When the BBC spy thriller Killing Eve first premiered in 2018, the public celebrated not only a superbly written, entertaining, nuanced portrayal of two complex women and their violent relationship — but also the wardrobe.
Actress Jodie Comer plays one of the show’s leads — the aptly named Villanelle — alongside Sandra Oh’s Eve. Since the pilot episode Villanelle’s closet has been a hot topic in pop culture, influencing everything from social media accounts to Oscars red carpet looks.
Though it has created excitement in the fashion industry across the globe, the way Comer is dressed speaks most importantly to Villanelle’s character development within the narrative of Killing Eve.
A young, beautiful, wealthy, queer, international assassin?
Yeah, she’s got some cool clothes.
Each season Killing Eve has intentionally switched out the head writer, championing excellent female screenwriters to create their own cultural moment within the show (including show creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag who also penned season 1).
Similarly, they have also switched out costume designers each season, leading to some of the most unique and dramatic television fashion moments of the past few years — and all kept the spirit of Villanelle at the core of their work.
where it started
The season 1 costume designer was Phoebe De Gaye who was responsible for that fantastic Molly Goddard pink tulle dress that went viral and put this character on the fashion map.
De Gaye called the gown “subversive” in an interview with Vogue, classifying Villanelle’s decision to wear the dress to a psychiatric appointment as a “two fingers up” to her handler who was concerned she was going soft.
The fashion decisions in the first season were an eclectic mix and really fun to watch — as we got to know Villanelle as a character we almost saw her don a new persona for every one of her kills, and she had a fantastic outfit to go with each. From fur coats, to silk robes, to embroidered kimonos, to pinstripe suits, to stolen nurse outfits complete with embellished crocs, Comer looks great in everything.
Charlotte Mitchell became the costume designer for the second season and was tasked with capitalizing on the success of her predecessor. She also had the challenge of dressing Villanelle at the beginning of the season when she’s lost all of her money, and then towards the end of the season when she’s back in the lap of luxury.
She was able to celebrate Villanelle’s more androgynous side by dressing her in exceptional vintage suits and have some fun — like when she put Comer in boy’s pop art pajamas or a manga-inspired Swedish dirndl disguise complete with a pig head. Seriously.
Mitchell championed the show’s writers for creating the moments that let the fashion shine, but also explained how Villanelle’s character influenced her decisions. She told Harper’s Bazaar:
“Villanelle’s wardrobe choices change so radically depending on her mood, which is up and down. She’s a psychopath at the end of the day; she doesn’t have any consistency. It’s my job to work it all out.”
where it went
For the third season, Sam Perry took on the role of costume designer, to much acclaim. She received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for her work.
According to an interview with TRIPWIRE, Perry’s work hinges not only on taking direction from the script but also collaborating with others on set — particularly, hair and makeup designer Juliette Tomes and production designer Laurence Dorman — to make sure the looks she creates flow seamlessly within the narrative and the set.
In the third episode in the season Villanelle has come to realize Eve is alive after she shot her and left her for dead in the finale of the second season. Their cat-and-mouse game comes to a head on a public bus where the two physically fight and then, finally, have their first kiss. Perry ultimately decided to dress Villanelle in a Chalayan men’s suit for the scene, telling E! in an interview:
“[I] could’ve put [Villanelle] into another amazing dress or something quite fantastical but I felt it was better to put her in the suit … make it more muted, have them both in grays coming together, and then all the colors in the background on the bus and everything that’s going on around them."
Later in the season, we see Comer in a flamboyant Charlotte Knowles furry, green, tartan, shearling, bomber jacket, which Perry used to highlight how Villanelle had become “unsettled.” She told NET-A-PORTER:
“I hoped it would illustrate her changing state of mind; she is literally a lovable monster in it. You want to hug her, but she might well bite your head off.”
By the season 3 finale, Villanelle has become more secure in her sense of self and her future. She and Eve reunite on a bridge in London and the atmosphere is somber. Villanelle steals the spotlight in a yellow Loewe coat that gives the audience a beacon of hope for their relationship as the two part ways again, both stopping to look back at the other.
where it's going
Based on the trailer for the upcoming season 4, it appears as if Villanelle is attempting to atone for her sins, even talking to a therapist about her desire to stop killing and trying to prove to Eve that she’s changed.
For the first time, Sam Perry has returned as costume designer for this final season of Killing Eve. First look images show Villanelle in both a red cassock (worn by the clergy of the Catholic church) as well as a psychedelic tye-dye t-shirt that says “What Would Jesus Do?” — highlighting religious imagery in a way that is still quintessentially Villanelle. It’s clear that this character will hold on to her eclectic style even as she tries to transform herself and her life.
In a teaser video posted by the official Killing Eve Instagram account, we see the infamous pink Molly Goddard dress (and the pig head) on fire. Is this a metaphor for shedding the past? Baptism by fire? Regardless, there is very clearly a relationship between Villanelle’s clothing and her character arc that is built into the DNA of this show — and Sam Perry is the lucky one who gets to wrap up that narrative.
The Killing Eve wardrobe tells as much of the story as the scriptwriters or the actors and I’m excited to see how that plays out in the final season, and in whatever project Sam Perry works on next.
You can stream Killing Eve season 4 on Hulu. The first episode will air on 2/27/22 with the following seven episodes dropping weekly.