The Costume Designer Behind Kristen Stewart’s Latest Film (and That ‘Rolling Stone’ Cover) Is Making Muscle Mommies Mainstream

"The ideas of the traditionally feminine and what is considered sexy should be challenged," Olga Mill, the costume designer of Love Lies Bleeding, told Jezebel.

The Costume Designer Behind Kristen Stewart’s Latest Film (and That ‘Rolling Stone’ Cover) Is Making Muscle Mommies Mainstream

On the March cover of Rolling Stone, Kristen Stewart—with one hand down her jockstrap—dared the masses to try and meet her gaze without becoming instantly horny. If you’re a feeling person, odds are the sight of the Love Lies Bleeding star was enough to, well, impel you to put your own hand down your pants. By contrast, if you’re a feckless right-wing fuckwit—sorry, conservative “activist” (read: Christopher Rufo)—it only prompted you to pathologize about the happiness of the entire queer population. But Olga Mill, the costume designer who styled the cover shoot, hasn’t paid any of the backlash much mind.

It’s not that Mill—whose credits include Hereditary, Eileen, and, most recently, Love Lies Bleeding—doesn’t care about the controversy it’s sparked. It’s just that she thinks Stewart has already given the only response that matters: “I think there’s a certain overt acknowledgement of like, a female sexuality that has its own volition in a way that’s annoying for people who are sexist and homophobic,” she told Stephen Colbert during a recent appearance on The Late Show. CBS, the host noted earlier in the conversation, didn’t want the cover to be shown on air. “Female sexuality isn’t supposed to actually want anything but to be had,” Stewart said. “And that feels like it’s protruding in a way that might be annoying. But fuck you.”

The cover shoot—which saw Stewart in various states of slutty (non-derogatory) gym wear is only an extension of the film’s purpose: to push the minds of its audience to consider what it actually means to be a “strong woman.” In the 1980s-anchored Love Lies Bleeding—a seminar in sapphic suspense cinemaStewart’s Lou, a flaccid gym employee, meets Katy M. O’Brian’s Jackie, a rock-hard bodybuilder hoping to win a competition in Vegas. They fuck, fight, and by the end, grow about as strong as one can be. Literally. It’s probably the most fun you’ll have in the theater this spring. Just ask this man.

Jezebel spoke to Mill about the iconic cover, how the characters’ queerness informed their costumes, and why Hollywood needs more muscle mommies. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jezebel: First things first: that Rolling Stone cover. Are you aware that you created the pin-up for queers, everywhere? Even my “straight” girlfriends were like “Am I…gay?”

Olga Mill: An honor, and a privilege.

Tell me about the concept—apart from spawning sapphic awakenings worldwide? 

I have to credit Kristin and Collier [Schorr, the photographer] because they brought me in and had this amazing photo of Andy Warhol at the gym as a reference, and then from there, I went off and pulled a bunch of things. The costume gods always have a role to play, too. I just went out and looked for vintage pieces that were eighties gym wear and I happened to come across a jersey that said “animal” on it and one that said “69” so it was like a playful, sexiness around gym stuff. Later—I can’t say I’m smart enough to think about this prior—but I was thinking about the sort of cultural resonance of “locker room talk” and that being such a fucked up, sexist excuse for things. So, there’s something about the agency that that image has in that setting because it takes back a space that was traditionally really sexist.

Speaking of! What do you make of the backlash? The internalized misogyny has practically leaped out of people—so much so that Kristen has to address it repeatedly during the film’s press cycle.

I saw a clip, I think it was from Stephen Colbert, but I thought Kristen answered it in a way where I was like, “Way to land the plane.” It was smart and unapologetic. I’m just really proud of Rolling Stone for not making the safer choice. To be honest, I haven’t totally followed all of the responses to it. I’ve blissfully stayed in the positive. But people will have feelings on it and that’s their own conversation to have with themselves.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Rolling Stone (@rollingstone)

The film is set in the 1980s which I think could’ve made the wardrobe a bit more stereotypical (read: shoulder pads, leg warmers, and excess). Instead, it feels like you went the other way.

