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Look of the Week: Warrior Nun's sparkly dresses and chainmail masks
Welcome back to Look of the Week, a column celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
The 2018 Met Gala celebrated the sartorial influence of religion with the theme "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination." Inspiration was derived from artwork, the Pope, and Joan of Arc. Cardinals and bishops have a touch of the flamboyant in their regalia; however, "nun but make it fashion" was not on the menu. Taking this vocation in a different costume direction, Warrior Nun is adding some chainmail and leather to the pious closet, while newcomer Ava Silva (Alba Baptista) discovers a halo is a difficult accessory to pull off.
Netflix's new series takes the “warrior" aspect of its title seriously, which opens with the Order of the Cruciform Sword (OSC) under attack. An ancient religious faction tasked with protecting the world from demons, their uniform mixes robes and head coverings with leather body armor and weaponry. Before Ava can suit up to match the other women in the OSC, she has quite the journey. Costume designer Cristina Sopeña mixes contemporary fashion with battle-ready looks, creating a striking visual palette that defines the conflict Ava faces about who she is.
Spoilers for Warrior Nun ahead.
Ava's experiences have been limited since she suffered life-altering injuries in a car crash that killed her mother, after which she was taken in by Saint Michael's Orphanage. She spent the next 12 years residing in a place of cruelty, but our time with Ava begins after she has died. Waking up in a body bag is one thing, but possessing superpowers (including the ability to phase through walls) is hard to fathom, so it no surprise she spends the first episode thinking she is actually dead. After all, the 19-year-old has spent the last decade-plus in an abusive environment, so this would be an extension of her personal hell. Clothing beyond plain bedclothes has not featured in her wardrobe since she was paralyzed from the neck down after the car accident. She has not ventured beyond the walls of the callous institution until now.
Acquiring clothes is something Ava does throughout the series, first in a sporting goods store where she selects a beanie, Nike hoodie, Málaga soccer jersey, shorts, and sneakers. Comfort is the priority here, even if she looks incredibly out of place in the bar she ends up in. In a voiceover, she explains her appearance has never been a factor because she never had a chance to look at herself — of course, she is beautiful. Nevertheless, it isn’t surprising her initial outfit has a youthful quality, harkening back to the last time she picked out what to wear.
A chance encounter with a group of seemingly affluent people — they are scamming the rich and famous lifestyle — leads Ava to experience clothing beyond practicality. The designer-label loving bunch is Instagram-ready at all times, but it is Chanel (May Simón Lifschitz) who takes Ava under her sartorial wing, offering her a sequin mini-dress to wear on a night out. Ava instantly trusts Chanel’s style choices because this was never a consideration in the orphanage — and her new friend clearly has good taste.
Switching from glam garments to comfy oversized striped shirts as a swimsuit coverup, Ava's borrowed closet is a theme throughout the series — she never settles in one place for long. Chanel offers not only great outfit advice, but also imparts some words of wisdom about fashion and identity. In Episode 4, Ava struggles with a closet packed with options because she has never picked her own clothes — the aforementioned sports apparel moment doesn't really count — and asks, "How do you choose who you are?"
At this moment, Chanel explains the joy and power that comes from using clothes as an expression of self (which also doubles as an explainer for the language of costumes designer). "Your clothes don't define you. They define your image for the world. Fashion can be an illusion. A book jacket describing the fun story inside." Lifschitz, a Danish-Argentine model and actress, was only the second openly transgender woman to appear in a Victoria's Secret campaign, which further emphasizes the powerful role of visibility in this industry.
Ava's time with the Bling Ring-style group only lasts for so long before demon antics suck her back toward the OSC. Sure, they don't have closets packed with endless designer threads, but they do have an impressive array of buckled leather armor. Sister Beatrice's (Kristina Tonteri-Young) chainmail couture face mask is worn during one of the best fight sequences of the series. Easily pinned back as a sort of headband, this is solid badass look for the OSC.
Meanwhile, Ava doesn't have to worry about not wearing the same garb as everyone else as Shotgun Mary (Toya Turner) is also an outlier. Close to the last Halo bearer, Sister Shannon (Melina Matthews), Mary doesn't wear the robes but is still battle-ready in her muted neutral layers.
Warrior Nun is about a young woman finding her power and identity, discovering a support system (or two) she has previously never been privy to. Clothing plays a role as she ventures out into the world and learns the ropes of dating and fighting demons. It is a familiar premise, which will lead to inevitable Buffy the Vampire Slayer references — and a penchant for leather jackets does link the two (the official outerwear of a warrior). Similarly, a push-pull between youthful exuberance and duty to a larger cause lead to challenges for the entire OSC squad. Whether Ava ends up sticking to civilian garments or chooses chainmail and leather, she has found plenty of sartorial strength in both.