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Ellen Mirojnick Explains the Role of Costume Designer

Want to know exactly what a costume designer does? Let Ellen Mirojnick, BAFTA nominated costume designer on films such as Wall Street, Chaplin, and Cloverfield explain it to you. Here she talks exclusively to Clothes on Film.

Clothes on Film, Chris: Can you tell us, as simply as possible, what the role of a movie costume designer is?

Ellen Mirojnick: The costume designer is responsible for creating each character’s look that will be the visual translation of the directors’ vision of the film.

COF: Do all costume designers make costumes themselves?

EM: I don’t sew or stitch myself. I am sure there are some designers who do, but generally the designer works with others who drape, cut and sew.

COF: How much autonomy are you given as a costume designer and how much influence comes from other sources, the lead actors, director, etc?

EM: As the costume designer, you never assume you are autonomous; it would be a big mistake. It is your job to understand the vision of the director. You must also understand if everyone is on the same page, meaning if everyone understands the story and look of the film the same way, from the studio or financiers, to producers, writers and director. Then input from the actor is always taken into account. As the costume designer you must understand it all, wear many hats, be honest and create what you believe best serves the characters, the story, and ultimately the film.

COF: Regarding your work on the original Wall Street (1987), how did you costume that film? What was your process?

EM: In 1987, the real Wall Street was conservative. There were men who were bold in a conservative way. I did research and found generally they expressed themselves through their braces and ties and accessories, but it was business as usual. When I read Oliver Stone’s script, I was seduced as Bud Fox was. I felt that Gordon Gekko was about money, power and seduction. I envisioned the character to as sexy as a movie star. I envisioned a monied New York that was a world one would aspire to be living in and felt as glamorous as living in a movie. The process started from that concept and was dissected and designed from that point of view.

COF: What is the most common misconception about your job?

EM:Most commonly people don’t understand what a costume designer is. People believe if the movie is modern you go shopping and if it is a fantasy or period piece it is far more fun. Others think contemporary film design doesn’t require a lot of work, that everyone gets dressed every day and lots of people think it’s fun to shop. Others believe period and fantasy work is far more difficult.

This assumption is wrong. Contemporary film requires as much work, if not more. As a designer of contemporary work, you are creating history. Remember, in 20 years the designer’s work in a contemporary film will be history and reference of that time and place. We are all creating stories with characters that live on. Nothing is easy but every film is a new adventure.

COF: Is there a tendency for manufacturers you use in costuming your films to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ once they have become successful?

EM: Yes, when a film is successful and if it is contemporary and the designer has used an element manufactured by another, others do believe they have designed the film. It is all bogus and they are greedy. If there is an arrangement made beforehand and the manufacturer has been helpful, the designer will sometimes acknowledge a contribution. Yes, everyone wants to get credit and be a star.

COF: You often work with Michael Douglas, certainly since Fatal Attraction (1987). Can you explain why this is?

EM: I met Michael Douglas in 1986 on Fatal Attraction. Wall Street came just a few months after we had finished. Michael and I became collaborators that developed a natural short hand. With an actor it is great when you develop a short hand. An actor needs to feel safe. An actor is an artist who wants the protection that comes from a trusted relationship as there is always vulnerability. It is a productive give and take, and most importantly a creative trust. And because of the mutual respect, it allows us to take risks and grow.

COF: What is your proudest costume achievement on film?

EM: I am not sure I have only one that I’m proudest of. Each film has its own story. I feel blessed to have shared with great passion these memories.

With thanks to Ellen Mirojnick.

Ellen Mirojnick has been costume designer on over fifty films, largely but not exclusively contemporary. She is perhaps most famous for creating Michael Douglas’ look as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. In 1992, she won a BAFTA for her work on director Richard Attenborough’s biopic Chaplin (shared with John Mollo). Most recently, Ellen has created costume design for, among others, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, released on 24th September.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • Robin

    I want to know, where did Ellen Mirojnick get the clothes from the film ‘Nobody’s Fool” ..and where may I get some like them?