I mean, part of it is the setting, right? It’s supposed to be a small town. We’re not in the middle of New York. No one’s working in advertising. It’s a pretty middle-class to lower-middle-class small-town aesthetic. There was a practicality to thinking about who these people actually were. Then stylistically, I wanted this world to feel a little bit more sun-kissed and dusty rather than neon. I ordered a bunch of fitness and bodybuilding magazines from the eighties and I had that as sort of like, “Oh, I bet Jackie is looking at this aspirationally but can’t replicate it.” Costume research-wise, everyone has a kind of figurative poster on their wall, right? With every character, I like to think about who their poster is. I also looked at photo essays and Flickr. People will put their archival photos up, like “Here’s my family’s whole history.” It’s really following internet cookie crumbs until you stumble on the right visuals. A good challenge that we joked about was “How do we make an eighties gym movie without using one pair of leg warmers?” And we did.

What role—if any—did these characters’ queerness and their very individualized expression or performance of it play in your process? Obviously, Katy’s character is the more physically capable of the two leads but she also is the more femme-presenting. There’s a distinctly girlish vulnerability there at times which makes sense since she leans more on femininity to survive than Kristen, who presents more butch.

We talked about it in a practical sense, right? I feel like Jackie is somebody who, in order to survive—to go from town to town and hitchhike—has to be more femme-presenting because she’s getting favors from men. The attention of men affords her a job or safety. Then Lou, we talked about like, “OK she’s never really left this town and it’s not like there’s this buzzing queer scene.” The story doesn’t make her queerness an issue. It’s not something she has to hide. But we sort of imagined what music she’s listening to, what books she’s reading, what scene does she think is cool that she doesn’t necessarily have access to but fantasizes about. It was like “Oh, I bet she wants to hang out in San Francisco or New York” so I did look specifically at photos of queer women in urban settings during that time.

We considered their queerness but it wasn’t so much like “How are we going to represent queerness?” but “What are the practicalities of these two women and being in their bodies every day?” Then also, “What is realistically touching their orbit” in the same way that you would do with any straight character.

And what about poor Daisy? I read that you likened her to a “dirty flip-flop.” Please explain. 

You know how with some people or friends you can imagine them as an object? Sometimes with a character, it’s “Oh, you are a dirty flip-flop.” I imagined her [Daisy] like…you stayed too long at a music festival. At one point in the movie, she’s wearing a bathing suit top and I can’t remember if it was with her or with Rose [Glass] but we talked about the reality and grossness of wearing a bathing suit not at the beach. This feeling of like, “I left my house days ago for a very different activity and now I’ve found myself here at a restaurant.” Or, it’s the feeling of “I couldn’t find a clean bra, so I’m going to put on my bathing suit top.” There’s a certain chaos around it.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Katy O’Brian (@thekatyo)

Katy’s physicality in this film is obviously astounding on many levels. It doesn’t just subvert the male gaze, it stands in stark contrast to the kind of female form that’s been considered sexy on screen. However, did outfitting it properly—in any way—make your job more challenging? I imagine you’ve never worked with a bodybuilder in Hollywood before…

So much of being a costume designer is cracking the code of how things should fit. I have never worked with a bodybuilder before, but the more diversity there is in body shapes on film, like…yes, bring it on. It took us a few fittings to understand what the most flattering angle on like, a pair of shorts is going to be when your muscles are more pronounced. Katy was really patient about it. The shorts that she wears—both the striped ones and the denim ones—it was really about messing with them, like, “Oh, I’m going to take it a quarter of an inch up or down” and just trying to get it the proportions right.

I think women’s bodies being really muscular is so intellectually interesting, right? Because the reason it makes us so uncomfortable is because femininity has traditionally been equated with frailty and requiring protection from a man. There’s a sexiness in being on the fainting couch. Strength symbolizes so much more. A physically strong body symbolizes, “I can do things” and a certain amount of discipline. It’s also—traditionally—the standard that male bodies have been held to so it almost feels like encroaching on their space, aesthetically. The ideas of the traditionally feminine and what is considered sexy should be challenged. Whether we’re personally into it or not, it’s undeniable that it’s just a beautiful metaphor for a change that should happen.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin