The Past Meets The Present In The Matrix Resurrections

In the opening moments of one of the trailers for The Matrix Resurrections, a voice says, “We can’t see it, but we’re all trapped inside these strange repeating loops.” At that moment, a SWAT team kicks down a door to find a character seated facing a wall in a slick black catsuit—and anyone familiar with The Matrix universe gets chills, because we’ve seen this look before. From the start of the original 1999 film, which begins with Carrie-Anne Moss in black latex, it was clear that The Matrix would be an exercise in style. We’re hoping Resurrections—the first return to the haunting quasi-digital universe in 20 years—is no different.

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It’s hard to understate the ripple effect that The Matrix had on filmmaking, fashion, and pop culture. Whether you’re a fan of science fiction or not, the original trilogy changed the way that films are shot, the way we see action sequences on camera, and (thanks to original costume design by Kym Barrett) the way we think about what our superheroes should be wearing. Who could forget Trinity’s catsuits? Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe in those extraordinary gravity-defying sunglasses? The many, many floor-length coats in unforgettable fabrications like crocodile or patent leather? And outside of “the matrix,” when we see these characters in “the real world”—if you don’t know by now, look it up, because it’s far too complex to explain here—they’re in these perfectly earthy-crunchy sweaters and slinky layers that speak as much to our COVID-inflected, work-from-home era as to any postapocalyptic dystopia.

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After the many frothy, Southern California–inspired film fashions we saw in the ’90s (think Clueless or Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), The Matrix offered a gothic, futuristic, luxe hacker-core vision of style—one that drew on underground cultures, raver fashion, and BDSM influences. The result was a timeless vision that feels as relevant today as it did in 1999.

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But, of course, there’s a big difference between 2021 and 1999. Social media, September 11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of cyberterrorism, social justice movements, the Kardashians, climate change—the world has changed several dozen times over the last two decades, so a return to The Matrix feels both nostalgic and thrilling. Ahead, speaks with the new film’s costume designer, Lindsay Pugh, to learn more about what we can expect from the film and whether fashion is actually moving forward, or if we’re just caught in “these strange repeating loops.” Let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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Your background includes period mysteries like The ABC Murders and current-day productions like Sense8, which was also created by the Wachowskis, the pair behind the original Matrix. Did Resurrections feel like an extension of your oeuvre or a totally new challenge?

The Matrix is a thing in itself, and I think it’s rooted in my previous work with Lana [Wachowski] on Sense8 and learning over the time we’ve worked together about what she likes and what goes on inside that intelligent brain of hers. As costume designers, our job is to create from what is put in front of us in the script. While actors get cast in certain roles for whatever reason, we get to design anything that is of interest to us.

Tell me about your research and creation process when you begin designing for a new production.

It depends on what the script is asking of me. If we did something set in a historical place, I’ll go and look through costumes in museums, go to portrait galleries, look to history, and then take my references from that. I then make mood boards with colour references and fabric samples, and build a world from that. If the script is asking me to create something from nothing, I’ll go everywhere—to nature, architecture—and see what things bond with the world I’m reading about.

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The Past Meets The Present In The Matrix Resurrections
Keanu Reeves as Neo/Thomas Anderson and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity/Tiffany in The Matrix Resurrections. Photo: Warner Bros.

The Matrix is, in a sense, a sci-fi film about the future. What does “the future” look like to you?

It depends if you’re inside or outside of the matrix. Inside, we are fairly on the same path as we see it and know it, because that is our matrix. If we’re outside of the matrix [this time, for Resurrections], I thought that one shouldn’t see dystopia anymore, or a matrix covered by war. I thought there should be a little bit of charm and opportunity and good life.

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How did you want the costume design for Resurrections to be rooted in the original trilogy, or perhaps diverge from it?

The original Matrix was huge, and a huge pop cultural moment in all of our lives. I absolutely had to take reference from that and pay respect to that. Although we have moved on and Resurrections is 20 years hence, Resurrections is not a direct link to the first movies. We don’t roll credits on The Matrix Revolutions [the final film of the original trilogy] and move into Resurrections. I wanted to be very respectful to the mood of the original films. It would be a lot if I were to reinvent the wheel. And it also wasn’t necessary.

Do you feel like there was more secrecy with this project than with other films you’ve done in the past?

All productions are super secret. We don’t want to spoil the show. There was a lot of secrecy around it, because people were more interested. We just had to be very careful of making sure we didn’t let anything out.

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Was there any costume that the cast really loved, and perhaps pilfered after filming wrapped?

There were a few things that some of them really loved, but the cast was really well behaved. We did have a negotiation about some socks though.

Socks! Were they particularly special, or instrumental to the plot somehow?

They were just socks, and not important to the story really. But they were made out of very beautiful wool and they were lovely. Being comfortable is everything. A lovely pair of socks is a nice thing.

The Past Meets The Present In The Matrix Resurrections
Erendira Ibarra as Lexy and Brian J. Smith as Berg in The Matrix Resurrections. Photo: Warner Bros.

When I think about The Matrix, I think of those fabulous floor-length leather coats that felt so unique and out of step with ’90s fashion at the time.

The statement leather coats that people remember are usually those of Morpheus from the first Matrix. As you have probably recognised, we have a different Morpheus this time around. Therefore, his reiteration gave us all an opportunity to change the way he looked in this movie. There were other things too. There were certain things in this one that make a nod to the original movie, and one such thing was the silhouettes of the outerwear.

There were also some epic sunglasses the first time around. Can we expect great sunglasses in Resurrections?

Yes. When thinking about how to approach this film, sunglasses were a huge thing. It’s very much part of the look of The Matrix. I got in touch with a great designer, Tom Davies from London, and we collaborated. He came up with some fantastic designs that are an evolution of the glasses from the first movie. … I don’t know if the average person would wear some of these frames, but I would wear them given the opportunity.

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The Past Meets The Present In The Matrix Resurrections
Keanu Reeves as Neo/Thomas Anderson and Jessica Henwick as Bugs in The Matrix Resurrections. Photo: Warner Bros.

Are there any style moments from this film that you think will cause an impact?

I hope so! There are a couple of very strong female leads in this, and when they jack into the matrix, they have some great looks. There’s a character called Lexy, and she wears this short, asymmetrical black wool jacket dress that works really well. It’s smart, straightforward, and wearable today.

Trinity had some unforgettable style moments in the original trilogy. Has her style changed in the new film?

She is the same character, but we are 20 years different, and Carrie-Ann is 20 years different as well. We keep the essential style. She still likes motorcycles—she’s still that person at heart—but we do alter that style superficially here and there. I really like the biker jacket she wears at the end, and I like her jewellery.

Jewellery can be such a tough thing to get right for a character.

It goes along with having a character development—there are these pieces Trinity has picked up over the years. I wanted to develop her in that way in order to give her some strength. It’s certainly not the center-piece of her costume, but more a part of her history.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.