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A meeting of muses — a first look at Jonathan Anderson’s designs for Challengers

Love triangles? Tennis whites? Loewe? What more could you want from Luca Guadagnino’s latest film...

21 Jun 2023

Last night, there was a certain inevitability to surfing the web. At some point, somehow, your scrolling was destined to land upon a screenshot taken from Luca Guadagnino’s new film, Challengers, the trailer for which dropped yesterday evening, setting the internet on fire in the process.

The specific screenshot in question is one of Zendaya perched on the end of a bed alongside her co-stars Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, who are both attached to her neck as the trio prepare for some kind of sexy tennis-based ménage à trois. Oh, yeah, the film is also about tennis — specifically a love triangle between three tennis pros, and knowing Guadagnino, there will be queerness, heartbreaking and actual bone-breaking in the process.

Zendaya as Tashi in Challengers, directed by Luca Guadagnino

/ Niko Tavernise / Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Aside from the sultry screenshot doing the rounds, the trailer has also made waves because it gives audiences their first peek at the costuming, which is the work of esteemed British fashion designer Jonathan Anderson.

Anderson, who is the creative director of Loewe, as well his own eponymous brand, J.W Anderson, has been attached to the project since March 2022. However, the collaboration between him and Guadagnino has been fated since well before then. Here’s how it all came together...

Luca Guadagnino’s stylish past

Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts in A Bigger Splash (2016)

/ Studiocanal

Guadagnino has an eye for style. Anyone who has watched any of the Italian director’s previous work, from Suspiria to Call Me By Your Name, to Bones and All and A Bigger Splash, will know that. So Challengers is far from his first foray into merging fashion with film. It is also not his first experience in picking a favoured creative director to curate the looks.

Belgian designer Raf Simons was recruited to work on the costuming for two of Guadagnino’s previous works, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, both starring Tilda Swinton, and the looks were widely praised.

Guadagnino has also lent his lens to the fashion world before, having directed short films for the likes of Zegna, Dior, Fendi and Jil Sander (Raf Simons also happened to be Creative Director at Jil Sander from 2005 to 2012 and Dior from 2012 to 2015, Luca is nothing is not a loyal collaborator), as well as mid-length film The Staggering Girl, starring Mia Goth, Kyle MacLachlan and Julianne Moore, for Valentino in 2019.

Similarly, Anderson is no stranger to bringing media into his collections — the J.W. Anderson brand has forged multiple successful collaborations inspired by cultural institutions, including Studio Ghibli, Korean manga series Run Hany and the work of American filmmaker John Waters.

A meeting of muses

So an Anderson and Guadagnino collab was written in the stars, now what? The pair needed to actually meet. It’s unclear where they first crossed paths — all we know is that Guadagnino attended a Loewe show in June 2020. By October of that year, he was dressed in head-to-toe Loewe for a Vanity Fair Italia interview.

Then, in 2021, he and Anderson collaborated for the first time on a short film for the fashion house, starring actress Sophie Okonedo. From this point forward, the pair were inseperable, referring to themselves as “dear friends” or “best friends” at every opportunity.

They also share muses — while shooting his latest release, Bones and All, in 2021, Guadagnino introduced Anderson to his leading lady, Taylor Russell, with whom Anderson was immediately infatuated. “I’ve never been so inspired by someone,” Anderson said in September 2022, as he explained why he chose Russell to open the Loewe SS23 show. In November, Russell was announced as a global ambassador for the brand.

Jonathan Anderson and Taylor Russell in January 2023

/ Getty Images

Anderson also recently recuited Chloe Sevigny, another Bones and All cast member, and Guadagnino himself to model Loewe’s SS23 pre-collection in a campaign shot by Juergen Teller. And, of course, there’s the added bonus of Josh O’Connor, one of the three leads in Challengers, who’s been an ambassador for Loewe since 2017. This is a real red-string-cork-board situation at this point.

Game, set and match

Zendaya Coleman

/ AP

With Guadagnino and Anderson’s friendship in full swing and a set of fashionable leads recently cast, it was no surprise when Anderson announced via Instagram that he’d be doing the costuming for Challengers back in March of last year. “Very excited to be working with my dear friend Luca Guadagnino on costumes for his new film Challengers,” Anderson wrote, “such a dream.”

Details surrounding the movie’s plot and costuming were kept tightly under wraps after this announcement, until Anderson provided a little Easter egg in September 2022. He closed his Loewe catwalk (the same one Taylor Russell opened) wearing what appeared to be a piece of Challengers merch. The white sweatshirt featured three crossed tennis rackets (recall that ménage à trois?) and the name of the film emblazoned across the front, as well as the filming location and year of production (Boston, 2022). Zendaya got in on the joke, resharing the image of Anderson to her Instagram story with the caption “iconic”.

Then, five days ago and nearly nine months on from the Loewe show, Zendaya herself was spotted repping the Challengers merch while leaving a Hermes store in central London. Everybody send out your hopes and prayers that Anderson is planning to this into actual merch, because this is the most successful, subtle promo campaign we’ve ever seen.

As for the looks we can actually expect to see in the film, Zendaya’s blue dress from the beach party scene looks like it walked straight off a Loewe runway. The boys’ striped shirts are also as J.W Anderson as they come. There will be some Adidas interlaced with the Loewe and J.W, though, as it is a tennis film after all, and Zendaya’s character Tashi Duncan is seen to have a partnership with the sportswear brand.

A second serving

Daniel Craig

/ PA Wire

Oh, and that’s not all — Guadagnino and Anderson were so happy with their work together on Challengers that Anderson is planning to return to set with his friend once more to costume his film Queer, starring Daniel Craig. It’s based on the short novel by William S. Burroughs written in the 1950s, and released in 1985, which follows an American expat in Mexico (Craig), who becomes obsessed with a young marine.

The second collaboration was confirmed by Anderson via Instagram in January, where the designer posted: “Very excited to be working on costume for QUEER with my best friend Luca Gaudagnino, only one of you.”

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