Clothes on Film Mon, 18 Jun 2018 05:36:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Clothes on Film 32 32 5750550 Superfly Solo Mon, 18 Jun 2018 05:06:39 +0000 MILD SPOILERS

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is far and away the most ‘A New Hope-like’ film in the series yet. In terms of tone, sure, but particularly costume.

What costume designers Glyn Dillion and David Crossman have so expertly achieved with Solo is making a contemporary looking movie set during the late 1960s. Star Wars: A New Hope was released in 1977 which puts Solo’s timeline around a decade before, or likely just over. But hang on, isn’t this a science fiction movie? What does when it’s made have to do with the space opera world being brought to life on screen? Well the seventies in particular was one of the most eclectic and anachronistic costume decades of all time, especially for period, sci-fi and fantasy. There were wide lapels, flared trousers and hostess dresses seen in anything from Edwardian Britain to 23rd century cosmos. Fashion influence bled into costume and while it might not have always ensured the most historically accurate results, they were often downright glorious. A New Hope, flawlessly costumed by John Mollo it should be noted, was not overly affected in this regard…though in truth it was a bit. Thankfully Dillion and Crossman have recognised this facet and kept it alive for Solo. And, yes, there are even some flares on display.

Emilia Clarke as Qi’ri in her 1970s, Halston style dress. Costume design by Glyn Dillion and David Crossman.

A Superfly vibe runs through the costumes in Solo. Not comical, just canonical. To lay this undercurrent entirely at the feet of Solo’s central black character, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), is inaccurate. Much has been made of his colourful capes, which in context symbolise the extravagant suits of the 1970s, yet he is a late addition. Lando rounds out the feeling but it is in place from the outset. One of the most noticeable seventies era pieces is a dress worn by Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) as she is reunited with Han (Alden Ehrenreich) aboard Dryden Vos’ (Paul Bettany) yacht. It’s black, full length, backless, with a thigh-high split, subtle shoulder padding, gold and black belt, and attached gold detail neckline (incidentally the bodice appears to be wrap on screen but actually isn’t). Basically it is straight out of Studio 54, which is also exactly what Vos’ yacht party resembles. Any number of dresses could have been designed for this scene, but this is very specifically space disco. Conversely, bandit Val (Thandie Newton) sports a more action orientated, dare we say Blaxploitation ensemble of black leather jacket with white piping and detachable fur scarf, as seen during the Vandor-1 heist. Plus a prominent afro hairstyle. It is not a million miles from John Shaft’s matching black leather suit worn in Shaft’s Big Score (1972). The ladies of Solo do lead the way in terms of a retro look, but the gentlemen feature prominently too. Which eventually, and inevitably, does lead us to Lando.

Val (Thandie Newton) in her fur topped jacket with space afro – a guise somewhat similar to Shaft’s in Shaft’s Big Score.

Yet before we are even introduced to Lando there are hints of 1970s peppered about the boys’ outfits. Tobias’ (Woody Harrelson)’s huge lapel coat, the shaggy fur coat briefly seen on Han (Lando wears an even fancier one later), not to mention his floppy hair and sideburns. Away from the industrial grime of Corellia and muddy trenches of Mimban, everyone in the film seems to have a strut about them. These are costumes with function, though that does’t mean that’s all they are. Conspicuous display has long been one of the most fun elements of Star Wars costumes – Padme’s (Natalie Portman) fabulous finery in the prequels for example. However this was largely ceremonial garb; the clothes in Solo have more of a purchased-in-an-intergalactic-mall vibe. Lando, though, is something else entirely; a custom man shaped by an understanding that ‘dress to impress’ is always going to be thing in the galaxy.

A Topps card image of Lando (Donald Glover) wearing some subtle flares during the escape from Kessel, alongside his Ralph McQuarrie concept art inspired shirt seen in the film’s final scene.

Lando does wear a pair of flared trousers, glimpsed during the shoot-out on Kessel. They are more kick flare than bell-bottom, but the silhouette is unmistakable: natural waist, long slim leg, kicking out from knee through ankle. Lando is a sci-fi variant of the archetypal street-smart Blaxploitation hustler. Someone like a young Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) in Black Caesar (1973) who adopted the strict sartorial codes of Prohibition gangsters in seventies New York to indicate his wealth and authority. It is not a stretch to imagine that Lando would have spent his first proper galactic credits on clothes. If they do decide to go down the standalone movie route for this character, Lando will probably have a mentor who teaches him the value of a polished appearance. Lando is a black man in the Star Wars universe. How much, if any, racism exists toward black people in space is never touched upon in the films, but if these stories are to echo the politics of our world then it is possible Lando would feel the need to stand out to be seen. Contrast this with the relatively subdued dressing of Dryden Vos. Apart from a very deep white collarless shirt that buttons to the left instead of the right – traditional in women’s clothing – Vos is not especially boisterous in his style. Is he white? He is played by a white actor, but that hardly answers much in this context. Vos is an out and out villain, however, whereas Lando is a scam-artist. Lando’s flashy capes mitigate his criminality with a conscious playfulness.

