SOFIA COPPOLA AND STACEY BATTAT ON PRISCILLA
DIRECTOR SOFIA COPPOLA AND COSTUME DESIGNER STACEY BATTAT IN CONVERSATION ABOUT THEIR 20-PLUS YEAR FRIENDSHIP, PICKLEBALL, AND THE ART OF DRESSING UP.
Sofia Coppola’s movies are emotional, evocative, and, by her own admission, quite personal. In her recently released book, Archive, Coppola says, “Across all of my films, there is a common quality: there is always a world and there is always a girl trying to navigate it. That’s the story that will always intrigue me.” When it comes to bringing her distinctive narratives to life, Coppola enlists a trusted group of collaborators.
Among them is the costume designer Stacey Battat who has worked with Coppola on Somewhere , The Bling Ring , A Very Murray Christmas , The Beguiled , On the Rocks , and Priscilla, in theaters this Friday, November 3.
Adapted from the book Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley, actress Cailee Spaeny morphed from a lovesick teen to a 28-year-old wife and mother during the film. Battat executed this vision flawlessly, calling big houses (Chanel, Valentino) as well as smaller indie labels (Eòlas) to create custom pieces for Spaeny and Australian actor Jacob Elordi, who played Elvis. The evolving fashion became a featured player as well, with each of the main characters racking up over 100 costumes each—not including the countless extras.
Both Coppola and Battat agree that making Priscilla required a fair dose of “movie magic,” which is certainly easier to conjure up when you’ve been friends for two decades. (Impromptu pickleball tournaments and vintage shopping also helped.)
10 MAG USA: How did you two become friends initially?
Sofia Coppola: Stacey worked at Marc Jacobs at the store in New York and I spent a lot of time there. [Laughs] We realized we shared art and fashion interests and became friends. I think it was the early 2000s. When did you work at Mercer?
Stacey Battat: Sorry, but you’re not getting my age on the record! [laughs] I stopped working there when I was 27 years old. I met you before then, though, so we’ve known each other for at least 20 years.
I remember helping you with your outfit for the Oscars for Lost in Translation. [Coppola wore a purple Marc Jacobs gown when she won her Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2004.]
SC: Oh wow, that’s crazy. It’s all a blur. It’s been a long time, but it stems from Marc Jacobs. I always knew what I wanted but Stacey would know what I would like. She’d keep things aside for me.
SB: I was helping her but she never needed it. We’ve always had similar tastes and reference points, which helps us a lot at work. We definitely have a shorthand.
10 Mag USA: That is so vital for your creative projects together.
SC: Stacey brings me things that I know I’ll like. There’ll be options or whatever, but I don’t have to say much. Also, what I love about Stacey is that if we do a period film, she knows how to make those costumes appealing to the modern eye. She’ll select looks that are historically accurate and will also allow the audience to connect with the material.
10 Mag USA: How was the vibe on set given those circumstances?
SB: I mean it was stressful, but a lot of the good vibes on set come from Sofia. Even though I knew she was stressed and probably thinking about the fact that we didn’t have a lot of money, she was and always is very calm on set. She never yells and she makes everyone feel included from the production designer and DP to the PAs and her assistant. Sofia is my favorite person to work with.
SC: Thank you, I love our team. It helps a lot to have a team that I trust. Especially because there was so much Scotch tape movie magic where we were re-using pieces of the sets. I feel like the illusion all comes together even though it was shot out of order.
SB: It was impressive to see how [cinematographer] Philippe [Le Sourd] shot our Las Vegas set during the first week. He made it look amazing even though the set was essentially glitter fabric and spray painted palm trees.
10 Mag USA: How did Cailee like her costumes?
SB: I think she liked them. She had like a million fittings because everything was custom and so there was always a tailor pinning her but she never complained. I imagine it gets pretty old but she was a total pro.
SC: Plus there were so many wigs. The script required that she change ages on the same day. She really was a trooper. I know the costumes helped her from being a little kid to going through the different phases of adulthood.
10 Mag USA: Stacey, did you speak with Priscilla at all about her fashion moments?
SB: I only spoke to her through Cailee. I was like, “If you’re already talking to her, can you please ask her when she stopped wearing stockings?”
SC: I would never think about that. I love that you did.
SB: Well, because in 1959 and the early ’60s, Priscilla was definitely wearing stockings but by the time we get to 1966, maybe not.
What labels was Priscilla wearing at the time? Were there any recognizable designers?
SB: It’s not something that’s been mentioned. Even for her wedding dress, she went incognito with a friend to buy it at a store. For the movie, Chanel made her wedding dress.
SC: That was a big moment when that showed up.
