Interview: Discussing ‘One True Loves’ with Costume Designer Elaine Montalvo

Awards Radar recently got to chat with Elaine Montalvo, the costume designer responsible for capturing the journey of Emma Blair in the new film One True Loves

Based on the novel by NY Times bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid, One True Loves follows Emma Blair, who is suddenly forced to choose between her presumed dead husband and her new fiancé. The series stars Phillipa Soo, Simu Liu, and Luke Bracey.

In this interview, Montalvo gives us a glimpse into her background, how she transformed the characters, and the critical role the color palette plays in the film.  

Can you tell us about your background?

Elaine Montalvo: I grew up in the agricultural town of Madera, near Fresno, in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California. I was interested in many disciplines in school and approached college with an open mind. I attended UC Berkeley for undergraduate studies, where I double majored in Film Studies and Psychology. While there, I explored set design and costume design classes as electives because I wanted a better understanding of everything that goes into visual storytelling. I continued my studies in the Master of Fine Arts program at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, where I pursued costume design and creative writing, again an interdisciplinary focus combining two subjects of interest.

How did you get involved with One True Loves?

EM: I had previously costume designed a movie entitled Christmas Again with director Andy Fickman and producer Betsy Sullenger. We loved the collaboration on that and couldn’t wait to work together again. In the spring of 2021, Andy and Betsy sent me the script for One True Loves, and I immediately wanted to be part of this incredible team and tell this moving story.

You designed the two men in Emma’s life, Jesse and Sam, in ways that clearly differentiate them. How did you achieve this?

EM: It was important to respect the different and unique personalities of the two men in Emma’s life and to represent their lifestyles. Jesse is rugged and confident in denims, t-shirts and boots. He is naturally comfortable in the outdoors and near adventure. Sam is thoughtful, clean-cut, and modestly professional on a teacher’s salary. His collared shirts, sweaters and sneakers are attractive but practical and understated. 

How did you show Emma’s journey through her costumes?

EM: I explore the emotional journey of Emma as she evolves through life, facing unimaginable challenges. Emma is first depicted as a free-spirited youth–casual and lighthearted, wearing joyful, uncomplicated summer clothes. In her world travels, she packs with simplicity, as she’s spontaneous and unburdened in life. Her wedding to Jesse represents the ultimate carefree romantic moment. Emma wears a timeless, perfectly form-fitting yet effortless lace dress against the backdrop of an Eastern coastal lighthouse. When grief strikes, Emma’s clothes become loose and engulfing, like a cocoon to protect herself from the outer forces beyond her control. Oversized sweatshirts and sweaters once belonging to Jesse are now worn by Emma, the widow in a desperate need for comfort. As Emma painfully struggles through emotional depths and finally re-emerges, I gradually bring a hint of springtime into her outfits. Her silhouette becomes strong and feminine again with an occasional dress and pop of color.

What role did the color palette play in this film?

EM: A vital step of my costume design approach was control of color palette. During the flashbacks of the teen years, I used bright primary colors. In the beach scenes when Emma and Jesse are newly in love and living in California, colors are pure with occasional vividness. When Jesse proposes marriage to Emma, she wears a bright pink bikini that evokes a blissful energy. The colors of their wedding are light, airy and romantic. During grief, Emma’s world is depicted in muted and drab tones. Throughout her recovery, Emma’s colors transform from autumn to spring, regaining a liveliness once thought impossible. 

What are your favorite looks that you designed for One True Loves?

EM: I especially enjoyed designing the date looks for Emma and Sam. It’s a triumphant time in Emma’s life when she’s capable of falling in love again. On one particular night after a music event, she emerges strong and stunning in a luscious red dress. Sam is in a crisp white shirt and midnight blue suit. They’re in harmony and look like they belong together. The scene turns out to be a turning point in their story, and their costumes enhance that moment.

What was your biggest challenge in this project?

EM: My biggest challenge was delineating the flashbacks in the story with the current timeline. The movie switches frequently between past and present, with some of those memories going back several years. I approached the designs carefully, never losing sight of the core personality and style of each character, yet depicting change in the clothing choices as each person evolves through life. 

Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you’d like to share?

EM: Some of my upcoming projects include a short film entitled The Kill Floor, which I costume designed and produced with writer/producer/director Carlos Avila. The drama explores the neglect of worker safety in meatpacking plants during the pandemic. It will screen in several film festivals this summer and on PBS in September. Currently, it holds the Audience Award from the San Diego Latino Film Festival. Flamin’ Hot, the Searchlight feature directed by Eva Longoria, will air June 9 on Disney+ and Hulu. It won the Audience Award at SXSW this past March. The film tells the story of a Frito Lay janitor, Richard Montañez, who rose up the ranks against all odds by helping to make the snack Flamin’ Hot Cheetos a global success. 


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Written by Betty Ginette

Oscar Sunday is my personal Super Bowl.

I cover behind the camera artisans, and love to hear about filmmaking magic behind the scenes.

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