Solo is a period piece sci-fi, if such a concept can truly exist. Referencing a movie series made in the 1970s-80’s means that the costuming on display can revel in such allusions. Remember that Star Wars is set ‘a long time ago’. Qi-ra’s wide leg trousers seen during the last act of the film are reminiscent of Kirsten Dunst’s beach pyjamas in Roaring Twenties romp The Cats Meow (2001). Reaching into the past to costume what somehow always seems like the future makes perfect sense. As such Solo is the funkiest Star Wars movie yet.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is currently on general release.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

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Costuming Hitchcock: An Extract from Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young Wed, 06 Jun 2018 05:56:47 +0000 Author Caroline Young has just released a fascinating new book entitled Hitchcock’s Heroines (published by Insight Editions). It celebrates and studies the women in Hitchcock movies; their influence, semblance and iconography. What’s more, Young also examines the role costume design plays with these women, both the characters and the actresses who played them, and how they can be interpreted as far more than just ‘icy blondes’. Here we have an extract of the book exclusively for Clothes on Film:

Kim Novak’s grey suit the colour of San Francisco fog in Vertigo, Grace Kelly as the too-perfect woman in Rear Window, and Janet Leigh’s black and white sets of underwear to indicate both good and evil in Psycho – these are just some of the classic imagery of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, where the style and elegance of his leading lady was carefully planned.

Hitchcock was meticulous about the visuals, and as his career developed, he became more specific with the image as, like a painter, he worked to create subliminal messages through colour. Glasses were a common motif, signifying the unmasking of a woman such as Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound or Joan Fontaine in Suspicion, while a bird brooch on the lapel (such as Fontaine’s in Suspicion, on the character of Madeleine Elster in Vertigo, or twin brooches in A Shadow of a Doubt to reflect the theme of doubles, with the two Charlies) acted as a warning sign, as birds in Hitchcock films commonly indicated dark forces about to strike.

Janet Leigh in her character’s risqué yet interpretably ‘good’ white underwear on the set of Psycho (1960). Costume design by Rita Riggs.

While June and Anny Ondra in Blackmail were two of Hitchcock’s early blondes, Madeleine Carroll was the first heroine whose image and character he truly went out of his way to shape on screen and the first of his prototype ‘cool blondes’ in The 39 Steps, with costumes designed by Joe Stressner that incorporated huge bows and collars, as was a Hollywood costume trend in the mid-1930s.

But it wasn’t until Hitchcock’s first collaboration with Edith Head on Notorious, creating a glamorous wardrobe for Ingrid Bergman, that his visual sense of costume really came to the front. It was also the first film he had complete autonomy as director and producer. David O Selznick had produced Rebecca and Spellbound, firing off his famous memos to the wardrobe department to ensure costumes were just right.

After viewing costume designer Howard Greer’s initial sketches for Bergman in Spellbound, Selznick was dissatisfied. He felt they didn’t suit the character, who was in her late twenties, disinterested in frivolity and romance, and devoted completely to science. Clothes also had to match the budget of a woman in her first year as a member of staff, yet she was also to have pride in her appearance and look groomed. “Let’s not have her dressed as though she were a movie star, either as to the richness of the costumes, or as to the way in which hopefully they have been tailored,” said Selznick.

Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946), which was costume designer Edith Head’s first collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock.

Notorious marked the beginning of a thirty-year collaboration between Edith Head and Hitchcock. One of Edith Head’s talents was knowing how to please both director and star, and she was aware that Hitchcock was very specific and would indicate clothing and colour within the script. Ingrid Bergman was to be believable as a secret agent, so the clothes were not to dominate. He also specified a palette of all black and white, with its contrasting combination used to achieve different effects, like making her stand out in a scene where she stands out in a vivid zebra patterned top with sequins and an exposed midriff. “In a black and white film the eye is immediately attracted to the stark contrast of black and white, since other colours become various shades of grey,” said Edith Head. “Visually, she became the most important woman in the room.”

Our eyes follow her as she moves animatedly through the party, topping up her guests’ drinks, with Cary Grant in the foreground as a still silhouette with his back to the camera, in an interesting reversal of the male gaze. The outfit and its revealing bare midriff was also treated with humour. “Don’t you need a coat?” Devlin asks her. “You’ll do,” she replies.

Later in the film, Bergman’s gowns become sleeker and more controlled than the zebra print as she must marry to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring. Head said, “In other dramatic scenes, she was dressed either in pure white or solid black, and true to Hitchcock’s form, these colours reflected her mood.” Alicia’s white crepe dinner gown, with white fur and diamonds like bars around her neck, was designed to be pristine, while her dramatic, long black gown for the party was simple and unadorned, so as not to take away from the tension of the scene as she breaks into the wine cellar.

Publicity still of Grace Kelly wearing a very specifically chosen red dress in Dial M for Murder (1952). Costume design by Edith Head.

It was in the 1950s, Hitchcock’s golden era, when elegant blondes, such as Grace Kelly, became the dominant heroines of his films. Hitchcock first cast Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder, as “she has fire and ice and great passion, but she does not flaunt it.” Hitchcock planned a colour progression for the character of Margot with a bright wardrobe at the start, becoming more sombre as the story progresses, from brick, then to grey, then to black. The contrast between Margot as wife and adulterer is made clear, with the transition from pale pink cardigan and skirt to the vibrant red lace dress and red lips for a fireside embrace. Edith Head said Hitchcock “had strong feelings that colour should never be so strong that it overpowered the scene or the actress. If the script called for a girl in a red dress, that was one thing, but to put her in a red dress for no reason was out of the question in a Hitchcock film.”

