We’re back in our comfy pants living life vicariously through a TV screen. And while we always love a gritty TV drama, lockdown is a chance for us to drift into a more escapist world and to seek a bit of stylish respite from the laundry pile and relentless cooking.
While there have been many iconic stylish shows over the years (Sex and the City and Mad Men come to mind), we trust you’ve seen those and perhaps are looking to expand your horizons. Forthwith, the Ensemble edit of truly beautiful shows to get you through lockdown.
The Panthers (TVNZ on Demand)
This incredibly stylish show (with Lealani Siaosi as Melani, pictured above) celebrates and uplifts Polynesian culture, while spotlighting an essential part of Aotearoa’s history. Costume designer (and Ensemble contributor) Sammy Salsa took inspiration from his own aiga (family) and made sure he worked with a largely Māori and Polynesian team to draw shared experience from.
Between Sammy and production designer Jane Bucknell, they make ‘70s Tāmaki Makaurau look and feel mysterious, glamorous and edgy as opposed to seedy and downtrodden. It’s an important distinction to make when considering the vibrancy and colour Polynesian culture imported into the country at the time. This colour is perfectly personified in many of the particular pieces, such as the excellent jumpsuit worn by Frankie Adams which could’ve been straight out of Halston.
My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
According to matriarch Julia Haart, fashion is the liberating force that propelled her out of her Orthodox Jewish community and into a new life as the owner and CEO of Elite World Group, the model and talent company. Nowhere are the heels higher or the catsuits tighter than in Julia’s wardrobe which screams ‘expensive’ to the point of laryngitis. Julia’s youngest daughter Miriam is a mini-me (girl never met a pair of hotpants she didn’t like), while her eldest daughter, Batsheva, leans more cottage-core, which makes sense as after spending most of her life in the Orthodox community, Batsheva is still adjusting to the forbidden thrill of jeans.
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)
Moira Rose is a universal style icon and we trust all readers over the age of 10 have watched this. But it makes for a wonderful re-watch also, and forms a perfect way to self-soothe if the day has been a bit much.
White Lotus (Neon)
We covet Tanya’s (Jennifer Coolidge’s) kaftans and Olivia and Paula’s Gen Z thrift shop artfully paired with designer brands resort attire, carefully curated by costume designer Alex Bovaird. White Lotus also has the most stylish opening credits of any show we’ve seen recently.
If you’ve finished the series already and are feeling bereft, check out series creator Mike White’s previous show Enlightened, starring Laura Dern (Amazon Prime).
While we didn’t love this show as much as Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, and it (quite rightly) attracted attention for casting straight actor Ewan McGregor in the titular role, it’s still a wondrously beautiful escapist fantasy that has us pining for a ‘70s NYC we never knew. The Battle of Versailles episode in particular paints a very descriptive and aptly stylish picture of a near forgotten iconic moment in fashion history.
Described as a Spanish Gossip Girl, this deliciously soapy subtitled drama set in an elite high school is a sophisticated and stylish take on the trope.
Call My Agent (Netflix)
Oh to work from an office as chic as that of A.S.K, the fictional Parisian talent agency representing actors including (playing themselves) Charlotte Gainsbourg, Monica Bellucci, Juliette Binoche and Sigourney Weaver. This series is, as you’d expect, dripping with French panache, from Arlette’s beloved Jack Russell, Jean Gabin, through to the sensual masculine-edged power dressing of quintessential Parisienne Andrea.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (TVNZ on Demand)
Nothing sums up the current love for ‘90s fashion quite like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The Jordans, the mom jeans, the preppy looks fused with streetwear, it’s all there mashed together on these glorious characters.
The Crown (Netflix)
Every season is sumptuously beautiful to watch, but of course the iconic Diana years are where the fashion really cranks up a notch. This show could also surely pass for homeschooling as a great (albeit heavily dramatised) introduction to the British monarchy.
Nine Perfect Strangers (Amazon Prime)
Nicole Kidman is pitch perfect as a creepy cult leader at a health retreat in this show, from the writer of Big Little Lies, but it’s Melissa McCarthy as a sun-phobic romance writer who gets all the best outfits.
