back to black biopics
Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in Back to Black (2024). Image: Focus Features

Back to Black: Costume designer PC Williams on recreating Amy Winehouse’s iconic style

16 Apr 2024 | |By Hitanshi Kamdar

From Winehouse’s recognisable retro looks to a custom Dolce & Gabbana recreation, Back to Black is packed with unique fashion moments

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As Sam Taylor-Johnson’s widely talked about Amy Winehouse biopic hit screens last week, reviews abounded about the uneven portrayal of the iconic singer’s life. While we’re queasy about the rise of biopics, and how the genre attempts to refocus stories with an often-exploitative gaze, there is something commendable about the physical recreation of historic personalities – especially when done well. Back to Black might not be the best retelling of Winehouse’s extraordinary life, but when it comes to her style, the film gets it spot on.

To say Amy Winehouse had iconic style is an undeniable fact. Instantly recognised by her winged eyeliner and beehive updo, she is one of those musicians who left as big an impact on fashion as she did on music. From her tiny denim shorts and form-fitting dresses to her peep-toe platforms and signature belts, Winehouse crafted a uniquely memorable persona during her time in the spotlight. Which meant that the costume team had a lot to work with for Back to Black

BAFTA-winning costume designer PC Williams was grateful for Winehouse’s well-documented looks, which helped inform the film’s styling. “Finding reference images of her style and its evolution over time was a really fun and fluid process,” Williams says. “Once we had the images organised chronologically, then it was about picking out the right moments to highlight and the moments to use as inspiration for new designs that fit within her world.”

Amy Winehouse with her husband Blake Fielder Civil at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards
Winehouse with her husband Blake Fielder Civil at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards. Image: Paul Smith/Featureflash

Picking the right moments from Amy Winehouse’s illustrious style history, especially in the context of telling her life story, may appear to be a difficult task, but Williams separated it into three different eras. “There’s Frank Amy (referring to her debut album), Back to Black Amy (her second album) and 2011 Amy,” Williams says. “They all share the love of vintage fashion styles, but Frank Amy uses a lot more colour, prints and patterns. Back to Black Amy becomes very monochromatic, focusing more on black, white and grey with pops of red or pink, leopard print etc. And, finally, there was 2011 Amy, which needed to reflect the woman she’d grown into. The woman who was in charge of her own life and had regained some of the agency that may have slipped.”

Capturing Winehouse’s highly individualistic Noughties style, influenced by the indie, punk, and rockabilly culture of Camden, was key. Williams sourced costumes from vintage stores, scouring the shelves for items that screamed ‘Amy’. “We were lucky that we had a great workroom, so they made some of her costumes also,” says Williams. “I was given access to Amy’s actual wardrobe and Marisa (Abela) wears her pink cardigan in one of the scenes with Jack O’Connell playing Blake Fielder-Civil.” Williams also tapped original designers to recreate a few of her most notable looks. “Dolce and Gabbana very kindly remade Amy’s Grammy dress for Marisa and Christian Louboutin also remade the shoes that Amy Winehouse wore for the Glastonbury performance.”

Amy Winehouse’s curated mix of retro and contemporary style continues to find its way onto fashion moodboards, inspiring numerous modern trends, including indie sleaze, Noughties-revival and even casual preppy. Take, for example, one of Williams’ favourite Winehouse looks from the Frank era: a denim skirt paired with an Adidas jacket and boots. This would tick every trend box today, as would Winehouse’s favoured ballet flats.

Winehouse’s iconic style was highly individualistic and less focused on brands, with the singer often modifying designer outfits to fit her personal style. So how to try and capture her distinctive seductive style yourself? While we recommend a browse through the vintage shops in London, we’ve also scoured the internet for pieces that’ll help you tap into Winehouse’s style, and incorporate it into your everyday wardrobe with ease.

Dolce & Gabbana denim corset dress

Replicate Amy Winehouse’s all denim look with this Dolce & Gabbana dress. Thick black vinyl belt and red bandana optional.

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Rotate Birger Christensen heart-print mini dress

Channel Winehouse’s anchor-print mini wedding dress with Rotate Birger Christensen’s heart-print mini dress. A summery siren outfit, pair with a denim jacket for a day around town or kitten heels for date night.

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Alaïa knitted halterneck mini dress

Winehouse’s library of little black dresses featured numerous bodycon and halterneck iterations. With a bustier-inspired torso and fluted hem, this Alaïa offering makes for a great party dress.

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Saint Laurent leopard print silk midi skirt

Winehouse peppered leopard print through many outfits. Since not everyone can pull off clashing patterns, we recommend pairing this Saint Laurent skirt with a solid black blouse and a chunky belt for a subtle nod to the singer.

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Fred Perry Amy Winehouse Foundation knitted shirt

Based on the singer’s original designs for the brand, this Fred Perry polo shirt feature’s heart patches on the shoulder and will blend seamlessly into your wardrobe.

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7 for all Mankind denim shorts

Take a page out of Winehouse’s off-duty playbook with these folded cuff mid-rise denim shorts. Wear with a tank top to lean into retro style or with a chic overshirt to run errands around town.

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Aeyde Gabriella satin ballet flats

Akin to Winehouse’s beloved Freed of London ballet flats, this satin bow-embellished pair from Aeyde adds a delicate flair to any outfit.

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Jimmy Choo max 150 suede sandals

For a more glamorous party shoe, look to Winehouse’s love of peep-toe platforms. Jimmy Choo’s suede heels come with a dainty ankle strap to make walking in the dizzying high heels more comfortable.

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Read more: Amy Winehouse, St. Lucia and the third album that never was