Margot wears a brick-toned button-down dress with three-quarter length sleeves on the evening of the attempted murder, but after she is questioned, her costumes become darker. When she is being sentenced for her crimes, she wears a grey dress with a black line leading from around her collar to her belt-line, creating the impression of a hangman’s noose.

Margot’s costumes were designed by Moss Mabry, Warner Bros.’ head costume designer who had created James Dean’s red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause. Mabry designed and tested several different options, especially for the dress in the second scene in which Margot entertains her lover. Mabry said of Grace, “She sold these clothes like I didn’t dream possible, and it was actually difficult to decide which ones she should wear in the film. Miss Kelly knows exactly how to stand, how to sit, and how to walk, and you have no idea how these things can ‘make’ or ‘kill’ a beautiful dress.”

Costume sketch of Grace Kelly’s first outfit worn in Rear Window (1954) – a dress that cleverly subverts expectations of her character’s physical prowess and practical resourcefulness. Costume design by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly was anxious to work with Hitchcock again in Rear Window, and by the time she arrived in Los Angeles in late November for wardrobe fittings, Hitchcock had already instructed Edith Head on what styles and colours she would wear to advance the story.

Sticking with the film’s theme of voyeurism, Grace Kelly’s Lisa is a fashion maven who is used to being watched and admired. Lisa likes to display herself through glamorous costume, with an awareness of creating meaning through what she wears. A pale “peach parfait” nightgown is worn by Lisa as “a preview of coming attractions,” to tempt Jeff to look at her rather than the neighbours. “How far does a girl have to go before you’ll notice her?” she says. She has intimate knowledge of the fashion world, saying “if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to wear the proper clothes.”

When Lisa is first introduced, she turns on the lights one by one to reveal a gown with an off-the-shoulder black velvet bodice and full white silk organza skirt with layers of net beneath. The full ballerina-length skirt bobs up and down as she rushes around the crammed apartment, emphasising how much she dotes on Jeff. But instead of impressing Jeff, it serves to cast further doubt in his mind as to whether she can match his adventurous career. However it turns out that Lisa is resourceful: she packs a frothy, satin negligee into her compact Mark Cross overnight case in order to prove that she can live out of one suitcase.

Lisa’s black, silk organza cocktail dress with the pleated skirt becomes a sombre marker when she starts to believe that a murder has taken place; her Balenciaga-styled raw silk suit in Hitchcock’s favourite eau-de-nil, worn with a white halter-neck blouse, demonstrates that she is an independent career woman. “The suit was the one Hitchcock had first seen in his mind’s eye, colour wise, and it caused a furore fashion-wise,” Edith Head recounted.

Publicity still featuring one of Edith Head’s “attention grabbing ensembles”, again for Grace Kelly, this time in To Catch a Thief (1955).

By the time Lisa sneaks into Thorwald’s apartment, Jeff has found a new appreciation for his girlfriend, realising she is not as frivolous as he thought. She wears a floral day dress, designed to add a sense of vulnerability as she climbs up the fire escapes and clambers over railings. The floral dress also connects Lisa to Mrs Thorwald, whose head is buried in the flower beds.

For her third collaboration with Hitchcock, Grace Kelly starred in To Catch a Thief. Edith Head designed “attention-getting clothes” that dripped in elegance and wealth—bathing suits, sunglasses, tailored sundresses, and gowns with a Delphic silhouette. Kelly was given pale shades—azure blue, lemon yellow, pale coral – to work with the bright, Mediterranean location and progressively “warm up” with the character. “I deliberately photographed Grace Kelly ice-cold and I kept cutting to her profile, looking classically beautiful, and very distant,” Hitchcock said.

While the pale blue chiffon gown had tiny straps, the white evening gown was strapless so as to act as a blank canvas for showcasing the diamond necklace. There also had to be enough fabric visible to show that she was wearing clothes in close-ups. The coral pink crêpe skirt and top, which Francie wears during the picnic scene in which she drives at high speed along the winding coastal road, was designed to be very feminine. In the preceding swimming scene, she had been humiliated by a younger woman, and so now she wants to “make a play” for Robie and look as ladylike as possible, with white gloves and a pink, silk scarf. The colour intensified with the drama, culminating in Francie’s outfit at the masked ball. She wears a Marie Antoinette–style golden wig, mask, and an eighteenth-century gown of gold lamé and mesh. The skirt was covered in golden birds, a motif common throughout Hitchcock’s work, and which would hint at danger to come.

Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), costume design by Edith Head. Day discovered that Alfred Hitchcock was particularly precise about what he wanted to see in terms of costume.

In The Man Who Knew Too Much, Doris Day was also dressed by Edith Head, playing a former singer and doctor’s wife who is searching for her kidnapped son. During a first meeting at Paramount Studios, Hitchcock and Day discussed the clothes she would be wearing, and she found the director was “very precise about exactly what he wanted for my wardrobe.” Hitchcock asked Edith Head to design a tailored grey suit for the scenes set in London, which shares strong similarities to the structured grey suit Kim Novak wears in Vertigo. This suit was a practical costume for a woman who was travelling, while the colour, blending into the gloomy brick buildings and quiet streets of London, would not distract from the plot.

