our characters have in the movie.”It isn’t only Alice’s tomboy aesthetic providing summer inspiration as Joe’s short-sleeve patterned shirts could be from the Tan France Queer Eye school of dressing. Meanwhile, Charles' (Riley Griffiths) colorful striped tee and a yellow windbreaker are timeless. Seriously, I would buy this (and have been on the hunt for this T-shirt since 2011). Alice wears the dress over her jeans because they need to get the shot, but this layering trend — that I definitely partook in during the late ‘90s — has also come back around again.
Let Super 8 and Elle Fanning be your 2019 summer style guide.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.