Jonathan Anderson & Luca Guadagnino on ‘Challengers’ Costumes & Their Next Film ‘Queer’

It is a meeting of two high-style, high-concept creative powerhouses. Luca Guadagnino has built a reputation as one of the most elegant filmmakers around, the visionary behind I Am Love (starring Tilda Swinton), A Bigger Splash (Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts), Call Me by Your Name (Timothée Chalamet, Armie ­Hammer), Suspiria (Swinton, Johnson), and Bones and All (­Chalamet, Taylor Russell). Jonathan Anderson, meanwhile, has proven to be one of the most cerebral designers of his generation. He launched his own line, JW Anderson, in 2008 and joined Loewe as creative director in 2013. His work has been worn by everyone from ­Jennifer Lawrence to Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Dornan to Cate Blanchett, Aubrey Plaza to Dame Maggie Smith.

It is no small news, therefore, that Guadagnino has tapped ­Anderson to do costumes for his next film. To be released on April 26, ­Challengers is a hard-driving ménage à trois set in the world of professional tennis. It stars Zendaya as Tashi Donaldson, a former star player concentrating on getting her husband’s career back on track; Mike Faist as Art Donaldson, Tashi’s husband; and Josh O’Connor as Patrick Zweig, her former flame and a perennial bad boy. With a banging soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film slices back and forth in time over a decade and a half of rocky relationships among the trio.

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Mike Faist, Zendaya, and Josh O’Connor in Challengers.

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William Middleton: How do you see costume design, Luca? What does it bring to a film?

Luca Guadagnino: In Italy, we say “L’abito non fa il monaco,” which means that the way you look doesn’t make you the person you are in life. But in cinema, the opposite is true: The way a character looks does very much provide insight for an audience before anything is revealed through drama, interaction, or behavior on-screen. Costume design is also fun because it has nothing to do with the personal taste of the director or the costume designer. It is really about the characters and how they are in front of one another and the camera. For me, costume design is, in a word, essential.

How did you guys meet?

Jonathan Anderson: We met at a hotel in Italy. It had to happen.

LG: He doesn’t know this, but I was stalking him. I saw the first JW Anderson collection, and I was like, What the fuck? It was a revelation. Bertolucci said that when Stravinsky played The Rite of Spring, things changed forever. When I saw his JW Anderson collection, it was a watershed moment. When the opportunity arose, we met and very quickly became friends.

JA: We think alike about many different things. When you make something, Luca, you put your entire self into it; when I’m at Loewe or at my own brand, I give everything. And we’re very similar in terms of pursuing the idea of taste, or being challenged by aesthetics, or what is interesting in furniture or ceramics or film or photography or whatever creative field—there’s a compulsion to know.

© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Zendaya in a strapless number created by Anderson for the film.

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So your conversations have been about more than just cinema or fashion?

LG: They’re very wide, and they’re very surprising. They’re about discovering new boundaries or new territories, which has always been my goal in life.

JA: Being a creative can be a liberating thing, but also very isolating. In a weird way, creating is a type of addiction. Sometimes the speed of thought in the brain feels like you’re crazy, because why would you be obsessing over the strangest things? When you meet those sorts of people, it is very important to make sure they are around, because you can have a dialogue. And in creativity today, it’s important that dialogues are not just in the field you’re in, because they can become incredibly boring. If I was around only fashion people, I think I would hate fashion.

LG: Like I would hate cinema.

What made you think that Jonathan would be a good person to design costumes?

LG: He’s so savvy about the history of the silhouette. About five or six years ago, there was a collection he made for Loewe that was almost Victorian—it was so impressive. And I was making a TV show for HBO that never happened, Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. My first instinct, even in the process of writing, was to call Jonathan and check if he was interested in portraying that moment in history. We were going to do it, and eventually we couldn’t manage to get all the funds because of course it needed a big budget.

A Fall 2021 Loewe runway look that served as inspiration.

Courtesy of Loewe

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What was your goal with the costume design for this film?