For evening drinks and dinner at a Marrakesh restaurant, Day wears an organdie dress with green sprig design, layers of petticoats, and a matching wrap. Not only did it reflect Hitchcock’s preference for green, but it heightened the sense of the character as a wife and mother. The blue linen shirtwaist dress with a white belt and white basket was designed for daytime sightseeing, but it carries through to the drama in the police station. Hitchcock often visualised a harmony in both costume and set design, and so the colour of this dress complements the palette of blues and sand tones in the Moroccan scenes, standing out against the orange of the Marrakesh bazaar while blending with the pale blue of the hotel room. “I always looked forward to my fittings with Edith,” Doris Day recalled. “She was witty, quick, and very exciting. She dresses actors for the part, not for themselves alone. They weren’t right for me. But they were just what a doctor’s wife would wear. And that’s what I was playing.”

After Grace Kelly left Hollywood to marry into Monaco royalty, Hitchcock was never able to fully shake off her allure. He looked to find another actress who could fill her shoes – first Vera Miles, and Tippi Hedren.

Kim Novak in her “silly suit” for Vertigo (1958), the uncomfortableness of which helped her get into character for the part. Costume design by Edith Head.

Much is made of the coolness of the blonde, and Kim Novak in Vertigo was the most remote and ghost-like. Vertigo, a film about obsession and identity, is often considered to be Hitchcock’s most autobiographical. It is a hypnotic film that mirrors his control over the image of his actresses. Partly inspired by French arthouse cinema, Vertigo was more aligned with the beatniks in the North Beach and Greenwich Village coffee houses than a mainstream audience.

Kim Novak plays both the mysterious Madeleine and the earthy Judy, whose identities are bound by what they wear. For the mysterious character of Madeleine, Hitchcock was very specific that she should wear a grey suit with black heels. He told Head “the girl must look as if she’s just drifted out of the San Francisco fog.” “I hated that silly suit,” Novak later said. “But it helped me to be uncomfortable as Madeleine.”

The beautiful black satin gown and coat lined with emerald green worn in the restaurant scene also helped appease Novak and take away the sting of the grey suit. Hitchcock used colour in Vertigo to paint meaning into every scene. Red is the colour of Scottie’s fears, while green, or ever-green, represents Madeleine (she even drives a green car). The first time Scottie sees Madeleine is in a vivid red restaurant, wearing that emerald cape. Judy is first introduced in a green outfit to link her with Madeleine—a moss green pencil skirt, green sweater with polka dot collar and cuffs (to hint at the red polka dressing gown worn by Madeleine), and a little rabbit brooch at the neckline. When Judy tries to assert her own identity, she chooses a lavender dress or a yellow shirt, but with a hint of green in a scarf and in a skirt to reference Madeleine.

Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest (1959). Hitchcock actually took the actress shopping to the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York to select her attire. The film’s overall costume design was credited to Edith Head.

For Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Hitchcock had definite ideas of how Eve Kendall would look as a spy and kept woman. Hitchcock told Hedda Hopper, “I’ve extracted every bit of sex she has and put it on the screen. Also gave her beautiful clothes. I dislike drab females on or off screen.”

Hitchcock and Saint went shopping at expensive department store Bergdorf Goodman in New York, where they viewed a parade of models in various suits and gowns, and Hitchcock felt like a rich man overseeing her wardrobe, “just as Stewart did with Novak in Vertigo.” One of Eve’s most striking costumes is a black, long-sleeved cocktail dress printed with red roses, which she wore to the art auction. Hitchcock chose red for moments of danger, and these wine-red roses are a forewarning that her cover could be revealed. “He’d done his homework, I’m sure, and he didn’t have the models come out in anything but what he would choose, too,” said Eva Marie Saint.

Janet Leigh as Marion in Psycho was likeable and appealing, so much so that her early death on screen is devastating to the audience. Hitchcock was fastidious in creating a sense of realism for the characters and sent a photographer to Phoenix where they found a girl like Marion, visited her home, and photographed her bureau drawers, her suitcases, and the contents of her wardrobe. Hitchcock insisted Marion’s were store-bought, not just to save money but also to adhere to the clothing budget of a secretary. Janet Leigh and costumer Rita Riggs visited Beverley Hills store Jax and found two shirtwaist dresses, one in cream cotton and another in blue wool jersey, because, according to Riggs, “Hitchcock likes good wool jersey; it reads well in black and white.” There were ongoing discussions as to whether Marion would wear black or white underwear, but it was finally decided that she would wear both, to make a character statement about her good and bad sides.

Tippi Hedren in her iconic green costume for The Birds (1963), as designed, to be ostensively similar to a Chanel suit, by Edith Head.

Tippi Hedren’s experience working with Hitchcock is often considered the pinnacle of his obsession for blondes. For Hitchcock, his ego drove his desire to create a star and mould her into the girl of his imagination in The Birds.

For Hitchcock, the character began with the visual image. Melanie Daniels was a “wealthy, shallow playgirl,” and her wardrobe had to convey this as well as not detract from the ensuing terror. Because of Melanie’s cool, elegant persona, Edith Head designed a pale green wool shift dress and jacket with a similar cut to a Chanel suit. Six copies were made to allow for adjustments and tears during different scenes when Melanie is attacked by birds. To complete the look, Melanie was given a beige crocodile purse, which she never seems to be without, and a mink coat which Hitchcock felt was vital to the character and made her look out of place on the outboard motorboat. At the end of filming, Hitchcock gifted the mink coat to Tippi, which she later sold to fund her wildlife sanctuary, perhaps as a statement on her fraught relationship with the director.

