An Inside Look at the Lived-In Style of Of An Age’s Outfits

A Q&A with costume designer Zohie Castellano

With precision and tenderness, Goran Stolevski’s Of An Age captures the palpable feeling of falling in love. In 1999, Kol (Elias Anton), an 18-year-old Serbian immigrant living in Melbourne, experiences a bewildering 24-hours. It begins with searching for his ballroom dance partner, Ebony (Hattie Hook), and ends with finding a connection with her brother, Adam (Thom Green) — one that still resonates when they meet again 11 years later. The Guardian writes, “Stolevski imbues his characters with such lived-in specificity that we can’t help but be swept away.”

To help bring this sense of immediacy to his film, Stolevski tapped Zohie Castellano to create the costumes. The talented young artist, who was recently nominated for an AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) Award for her work on Measure for Measure, intuitively understood how to make worn jeans, dance outfits, and summer dresses set the stage for this unforgettable encounter.

We spoke with Castellano about the ways the costumes defined the characters, the fashion changed over an 11-year period, and the emotional story brought the cast and crew together.

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Of An Age's costume designer Zohie Castellano

How did you get involved in designing costumes for Of An Age?

I meant Goran socially a year before. When he sent me the script, I was blown away by how great it was. I think anyone can identify with Kol, a misunderstood outsider. I really loved the vulnerability in him. I told Goran I would be honored to work on this film.

One of the big creative challenges is denoting the 11-year gap in the story through the costumes. How did you handle that?

In 2010, everything was mass produced. For the 1999 section, we looked for vintage outfits that had this analog quality. You can tell by the quality of the fabric and the way they were constructed—that these are outfits that are not made that way anymore. Goran often shoots in close up, so there was particular attention paid to the area from the chest up. I made sure that the textures were right and that all the details, like their chains, felt part of that world.

Also, 2010 had a very different fashion sense than 1999, especially in Melbourne, where a rockabilly influence and skinny jeans prevailed. Much of my job was getting the fabrics right. It is such a subtle storytelling device. When the costumes feel a bit off, it is often because the material is not correct.

Can you talk about costuming specific characters. What does Kol’s outfits tell us about him?

There is a bit of irony in the fact that Kol wears this flashy dance outfit. He looks like he’s out and proud at the beginning of the story but he is actually in denial of his sexuality. His dance outfit is almost comical since he doesn’t quite get how flamboyant it is.

What about Adam’s outfit?

Adam's obviously much more at home in himself. He is grounded in his coolness and intellectualism. He's not afraid to be himself. There is a beautiful scene where Adam gives Kol clothes to wear, a gesture that allows Kol to step into himself. Later in the day, when Kol is wearing Adam’s clothes, the two sort of mirror each other.

How about Ebony?

When you are a teenage girl like Ebony, you are in your body and not inhibited by the amount flesh you are showing off. It's summer and it's really hot out and Ebony just goes with that in the way she dresses. Also, Ebony dresses in a mainstream trendy manner, as opposed to Kol and Adam, who are much more on the outside and dress in grungy style.

How did the 2010 costumes highlight how these characters changed over eleven years?

There were different things. We dressed Kol in way that it made you feel that he’d been emulating Adam in a way. It was a way to note this period of longing in his life.

Kol (Elias Anton) and Adam (Thom Green) in Of An Age

Kol’s dance outfit really stands out in the story. How did you create it?

I designed and created it with a costume maker. The two Latin dance costumes and Hattie's wedding dress were made from scratch. With the dance costume, we first created a toile to make sure it fit and all the lines were right. I remember Goran seeing Elias in the toile for the first time. He was over the moon because he was seeing in real life this vision which he’d had in his head for so long. When we constructed it, we wanted to give it a homemade feel. Kol was not someone who had the money to buy expensive costumes, so his outfit had to feel like something his mum might have sewed up for him. That’s why all the crystals are glued on the way they are.

How do you handle fitting the costumes?

During fittings, I worked closely with the actors because I wanted the costumes to feel authentic, and not just like stuff you put on people. I try to make the process malleable so there's lots of input from Goran and the actors. That way everyone could find this happy medium where the fittings felt organic.

How was the overall production?

It was possibly the best experience I've had working on a film. Sometimes you get to experience working on something that feels quite magical. I think that the film’s subject matter inspired the whole crew and cast. It is a story about something so vulnerable and sincere that everyone connected to it. Sure, it is about sexuality, but it also transcends that. The story made everyone come on board in this beautiful way.

What would you like audiences to take away?

I hope they just relate to these characters at a fundamental level, that they make a genuine connection with them. That is what great storytelling is always about.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.