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Modern-day sex workers aren’t walking around the street in knee-length boots, fishnet tights and miniskirts. That’s an outdated misconception.
Instead, the industry, much like the women involved, is diverse, and you wouldn’t assume that law student Christine (Riley Keough, the granddaughter of iconic singer Elvis Presley) is a high-end escort when she’s walking around campus in her messy bun and figure-fitting dress in The Girlfriend Experience (2016-current), first and only on Showmax.
In the daytime, she’s struggling to juggle her studies with her demanding internship programme at a prominent law firm. But when the sun sets, Christine is landing on beds with wealthy middle-aged men.
“Her outfits embody her lifestyle,” says costume designer Caroline Eselin-Schaefer. “Christine is eloquent and analytical. We wanted to create outfits that that would make her invisible at her law firm, but then she’d put on a burgundy lipstick in the evening and fit in with the other escorts too.”
In her own lane
Although Christine was introduced to the world of transactional relationships by her best friend Avery (Kate Lyn Sheil), she makes up her mind about who she goes home with, who she agrees to see and the extent of her relationships.
She might be a pretty face but “she’s in control,” warns Riley. “Christine is liberated. Here’s a woman who’s allowed to have flaws and be a human being. I love playing her because she’s self-assured,” explains the actress.
The directors of the show also push Christine and Avery’s characters to think out of the box as viewers don’t see them as sex workers and nothing more.
“They aren’t perfect. I was very interested in telling the story of a girl who ended up in sex work who wasn’t a victim,” says Riley. “Because that happens and that is something I didn’t know much about. I was like, ‘Really? People would decide to do this as their life career?’ You’re watching more than a girl doing sex work. You are watching a girl trying to figure out who she is, doing all these weird things, and sex work happens to be one of them.”
Bursting at the seams
Because the women hang out with affluent men, they package themselves in a certain manner: they walk with confidence to their steps, their make-up is up to date, they clean up their language and they are classy.
“At the beginning, Christine wears high ponytails to show her modesty and innocence. She has a French bun at the law firm to give her this focused, determined look,” says Caroline.
But as time goes on, Christine gets a sharp haircut to keep her clients in suspense and wanting more.
“To me, I hear ‘prostitution’ and I think of a girl on the street with a pimp in a terrible situation getting abused. I wasn’t aware that there are ones who enjoy their job. I didn’t really know that was a thing,” explains Riley.
Like the new escorts Bria Jones (Carmen Ejogo) and Anna Garner (Louisa Krause) introduced in Season 2, Christine knows exactly who her clientele is and is on a mission to impress them by sounding intelligent yet sexy.
It’s all in the appeal and mystery. The more mysterious and appealing the woman, the more they’re able to wrap their clients around their fingers and pull their strings like puppet masters.
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