Hitchcock’s films continue to hold fascination, and the look of his heroines still resonates with fashion designers and photographers recreating the sophisticated, tailored fashions of the women in Hitchcock’s movies.

An extract from Hitchcock’s Heroines, written by Caroline Young and published by Insight Editions is on sale now. Images and captions chosen by Clothes on Film.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

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Infinity War Costume Design: The Unfamiliar Familiar Fri, 04 May 2018 09:36:04 +0000 SPOILERS

For anyone with an eye to costume, The Avengers: Infinity War (2018) seemingly takes few evolutionary leaps. This makes perfect sense when we consider the timeline following particularly significant events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Black Panther (2017). Infinity War costume designer Judianna Makovsky (previously on board for The Winter Soldier, 2014; Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, 2016) has crafted a combination of instantly familiar looks for a jam-packed canon of characters where nobody wants to be missed, but nobody should stick out above anyone else either. It’s a real balancing act, which is something we are should sure Thanos himself would appreciate.

Judianna Makovsky really had no choice but to keep the hero costumes worn by the Avengers and friends practically identical to their last incarnation. As a reference what we mean by hero costumes are those worn when going into battle or ‘suiting up’. So, Steve Rogers having a run around the Washington monuments? Civilian costume. Steve Rogers kicking arse in Edinburgh Waverly train station? Hero costume. Actually it’s only a costume for actor Chris Evans; for Rogers it’s just clothes, while his Captain America uniform is the costume. In Infinity War, Makovsky makes most of her stamp with the civilian attire. This is not a movie for civilian costume spotting in any overt way – with so much going on, it just needs to feel natural and a true reflection of character.

Wanda aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) wearing her very on trend high-waist jeans during an impromptu battle (she didn’t have time to properly ‘suit up’).

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a great example of the familiarity concept. From movie to movie, his style outside of the Iron Man uniform has always been somewhat too young for his years. It’s almost like he is trying to look cool. This is not a criticism of the costume designers that have dressed the character, but a facet that accurately echoes Stark as someone who doesn’t do subtle. It’s not a leap to imagine Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) trying to get him to tone down the crisp leather dad jackets and chunky hi-tops that shriek of mid-life crisis. But this is Stark and this is why we love him. In Infinity War he is introduced wearing a boot-cut (!) tracksuit that resembles hi-vis cycling wear crossed with a designer sauna suit. It looks vaguely futuristic which feels correct in a film bursting with so much advanced tech it almost bears no relation to our own world anymore. Stark’s clothing is a natural extension of his Iron Man suit (here road-testing a new ‘nano’ version).

Scarlet Witch aka Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) is another character who we see plenty of outside of her hero attire. Wanda even sports high-waist jeans, a rather risky addition to the character’s wardrobe as they potentially date the movie in terms of fashion. Yet they work on another level – again this connecting of the Avengers world with our own. Difficult when we spend much of the film’s running time zipping around deep space (on occasion it feels more of a Guardians film than an Avengers one). Wanda’s civilian clothing is still the most décolletage revealing of the female Avengers, though this continues a look introduced in The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, costume design by Alexandra Byrne). Before Infinity War, off duty Wanda was, generally, dressed in a short skirt, calf or knee-high boots and a cropped leather jacket. This youthful ensemble probably feels more a part of our world than any other. Stroll around the shops on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll see plenty of Wandas. She is ubiquitous in the best possible way.

The current costume worn by Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) for battle with Thanos’ underlings on Wakanda. It glows with purple. Along with black, purple is the character’s signature colour.

Looking specifically at the hero costumes, it is clear that in terms of colour they have become as muted as they can possibly get. Captain America’s uniform especially is now unrecognisable from his debut in The First Avenger (2011, costume design by Anna B. Sheppard). Indeed the only way to go for the character is a complete costume reset. However this muted palette is correct for the tone of Infinity War, and the beleaguered, inevitable situation the Avengers find themselves in. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) does bring some colour to proceedings, both in Wakanda and his hero suit. Although all over black, when ‘active’ the suit glows with vibrant burst of purple – it absorbs energy, as demonstrated in the movie Black Panther (costume design by Ruth Carter). This colour does reference a recent comic book incarnation, but it also bestows a spiritual presence on Black Panther and alludes to the royal heritage of his alter ego, T’Challa. Beyond Black Panther, Spider-man (Tom Holland) finally wears his updated hybrid suit courtesy of Tony Stark (extra CGI legs), while outside of his decimated sports coat, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) dons the previously seen (and fully CGI) ‘Hulkbuster’ armour. Yet the focus in Infinity War is bringing characters together to fight rather than reboot the look of those we already know. That said it is nice to see Rhodey (Don Cheadle) back on his legs as War Machine, and now wearing pricey Belstaff trousers. Definitely a Stark funded addition to his wardrobe.

Where next in relation to costume for the Avengers is interesting to ponder. For Infinity War’s sequel, Judianna Makovsky is probably going to fill the screen with an intense amount of battle-worn distressing. Nonetheless with the hinted arrival of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and her upcoming origin story being set during the 1990s (costume design by Sanja Milkovic Hays), a blast of vibrant, hopeful colour is likely. Plus if she sticks to Captain Marvel’s origin decade, perhaps a Global Hypercolour tee and buffalo boots too. Off duty only, of course.

