It's hard to peel Pete Davidson from his latest role in The King Of Staten Island. Like Scott, the rudderless charge of the film's title, the 26-year-old lost his firefighter father at a young age. Like Scott, he is an enthusiastic supporter of the odd spliff or nine. And, like Scott, he too is a thoroughbred Staten Islander of the highest pedigree. Indeed, Judd Apatow – the ruling monarch of comedy that connects – based the coming-of-age flick on the SNL scion's very life. But this isn't Davidson, he of scumbro fame and headline-making caustic gags and relationships. This is a Regular Kid, one who loves his mother, and acts up, and feels a little lost.
It was the film's costume designer, Sarah Mae Burton, who was handed the peeler. "We talked about separating Pete and Scott a lot, and Pete has his own specific sense of style and he knows a lot about clothes – he taught me all about the different generations of Air Force 1s which was pretty cool. And even though it's loosely on based Pete's life, it was really important to Judd that we were crafting a world that was in line with reality, with Staten Island," she says over the phone on a late lockdown Sunday evening. "I'm not sure if you're familiar, but Staten Island in relation to New York is the butt of so many jokes. It's hard to get to, nobody wants to go there, it's not very cool, but we wanted to honour it as somewhere that has a real community with families that've spent forever there."
Which shows. While several looks sing from the hypekid hymn sheet (a sweatsuit from Bape, for instance, or a hi-graphic Obey shirt – more on both later), The King Of Staten Island isn't so far from the wardrobes of films made 20 years prior. We see Casper of Harmony Korine's coming-of-rage classic Kids in a pair of billowing skater slacks. We see a young Leonardo DiCaprio during his turn in The Basketball Diaries. We see teenagers that've inadvertently recoded the New York style canon, providing a cooler contrast to the privileged prep of Upper East Side rich kids. These are real New York kids, based on real New York kids. The connection isn't lost on Burton. "I would love for The King Of Staten Island to fit into that canon of New York style. We wanted to accurately represent his character who still lives at home, who doesn't have much money or a job, and his mum isn't gonna buy him expensive clothes," says the New Jersey-born costume designer, just a train and a ferry from the least-hyped of the five boroughs. "We wanted things to look worn and real, so we stonewashed everything using chemicals and sand to make it look like it'd been worn a million times. Pete was really helpful too in suggesting things Scott would wear and like and had saved up for, but it wouldn't be real if these things were super expensive."
The King Of Staten Island's nod to its aesthetic forefathers could be reasoned by menswear's big roulette wheel. The return to Nineties stonercore has been a winning bet for some time, as has tie-dye and baggy silhouettes and a decasualisation at large. But Burton's vision of Staten Island isn't a reflection of the trends. Time stands still in New York's subway-less corner. Boys like Scott have always looked this way. "It's an actual island that feels very stuck in time, even though it's in New York. There are tonnes of family-run businesses, even things like hand-painted signs, y'know," says Burton. "We saw a lot of guys wearing T-shirts with logos of local businesses, regardless of whether they worked there or not, which was something we tried to use on Ray's character" - the new love interest of Scott's widowed mother, gruffly played by comedian and The Mandalorian alum, Bill Burr. "That sort of stuff is really prevalent here, and it's kinda funny seeing things from the Nineties come back, like Jancos, these high-waisted, super baggy trousers that were huge in middle school, and I'm seeing them again. It's kinda fun to revisit that, but you go to Staten Island and there was a shoe store with two full aisles of platform flip-flops and style hasn't changed. You don't see them in the city at all."
It's ironic that a film about a place at a standstill has been released to an outside world that's now stuck at a red light, too. Though for all its lionising of Staten Island as a place of yesteryear, the story – which sees Davidson adroitly navigate loss, love and a lack of opportunity in today's America – knows that the kids know what's up. Scott may not have access to Prada cross-bodys, and Supreme bucket hats, but there are a few grail pieces in his wardrobe.
So, he wears it all at once. "When Scott goes to a baseball game with Ray for the first time, he doesn't really wanna go so he wants to wear all of his most obnoxious clothing at once, he wants to embarrass this guy in front of his friends in a bright yellow Obey shirt with teeth all over it and socks with pot leaves and really colourful Vans," says Burton. "The idea that you're like 'fuck this, what can I wear that'll get back him?' while still looking cool."
The disruptive boy king of the film's title is also acutely aware of dress codes. Or, rather, the dismantling of them. "In another scene, Scott goes to interview as a tattoo artist's apprentice, and we know he wants this so bad," says Burton. "So we had to think about his version of getting dressed up, and it's a Bape tie-dye sweatsuit but with no shirt so he can show off his own tattoos. It's a suit for him, and it's dressy for him, and it matches, and I really liked that." A big move for anyone, but also a move in-step with the wider embrace of ultra-casual in not-so-casual settings. Scott's no fool.
It is these moments of retina scorching madness that cements Apatow's eighth picture as director in the here and now. But, in tandem with a foundation of blandwear, Davidson's Scott is in the actual reality of now. Normcore with its first fake ID, if you will. And if it's authenticity that truly gives counter-cultural menswear its cool, then consider The King Of Staten Island the unquestioned ruler of this summer's wardrobe. Long may he reign.
The King Of Staten Island is available to stream online now at Amazon
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