How Janelle Monáe became the style icon of Glass Onion: From quirky pop princess to stylish scene stealer
That’s it, the votes are in. Janelle Monáe has been publically crowned as the best thing to come out of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a film which features Daniel Craig as a camp Southern American detective alongside a bumper crop of other actors, actresses, singers, former WWE fighters, worldwide tennis champions and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s only there to say “dong”.
But Monáe was by far the best bit. If the Twittersphere is anything to go by, at least.
Glass Onion marks the second installment of Rian Johnson’s “Who Dunnit” film series which, thanks to its carefully positioned release on Netflix just in time for Christmas, has been viewed by just about everyone and anyone over the festive period - apart from your snoozing grandad who fell asleep in the first 30 minutes.
The film tracks an eclectic group of individuals (Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., to name a few) as they vacation on the island of their extremely wealthy genius friend (Edward Norton), only to discover that an individual has been murdered. Chaos ensues.
Many have had a lot to say about the movie - including Ben Shapiro, who hated it, in case you were wondering - but not a bad word seems to have been spoken about the performance by Monáe. And even less so her outfits, which steal scenes almost as often as she does.
If you didn’t know already, the Grammy-nominated singer-turned-actress is just as stylish in real life. In fact, her OTT irl dress sense leant itself easily to playing a voguish tech billionaire.
Take some of her looks from the press tour, for example: For the Netflix screening, Monáe arrived in a black leather coat and matching black leather waistcoat dress, with a beret, glasses and black turtleneck to complete the look. It was Steve Jobs meets Emily in Paris. And her US Premiere gown, a vision of black and red feathers, wouldn’t have looked out of place next to Elon Musk’s costume this Halloween.
She’s extravagant, to say the least. But Monáe hasn’t always dressed like an evil genius. Once upon a time she was loyal to skinny jeans, suspenders and a strictly monochromatic dress sense. This was back in the aughts and early 2010s, as part of her rapid rise to fame, when Monáe was all about echoing the influence of James Brown. “I just... I love James Brown,” she said in a 2010 interview. “I did a lot of research and homework. I was born in the late 80s, so a lot of the music that is out now [in 2010] isn’t inspiring to me. So I went back in time [...] To me James Brown was punk, was rock, was soul.”
This was Monáe’s retro phase, a defining period of her early career. By 2018, though, things had changed. Monáe had moved not only into modern day but past it, into the future. The release of her studio album Dirty Computer, and accompanying short film featuring then-girlfriend Tessa Mae Thompson, cemented Monáe as an ambassador for “afro-futurism” and all things innovative and experimental. The album cover features Monáe clad in a diamanté face covering, eyes glazed and shimmering, lit by a halo, the modern day not-so-Virgin Mary.
Monáe’s style became increasingly sci-fi, from her Princess Leia-esque Oscars gown in 2020, complete with a bedazzled cowl, to her alien-like Iris Van Herpen look for the Glass Onion premiere at Toronto Film Festival in September.
The actress still relies on her trusted fashion favourites - black and white, sunglasses and plenty of hats - but she’s also become one of the most forward-thinking fashionistas of the current day.
And she approached her Glass Onion character’s outfits with care, too, liaising with the Knives Out costume director Jenny Eagan. “You know my character is a tech entrepreneur, so suiting is her thing,” Monáe says in a Glass Onion interview alongside Daniel Craig, where the two discuss their costumes, including her structured white suit from act three.
“This suit screamed something... [it] felt like we were going to a dinner party, but I actually have on flats. I needed to be agile, I had to do a lot of running, I couldn’t wear heels [...] We built it around how I could move in it and everything worked with these shoes.”
She was right to take care with what her character wore, after all, Chris Evans’ unexpectedly sexy sweater from the first movie became the defining takeaway of Knives Out, spawning tens of articles, thousands of tweets and an unholy amount of TikTok fancams.
With a film series so primed for headlines surrounding its outfits, and a starlet so familiar with doing it herself, Janelle Monae was always going to be the most stylish part of Glass Onion.