The Avengers: Infinity War is currently on general release.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

Ken Takakura Wearing Levi in The Yakuza (1974) Fri, 27 Apr 2018 11:06:41 +0000 The Levi jacket worn by Ken Takakura as Ken Tanaka in Japan set thriller The Yakuza (1974, costume design by Dorothy Jeakins) is not Japanese denim. It was not made in Japan but is nonetheless representative of a time when denim as symbol of burgeoning Americana in the East would take off into the stratosphere, and has remained so ever since.

Although Levi products were imported into Japan before the 1970s (Levi International was created in 1965), it was not until mid-decade that a Tokyo office was established. This was in response to growing popularity of all things American in Japan, especially denim and especially Levi. There was no single factor as to why, though most likely American G.I.’s being stationed in Japan after World War II played a part. Their civilian clothing was predominantly denim and khaki based. This caught the eye of Japan’s, until then, heavily regimented youth. Moreover when the G.I.’s left Japan much of their surplus civvie and Army stock was left behind and sold through trading posts. Being American was cool and young and Japan wanted in. The 70’s was boom time for denim. What we see Ken Takakura wearing in The Yakuza is crossover fashion in a crossover movie. A blending of East and West that functions as a metaphor for the film itself.

The Yakuza was directed by the late, great Sydney Pollock and written by brothers Leonard and Paul Schrader, the latter of which would go onto write Taxi Driver (1976) and write/direct American Gigolo (1980). That The Yakuza was originally intended as a novel is no great surprise; the narrative is full of, admittedly fascinating, exposition and musing on the cultural divide of Japan and America. In context this is mostly centered on the theme of obligation, or burden, or ‘giri’ in Japanese. Yet despite an obvious divide, The Yakuza does more to bring about an alliance between the two cultures and how, thanks to changing attitudes toward the discipline and uniformity of youth in Japan, they were becoming increasingly intertwined.

While the ins and outs of The Yakuza become almost unfathomably dense, the central plot is a straightforward enough. Former G.I. Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) returns from Los Angeles to Tokyo to rescue the daughter of an old friend who was kidnapped by a yakuza crime clan. He enlists the aid of Ken Tanaka (Takakura), who owes Kilmer for saving the life of his sister during the U.S. occupation and must fulfil his obligation. From here on in twists and turns camber like a helter-skelter, but what remains vital, and at the forefront of everything The Yakuza is trying to say, is that both cultures are collapsing into each other. The lines are blurring. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the clothes that Ken wears. Westernised, contemporary and exemplified by a single garment: the Levi denim ‘Trucker’ jacket.

Dark blue denim (not raw) 557 Trucker jacket by Levi worn with upturned, ‘popped’ collar, two welt hand pockets to the chest, Levi Red Tab label on the left hand pocket; jeans, straight leg, likely Levi, in matching colour and weight; lightweight cashmere long-sleeve, roll-neck sweater in pale grey.

This outfit does not have much in the way of screen-time, just one scene to be precise, but is meaningful in terms of how much a man like Ken, who we recognize as ‘old Japanese’ has embraced, or rather accepted, Americana as part of his culture. Ken wears similar clothing throughout the film – an East / West smart-casual combo. Of particular note is a black leather jacket seen when he and Kilmer storm a yakuza stronghold about mid-way through the story. Again worn with popped collar, it in fact fits very similar to the Trucker, as in close to the body and almost cropped by modern standards, although this is less noticeable because jeans and trousers were routinely cut much higher back then. This leather jacket could have even been made by Levi as they were producing items in a similar style at the time and shipping them internationally. Most significant though is what all Ken’s casual ensembles represent: a rejection of his yakuza past, but, and this is most significant of all, not its ideology.

Early in The Yakuza, Ken wears the costume associated with his martial art, Aikido, and in a general sense the yakuza themselves. It is primarily comprised of a ‘Hakama’, which is essentially wide-leg trousers with five pleats to the front and back. He forgoes ‘Bogu’, the protective face mask and armour. Yet tucked inside a blue Harrington, Ken does wear the same bandage-like wrapping as the rest of the yakuza for the sword fight climax of the film. This, according to Sydney Pollock, is there to “keep your internal organs in if you get sliced open”. Function and form, then.

While it was still unusual to see so much American denim, and specifically American Levi, in a film shot and set in Japan in the early 1970s, nowadays this same market is awash, and some might argue entirely kept alive by American influenced denim. As with whiskey, the Japanese have now refined their own creation of a product once seen the preserve of an entirely different nation to the point where it is, depending on your opinion, as good as, better than, or world leader. Big John, the first Japanese selvedge denim producer, took off in the late 1970s / early 80’s and no doubt inspired Levi to drop their ‘Big E’ label as once denotive of high end denim (Big E was in official use until 1971) and instead introduce LVC (Levi Vintage Clothing).

Presently Japan is the world’s most ardent consumer of LVC re-issued shirts, jeans, jackets, waistcoats and accessories from the Levi archives. The genesis of this we saw beginning with The Yakuza movie. Just a few minutes on screen; a beautifully cut, beautifully fitting Levi Trucker jacket on a former member of the yakuza drinking tea and talking giri. Contemporary costume is an essential part of how we consume history because it interprets current worldwide culture and preserves it as a reference we can access many years later. The Yakuza is vastly underappreciated in this regard and deserves to be revisited by a far wider audience.

The Yakuza is currently available on DVD and special edition Blu-Ray.

