How Costume Designer Mari-An Ceo Made 'MaXXXine' Come to Life

How Costume Designer Mari-An Ceo Made 'MaXXXine' Come to Life

Story by Jamila StewartJul 09, 2024

With his X trilogy, Ti West has been building a world from the very beginning. Each installment a love letter to horror’s past, one film after the other cascades into campy but artistically delectable vignettes of decades come and gone, told through the stories of two strangers whose only meeting comes to a bloody end, and who, though they are years apart, share the same will-stop-at-nothing longing for Hollywood stardom.

Meme-able lines (parody quotes of Maxine’s mantra, "I will not accept a life I do not deserve," are already making its rounds across social media), nostalgic color stories and West’s darkly whimsical and perfectly executed direction and tone setting is what summons the saga’s cult fandom. It’s what drove costume designer Mari-An Ceo’s interest in coming on board after working with the rising film director on psychological thriller series Them, eventually leading to spearheading the wardrobe for Maxxxine.

“He’s got a vision — he does,” Ceo tells PAPER. “It's very particular, and it’s really a pleasure to work with somebody like that, because they have a point of view. You're trying to make what he wants, what he sees or what he feels happen.”

In the early days of development, however, Ceo says there weren’t many hints from West, and her own background on the ‘80s, along with advice from her industry-adjacent mother-in-law, became the starting point for wardrobe planning.

Following Maxine, who’s landed in Hollywood a few years after her boyfriend, cast, crew mates and all their killers, Pearl and Howard, are left violently slain at a roadhouse pornography set (that is, the murderous couple’s home), the final installment of the trilogy opens with its beloved fame-hungry protagonist finally landing a role in a major film, immediately thereafter being stalked from a shady private investigator and a supposed serial killer that may or may not be the infamous Night Stalker. The film’s playful but not-too-cheeky ‘80s homage is the center-point of the internet’s fixation, and in many ways, half of the story is told through Ceo’s costume work.

Below, Ceo talks PAPER through her references for characters played by Mia Goth, Kevin Bacon, Halsey and Moses Sumney, what Maxine’s wardrobe reveals about her character and custom-creating pieces for the film.

Maxine's Wardrobe Was Based on '80s Icons

Maxxxine doesn’t shy away from borrowing codes from films of the times, but Ceo says there was a deliberate choice to avoid pieces that were too on the nose. “I didn't want it to be high hair and poppy colors and everything, per se,” she says. “My inspiration for her was more of a person.”

A character who can be successfully intercepted by virtually nothing, Maxine’s staples (chunky gold hoops, black leather pants, scrunched leather boots and a satin bomber jacket) mirror her attitude. “My gut was that she was a little more Blondie or Christy Hines,” Ceo said. “She was a little more edgy, kind of pulling out of the ‘70s into the ‘80s.”

Michelle Pfeiffer, Margot Hemingway and the films Lipstick, Blue Velvet and Hardcore were other inspirations. “She's definitely been hardened, but she’s still kind of hopeful,” she says. “That's the character to me, and what I love the most about her is that she believes in herself and her future so much, so I pulled from characters that sort of felt like that and then took different clothing aspects from them and from that genre.”

Some Details Subtly Reference the Trilogy's Previous Films

For an audition at the film’s opening, Maxine is in her sassiest getup of the movie: a denim two piece of skinny jeans and a zip-front tank top that Ceo’s team designed and white pumps. Fans may notice a slight resemblance to both Pearl’s and Maxine’s earlier denim coveralls. “Ti wanted to have this a kind of throwback somehow to some of the other movies,” Ceo says. She says the result was their take on a version of the look with a more period-appropriate silhouette. “They weren’t really wearing coveralls [in the ‘80s]. They’re not sexy.”

Look hard enough, and you’ll notice a silver skull necklace Goth wears throughout the film, a touch Ceo says is borrowed from an identical necklace Blondie discreetly wore in her prime. A sartorial reference to how Maxine kills Pearl in the final moments of X, it’s a moment Maxine calls back to verbally when she’s followed into a back alley by a questionable man. “You want to know what I did to the last person that tried to kill me?” Maxine asks him. “I crushed their fucking skull.”

More Old Hollywood Characters Were Referenced for Supporting Stars' Costumes 

An acting cameo from Halsey was also accompanied by one of the film’s most fun ensembles before her character’s short-lived screen time ends in a brutal death. Her outfit pulling inspiration from the band Missing Persons' Dale Azio. “Halsey is very comfortable in her body, and I love her so much. She just is like, 'Whatever you want to do, we can do,'” Ceo says.

On the totally opposite end of the sartorial spectrum, we often see Elizabeth DeBicki’s character in neat, bold-shouldered blazers, slim jeans and tall riding boots, which Ceo says create a sharp, polished demeanor when styled together and was inspired by '80s director Penelope Spheres. “I really tried to look at [her] because she was such an iconic female director of the time, and there weren't that many.”

Kevin Bacon’s signature look as Labat started with Orson Welles' character in Touch of Evil in mind. Ceo explains: “Labat is from New Orleans, so we wanted him to have this seersucker hot suit that hasn’t been washed in like thirty years and a tattered tie.”

She originally expected a larger actor who might've needed a custom suit, before Bacon ultimately “walked right into” the suit she already had on hand. His shoes were a vintage style that were too small before the costume team was able to find the exact same style in his size. “The costumes and the actors somehow found each other in a lovely way,” she says. “And we just loved the idea that he's sleeping in his car and finally gets hired on this job, and he’s just all about trying to make a buck, doesn't care about anything. 'You can smell him from around the corner’ kind of a thing. We didn't want him to change [clothes]. He’s just kind of sleeping in his car watching Maxine.”

Maxine's Costume May Lend a Bit of Insight About Pearl

Near the film’s conclusion, viewers see a sequence of scenes that show Maxine in the most sophisticated ensembles, although only in her imagination. Finally face-to-face with the killer, she envisions herself on the red carpet, blonde bombshell curls sitting atop the crystal-embellished straps of a sleek metallic maxi gown. “She wants to be an actress from the Golden Age, like a Jean Harlow,” Ceo says. “I just think she has a real love of cinema, and she wasn't going to be a Marilyn Monroe necessarily, but an old film siren of the '30s. And it's kind of around the generation [of actors Pearl would have been a part of] if Pearl would have made it into film, too. I feel like Pearl would've seen herself in the silver dress.”

Photography: Justin Lubin, courtesy of A24