Normal People is not a show about clothes. And yet, in spite of a string of period dramas and a new season of Killing Eve released at the same time, the adaptation of Sally Rooney's bestseller has become the most stylish series of lockdown.
Connell's chain has won a legion of fans, along with a dedicated Instagram account (@connellschain) boasting 132,000 followers. Marianne's fringe is the scene-stealing hairstyle stir-crazy quarantiners have sought to recreate with kitchen scissors, and searches for "marianne black dress" surged, according to Google Trends, after she wore a gorgeous spaghetti-strap number in episode eight.
"It's quite overwhelming. We're all blown away by it," says costume designer Lorna Mugan, who is originally from Co Fermanagh and also worked on Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street. "You don't really expect that with contemporary costume design, but I believe that is all tied up with people's love for the drama. The more people can connect with something, the more they'll fall in love with every aspect of it."
Part of why audiences have connected with Normal People is the show's sensitive, understated realism, a crucial factor in everything from the much-debated sex scenes to the naturalistic dialogue to the wardrobes of its two leads, Connell and Marianne, played by Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones.
"The realism was really important, to be close to the book," Lorna explains. "The way they're written, (the characters are)really grounded in reality. It's very honest and intimate, so it felt like we had to not over-glamorise, not make it too gritty. It was very important to Lenny Abrahamson, the series' co-director, that it was going to be real. Hair, make-up and costume all worked very closely together to make it believable."
To achieve that feeling of authenticity, Lorna drew inspiration from real-life students, plastering her mood boards with images of young people strolling through Trinity College Dublin and in small towns across the country.
"I had a brilliant assistant, Siobhan, and I sent her in to Trinity every day for a few hours and she took lots of pictures. She made contact with the students, we got people's Instagram accounts, and we got images, then we'd look on the streets, too.
"With Sligo, that was really important, too - to balance it with what's going on in rural Ireland. There's a brilliant photographer who became our stills photographer, Enda Bowe, who had already documented lots of teenagers in the west of Ireland, particularly for the Debs, so we used a lot of his photographs for reference," she says.
Hence the painstaking accuracy of the outfits Connell, Marianne and their classmates wear to a Debs fundraiser: Marianne and the girls in the best body-con the high street has to offer, the lads in checked shirts tucked into jeans no doubt ironed by their mums. Or the eccentric ensembles at a freshers' party Connell attends during his first days at college, a heady mishmash of assertive student fashion (loud printed shirts, self-serious blazers, ironic corduroy) that will ring wincingly true for Trinity grads.
The team prepared the costumes in a matter of weeks, blazing through shops around Dublin, Sligo and London, and on online retailers. "Charity shops were the big hit," says Lorna. "And some small vintage shops in and around Dublin."
When we first meet Connell and Marianne in the fictional Carricklea, they are kitted out in their school uniforms, a familiar combination of dour grey shirt, scratchy green jumper and navy-and-orange striped tie that is likely to trigger viewers' long-banished memories of their Leaving Cert days.
Lorna explains that the colour palette was carefully considered: the darker tones were specifically chosen to "punctuate" later scenes where the couple meet in Marianne's house.
But the costume team were faced with a challenge when it came to fitting the uniforms on a cast of 20-something actors.
"Some of them are wearing adult clothes," Lorna explains.
"A lot of girls can fit in small sizes but it's not so easy with guys, so there's an optical illusion of school uniforms going on there."
Even as Connell and Marianne undress in the show's famed sex scenes, costume plays an important role. Their first encounter has earned praise for its relatable depiction of teenage relationships, with its nervous laughter and small talk. Another relatable aspect? Marianne's pointedly unsexy bralette, a far cry from the va-va-voom lingerie of most teen dramas.
"With that scene, the decision was to make it about the innocence, the awkwardness - the way Lenny shot it, it was as unglamorous as it would be in reality," says Lorna. "The lingerie wasn't going to be anything exciting, just her little simple bra and probably pants that didn't even match. And the fact that it wasn't easy to get it off over her head, all of that made that scene quite special."
Once the two move on to Trinity, their personal style undergoes a shift - subtle in Connell's case, less so for Marianne. The former outsider seizes on this new chapter as an opportunity for rebirth, trading her slouchy knitwear and dungarees for a grown-up wardrobe of velvet dresses, printed blouses, long skirts and block-heel boots.
"At school, obviously Marianne doesn't fit in, and her look is quite alienating," says Lorna. "When she goes to college, she reinvents herself. She's experimental, and not as alienated as she was at home. She blossoms.
