From the onset, “Promising Young Woman” director Emerald Fennell and production designer Michael Perry had decided that bright candy colors would be the foundation for the film.
Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a young woman wounded by events from her medical school years who decides to take revenge on the men who caused her best friend unimaginable pain.
Blues and pinks were key. For the coffee shop where Cassie holds a day job, Perry was inspired by French bakeries. “I wanted that to feel bright with the blues and pinks.” That same color palette filters through to Angie Wells’ work on makeup and costume designer Nancy Steiner’s colors.
The coffee shop is the one place where Perry says Cassie feels safe from the predatory world. But when an old acquaintance from med school, Ryan (Bo Burnham) shows up, suddenly it’s not a safe place. “I populated it in red in different places to give audiences a subliminal head’s up. That all is not necessarily as it seems.” Perry says. The clue is in the shelving with the red coffee cups.
Red also shows up in the bars — in boots and in her shoes. Perry further teased the red in the dean’s office scene by stacking the shelves with red books. “It’s there throughout the movie.”
The dean’s office has a tonal shift with dark wood and a green rug. “There’s two things there because you don’t know if Cassie has done what she said she has. But you also don’t know what’s going on, and is she about to go insane?” The shift represented Cassie confronting authority.
The idea of the contrasting colors was a conversation Perry and Fennell discussed — taking the warm and safe and turning it on its head.
Similarly, with the cabin sequence, Perry set out to use warm wood tones and plaid, giving the audience a false sense of warmth and safety. But red at this point has become far more pronounced and takes over from the candy-colored pastels.
The graduation of the color palette was mirrored in Wells and her work. Coffee-shop Cassie and at-home Cassie wore sheer colors and lighter tones of pink, but revenge-minded Cassie used bolder colors. As the story progresses, the harshness and edge to her makeup become more prominent.
“The color pink played a predominant role in my makeup design,” Wells says. “Cassie’s lips are always some shade of rose, mauve, pink or fuchsia except the scene where she smears it after the video tutorial. We wanted a ‘darker’ look for that so we chose a deep blue-red/maroon shade to remove any feeling of lightness from that scene.”
In a nod to the Joker, that point is truly the descent of Cassie, the transformation point of the character.