Styling a film is daunting enough but add a rapper, a singer, and a professional model to the cast—all figures who've become famously fashionable—and a panic attack feels imminent. That moment, however, never came for Patrik Milani, the mastermind behind the covetable wardrobe for Dope, the Rick Famuyiwa-directed film that follows Inglewood High seniors Malcolm and his friends as they sweat out the aftermath of a run-in with drug dealer Dom, played by A$AP Rocky. Milani didn't have any trouble wrangling the A$AP Mob frontman, along with his co-stars Zoe Kravitz, Chanel Iman, and breakout leading man, Shameik Moore. Milani's bigger task was plugging into the current landscape of teen fashion, through a '90s lens. "It’s not a ‘90s film but they go back and really love that era, which is the beginning of rap," Milani explained to The FADER over the phone . Luckily he had an advantage: "I lived through the ‘90s, so I know that era really well." That knowledge is easy to see in the film's resulting looks. Ahead of Dope's June 19 release date, we caught up with the veteran stylist to find out about his Instagram deep dives for inspiration, and how a few crucial late-night Ebay bidding sessions brought the film's style together.
What first attracted you to Dope?
The whole script is about being an outsider and not fitting in, and I totally got that.
The film’s tagline is “It’s hard out here for a geek.” How do you visually translate the concept of "the nerd" through Malcolm’s wardrobe?
The thing is he doesn’t think he’s a nerd but people who wear oversized clothes think he’s a nerd because he wears tight clothes and he buttons his shirts all the way up. I don’t think he thinks he’s a nerd but definitely his peers do.
Did your vision of Malcolm's style change as the film's casting came together?
When I first got hired, they couldn’t find the right Malcolm so I had some time to do sketches and I knew it could be oversized jackets, Dickie pants, and Nike Air Jordan 11s. Then Shameik Moore came in and he’s kind of an adolescent. His proportions are kind of what I sketched.
Did you have as much luck with the other characters?
I have to say, everybody who worked on the film knows how to carry clothes really well. Because she plays a lesbian, one of the things for Diggy, actress Kiersey Clemons, is that we wanted her to still be a woman. Just like, I’m gay but I’m still a man. So the big references for her was Aaliyah and she wore oversized clothing and men’s clothing but she was still very sexy.
Were there other ‘90s touchstones that you had in mind?
Cross Colors was a company that I really wanted to get, especially for Diggy, and was hard because they’re either way too big or they’re hard to find. So we spent a lot of nights on eBay trying to win bids for these rare things.
Because the movie is set now, I also wanted to incorporate a lot of L.A. brands like Crooks & Castles, Undefeated, and a company out of San Francisco called Huf. I wanted to incorporate modern stuff as well.
What are some of the other brands that you went looking for on eBay?
I started with Adidas but they were so helpful and gave us vintage pieces. Then the Air Jordan 11s that he wears are super rare and I got them from an amazing vintage sneaker store on Fairfax.
Did A$AP Rocky want to keep the Air Jordans after the film?
No, A$AP has really good clothes. He didn’t want to keep anything [laughs]. But he brought a lot of clothes. We’d have the fitting and he’d be like, “Oh I have a pair of black jeans at home,” and of course his fit a million times better. But he doesn’t really dress like his character and he understood that. He’s a great actor as you saw in the film. I’d say all rappers are really good actors because rapping is like poetry. It was great to work with him, we had a lot of fun. We’d laugh during the fittings but he was very professional at work.
Chanel Iman and Zoe Kravitz have also worked in fashion and have their own distinct styles. Did they have a lot of input?
Zoe and I discussed the character before and how she wouldn’t be a peacock and, if anything, she’s so beautiful dresses down to keep people away from her. Chanel, I had met when she was 15 on an Yves Saint Laurent show—I think it was her first job. Chanel was great. She really look the role seriously. All of them made my job easy because they can all wear clothes well and got into character right away.
What’s your favorite aspect of ‘90s fashion?
As rap became more mainstream, rappers started appropriating more mainstream brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. Before rap was mainstream, NWA and Run DMC had a completely different look. My ‘90s was so different from their ‘90s because my ‘90s was a rejection of the ‘80s and was like Helmut Lang, back-to-basic beige. Rappers reinterpreted high fashion into their own streetwear. Rap wasn’t even a category at the Grammys before—which is crazy. Rap became American music. I’m Italian, and in Europe when you ask what’s American music, they say rap.
So did you have to do a lot of research or did you already feel prepared?
I had a lot of reference books—A Time Before Crack and Back In The Days—but the main research I did was going to Instagram and looking under #Inglewood, #InglewoodHigh, #InglewoodProm. I got into all of these peoples’ accounts and started following real kids who were students. Obviously I would pick the people who were more fashionable. That was a lot of really good research. I’m almost 45, what am I going to do? Hang out at high schools? I printed everything and showed it to the director and he was like, “Oh my god.”
Shameik Moore’s style especially was taken a lot from those high school kids. There was one kid who always buttoned his shirt all the way up and he wore vintage letterman jackets in bright red and it was definitely an inspiration point for me to push it further.
I really tried to keep it West Coast. Zoe’s character had a cholo aspect, which was very West Coast. There’s this thrift store that’s amazing on the corner of Melrose and Heliotrope and I got a lot of stuff from this woman. She had great ‘90s stuff and I told her I was doing this movie and she said come back.
Do you have a favorite look from the film?
It’s hard to say because they’re all my babies. I really loved working on Diggy’s character because it was challenging to keep her feminine but keep her cool. I had a lot of fun with Blake Anderson’s hippie character too. What’s funny is that before Blake was cast, it said in the script that he was this prep school guy from USC. He dresses like a hippie but of course he has a $40,000 watch. I thought I didn’t want to do a typical white guy wearing preppy stuff. I have a trustfund friend who dresses like a hippie and he was my point of reference.
Were you pleased with the final film?
I was so pleased. I loved the script and I knew that the director of photographer was amazing but you never know. The first time we all saw it, we had a standing ovation and it was such a feeling of it’s not just me. It’s great.