Costume designers found inspiration and faced challenges in creating the looks that fit western ‘True Grit,’ the futuristic ‘Tron: Legacy’ and the fantastical ‘Black Swan,’ among others.
In elegant costumes, Angelina Jolie recalls a glamorous Grace Kelly in “The Tourist.” (Peter Mountain / Columbia TriStar / June 15, 2009)
From the lava-like raw-linen tunic inspired by avant-garde Japanese design in “The Tempest” to the Rodarte-designed twisted tutus in “Black Swan,” the fashion in this holiday season’s “prestige” films is notable for historical references and inventive approaches to traditional costuming.
Here we talk to costume designers about the inspirations ( Grace Kelly and Comme des Garçons), headaches (1930s vintage styles and dense, 32-ounce wools) and triumphs (delicate wings and illumination technology) of working on six stylish new films.
“True Grit,” opening Wednesday, is Joel and Ethan Coen‘s take on Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a headstrong young girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who sets out to avenge her father’s murder in 1870s-era Arkansas and Indian Territory. She hires one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn ( Jeff Bridges) and, much to his chagrin, joins him on the trail.
Cutting a wide swath through the wild frontier, they cross paths with outlaws, snakes and a cocksure Texas Ranger named La Boeuf ( Matt Damon). Thanks to costume designer Mary Zophres, the look of the characters along the dusty trail is intoxicating. She spent two months researching the project at Western Costume in North Hollywood, studying original photographs, diaries and books such as “Calico Chronicle: Texas Women and Their Fashions 1830-1910.”
Zophres wanted Cogburn to look “iconic without being fancy. “One thing that bothers me about some westerns is that they are too slick,” she says. His shirt was a replica of a Union Army issue, and his coat was designed to look like a Civil War blanket. (Zophres sourced wool from Europe, because she wanted a 32-ounce fabric that was produced in the U.S. in the second half of the 19th century but is not available in the U.S. now.) With his signature fringed buckskin jacket, La Boeuf is the dandy of the bunch, but it is Mattie’s trail outfit that really inspires. Her oversized green coat cinched with a rough-hewn belt and Stetson “Boss of the Plains” hat is Prada fall/winter 2009 meets Hermès spring 2011.
“Men were not wearing belts in those days,” Zophres says, “but they had belts that tied their saddle rolls together. So that’s how I pitched it, that she could have wrapped that around the waist. It was really cute. I kind of want that outfit.”
The backdrop for this 1930s story is the relationship between speech therapist Lionel Logue ( Geoffrey Rush) and the reluctant Albert, Duke of York, who must deal with a debilitating stammer in the years before he becomes King George VI.
Costume designer Jenny Beavan commissioned bespoke suits for Albert and “off-the-peg” tweeds for Logue. Albert’s wife, Elizabeth ( Helena Bonham Carter), wears the charming, softly colored tie-front blouses, long skirts, fur-trimmed coats and feathered hats of the day. (It’s easier to find 1930s vintage in the U.S. than in Europe, Beavan says, because America did not experience the devastating bombings that ruined much of the European landscape during World War II.)
But the biggest fashionista in the film appears only briefly: Wallis Simpson ( Eve Best), the controversial American divorcee who captures the heart of Albert’s brother, Edward VIII, and costs him the throne. She is dressed for a dinner party at Balmoral Castle in an aubergine off-the-shoulder gown and a necklace with a zipper pendant worn over her bare back. The piece was borrowed from Van Cleef & Arpels and is similar to one Simpson commissioned from the jeweler in the 1930s.
At its best, “The Tourist” recalls elegant 1950s-era Alfred Hitchcock films with Kelly, such as “To Catch a Thief.” At its worst, it’s reminiscent of the kind of slick perfume commercials you see on TV this time of year. But there’s no denying that the costumes, in the hands of Colleen Atwood, are resplendent.
The film follows Frank Tupelo ( Johnny Depp), an American tourist in Italy caught up in a web of mistaken identity and international espionage. He’s a hapless math teacher from the Midwest, and Elise Clifton-Ward ( Angelina Jolie) is his glamorous heroine, who first appears on screen in a camel cashmere stole, long gloves and a tight skirt accented with an orange sash in back that swishes as she walks.
Jolie’s sleek look, all neutral colors and rich fabrics, was inspired by Kelly’s elegance, says Atwood, as well as the fashion photographs of Richard Avedon and Louise Dahl-Wolfe. The sash was pure seduction. “It reminded me of wild animals, how they have a flash of color.”
All of Jolie’s costumes were designed and made by hand, except for a 1950s Charles James dress Atwood found at the Los Angeles vintage store the Paper Bag Princess. (“I couldn’t resist,” Atwood says.) The costume designer collaborated with Salvatore Ferragamo on Jolie’s shoe wardrobe, including a pair of gold heels ($750) that were produced for Ferragamo boutiques. And that antique diamond choker Jolie wears with her Belle Époque-inspired black tulle ball gown was adapted from a tiara from Robert Procop’s private collection.
A former Asprey executive, Procop has been making pieces for Jolie for years. And it was Asprey, of course, that tapped Jolie to design a line of fine jewelry last year, so it should come as no surprise that there are several Asprey clutches and jewels in the film as well. That’s synergy for you.
In Julie Taymor‘s version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the lead character Prospero has been transformed into a woman (Prospera), a queen who is banished to a deserted island with her daughter Miranda, where she uses her sorceress powers to shipwreck the members of court who sent her there.