Without spoiling too much of the plot, Knives Out could be explained as a whodunit film about a dysfunctional family. When a mystery novelist tycoon named Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party, detectives, family, and friends come out of the woodwork to solve the case and clamor over the patriarch’s will.
The movie could easily be compared to Clue, the World War II-era murder-mystery board game and 1985 cult comedy film of the same name, but with a particularly cozy aesthetic. While it is amusing to watch Toni Collette verbally spar with Don Johnson and Jamie Lee Curtis, and as much as the mystery of Harlan’s death is a curious case to be cracked, there is so much joy to be found in watching everyone on screen wear the hell out of some sweaters.
The Internet seems to agree, so much so that the official Knives Out Twitter account has rebranded itself as the “Chris Evans’ Sweater Stan Account.”
So how did the costume designer, Jenny Eagan, build a timeless wardrobe with plenty of chic knitwear? She explains her choices, here.
How did you get on board with Knives Out?
I was working in Italy on another show and I got a call that they were interested in speaking to me. I have to presume that it was because of previous work I’d done that they had maybe seen. But I had a wonderful conversation with Rian Johnson who explained the project, and we took it from there. I guess I did an okay interview. I hope I did. I got the job!
What was on your mood board when you first started building out wardrobes for each character?
I start thinking about where we’re from, where the project is based. We’re in Boston, we’re east coast, right? So I started thinking about that, and pulling looks. I start with real people. The idea of what’s real, what’s likely. Tonally, you’re talking with the production designer and with Rian about what the palette might be. It’s fall and winter, so it’s that very autumnal feeling, and we know the east coast is so beautiful for that. I just thought, just to get in that color palette would say so much, and knowing what the house looked like. Then I started to find out who was coming on board and having conversations with them because it was so developed in the script. I think all the actors that came aboard were very excited about it and processed a lot, through a lot of conversations with Rian. They really knew who they were, so it became very simple. Initially, it was about creating where we were, the socioeconomic level that they were all coming from, who they were playing, and went from there.
Were there any colors you wanted to stay away from?
I always tend to stay away from too much blue, depending where we’re shooting. Maybe keeping in subtle, dark navy or something. Jamie Lee Curtis came into it and brought so much. She went from not ever wearing color to wanting to wear it, and it was an opportunity to really go with it. I just thought that for her, the silhouette, tone on tone, bright colors just spoke, it was like, here it is. She had a socialite friend of hers that she had pictures of who was inspiration. It was there in her brain, and she knew exactly who she wanted. She created that character. We did that together and it was really fun.
How collaborative is your process?
Everybody kind of gave me encouragement of what they thought. I was able to take what they were feeling about the character because they were so inspired by it. It was really fun to talk to each one of them. It depends on the time period. Sometimes period pieces are different because it’s set in stone and a bit more limited. For me this was such a joy because you get to spend time with people and I give myself freedom. Sometimes you get so caught in your mood boards or the research that you’ve done and you do have to allow yourself to step away sometimes.
Toni Collette’s character Joni Thrombey sticks out—her wardrobe is unlike the rest of the family, as is her entire liberal hippie disposition. How’d you figure out how to set her apart?
Toni was pretty easy. Very California, you know. It felt light and airy. We wanted it to be kind of clean and laid back. You could see her doing yoga every day, living the most fabulous life.
And Daniel Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc is not a member of the family at all. How did you build his look?
You try to be subtle as much as you can. The important thing was differentiating between the characters and keeping a throughline. You had to know who each character was. We gave them the same silhouette throughout pretty much. There were a lot of clues that you don’t want to miss, and if it’s too much all the time you’ll miss a lot of the great stuff that’s going on in Rian’s script. It was important to set their tone and then keep it consistent throughout the film. With somebody like Ransom, you don’t change him a lot, because he’s the kind of guy who throws that sweater down and picks it up the next day and puts it back on, just like a pair of jeans. With Daniel, the detective is coming from the south for just a few days and he needs to fit into the world, so there’s a timeless thing about him too. He wore a similar thing throughout. We made everything his, and it felt natural. We made the colors and the tweed so that they did not stand out or draw attention to him, but he had a little bit of flare with his pocket squares and his ties, sort of an ode to the southern gentleman. But very subtle.
Where did you get the idea to dress Ransom in those sweaters?
Chris is the one that of course everybody loves the sweaters and wants to talk about. It was such a natural, organic fitting. He’s such a wonderful person and as an actor he knew who Ransom was.
Did you know that it would be something everyone would be talking about after the movie?
No, of course not! We thrifted sweaters, we bought them new. You kind of bring everything in. Rian talked about the disrespect that Ransom has for his things or the disrespect for his family in general and the money and all of that. And just being so individual. I knew something a little tattered would be interesting, so buying old things or old cashmere was good. I knew I could bring in new ones and distress them myself. That cable knit has been around for so long and the other one is such a classic round neck cashmere sweater. It’s so timeless. When he put it on, it felt so east coast, so old world. I thought it was perfect. It looks comfortable, which we thought the character wanted to be as well. Lots of very expensive things, but comfortable and would wear them over and over again. It was such an organic process. We didn’t know specifically where it was going to work; that’s my job to plot out where they wear what and what makes sense. But this was for when you meet him and I wanted everybody to feel, ‘Oh he’s comfortable, this guy, maybe he’s just an outsider but he’s still cool.’ He’s certainly the attractive son. A playboy, if you will.
Was the cable knit sweater thrifted?
No, that one we purchased new. I just don’t know whose it was. Everybody’s killing me because I can’t remember where it came from. We typically take out the tags because not a lot of people like them. They’re scratchy. It came in, got “aged” and then every tag was removed. It was so fast and furious, the prep for that film. Everybody came in and got very close to one another and it was like, get it on, get it aged, get it set, let’s shoot.
Do you still have it? Or does Chris?
No, I wish. I should’ve kept it. Chris might’ve taken one. I don’t know what he ended up taking. It all stayed in Boston for a while, I’m assuming Lionsgate or somebody has done something with it, but I never get to know really. We pack it up and organize it, and then we walk away and for reshoots somebody knows where it is. I wish I had one! I hope someone has it.
Do you prefer the blue cashmere sweater or the cream cable knit?
It’s so hard to say! I think initially I liked the blue because I loved it with his eyes. You know? But when I saw the film finally, the cable knit just really worked. And it worked for the time that we used it, especially in the cafe, with Marta (Ana de Armas). When it was just the two of them, he felt very safe to her. So I think that old world, timeless sweater that felt very warm and like he was a warm person worked really well for that scene. And then maybe the blue is a little bit colder, towards the end as we’re learning who he is a little bit better. But I thought everybody looked great. And everyone felt really comfortable, which is the most important thing to me. I certainly don’t want to force them into anything that they don’t feel is right for the character. I wouldn’t do that because they have to get out there and wear it every day, all day.
Related: What Is Knives Out Even About?