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Look of the Week: Esmé Squalor's killer fashion on A Series of Unfortunate Events

By Emma Fraser
A Series of Unfortunate Events

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!

A Series of Unfortunate Events villain Esmé Squalor was named one of SYFY FANGRRLS' Best Dressed TV characters in genre last year. Costume designer Cynthia Summers has just been nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award for her work on last season. Another could follow next year, as Esmé is kicking off 2019 with a sartorial bang. The fashion-conscious antagonist is taking it to the next level in the third and final season of the Netflix series based on the book series of the same name by Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
One of the Series of Unfortunate Events highlights is its strong aesthetic; each location the unfortunate Baudelaire children find themselves in has its own distinct and detailed look. The production design, costume design, and hair and makeup are all highly stylized, which adds a much-needed level of visual whimsy to balance out the dark material. As we are repeatedly told by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), this is not a happy story; many people suffer misfortune and there are plenty of casualties along the way.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
When we spoke to Summers last year, she noted there is no distinct time period for when the series is set, which means they are not restricted a particular decade or style — though most of the inspiration comes from the '40s to the '70s. Everything is heightened in this world, including Esmé’s villainous attire.

Whether it is a rubber octopus bodysuit or a jumpsuit that looks as if it is on fire, Esmé has an outfit for every occasion. She is not going to let the pesky Baudelaire children get in the way of her dedication to a fabulous look and a nefarious scheme. Fashion is her passion — well, that and getting whatever her heart desires. In Season 3, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) is still determined to get the Baudelaire fortune; meanwhile, Esmé is more concerned with retrieving the mysterious sugar bowl.

Early on, Esmé goes through a number of fur-embellished costume changes. After all, they are at the top of a snowy mountain, so there is a slight level of practicality to her outfit choices. This range of attire includes a number of fur hats, boots and ski suits that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond movie starring either Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton. Fur lapels and cuffs give her fancy robe an even fancier touch. Esmé lacks compassion, empathy, and any moral standing, but she has loungewear to rival Olivia (Carla Gugino) from The Haunting of Hill House. Her red lipstick is also to die for. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events
It is important that her clothes match the task at hand. When Violet (Malina Weissman) and Klaus (Louis Hynes) see Esmé hurtling down the frozen waterfall they think it is someone on fire before Violet realizes, “It’s not fire. It’s fashion.”

The red and orange ski suit has some fun additions: a pair of orange wings to aid her flight. The flame motif is less-than-subtle, but Esmé is not one to blend in. In fact, she tells the hiding kids she is “dressed to kill.” Killer style is Esmé's brand, as this close up on a pair of her Season 2 pumps reveals. The devil is in the details and the pointed heel. 

Summers mentioned during our Season 2 interview that Esmé’s exaggerated shoulders were inspired by the 1940s Balmain silhouette; they are back and bigger than ever. The orange fur leg warmers look straight from a mid-90s rave. These two time periods sound completely incompatible, but this is the beauty of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Quick to reveal her distaste for an outfit, Esmé is less than thrilled at the start of Episode 3 with her orange ‘60s muumuu, but a gold captain’s hat quickly changes her mood. On the submarine, she ditches her captain’s attire for an unpractical bodysuit — particularly when navigating the narrow corridors and ladders — and a very literal interpretation of the sea creature their vessel is based on. No one ever said fashion should be sensible; Esmé knows this better than most. This particular ensemble would also look perfect on the Ru Paul's Drag Race runway.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
This is not to say her sartorial whims don't serve a purpose; a flashback scene reveals hairpins that double as poison darts. Even her accessories have the power to kill. In this flashback, we do see a muted version of this character before the schism took place. But even in a less outlandish ensemble, the fashion still pops out.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Not only does Esmé have a new wardrobe full of eye-catching ensembles, but she also gains the daughter she never knew she wanted in the form of Carmelita Spats (Kitana Turnbull). They are a match made in heaven, both in style and temperament. Carmelita’s signature pink frock is back, but with a coat spin. If Uniqlo wants to branch out their signature outerwear then may I suggest taking a cue from Carmelita.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Down in the sub, Carmelita helps herself to Count Olaf’s many disguises, showing that you shouldn’t have to pick one dream to aspire to even if it is quite the mouthful. She becomes a "tap-dancing-ballerina-fairy-princess-veterinarian," the ultimate multi-hyphenate. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Esmé and Carmelita truly come into their own later in the season in matching pink pinstripe suits with those fantastic oversized shoulders. This is how you lean into the menswear trend: a power suit for the ages. 

The Baudelaires don’t quite have the same love of fashion as their nemesis and her prodigy do; however, their twee styling features a number of pieces that are very on trend right now.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Sunny Baudelaire (Presley Smith) sports a cute yellow teddybear coat that I would definitely wear if it came in adult size — even if it looks like it has seen better days. Plaid runs through the Baudelaire costumes during the early episodes; even though they are separated by a mountain, they are visually linked.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Color seeps into every frame, even when all seems lost. And while I am considering which Baudelaire outfits I am taking inspiration from, Violet's violet frock is high up on my wish list. Klaus is also giving off strong Gregory Peck To Kill a Mockingbird vibes in this three-piece suit. Legal acumen is something these siblings could definitely do with.

Will the Baudelaire children escape the clutches of Esmé and Olaf? You'll have to watch the final season on Netflix to find out. The events may be unfortunate, but the costume design is anything but.