Screencaps taken from the 2003 DVD release.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

The Alienist: Costume Featurette Provides Glimpse into Gilded Style Thu, 26 Apr 2018 10:16:12 +0000 Netflix have released a short featurette about costume design for The Alienist, giving an overall glimpse at the work of Michael Kaplan and his team in putting together the era of 1896, New York. What is enticing about The Alienist, apart from the fact that it’s brilliant whodunit telly, is that it is set outside of England, which is so often the preserve of dramas such as these. This is NY style at a point in history when those with money were about to get a whole lot more. Expensive, in other words, and if you had deep enough pockets your taste in fashion would echo this.

Check out the video below:

The Alienist takes place during the Gilded Age in the U.S. that covered around thirty years toward the end of the 1800s. It was a time of significant socio-economic growth, as reflected in clothing for both men and women. Hats were ornate and overstuffed, dresses were heavy and rigidly corseted, while suits were narrow and richly trimmed. In this video, costume designer Michael Kaplan also makes reference to the leg-of-mutton sleeves worn by Dakota Fanning as modern-woman-in-a-man’s-world, Sara Howard. He correctly observes that they were a relatively short lived trend, just a decade or less and then pretty much gone for good. There is also an interesting aside from Daniel Brühl who plays protagonist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler on how wearing certain period costumes can affect the way actors walk and hold themselves in their role. All in all a brief but worthwhile watch.

The Alienist is currently available to stream on Netflix.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

Phantom Thread: An Insight into Autism and Relationships Fri, 23 Mar 2018 06:26:15 +0000 SPOILERS

If you’ve heard anything about Phantom Thread (2017, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson), you are bound to uncover a multitude of thoughts on the astounding Academy Award winning costume work of Mark Bridges or the retirement role of Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, 1950s fashion house couturier. But one of the key components to Reynolds is missing from the discussion: Autism.

Reynolds’ (Daniel Day-Lewis) daily dressing routine.

Phantom Thread opens with Reynolds (Day-Lewis) getting dressed to formalities of the era. Polished shoes, ironed trousers, a fresh button-down shirt, with the addition of long magenta socks to introduce the notion of creativity, or perhaps particularities to the character. The scene moves to breakfast, which quietly adds that Reynolds likes things done a certain way even if the rest of the house is not on board. This time it’s his tea. While others take their tea from a typical silver pot, Reynolds has his own Asian influenced teapot and cuplike saucer from which to drink. Of course these things say little more than showcase a human with individuality, but they start to paint the picture.

A later breakfast scene with Alma (Vicky Krieps) showcasing the idiosyncrasy of how Reynolds takes his tea.

It becomes apparent at breakfast that a relationship is in its final stages of disintegration, hanging on simply because doing otherwise requires a conflict that Reynolds is not ready to face. Morning proves too difficult as Johanna (Camilla Rutherford), current partner to the designer, disrupts the flow and routine in place with a final attempt to regain his attention – interrupting a sketching Reynolds with the offering of pastries invites a curt response expressing his disdain for such “gloopy” things and that frankly she should know this. Stunned and hurt she entreats, “Where have you gone Reynolds?” “There’s nothing I can say to get your attention back at me.” Unable to deal with such emotion on a dress-delivering day, he waves her words away stating, “I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations”. That is the last we see of her as Cyril (Lesley Manville), Reynolds sister, manager, protector, and constant companion offers to send her packing for him.

Reynolds with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) sharing a rare smile.

It is not uncommon for those with autism to need everything ‘just so’ at the start of a very stressful day. So often laser focused on how the day should proceed, big displays of emotion can knock them off kilter so much that there is little else they can think about, making it all the more harder “to recover through the rest of the day”. Reynolds isn’t trying to be distant or gruff, he’s just immersed in his work and trying to keep the proper headspace to just make it through the next twenty four hours.

Countess Henrietta Harding (Gina McKee) in her final fitting.

The film continues with the fitting and debut of a gown designed for Countess Henrietta Harding (Gina McKee). Our first glimpse at the work from the House of Woodcock is a heavy look constructed from burgundy velvet with a light pink, possibly taffeta, peek-a-boo skirt. Surprisingly, the gown seems to not be forward thinking at all but rather situated in the past; Renaissance influenced with a ruff-like collar, emphasising hip pads, and 16th century slashing details. Beautiful and seemingly fit for royalty, but perhaps ever so slightly dowdy.

Renaissance detailing for Countess Henrietta Harding’s gown.

Reynolds is nothing but charming with the Countess. In fact, he seems to mask all traces of irritation and the need for control around his clients. Endearing each of them and the audience with his boyish smiles and twinkly eyes.

A charming Reynolds that often invokes the jealousy of young Alma.

This comes with a price though, for when his work is completed, the need to hide away in the countryside to recover from the imminent exertion and low that follows is a necessary consequence of being an autistic man in a neurotypical world. By pushing himself to meet the demands of such a ruthless profession, as well as trying to hide the more difficult aspects of his persona, he becomes utterly depleted. But the solitude and simplicity of the countryside allows him to let down his walls a bit and become more open. It is in this state that he is more available to touch, affection, and care. Unsurprisingly, this is when he finds Alma (Vicky Krieps).

Reynolds’ first meeting with Alma.

