How the Costumes in ‘Ripley’ Depict the Transformation of a Conman, From Modesty to Luxury

For costume designers Giovanni Casalnuovo and Maurizio Millenotti, creating the costumes for Netflix’s drama series “Ripley” was a “unique challenge,” given the eight-episode show was filmed entirely in black-and-white.

Based on the bestselling novel series by Patricia Highsmith, Netflix’s limited series stars Andrew Scott as the titular Tom Ripley, a grifter living in New York City in the early 1960s, who travels to Italy after a wealthy man hires him to convince his son, Dickie Greenleaf, to come home. The series also stars Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn, Eliot Sumner and John Malkovich.

More from WWD

Casalnuovo and Millenotti explained the series’ costumes were central to furthering the narrative, as the main character goes through several transformations as he embarks on a journey of deceit and lavish living during his travels in Europe.

“Tom Ripley’s wardrobe is a fascinating journey that reflects his internal transformation,” Casalnuovo said. “Initially, his clothing is modest and practical. Clean lines dominate, hinting at an aspiration for sophistication, but also revealing limited resources. The muted color palette emphasizes a sense of restraint. As the story unfolds, Tom’s wardrobe begins to subtly shift. This evolution reflects his growing confidence and his attempts to navigate a world beyond his own.”

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley
Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley.

The series begins in New York City in the 1960s, where Ripley is committing petty crimes to sustain a meager lifestyle. His costumes reflect his precarious financial position, with Scott sporting a scruffier and disheveled style with casual pieces like a leather jacket.

Since the series is shot in black-and-white, Casalnuovo and Millenotti had to leverage the costumes’ silhouettes, texture and patterns to help further the narrative. The costume designers explained that while Ripley’s costumes are anchored by classic tailoring throughout the series, viewers can see his transformation through the subtle details of the clothing, such as a clashing pattern or a fabric’s texture that indicates its quality.

“As the series progresses, we see hints of his evolving personality emerge through his clothing choices,” Casalnuovo said about Ripley. “He might incorporate a subtly patterned tie or a textured fabric that suggests a desire for something more. The key to Tom’s style lies in the details. These details offer glimpses into his inner world and his aspirations.”

In addition to mirroring Ripley’s evolution, the costumes are also said to reflect the geographical diversity throughout the series. The series follows Ripley from New York City to multiple cities in Italy, such as Rome, Naples and Palermo.

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley
Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley.

The costume designers explained that each city had a distinct look, such as characters in Rome appearing more polished and tailored, while characters in Naples or Palermo were seen wearing more prints and relaxed styles.

For their research process, Casalnuovo and Millenotti stated they didn’t reference the 1999 film adaptation “The Talented Mr. Ripley” as the Netflix series’ director, Steven Zaillian, had a different interpretation of the original novels.

They instead embarked on a robust photo research strategy to accurately reflect the fashion of the late 1950s and early 1960s in Italy, looking to photo archives, street markets, vintage family albums and other sources.

“A major breakthrough came from a hidden gem — an obscure photo archive,” Casalnuovo said. “There we unearthed a treasure trove of unseen and unpublished photographs depicting everyday life in Italy, particularly in the cities central to our story. These candid images provided a priceless window into the era’s fashion, social dynamics and overall atmosphere.”

Despite the challenges presented with costuming a black-and-white project, Casalnuovo and Millenotti look back at the experience fondly and believe they’ve taken away many learnings from the series.

“Through this process, we discovered a whole new way to think about costume design,” Casalnuovo said. “Black-and-white became a powerful storytelling tool, allowing us to focus on the details and textures that would define each character and enhance the atmosphere of the series.”

Launch Gallery: A Closer Look at the Costumes in Netflix’s ‘Ripley’

Best of WWD