The Deeper Meaning of ‘Priscilla’’s Candy-Colored Scenography
Sofia Coppola’s latest film, an adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s memoir, lives up to the director’s reputation for world-building that positions aesthetic flourishes as a veritable supporting character.
The filmmaker behind the Academy Award–winning Marie Antoinette is no stranger to gilded cage coming-of-age stories, but there’s more to Priscilla (which Presley executive-produced) than that. In the film, glittering Graceland interiors and costume designer Stacey Battat’s extravagant wardrobe of mohair sweaters, silk taffeta evening dresses, and tweed skirt suits—complete with elbow-length gloves and matching capelets—play an active role in recounting the highs and lows of Presley’s married life.
From early on, Graceland is a foil to Priscilla’s comfortable life at home with her parents in Germany. Unlike some of her faithfully recreated ensembles, like her wedding day look, photos of Graceland during the 1960s and early ‘70s were rare. “We were walking that fine line between making it a beautiful place, a period place, and a place that exists in reality,” production designer Tamara Deverell recently told AD of where they landed. Initially, the teenager struggles to make sense of where she fits in Elvis’s life as he spends long stretches touring and filming. Without her own friends, Priscilla’s adolescence is largely spent waiting for his next call or trip home. Though some critics took issue with the film’s pacing, long stretches of Priscilla fully dressed and made-up, reading magazines alone in the soft light of her cream-colored sitting room are material.
While Coppola’s adaptation strayed from Presley’s memoir in a few minor ways, the importance of serving looks was not one of them. In fact, Presley did apply eyelashes and a full face of makeup for her daughter’s birth. “Elvis had this idea of always looking good for each other, always making sure that never lapsed,” she recently told Vogue. “We cared for each other, we loved each other, had fun with each other, but never got so relaxed that it was sloppy.”
One pivotal moment where costume and scenography collide is when Priscilla announces the impending arrival of their daughter Lisa Marie. The curtains to the couple’s glitzy and dark bedroom, which Deverell describes as “more Elvis’s space,” are thrown open. For the only time in the film, the room is bathed in the soft light associated with Priscilla’s domain. As her husband and his band of brothers clamor around in a panic, our heroine—swathed in a pastel pink chiffon nightie—tunes out the fray and applies false eyelashes and eyeliner so calmly as if to say “amateurs.” A24, the film’s production studio, has won its bet on the character’s sartorial power. An eye makeup merch collab with Half Magic, the beauty line started by Euphoria makeup artist Donni Davey, is already sold out. A co-branded Priscilla and J.Hannah silver locket like the one she wears as a teenager, rings in at $400—or $1,280 for 14-karat gold.