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!
In both Ex Machina and Devs, creator Alex Garland takes the approach of sleek minimalist neutrals. This helps maintain a sense of order through classic styling. It also ensures the futuristic setting is not muddled with trends that will date the period; bold patterns, color, and strong silhouettes are overt context clues to a specific time. In both projects, it gives the impression that both narratives take place in or around our current era of innovation.
Ava (Alicia Vikander) is far from hiding her mechanical state in Ex Machina when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is first introduced to the sophisticated machine. Unlike Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), she doesn’t have access to a closet of monochromatic frocks. Ava is the latest in Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) string of Artificial Intelligent creations, all of which he treats with little regard. Whenever Caleb attempts to communicate with Kyoko, Nathan reiterates her lack of capacity for understanding. Despite being the architect of these machines, Nathan underestimates their capabilities — ultimately this will lead to his downfall.
Putting Kyoko in a series of chic white ensembles with black detailing — whether buttons or the trim — visually reinforces this notion of subservience. It suggests she is a peaceful subject and poses no danger, even though white is often a visual cue that blood will be spilled. The final act proves the latter theory to be correct, which sees Nathan’s long-sleeved waffle tee get stained (front and back). Taking a page from Kyoko’s book, Ava makes her exit in a delicate feminine white lace peplum ensemble. At first glance, it appears as if Ava has selected a pretty peplum in contrast to her mechanical unadorned body but as with most costume decisions, it goes much deeper than aesthetics, as evidenced by a painting that appears earlier in the film.
There is more to this choice than mirroring Kyoko, Garland explained during an NFTS Masterclass that this garment is indicative of how collaborative his sets are. A selection that was made by costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ and Vikander nodding to the dialogue and production design. "She walks past a painting by Klimt of a woman in a white dress, which is actually a painting of the sister of Wittgenstein — a philosopher referenced earlier in the film," Garland said. "I didn’t know that Michelle Day, the set decorator, had selected and hung that painting. It is a reference to the script and the costume."
The final confrontation scene, in which Kyoko is armed with a knife, is also the first time she repeats an outfit. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ rightly got plenty of plaudits for Ava’s mix of mesh, steel, and circuit skin but Kyoko’s black-and-white closet is a vital piece of the storytelling.
An evolution of silhouettes that begins and ends with the bodycon dress with the black stripe detail bookends several effortless outfits; a halter-neck Zara mini frock ups the casual factor before the most memorable look is unveiled.
The oversized batwing shirt is paired with black lace hotpants for the disco dance number — those voluminous sleeves add to the hypnotic mood of this interlude. Leading up to this disco bop, Kyoko has tried to undress for Caleb, which only adds to how uncomfortable he has already become. He turns her down, but later on, he can’t stop her from peeling off her skin in front of him. Revealing she is also an android, this form of undressing causes Caleb to question whether he too is a subject in Nathan's Turing test.
“I told you, you're wasting your time talking to her,” Nathan tells Caleb just before they tear up the dance floor, and while her matchy-matchy costuming points to her lack of autonomy, she is far more than a mute gynoid maidservant who will do whatever she is ordered to. Without Kyoko’s intervention, Ava’s escape would have been unlikely. It is notable that when Kyoko briefly visits Ava before the plan is put in motion, this cowl neck dress is the only time black is absent from the outfit.
Garland takes a different approach to the tech mogul empire in the recent FX on Hulu limited series Devs, which reads like a companion piece to the 2014 movie. Also starring Sonoya Mizuno, she plays software engineer Lily who starts to investigate the secretive development division of the company she works for after her boyfriend's suspicious death. A pixie cut and rotation of cropped pants and tees are in contrast to the feminine styling of Kyoko. Devs is not a fashion-heavy television show, but there is something incredibly appealing about Lily’s effortless look, which includes borrowed sweaters and jackets from an ex-boyfriend.
Characters sharing clothes with someone they have been intimate with often walks the line between cheesy eye-roll and super hot, but instead of going for the obvious oversized button-down option, the tees are a welcome sight. Not to mention, Lily is trying to find comfort in a world that is getting even more confusing and dangerous; turning to her ex’s closet provides that service.
Rather than go for the black turtleneck Silicon Valley aesthetic, a la Elizabeth Holmes, costume designer Guy Speranza establishes a look for Lily that matches the casual woodland location of the Amaya headquarters. This is not a workplace in which employees power dress for the office, instead it has the feel of an academic institution with the number of hoodies being sported. Lily would look just as at home on a college campus in her casual jacket, tee, and crossbody leather bag. At home, she wears print pajama pants and this look is also very relatable — even more so at the moment.
Unlike Kyoko, Lily is the audience surrogate; she is our guide into this complex world and much like Caleb in Ex Machina, her regular clothing instantly makes her more trustworthy and appealing. By mirroring a lot of viewer's staple pieces and choice of at-home attire, Lily is our anchor even if she feels adrift.
This is the third project Mizuno has recently starred in that questions perception and the role technology plays in our conception of how we fit into the world. In the mind-bending 2018 Netflix miniseries Maniac, she plays the awkward chain-smoking scientist, Dr. Azumi Fujita. Running the Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech trial, the structured attire worn by the agoraphobic Dr. Fujita under her lab coat fits into the overall retro-futuristic palette that is kitsch-meet-Kubrick. Costume designer Jenny Eagan (the woman responsible for the knitwear choice of 2019) showcased sleek minimalism via high-waist pants and funky origami-style high necklines. Dr. Fujita even has the go-to haircut for a character of her intellect and profession. The oversized gold frames paired with this 'do only add to the stylized visual that dominates Maniac.
In each closet, the garments fit the overall palette of the world; Kyoko's look has a cool aloof quality, and in contrast, Lily's enviable and relatable style creates a link with the audience. Meanwhile, Dr. Fujita's intricate collars are a form of protection and a fun twist on the typical button-down or pussy-bow blouse. Showcasing her versatility as a performer — whether she is a dancing android, tenacious software engineer, or doctor — Mizuno's trifecta of science-fiction characters hit a strong sartorial mark that ensures we are paying attention to what the future holds for the star.