It starts, as many great things do, with the perfect white T-shirt.
That’s what movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is wearing when she first meets William Thacker (Hugh Grant) in his poky travel bookshop in Notting Hill. The perfect white T-shirt tucked into some tailored black trousers, a boxy leather jacket, a pair of tiny sunglasses and – here’s where it gets interesting – a beret. The year is 1999 and minimalism is about to sigh with exhaustion and give way to a terrific, sexy Noughties maximalism, pace Gucci by Tom Ford.
There’s a touch of that in Notting Hill too, but mostly the movie is full of simple, wearable separates. Which is why, 20 years after it was first released in cinemas, the clothes still feel relevant.
Like Anna’s perfect white T-shirt… which doesn’t stay perfect for long. William spills orange juice all over it, and escorts Anna back to his Portobello Road townhouse with the blue door so that she can change into something a little less juicy. The movie unspools from there: a famous, beautiful woman and a regular, floppy-haired guy, trying to figure out whether it’s possible to make a reverse-Cinderella romance work. There’s also a dodgy flatmate in greying Y-fronts and a nude photo scandal thrown in for good measure. But you know the plot of Notting Hill already, don’t you? She’s just a girl, standing in front of a boy, etc etc.
Twenty years on, one-liners like this still zing; the famous blue door in Notting Hill still attracts millions of tourists every year; and The Travel Bookshop owned by William in the film is still the site of countless marriage proposals. But, for my money, it’s the clothing in Notting Hill that remains the true hero.
Oscar-nominated costume designer Shuna Harwood did such a good job that each of Anna’s outfits feels like something you could wear today or tomorrow or next year or forever.
Berets, slip dresses and leather jackets are three of Notting Hill’s staples, and also, coincidentally at the top of trends lists today. And if you have the face and the guts for it, Anna’s beloved tiny sunglasses are still very much a thing. As are strappy naked sandals and denim skirts. And the perfect white T-shirt will never go out of style.
There was also Anna’s Armani-esque grey suit (and tie) from the disastrous press junket, the one at which William pretends that he’s from the magazine Horse & Hound. Later, when they go on a date, Anna wears a pair of high-waisted jeans and a velveteen kimono that wouldn’t look out of place on the Reformation instagram page. There’s also the slip skirt she wears to the sushi restaurant – “I bet you guys have dicks the size of peanuts, enjoy the tuna, it’s really good,” – and the oversized sweatshirt, nicked from William’s wardrobe, that she wears while camping out from the paparazzi at his house.
When she delivers that ‘just a girl’ speech, it’s in a pale blue cardigan, denim skirt and a pair of rubber thongs. These were all Roberts’ actual clothes and shoes. “I remember when we made Notting Hill we got to the most important scene in the movie, which is when she comes to try to win Hugh Grant over,” writer Richard Curtis said last year, at an event honouring Roberts’ personal style. “At the beginning of the day she didn’t like the clothes that had been chosen. She said ‘This is meant to be a scene about someone who is just normal. And this is a costume.’ So she said, ‘I think what I’ll do is just wear what I wore to work.’ So the cardigan and the skirt and the flip flops that she’s wearing are what Julia was wearing when she arrived in her car.”
Everything is unfussed and unfussy, easy clothes for everyday life. Which is what Notting Hill is all about, and why it’s still so popular 20 years after it was first released – a movie about the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people, all while wearing a wardrobe of clothes to fall in love in.