Dealing with public personalities as studied and beloved as the Presleys is no small feat, especially on an indie budget and within a limited timeframe. But if anyone is up to the task, my bets are on Sofia Coppola. Priscilla, which debuts in Australian cinemas from January 18, is a retelling of Priscilla Presley's 1985 memoir Elvis and Me and follows the couple's relationship from its early stages in West Germany through to their divorce in 1973.
To execute Priscilla, Sofia Coppola enlisted the help of costume designer Stacey Battat. The pair have collaborated on previous titles such as Somewhere, The Bling Ring, The Beguiled and On the Rocks, meeting years ago when Battat was a sales assistant at the Marc Jacobs store in New York City.
It's a slow-paced film, quiet and introspective. The wardrobe charts Cailee Spaeny's Priscilla as she comes of age (goodbye school uniform), moves to Graceland (hello bouffant) and transforms from a lovesick teen into a defiant wife, experimenting with prints and browns against her husband's wishes. The project strives for an empathetic reading of Priscilla and Elvis' marriage, steering away from extremes; Jacob Elordi's Elvis is both confidant and rockstar, domineering and malleable. Priscilla is a woman figuring out how she fits in, and finally, prepared to step away when she doesn't.
With Coppola's meticulous eye and Battat's expertise, the Priscilla costumes become a powerful storytelling device in their own right. Over 120 looks were commissioned, including custom made outfits from Chanel, Valentino, Anna Sui and sustainable knitwear label Eòlas.
RUSSH caught up with Stacey Battat to discuss the costumes for Priscilla. Below, she talks lingerie, shifting the focus from Elvis, and the outfit she'd keep for herself.
Priscilla has so many iconic outfits. Were there any that were particularly memorable to work on?
The wave goodbye outfit was fun and had a lot of good moments in the costumes department. We spent a long time figuring out what was on the side of the dress and I just remember those moments being really joyful.
Elvis was extravagant with his style. How did you ensure his costumes didn’t steal focus from Priscilla?
I kept Elvis to background colours – navy, olive, cream, black – he did wear red and other colours at the time but I wanted to keep him at a distance while still making sure he was stylish and chic.
I know you had a range of fashion houses design individual costumes, like that custom Chanel wedding dress. Can you talk me through the process?
I have talked extensively about Chanel and Valentino – they were both a dream to work with. Some other lesser-known collaborations were with Anna Sui – she made the pink dress Cailee wears when she arrives to Memphis and also a printed dress that she wears when she shows up in Los Angeles defiant. We worked together to find prints that Anna had in her archives and had the print re-printed on a more appropriate fabric for the time and then made a 60s inspired dress based on one in her archives out of it. We also worked with my friend Colin at Eòlas. I was having trouble finding knits for Cailee and we had such a short time frame I couldn’t find anyone to get them done in time, so I sent Colin my sketches and measurements on Cailee and he had his manufacturer make them. My other favourite collaboration was with Fabrizio Viti, he is a shoe designer and a friend of both mine and Sofia’s and he made a bunch of Cailee’s shoes.
Which costume did you labour over the most?
The school uniform. It really had to strike the right balance of recognizable and otherworldly. I wanted to express some balance of both the ordinariness of her experiences but the heightened environment in which she experienced her very ordinary growing pangs.
Something the film excels at is showcasing domestic life at Graceland and the intimacy between Elvis and Priscilla. Can you tell me about Priscilla’s lingerie?
Priscilla’s lingerie really took her from child to adult. It started with cotton moved into sexier fabrics but still babydoll silhouettes and the finally to more sophisticated silhouettes and colors. It’s really just a matter of taking what exists from the time and adapting it to her story.
Elvis never left his bedroom without being fully dressed, did this present any challenges in depicting the private vs public?
Regarding Elvis it was so important that he appeared to the audience the way Priscilla saw him in a more intimate and less public facing way, but also that he never outshined her. It is her story and despite the fact that he did wear brighter colors at that time I never put him in the red and blues he wore. He was always in a more muted color palette so she could always be the visual center.
You’ve worked with Sofia across many of her films now. How has your creative partnership evolved with Priscilla? Do you approach each film differently, or is there a format you both stick to?
It varies a bit each time but I think on Priscilla we had so much to do and so little time, we really had to trust each other. Working together for so many years has really given us a great foundation to do that.
Are there any pieces you would want to keep for your own wardrobe?
Yes a few, but my tailors Ahmed Yulia and Kat actually made me one of the ones I coveted most. It’s a cape and dress that she wears one time when pregnant and another time when Elvis burns his books. I wore it last Christmas and plan to wear it again at some point this winter.
Priscilla arrives in cinemas on January 18, 2024.