"Her influences, I thought, would be from cultural reference points rather than contemporary fashion. There's a bit in the story where you see them watching a French film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, so I thought Marianne would probably be influenced by her wider interests - she'd be maybe looking at French films or arthouse American films and kind of emulating that style rather than anything contemporary, or dare I say it Kardashian, that the girls in Carricklea or her college friend Peggy would be interested in."
Connell's look, meanwhile, is more static, as he struggles to form an identity outside of Carricklea. Where in school, his slick sportswear helped him stand out from his friends in their distressed jeans and work shoes, he looks ill at ease and out of touch around Trinity in his hoodies and t-shirts.
"In school, he's popular, a sports hero, and he's established as cool there," Lorna observes. "But when he arrives at Trinity, he seems a little out of date around this eclectic bunch of students, especially the chino-and-loafer crowd. He finds it hard to fit into any niche. I think his identity remains very rooted to his hometown, and he's not actually interested in changing that. He always comes back to what he knows."
One item Connell is never seen without is that slim silver chain, an unremarkable accessory for many Irish men that has suddenly been transformed into an object of unbridled lust. Heart-throbs such as Jake Gyllenhaal have been ridiculed for stepping out wearing neck chains, yet when Connell does it, audiences swoon. The chain - which Mescal recently revealed is "just from Argos" - has even sparked a trend, with Asos reporting sales of neck chains are up by 130% year-on-year.
Asked about the chain for the nth time, Lorna gives a weary laugh. "I really don't know [why it's become such an obsession]. I thought it must be something to do with people's love for Connell, people's empathy for the character and the simplicity of it," she says. The selection process was simple: Lorna gathered a range of thin, unadorned silver chains, and Mescal picked his favourite.
"We were all really surprised," she says, noting that the team heard about the chain fixation before episodes even aired in Ireland. "But now that I've watched it, I think it's to do with the cinematographers, Suzie Lavelle and Kate McCullough, who capture details that the eye wouldn't notice, and I think the chain was one of them - we didn't notice that, it was just there every day. It's in the novel, and Paul was keen to have it, because he felt that and the runners would be his way into the character physically. But obviously the chain speaks of class and Connell's place in the world, and class and power are big themes throughout the story anyway."
The chain serves as a reminder of the social divisions between Connell and Marianne - in the novel, it is derided by one of Marianne's friends as "Argos chic" - and also reflects the paradox of his character: stoic yet sensitive, traditionally masculine yet vulnerable, crystallised in a delicate wisp of silver at one of the most exposed, intimate parts of the body.
Marianne's signature accessory, on the other hand, is a statement earring, pulled from a covetable collection of dangling seashells, chunky hoops and stone drops. Lorna explains that Marianne's jewellery is a mixture of secondhand finds and upcycled creations, along with a ring that Lorna herself designed previously. "I think it was just to not have anything too high street - she'd be into sustainability and probably shop in more interesting places. She'd look beyond what everyone else was looking at."
Viewers who have binged all 12 episodes will have noticed a clear trajectory in Marianne's wardrobe, from the self-consciousness of her school days and that flimsy LBD, to her vintage fresher's wardrobe and her breezy summer dresses in Italy, which produced some of the most-talked-about fashion moments of the series.
"When Connell sees her at the clothesline, he thinks of her as an angel, so that's what we were looking for. The shape of the dress was as close as we came to that," Lorna notes of the pretty blue gingham frock. "There's something very fragile about her in Italy, so all those textures, the light-coloured dresses and the white underwear were chosen for that - very simple, very vulnerable.
"And then by the time she gets to Sweden, she's on a completely downward curve, so it's all very heavy, dark and weighted," she says, adding that they intended this to be the "joyless phase" of Marianne's fashion evolution. "Then when Connell comes back into her life, they're older, they're more content. There's a simplicity, there's less fuss and less accessorising. It's very understated."
This is beautifully illustrated in the final moment of the series, where - no spoilers - the two are dressed in grey knitwear reminiscent of the school shirts they wore in episode one.
"That last scene is kind of a nod to their first encounter, where the two of them kiss," says Lorna. "We wanted to show that they've come so far. It's kind of coming back to the beginning."
It makes for a refreshing change to see contemporary Irish style celebrated and discussed around the world, rather than the historical fare of period film or the flash of Eurovision costumes. And while we're just as excited for the exploration of messy relationships, millennial intimacy and power imbalances in the upcoming adaptation of Rooney's debut, Conversations with Friends, we'll also be keeping a close eye on the clothes.