Exclusive to Clothes on Film, Leesa Evans explains the tricky art of dressing six very different comic characters in Bridesmaids, i.e not overselling the humour.
Leaning primarily to comedy, Leesa Evans has been lead costume designer on over twenty films, including American Pie (1999) and Josie and the Pussycats (2001). She has also worked with producer Judd Apatow several times, e.g. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Get Him to the Greek (2010) and now Bridesmaids (2011, directed by Paul Feig). “I have a great working relationship with Judd Apatow,” Evans confirms “When he asked me to design the film I was thrilled to do it”.
Crammed with about as much riotous cringe humour as anyone could take, Bridesmaids centres on lovesick and near penniless Annie (Kristen Wiig), maid of honour to lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) and the disastrous turn of events that follow with each pre-wedding rite she encounters. Chaos ranges from a spiteful ‘get to know you’ tennis match with the bride’s soon-to-be sister in law Helen (Rose Byrne) to a multiple attack of food poisoning in a pristine bridal shop. Evans insists, however, that costume in comedy need not be conspicuous to achieve its goal.
“Sometimes I feel that because the film is a comedy I consciously do not do comedic clothing because it can be too much on main characters. In some cases it adds to the character by establishing who they are but I think it needs to be done with a light touch”.
Leesa Evans was joined on the film by Christine Wada as co-costume designer. Having previously worked as Evans’ assistant, Wada’s responsibilities on Bridesmaids ran in tandem with her own. “We are great friends and always wanted to do a film together and this was the perfect opportunity. We collaborated on day players and background as well as on some main cast”. The overall costume budget was $550,000 for purchases and rentals. They had around twelve weeks of prep for the shoot.
The characters heading up the story all have a subplot to work through, facilitating six distinctively separate costume looks. Their differentiation is broad though not obvious. These are exaggerations of believable people. The narrative only works if we can invest empathetically with each of them.
As central protagonist Annie, Wiig is swiftly established as someone trapped in the past. An inability to accept her best friend is ‘moving on’ can be read in Annie’s pretty if somewhat outmoded attire of too short mini-skirts/dresses and blazer style jackets with rolled up sleeves – a very early nineties aesthetic. “It’s that part of Annie that never grew up,” considers Evans. “In her thrift store finds and high school clothes. I thought it made Annie feel like a fish out of water in Helen’s world”. Annie’s A.P.C gold apple pendent, the “BFF necklace”, a gift from Lillian in their teenage years, is a further sign that she cannot let go.
‘Fish out of water’ Annie is highlighted in the yellow and white piped Lacoste tennis outfit she wears for her first and most physical showdown with Helen at a country club. Ironically it is one of the most covetable items from the movie. “I love that vintage Lacoste tennis dress; it was gem of find at Universal’s costume house”. Tantalisingly this does suggest that the garment has been worn in at least one other film.
As with Annie, Evans had clear intention of retaining the rest of the troupe’s costume iconography, “Lillian has a real sweetness and is the bride to be so we played up the pretty dresses & feminine tones. Helen is that girl who buys clothes in outfit form, head to toe directly from the fashion magazines and chic boutiques. Rita’s (Wendi McLendon-Covey) outfits all stemmed from a Diane von Fürstenberg wrap dress; sexy & figure flattering. Becca (Ellie Kemper) is preppy through & through; she loves pastels & all the girly clothes”. For Megan, Melissa McCarthy came on board with such a defined view of her character that Evans “just tried to keep it simple”, describing the character as “all function and no fashion”.
Evans created the eventual wedding dress reveal as bridal fashion run amok, along with a completely different set of outfits for Bridesmaids’ print marketing. “The filmmakers did not want to give away the comedy of the wedding dress and we wanted the poster dresses to be everything you imagine bridesmaids would look like and more!”
Even though the dress seen on Lillian in the finale is hilariously OTT, some wilder ideas remained on her drawing board. “There were quite a few other versions during the sketch process that we were thinking about,” Evans admits. “But in the end it felt like it needed to be something believable that could be partially dismantled & fixed by Annie to end on the perfect dress”.
That another dress design was used for the poster campaign draws attention to how important it is to analyse costume exactly as seen in the finished film; even apparently identical garments can be altered from publicity photographs to their eventual appearance on screen.
With thanks to Leesa Evans.
Bridesmaids is released in the UK on 22nd June.
© 2011 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.