In 'Love Lies Bleeding', Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian Wear Custom Levi's and Gritty '80s Gym Fashion

In costume designing "Love Lies Bleeding," Olga Mill wanted to avoid the usual wardrobe tropes of the Reagan era.

"How do we do an '80s gym aesthetic that wasn't Olivia Newton John in leg warmers and neons? That's where your mind goes first," she says. "We knew we wanted to create something different — more grounded and rugged."

For the Rose Glass-directed, Kristen Stewart-starring, New Mexico back country-set A24 film, Mill needed to illustrate a dingy gym environment in a dusty, remote small town, not a corporate New York City health club or a colorful, muscle tank-populated Venice Beach. She conducted what she describes as "candid research," sifting through throwback family photos on Flickr to build "a version of the '80s that's not done that much — that's less glossy."

The noir movie opens with gym manager Lou (Stewart) toiling away at the front desk (and later performing some nauseatingly hands-on plumbing work) in her uniform: a sleeveless distressed logo T-shirt and slouchy jeans. Her "gritty" '80s-appropriate aesthetic telegraphs apathy and her desire to lie low, while also "threading the needle" of still looking pretty great on Stewart. Mill specialty-dyed Lou's cyan-blue and bold-red "Crater Gym" T-shirts and removed the sleeves (below).

"This shirt looks like it's been washed a million times, like the colors have some history to it," she explains.

Jackie (Katy O'Brian) and Lou (Kristen Stewart) connect at the gym.<p>Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24</p>
Jackie (Katy O'Brian) and Lou (Kristen Stewart) connect at the gym.

Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24

Glass, Stewart and Mill determined there's a "sentimental" quality to the steely Lou, which comes through in her worn-in shirts and baggy, faded jeans.

"[Lou wants] to hold on to clothing for a really long time," says Mill. "It can also symbolize not totally knowing who she is — like, 'Oh, I need these pieces to anchor me,' when she feels a little bit lost or lonely."

Lou's most worn jeans are actually contemporary pairs made to look battered. Mill bought around 10 pairs of new Levi's; they were first be transformed into a period-appropriate acid wash, then aged and dyed by textile artist Jessie Treviño to achieve the perfect slouch. "He was able to take anything we gave him and make it look like it just had a long, hard life," says Mill, who also happily found deadstock Asics sneakers, both in Stewart's and her stunt double's sizes.

When itinerant bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O'Brian) enters the scene, she shakes up Lou's seemingly routine life. Jackie — who waits tables at Lou Sr. (Ed Harris)'s sketchy shooting range when she's not pumping iron — also wears contemporary Levi's that entailed meticulous research and customization.

Jackie and Lou take a road trip.<p>Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24</p>
Jackie and Lou take a road trip.

Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24

To devise the exactingly snug fit of Jackie's cut-off shorts, Mill threw a wide net in references, from '80s jorts to Beyoncé's Coal N Terry upcycled Levi's from her iconic 2018 Coachella performance.

"We made sure that [the shorts] were really snug up on [O'Brian's] waist, but fit her butt and her thighs," says Mill, who worked with tailor Pilar Agoyo on the fit. "In retrospect, the secret sauce is having the angle go up on the side [of the legs]."

Jackie's body-conscious sports bra, leotard and short-shorts speak to her intentions and ambitions — both in appealing to the male gaze to survive her day-to-day, and in competitive bodybuilding. Mill referenced the 1985 documentary, "Pumping Iron II: The Women": "There were some women in bodybuilding who really wanted to have a very 'feminine' aesthetic and wear earrings and lipstick, and there's a sex appeal to their presentation. [Others] came a bit more from the Olympic school and were like, 'I just want to be judged in the same way that men are judged.'"

Jackie competes.<p>Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24</p>
Jackie competes.

Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24

Juxtaposing Jackie's vibrant colors and revealing silhouettes with her dedication to a sport and physique that's been traditionally associated with men and "masculinity" allowed Mill and O'Brian to further explore the character. They examined the "whole question of 'femininity' and how it intertwines with looking strong and muscular, and how those two things have traditionally been on opposite ends of the spectrum, visually."

Preparing for a women's bodybuilding competition in Vegas, Jackie trains at Crater Gym (while a dedicated Lou painstakingly removes the yolks from her daily protein shakes). Jackie practices her choreography in a strappy black velvet bodybuilding suit, for which Mill consulted Indiana-based designer Amy Ardizzone, founder of the now-shuttered Suits by Amy. (Ardizzone also designed the background actors' more sparkly and colorful suits.)

"[Glass and I] just thought it was a little strange — like, it's not a traditional bathing suit fabric," says Mill of Jackie's velvet look, with the delicate criss-cross at the lower back, which the costume team made in-house. "We wanted her to stand out, so it's all about Jackie being an outsider at that moment and not really fitting in."

Jackie borrows Lou's jacket.<p>Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24</p>
Jackie borrows Lou's jacket.

Photo: Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24

As Lou's and Jackie's relationship intensifies, the duo's wardrobes reflect their connection. "They get into this big, messy, passionate love affair, and a clothing intertwine-ness happens," says Mill.

During the rising action at a tense family dinner, Jackie dons Lou's voluminous black-and-white blocked windbreaker with red lining (above and at top). "That jacket was all about contrasting colors coming together in a metaphor for their relationship," says Mill. The piece was custom-made, in multiples, based off a vintage '80s find. (Jackie's pink and purple windbreaker is actually a contemporary Sweatyrocks one, bought from Amazon and customized for an '80s silhouette.)

As Lou lets down her walls, she also swaps her raglan tees and cut-off shirts for midriff-baring (and Jackie-preferred) tops — always with her trusty jeans.

"You feel the strength of it at the end, when you see her in the sports bra. It's her taking on Jackie's aesthetic," says Mill. "Lou goes, clothing-wise, from being more cocooned and covered up to, by the end [of the movie], more exposed."

"Love Lies Bleeding" opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 15.

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