JA: We liked that people would have no sense that this would be costume design. It’s just everyday wear, and it’s set in the world of competitive tennis. What I was obsessed about was that in America, Americans buy the brand—it’s McDonald’s; it’s Nike. And there are so many undercurrents in the business of being a tennis player. I liked that it’s a story of how you become successful through branding.

There is a line in the film about how Tashi, Zendaya’s character, is going to have her own fashion label, and she’s going to have her own charitable foundation.

JA: That’s America. To me, America is built upon the idea that the dream is to have a foundation, because ultimately you would have to feel better about yourself by giving back. The script feeds into that, but at the same time you fall in love with these characters. And I just love the pace of this film. The audience becomes a tennis ball. When you’re watching it, you’re emotionally thrown around—you fall for the characters, but then next minute you’re rejecting them, and then you fall for them again. That kind of pace is very new.

I want to ask you about the three lead characters and their costumes.

LG: Well, Tashi goes from being this kind of suburban girl, who has an incredible gift as a tennis player but is completely unaware of her potential as a woman, to a powerhouse. As she climbs the ladder, she wants to own everything she’s got, so the goal is power. And power means how you control your life, how you control other people’s lives, how you control your look, and how you make your look be the definitive answer to the world.

© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc., All Rights Reserved

The film’s poster.

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JA: If you were to see Tashi outside, in the real world, she is proof that there is something about success that ultimately makes people go toward conformity. As you become more successful, you get to this point where everyone else who is successful has the same luggage, or the same jewelry. They all aspire to this same thing, which becomes slightly generic. Art, her husband, is a vessel for whatever you want him to be. So if he’s going to be Adidas, he is Adidas; if he’s Uniqlo, he is Uniqlo. There is no aesthetic—it is just whatever is there. Patrick, meanwhile, is about portraying wealth. There is a cockiness to him, this way of putting clothing together that becomes quite seductive, because he’s so used to taste that even if it’s put together badly, it somehow looks good. There are three completely different types of human beings that are in this fishbowl trying to talk to one another. And then the great thing was we had Zendaya, who understands fashion inside out.

Jonathan, Zendaya has worn Loewe designs right off the runway, and Josh O’Connor has worn your clothes and appeared in your advertising campaigns.

JA: And we shot Mike for the new campaign. I’ve known Josh for years. I love dressing him because I think that he is who I fundamentally would want to be. He is the perfect boy next door, someone that you would look over the fence and be obsessed with. No matter what you put on him, there’s an intrigue, a physicality, and he is a real person. And Zendaya has been very kind to me—she’s worn a lot of things. She has the ability to engage with people in a way that is very strange compared to other celebrities. She becomes part of something larger—it’s not just fashion, it’s popular culture. She uses clothing as a kind of instrument.

Are there other collaborations between directors and designers that you admire?

LG: I always think of the work of Eiko Ishioka and Francis Ford Coppola on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That was really something to behold. And Yohji Yamamoto and Takeshi Kitano for Dolls is another great moment. But those are moments of expressionism in costume, when the costume design is like, bam, in front of the movie. I love that as an aesthetic, but as a filmmaker, I think it’s a cardinal sin to put the design before the film. That’s why I am in awe of Jonathan’s capacity to immerse himself in the story and the characters.

© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Zendaya, in another Anderson design, with O’Connor.

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You are already working on your second collaboration, Queer, based on the William S. Burroughs novel and starring Daniel Craig.

LG: It’s the movie of my life. I’ve wanted to make it since I was 20. In the process, I wrote a script that I discarded, but the brilliant writer of Challengers, Justin Kuritzkes, has written the adaptation of Queer. It’s a real labor of love.

JA: I’ve never worked on a creative project that has changed me more, that has completely changed so many aspects of my life. I find it the most generous project to have worked on.

LG: It’s a very romantic movie. And it’s made in order to change people, to make people realize who they really are. It’s really about the simplest thing: the power of loving someone and the power of wanting to be loved. It’s so basic, in a way, and so fundamental.

Skin by Anga Borodina at ASG Paris. beauty Assistant: Elise Sikula.

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