HBO's "Lovecraft Country" Star Wears A Lot of Red — And It Can't Be By Accident

We talked to costume designer Dayna Pink to get to the bottom of the hidden meanings behind this show's looks.

Leti Jurnee Smollett style
Photo: HBO

Lovecraft Country is one of HBO’s most exciting new shows right now. For the unfamiliar, the premise goes like this: Atticus “Tic” Freeman, along with friend and not-so-subtle love interest, Letita “Leti” Lewis, and his Uncle George embark on a road trip through Jim Crow America in the 1950s in search of his missing father. We learn about secrets and creepy tales in the town where author H.P. Lovecraft apparently based some of his horror stories.

While the drama created by Misha Greene has spurred many Twitter conversations and garnered rave reviews, naturally, we're particularly intrigued by the eye-catching outfits from brilliant costume designer Dayna Pink. Something else we quickly noticed? Leti, played by Jurnee Smollett, often shines in red. From her vintage ‘50s looks down to her beauty choices, she stands out in the bold color in bright shades or subdued versions like burgundy.

Since executive producer Jordan Peele doesn’t arrange things by accident, I wondered if he lent a hand in this color choice. He loves symbolism and colors with meaning, as seen through blue, red, and grey in Get Out. So we investigated the various meanings of red and spoke to Pink to connect the dots... (spoiler alerts ahead)

Leti Jurnee Smollett style

The History and Symbolism of the Color Red in the Plot of Lovecraft Country

In this show, red has multiple meanings, but especially regarding danger, and magic, and religion.

Aside from representing passion, love, anger, and other extreme emotions, the color red is rooted in magic and religion. If you believe in such things, or at least enjoy hearing about them, this makes sense to utilize in a show about magic, spells, and monsters. According to some accounts, red symbolized super-human heroism to the Greeks and has a significant place in Christianity — the color of Christ’s blood who was crucified. Red was also a rare and expensive color, following purple, which may have enhanced its magical and powerful qualities. Eventually, Tic will learn about his ancestry and role in an order that involves religion and magic — The Sons of Adam through Titus Braithwhite.

Red also supposedly awakens one’s physical life force. It’s associated with a pioneering spirit and leadership qualities, which Leti displays throughout the series so far. Spoiler: In episode 2, she dies and comes back to life. As a result, she seems to be able to connect with the dead, thus somehow giving a physical life force to the side of the non-living.

Look closely and you’ll notice red is all around Lovecraft Country in episode 1 — the barns and the children playing with red ribbon. Since red is also a color of danger, this foreshadows danger ahead.

Leti Jurnee Smollett style

The Meaning Behind Leti's Red Outfits

Now let’s look back at Leti’s outfits. In the first two episodes, we see Leti wearing the most red. At a block party in Chicago, Leti’s first appearance is in a ‘50s skirt and burgundy sleeveless top with a sleek V-neck cut — complete with matching lipstick and nails. The final touch of red is in her striped petticoat, which we get a peek at as she dances. It’s Leti’s first look, so we can take this as a foreshadowing of not only her impeccable style but also of how Leti reflects the meaning of the color.

For example, red is also associated with a high value of expressing oneself, fundamental physical needs, and the will to survive. These are core qualities of Leti’s character. As we see in her stylish looks of bright red pedal pusher pants and sleeveless tops accented with red pockets and collars, she has fun style choices that speak to an adventurous spirit as a photographer and someone who isn't afraid to stand up for herself and her artist friends against racism.

Leti’s character is strong and bold but vulnerable and loving. She wants to help fellow Black artists, and she deeply cares about Tic. Red also denotes love, and Leti shows this through the show by trying to make amends with her sister and help her community, as well as Tic. We learn in episode 2, while the trio is trapped in a room that her deepest fear is abandonment. Leti, donning red lipstick and nails, talks about her mother often leaving home and coming back late, until one day she didn’t. At that moment, we have a deeper understanding of Leti’s vulnerability.

Leti Jurnee Smollett style

According to Pink, she used red as a pop of color for Leti in obvious and unobvious places. “The red capri pants in the first episode really symbolize how strong she is and separate her from her fellow travelers. The bolder red of the equestrian vest and lining of her jacket is a reveal when she takes the jacket off at the table.”

Another interesting thing to note is that in Leti’s first sexual encounter with Tic in the bathroom, he’s the only one who sees red in her wardrobe. “A little extra secret is the lining of her teal fringed dress at the party," Pink says. "The entire skirt is lined with a bright red that can only be seen at moments in the bathroom. It served as an unseen layer to her that only Atticus gets to really see."

A lot happens in Lovecraft Country. One thing’s for sure though: the costumes serve more than just looks.

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