Feeling ennui after Emily in Paris? Director Scott Frank’s elegantly plotted Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, is the whip-smart screen-style fix we needed this autumn (and I promise there isn’t a patent ankle boot in sight).
The glossy small-screen epic, which stars 24-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy as American chess prodigy Beth Harmon (a character original to Walter Tevis’s suspenseful 1983 novel of the same name) deep dives into identity, obsession, addiction and feminism against the backdrop of the 1960s counterculture revolution. Taylor-Joy’s formidable performance—this is a series you will want to consume in one sitting if you haven’t already—is matched by a custom-made wardrobe, masterminded by Berlin-based costume designer Gabriele Binder, which holds myriad hidden messages.
“My role is always to connect back to the story through the clothes and the initial brief is, of course, the script,” Binder tells her home in the German capital. “I immediately fell in love with it as it was so full of inspiration.”
For the costume designer, whose credits also include Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) and the Oscar-nominated Never Look Away (2018), the chess world itself provided her starting cue — “to find out what [traits] are unique to chess players and what makes them interesting people.” From there, Binder began excavating the past, creating clothes that have the power to signal the seismic influence of the decade’s leading fashion designers, such as André Courrèges, and offbeat female talents (including Jean Seberg and Edie Sedgwick), which Taylor-Joy seamlessly inhabits.
“She is magical,” Binder says of the star. “If she really likes [a piece] and thinks it is the right thing for the right moment, she makes the smallest thing big. She immediately connects to the clothes on her body.”
From the bespoke ‘beat generation’ T-shirts to Beth Harmon’s signature check, and the slew of decisively chic dresses she wears as she demolishes her male opponents, here Gabriele Binder decodes the hidden messages behind Anya Taylor-Joy’s best looks in The Queen’s Gambit.
Beth Harmon’s first fashion connection
“We wanted Beth Harmon’s late 1950s, early 1960s look to be a little bit backwards on purpose—that way we could clearly show the moment when she catches up with the modern-day in New York where she discovers how young people in her generation are living. When Beth is at school, she feels that the other girls are so different from how she is, to the extent that she doesn’t feel she can belong to this group. It’s at this moment that she is searching everywhere for something [and someone] to connect to and, in the absence of a real person, she connects to the dress on the mannequin.”
The revolutionary freedom of the casual T-shirt
“I especially love the T-shirts Beth wears towards the end of the series, which we had made in green, blue, and white. They hint to the Courrèges silhouette—very cool, elegant and simple. I loved this look so much that I repeated it again and again, paired with simple slacks. Beth also wears the T-shirts with the block-patterned yellow cardigan—a look that feels so free and young. It’s definitely something that you can recreate today.”
Queen of the chessboard
“At the end, Beth wears the white coat with the white pants and cap. The idea, of course, is to convey that she is now the queen on the chessboard and the chessboard itself is the world.”