Was A $500 Dress The Silent Star Of HBO’s The Undoing?
A controversial opinion about something other than THAT green velvet coat
Warning: this article contains spoilers
It wasn’t all about Ms Kidman’s stellar acting, her understated bohemian-luxe wardrobe, or the beauty of Manhattan in the winter. It wasn’t even the outright sexiness of Matilda De Angelis’ mysterious Elena. The Undoing was about three beautiful men and a cheap(er) dress.
Reflecting on the HBO six-parter, I can’t help but feel everyone has been distracted by focusing on just one obvious aspect of the show. Yes, Nicole Kidman’s wardrobe was amazing. But wasn’t it always going to be? She is rich, elegant, model-tall. Everything is going to look fabulous on her figure and against her magnificent Botticelli waves. Her metallic Givenchy gown is perfection — to the point I googled it to see if I could ever afford such a piece when I have no Reardon school fundraiser to attend. (I think the fact I wouldn’t even bid a tenner on the glass of water that kicked off the auction —with a starting bid of $1,000—answers that question nicely).
Though the Undoing was slow in parts and there was no huge plot twist, surprisingly, I enjoyed it. In retrospect, I think I persevered in watching the show in the unrequited hope that Ismael Cruz-Córdova and Édgar Ramírez would be given more screen time than the repeated shots of De Angelis having her head smashed in with a sculpting hammer. How could the chiselled perfection of the widow Fernando not justify at least a few more scenes of his extreme beauty? His lack of screen time was more tragic that the brutal death of his smouldering screen wife.
Then there was Detective Joe Mendoza. So upstanding, so moral, so manly… so damn sexy. He never completely showed his disgust at the lavish lifestyle the Upper East Side 1% lived; he was too classy for that. But you knew he was rooting to get a rich bastard on the stand sent down. I wanted to hear him really let rip and interrogate Hugh Grant—to the point where, in a fit of anger at Jonathan Fraser’s smarmy self-assuredness, he would slam down his black coffee in anger, resulting in a significant splash down his front leaving him no option but to later change outfit—thus bestowing upon us deserving viewers a scene where it would finally be necessary for him to remove his shirt.
Of course, Hugh Grant dominated the male screen time in the show. He brings guaranteed integrity to the role of posh English gent, even as a philandering husband and suspected murderer — nothing says baddie better than a posh English accent. Remember Ms. Kidman’s cut glass pronunciation in the under-appreciated Paddington 2? Even still, Kidman’s coats stole the show from under the noses of these sexy men, which is the biggest indignity of them all.
But there’s one important thing no one is talking about: Elena’s pleated pink BCBG Max Azria gown. Possibly because her voluptuous breasts upstaged the entire dress. The pretty pale pink against her tousled brown curls and milky skin, offset by a cheap Free People necklace, presented a Grecian goddess look that was sublime. At $468, it is still expensive for a character supposedly from a low-income household. A complete contrast to the wealthy and older attendees, it only made her look more disconnected. But it was a gorgeous dress, more so than Kidman’s 3.1 Philip Lim belted coat which has gained far more column inches.
Maybe it’s the brunette in me. Or nostalgia. I had a similarly coloured pale pink pleated Topshop dress with silver detail which cost less than fifty pounds. I wore it to a wedding in 2001 and ended up giving it away when I realised I would never wear it again because, well, I was no longer 21. The dress Elena wears however can be worn past your twenties. It sold out online within a day of the finalé but the pale blue version has been reduced to £294 and is still available at Saks 5th Avenue.
The fascination with Kidman’s high-end pieces is a telling nod to the power of money above all else. I initially drooled over the luxurious Upper East Side townhouse she shares with her seemingly perfect family and her father’s palatial apartment. But they were quite soulless. The tiny, dark Harlem apartment that the Alves family occupied had more colour and character, although we only ever saw it for a couple of minutes on screen.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t have watched The Undoing if there was no expensively-clothed Nicole Kidman on the bill, or a typically charming Hugh Grant, or Donald Sutherland looking like a cross between the archetypal powerful patriarch and Dracula. Not forgetting the massively expensive wardrobe and brooding characters overlooking a Manhattan winter from their proverbial glasshouses. It also being winter in real life made it a ratings winner and inspiration for daily luxe dressing even with nowhere to go.
Due to the time difference, each new episode aired in the UK at 2am. Snuggling down on the sofa at 9am on a Monday morning to watch it uninterrupted while everyone else was busy working felt like a small defiant pleasure. While the storyline dragged slightly, the acting and aesthetics were at the top of their game. Not being an over-complicated storyline made it perfect daytime viewing in that respect.
So who did kill Elena? I can confirm it was Grace’s green velvet coat. Such a tragic figure, divisive and never really achieving the mass recognition it deserved. Heralded as a questionable fashion icon one moment, lampooned the next as the greatest crime against fashion on screen, it divided fashion editors and the audience alike. Such confusion only paved the way for an existential crisis of sorts. Leading the way for it to commit an act of passion, bludgeoning Elena and in the process ruining her outfit which nobody took any bloody notice of anyway.