From a world of manners and uptight social rules, it is the opposite in Alma that he finds charming. Sitting down to breakfast at a little country establishment, he locks eyes and giggles with her as she stumbles out of the kitchen to start her waitressing duties (the reader might find it interesting to note that this stumble was quite an accident on the part of actress). In this moment they are both without stuffy pretense and connect on a basic human level. People with autism often “struggle to make sense of social signals in real time” but because this meeting was so raw and uninhibited, Reynolds could make sense of her person right away. He’s so fascinated by her ‘realness’ that he asks her to dinner right away.

Alma’s first date dress.

Stunning in a 1940s basque waist, cherry red dress, Alma continues to enchant Reynolds later that evening. But the complexities of their relationship are apparent right away. Reynolds is very much her senior and so sure of his opinions. Making pronouncements such as, “I think it’s the expectations and assumptions of others that cause heartache”, or telling her to keep a photo of her mother on her person always, and physically wiping Alma’s lipstick off because, “I like to see who I’m talking to”. While many viewers start raising their pitchforks at this semblance of domineering masculinity, one needs to dig deeper. Yes, Reynolds is testing his level of control in their relationship, but if he is able to feel slightly in control this actually allows him to be more relaxed and himself.

Moreover, while she is trusting and young, Alma is much too strong a woman to be pushed around, quipping, “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose”. It’s flirty and spoken shyly but you can hear her inner fire. The fact is that she can leave at any time, and she knows this, Reynolds knows this, but she chooses to stay, to see this out, to make sense of the connection she has with this paradoxical man.

Reynolds showing more affection in a more relaxed environment.

Having regained his strength to face the neurotypical world again, Reynolds invites Alma to share his routine based life. As she is thrust into this busy but structured world of beautiful women, dinners, and focused work, the occasional loneliness of loving someone with autism becomes clear. There are moments of connection and off-screen passion but for Alma who thrives on quality time and serving her partner, she often feels neglected when Reynolds is consumed by his work for days and more likely weeks on end. Separate bedrooms, hushed breakfasts, constant bombardment of people, silenced opinions – Alma starts to wonder what she is doing there. Taking matters into her own hands, she decides to surprise Reynolds with a birthday supper, just the two of them. Although advised quite strongly by Cyril not to go forward with this plan, Alma stands her ground. Little does she know that surprises and unknown alterations to the life of someone with autism, no matter how well intentioned, cause such anxiety almost to the point of, and in some cases, a breakdown.

Reynolds angry at the “ambush” to his routine.

Coming in from his nightly walk, Reynolds notices right away that something is different. When presented with the knowledge that everyone has been dismissed for the evening and a homemade meal prepared for the two of them, Reynolds manages to hold in most of his displeasure and takes his leave for a hot bath, perhaps in an effort to deal with the change for the evening. Normally very formal and put together, Reynolds then trudges down the stairs wearing lavender pajamas under a tweed suit coat with a silk cravat for flair, using his attire to express his irritation at the disruption to his evening (Day-Lewis put this look together on his own). But whatever reconciliation or declaration of love Alma was expecting, she was certainly not going to find it like this. Those with autism love in their own way and on their own time and when demanded upon generally shut down or become contentious. And so the dinner is ruined with a massive quarrel, but not before finally pinpointing the root of Alma’s anxiety; it is twofold, a distance between them and feeling inessential to him.

Interrupting a focused Reynolds.

Coming full circle to Reynolds foretelling thoughts on expectation and assumptions. Alma is expecting a neurotypical relationship from a man that clearly has autism. And the only way, besides plainly communicating their needs, which seems unlikely to happen, is to pay attention and respond in kind. There are missteps of course, falling back into how she wants to love Reynolds versus how he needs to be loved, illustrated prominently when she brings Reynolds a pot of tea as he’s working. He refuses the tea and continues exasperated, “the tea is leaving, but the interruption is staying right here with me”. Yet Alma starts to learn what is necessary to becoming an integral part of the household – reducing her noise at breakfast, taking up a needle and thread on a late night, etc.

A moment of compromise between Reynolds and Alma.

Though nothing said more for her dedication to Reynolds than while dealing with a necessary but more difficult and slightly embarrassing patron, Barbara Rose (played by Harriet Sansom Harris, whose character is based on Heiress Barbara Hutton). Watching Barbara collapse from intoxication at her own wedding dinner, Alma gets more and more disgusted at the disrespect shown to Reynolds work. Eventually marching up to her bedroom and removing the gown from her comatose body and making it known to all in the room, “it is no business of ours how Mrs. Rose behaves, but she can no longer act like this and be dressed by the House of Woodcock”. Reynolds is quite overwhelmed at this passionate display that not just conveyed her love but more importantly her respect; respect for his work, for his mind, for who he is at his core. He starts to realise there is nothing more moving than to have someone in his corner, who will fight for him, fight for their relationship, no matter how challenging he is at times.

Reynolds overcome by Alma’s expression of respect.

Of course, Reynolds is not the only one who is difficult. Alma has so much love to give but she is young and impatient and stubborn. The truth is, love is hard. Living with another person and loving someone unconditionally is one of the most selfless acts a human can give. And loving someone with autism can be even harder. But hard does not mean bad or that it should be avoided. In fact when the connection is so palpable and the passion and love for each other that strong, being able to compromise and make a challenging but electric relationship thrive is all the more rewarding.

By Allison Dredge.

Allison Dredge is a costume designer, anglophile, and traveller.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.