Pretend It’s a City (Netflix)
Long-standing arbiter of style Fran Lebowitz is as great with an acerbic one-liner as she is with a blazer and cufflinks. This series, directed by her friend Martin Scorsese (whose infectious laughter throughout proves him as charmed by her as we are), merges the two into a show that also acts as pandemic travel love story.
Search Party (Neon)
A cast of completely self-obsessed and generally unlikeable friends amble about from misadventure to misadventure, wearing great coats and lipstick.
This excellent show, from Melrose Place and Sex and the City creator Darren Starr, would be chuegy personified if it weren’t for the deft touch of the legendary costume designer Patricia Field. Liza, aged 40 and newly divorced, from New Jersey and trying to get back into the publishing business after raising her daughter, takes the advice of her BFF (the brilliant Debi Mazar) and reinvents herself as a 20-something who lives in Brooklyn, dates a tattoo artist and works with a delightfully charming Hilary Duff. It’s a great lesson on the power of wardrobe to define a personality.
Creator, writer and star Aidy Bryant has been vocal about how important it was for her to be as well dressed as other leading ladies despite not being a sample size. Bryant’s Annie and her BFF Fran (played by the ludicrously charming Lolly Adefope) look hot or cute or sexy or cool, depending on the situation. What they never look is dowdy or shapeless. Note to the fashion industry: plus size ladies can slay fashion looks too, please tell everyone you know!
Anne Boleyn (TVNZ on Demand)
‘Inspired by truth… And lies’ We stan a costume drama, especially one that reframes expectation (see also: Bridgerton on Netflix). We adored Jodie Turner-Smith in Queen and Slim, and she’s just as mesmerising as the former queen of England in this show about the powerful yet doomed Queen. The costumes are as sumptuous as you’d expect from such a show, and all the hair pieces and headbands are highly covetable even by modern standards. As is the joyful makeup.
Pursuit of Love (Amazon Prime)
We’ve yet to see it but the much-anticipated adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 bestselling novel is on our radar for many reasons, and not just of the smutty variety (Dominic West plays Lily James’ father in the series, and the two were infamously papped not social distancing in a rather incestuous way last year). The mystifyingly eccentric Mitford sisters have long been referenced as muses by many in the fashion industry (including our own Kate Sylvester) so the pressure was on for costume designer Sinéad Kidao to deliver - and by all accounts she did. Using an ‘unapologetically girlish palette’ she mixed aristocratic and punk references to paint a picture of this sexy, dangerous and exciting world.
The omnipresent Ryan Murphy strikes again, this time with a vibrant and evocative take on NYC’s underground ball culture scene of the mid-’80s, and the ‘houses’ that cared for the marginalised groups (predominantly Black and Latino members of the LGBTQ+ community) who participated in them. Ornate costumes, homemade from found objects and repurposed clothes, played a huge part in these fantastical shows. But unlike many of Murphy’s shows, this isn’t all flair with no heart; Pose is a family drama at its core (it helps that Steven Canals is the co-creator). The show has led to critical acclaim and brought us the gift of seeing star Billy Porter make regular red carpet appearances, while co-star MJ Rodriguez (a former participant in ball culture) recently made history as the first trans person nominated for a lead acting Emmy award, when she was nominated for best actress in a drama series (the winner will be announced next month).
Emily in Paris (Netflix)
There’s lots of incredibly fun fashion from costume queen Patricia Field in this show, that offers little in the way of anything else. Fun fact, Patricia, who made her name on Sex and the City decided not to return for And Just Like That, instead choosing to focus on season two of Emily of Paris.
We Are Lady Parts (Neon)
A comedy series about an all-female Muslim punk band: now just let all the visuals of that phrase wash over you. If you need some help, picture luxe Muslim modest fashion, eyeliner applied by the bucket load and British street fashion best accessorised with an angry sneer. You’ve never seen a show like this before, and you’ve never heard a 9 to 5 cover as good as the furious one performed by Lady Parts.