SB: Everyone was very excited. Also, Valentino made Elvis’ tuxedo for the wedding along with some suits and most of the knitwear. The knits were so nice and luxurious and, like, cashmere-y. I want to sit by a fire wearing Elvis’ sweaters forever.
SC: Jacob was so transformed when he showed up in tailored clothes because we were used to seeing him in big T-shirts and sweatshirts.
SB: All the girls loved him.
SC: Yeah, even when we were in Venice [at the film festival], girls were crying and that was the impact that Elvis had. Jacob has that charisma and he’s so charming and lovable, which is what my impression of Elvis was.
10 Mag USA: The Beguiled was your first major period piece, right?
SB: Yes, it was set during the Civil War era when hair was parted in the middle with weird curls, so I wanted to pull what was relevant from that time and also have it look nice. I always do a lot of research and that’s a very fun part of the job. I like to go to the Met [in NYC] to look at the fabric archives. They have a textile library that is really such a wonderful resource.
10 Mag USA: Okay so friends first and then how did Stacey become the costume designer for Somewhere?
SC: It was after Marie Antionette , which required lots of incredible costumes. I wanted to do something really simple and minimal. Stacey had just started doing costume design [Battat’s first project as a costume designer was Zoe Cassavetes’ Broken English in 2007] and I thought, ‘She’s so good at contemporary looks and we share a certain taste and approach.’ I was putting together this intimate crew in the States after moving back from France and I asked Stacey to be a part of it.
10 Mag USA: Do you have a favorite collaboration that you’ve done to date?
SC: I was so impressed with what Stacey did on The Beguiled. The budget was really limited. Same with Priscilla. We were trying to make a big movie with a small budget in 30 days with tons of changes. I was so impressed.
SB: Thanks Sof. I’ll tell you one of my favorite parts of filming was when we went to the stage on a Saturday and played pickleball.
SC: Ah! [Laughs] At the stage next to the Graceland set, after going vintage shopping.
SB: Yes, when no one was there. And then during our last shot of Priscilla, we started to have a little sip of Champagne. I distracted Sofia so much that she almost missed her cue. [Laughs] I was happy to celebrate our last shot and the fact that we had done it.
SC: I got distracted by the opening of the Champagne. [Laughs] Filming really was a sprint. It was such a relief that nobody got COVID and we didn’t have to shut down. There wasn’t a backup plan. We used every dollar that we had. If we needed another day of shooting, we did not have that. We had to get through it.
10 Mag USA: You also commissioned some other knitwear, right?
SB: Yes, we commissioned some knitwear, yes. It was also custom-made by [sustainable knitwear brand] Eòlas. And we custom-made about 120 other outfits too, including one of Sofia’s favorites, the dress Priscilla wore in the Las Vegas scene.
SC: You made that dress? Oh, I didn’t know that. Wow. It looked vintage. That’s so cool. It was always fun to visit the costume department to see what they were making. The art department and the costumes really helped to shift the mood from winter in Germany to springtime in Memphis.
SB: Sofia always said, “When they get to Memphis, it should look like the sun came out.” So it has a whole different feeling.
SC: Stacey gets into the details of it. Even when Elvis says he doesn’t like Priscilla in prints, Stacey knew to put Priscilla in a bold print because she’s starting to become a little bit defiant. She’s helping show the character through the costumes.
10 Mag USA: There were so many looks! They both go through such transformations.
SB: That’s something that we had talked about in the beginning. They are visually coming apart as she’s coming into her own and he’s getting crazier and crazier.
SC: More theatrical.
SB: More theatrical, yes, thank you so much. [Laughs] Bigger sideburns, more jewelry and, you know, more robust.
SC: Excess. She’s becoming more natural and back to her original style.
SB: Another thing I want to add is that part of the challenge of the film was: Who are they when they’re at home? These were primarily private moments. We’re not used to seeing Elvis in a situation where he is vulnerable. The same with her, she was always trying to be his ideal.
SC: [Priscilla] told me that Elvis never came downstairs not fully dressed. He was always in a look. They were really into dressing up, that was part of their whole thing.
SB: But then he would be in his pajamas with her. And he would wear his reading glasses. You never see a photo of Elvis with his glasses on, but he did actually wear reading glasses.
SC: It was important to depict how they were in their private lives.
SB: There is a vulnerability and honesty between them, despite what the outside world may project upon their relationship.
10 Mag USA: Last question and it’s a doozy: who won the pickleball game?
SB: Sofia won the tournament. I actually didn’t know how to play, but I’ve since returned to California and learned. I’m a better pickleball player now than I was in Canada for sure.
10 Mag USA: I’m hearing rematch.
SB: We’re not competitive, but okay, we can rematch. I have a plan for us to play in New York, Sofia.
SC: Oh, good, okay. We’ll figure it out because I want to play.