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How ‘The Idea of You’ nailed age-gap dressing

By Leah Dolan, CNN

(CNN) — Picture it: A spare concert ticket comes your way, leading to a chance encounter with an internationally renowned pop star. When performing at one of the most famous music festivals in the world, they stare past the blinding stage lights into the crowd to lock eyes with you. What transpires, naturally, is a whirlwind romance on the European leg of their sold out tour.

It’s a fantasy that — in some variation or another — has captured the human imagination for decades. Films such as “What Price Hollywood” and “A Star is Born” first dabbled in the idea of famous and non-famous relations almost 100 years ago. By 1999, the genre had reached new heights after the release of “Notting Hill” — the seminal Richard Curtis film which saw Julia Roberts, a graceful American movie star, fall for Hugh Grant, a bumbling British bookstore owner. Even more recently, “Starstruck,” the coincidental title of both a 2010 Disney Channel original movie and a 2021 BBC Three series, brought the agony and ecstasy of dating an A-lister as a mere member of the public to the small screen.

Now, director Michael Showalter breathes new life into the trope with “The Idea of You,” out on Amazon Prime May 2. Based on the 2017 Robinne Lee novel by the same name, Showalter’s version is set in LA — the birthplace of lofty pipe dreams — starring both Anne Hathaway as Solène Marchand, a glamorous 40-year-old art gallery owner and divorced mother of one; and Nicholas Galitzine as 24-year-old Hayes Campbell, the fan favorite of fictional boy band du jour, August Moon.

After a meet cute in Hayes’ trailer at Coachella, sparks fly and Solène finds herself being pursued by not only a fully fledged celebrity, but someone 16 years her junior. The internet hasn’t been shy in drawing parallels between Lee’s novel and the age gap relationship of Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde. And although the book was published four years before the pair began dating, Lee admitted she was intrigued by Styles’ life in particular. “Inspired is a strong word,” she told Vogue in 2020.

But more than just a piece of starry-eyed fan-fiction, “The Idea of You” is a Bildungsroman in disguise. Particularly in relation to the acutely female struggle for identity and individuality after motherhood. “We talk about coming-of-age stories as being something that happens in (the) earliest part of your life,” said Anne Hathaway at the film’s SXSW premiere. “I don’t know about you, but I feel like I keep blooming.”

Flawed, hopeful, vulnerable yet composed, Solène’s three-dimensional character disrupts the misogynistic binary of cougar or crone. It was a consideration costume designer Jacqueline Demetrio took seriously when sourcing her wardrobe. “Solène’s 40. I mean, 40 is not old,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be this older lady meets this younger boy… and has this ‘Pretty Woman’ (makeover) moment.” There wasn’t a stitch of leopard print, teenage fashion or “Golden Girls” style pussybows. “She has her look,” said Demetrio. “She’s not trying to look young, but (her style) has evolved with time and with her body. You make adjustments, but you still dress cool.”

From the first scene, Solène’s sartorial compass is established in a denim puff-sleeve dress from Chloé’s Fall-Winter 2023 collection and a pair of blonde suede Isabel Marant boots. It was the first look Hathaway tried on during fittings with Demetrio in New York. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this is Solène.’”

Her fashion needle doesn’t deviate much throughout the film, as we see Solène in more Marant (a suede tote bag makes several appearances as an intentional nod to realistic rewearing), Etro, Gabriella Hearst, Valentino and vintage Chanel. These are the types of sophisticated yet understated labels you might expect a successful gallery owner to buy — quietly luxurious, sometimes sustainably minded and with a price tag accessible to a woman in her peak earning years.

But while Demetrio — who is a similar age to both Solène and Hathaway — was able to draw on personal taste and experience to flesh out the character, getting into the mind (and closet) of a 20-somethings heartthrob was different. “I tried some different directions with the wardrobe,” she said. “At first I went a little David Bowie, a little androgynous with the silk blouses and flared trousers. But I felt I was getting a little too showman and I didn’t want it to be a distraction.” And if the fashion sense of one young musician felt hard to pin down, there was also the question of outfitting August Moon. “There’s so many ways to go with a boyband,” Demetrio said. “There’s the BTS suits and matching Prada, or vintage pieces mixed in with streetwear, which is where I went with that.”

Harry Styles was of course on the moodboard for Hayes — the patchwork tattoos and soft knit cardigans were a dead giveaway — but Demetrio insists this wasn’t an impression. “I didn’t want it to be, you know, he’s Harry,” she said. “Nick and I were sending images back and forth and one of his (ideas) was Matty Healy.” (On screen Hayes performed at Coachella in a pair of suit trousers and cotton vest — an outfit formula beloved by The 1975 singer). What stuck were elevated classics: A Bottega Veneta tank top, expertly fitted Loewe trousers or luxurious cardigans (again, by Isabel Marant). “Someone of his level would have his stylist go and buy designer pieces, even though it’s just (say) a cardigan. It’s the way it sits,” she said. And for those who want to recreate the A-lister off-duty look at home: Tailor your T-shirts, says Demetrio. “Nick would bring in his personal wardrobe like, ‘Can I have this shortened? Can your tailor come and shorten this?’” she laughed. “I created a monster of perfect T-shirt proportions.”

Perhaps the most important element of Demetrio’s work was accurately reflecting the character’s 16 year age gap through clothes. When Hayes tracks down Solène at her Silver Lakes art gallery, for example, Nick appears in a slouchy cardi, white tank and snapback cap while Hathaway is dressed in a structured velvet blazer. They are star-crossed lovers, their doomed fate spelled out in apparel rather than astrology. During one of their last encounters, Hayes stands at the door, his enveloping oversized hoodie rendering him as diminished and slight as a wide-eyed adolescent. “I went back and forth on that,” Demetrio said. “Because I thought, does he look too juvenile? But this is showing the emotional struggle through the wardrobe. It was really because of what society was saying about the age gap, so I wanted it to be in your face a little bit.”

But if “The Idea of You” subverts any clichés in this particular rom-com genre, it’s that the celebrity must be more glamorous than their normie love interest. Constance Bennett in “What Price Hollywood” is discovered in her waitress uniform by Lowell Sherman, a suited-and-booted big-time director. In “Notting Hill,” Grant was relegated to a rotation of periwinkle blue button-downs while Roberts swanned about in her leather blazer and black beret. As for Hathaway, we find her in Chanel and leave her, happily ever after, in a rust-red Gabriela Hearst suit.

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