Clothes on Film Wed, 19 Sep 2018 16:36:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Clothes on Film 32 32 5750550 Ocean’s 8: Fashioning Costume Tue, 10 Jul 2018 05:36:04 +0000 MINOR SPOILERS

Movies that feature contemporary fashion, particularly high-end and particularly for women, are a tricky sell costume wise. While men’s semi-formal to formal attire is generally shaped around the fundamental guise of the lounge suit, women’s clothing has a lot more avenues and possibilities. In addition to colour and pattern there is shape and form, which can vary dramatically for the fashionable wearer. What can vary dramatically can also date dramatically and this can be major stumbling block for costume designers. Films centred around the world of fashion, or those that include a lot of fashionable garments such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Clueless (1995) and Funny Face (1957) are at the mercy of a strict philosophy: look current but not so innovative that, a) garments will appear dated when trends alter and b) prioritise costume over character (unless that is a narrative point or personality facet). Tricky in the extreme, then, but the good news is that Ocean’s 8, which is set in the same glitzy, uber-cool world as director Steven Soderbergh’s trilogy, does not drop the ball in this regard. Or should that be stitch?

Even though Ocean’s 8 does not prioritise costume (in the same way as the Fast and the Furious movies do not prioritise cars – seriously they don’t), it still plays to an expectant gallery. A film with a heist set during New York’s Met Gala and requiring the actual designing of a dress as pivotal to the plot needs to be about clothes. Looking at the creations during the Met Gala scenes is part of the fun – it’s fantasy wish fulfilment combined with judgy wedding guest. Anyone who has worked even close to the fashion industry can attest it is judgmental in the extreme. Clothes, bodies, skin, hair, all are pored over with an often unpleasant abruptness. Ocean’s 8 allows us to do the same, but because the tone of the film is so light and endearing we are more inclined to “coo” and “ahh” than mutter “what the hell is that thing?” or “girl, that’s not your dress”.

Lou (Cate Blanchett) alongside her counterpart in the Steven Soderbergh Ocean’s films, Rusty (Brad Pitt). Both are the rock star right-handers of their respective crew.

Costume designer for Ocean’s 8, Sarah Edwards, had a tough job. She needed to fill an entire Gala full of outfits that would feel both correct on the supporting artists (some of whom were asked to buy their own dresses) but not too showy, plus character specific ensembles for the central cast. Edwards also had to manage ‘help’ from major fashion houses keen to be involved in a high profile movie. She was provided with ensembles from Prada, Givenchy, Zac Posen, Valentino, among others. The relationship between all involved was presumably amicable, however having interviewed many costume designers about ‘requests’ to use fashion houses in clothing a film (or more likely the lead actor), such harmony is not always the case. Credit is taken where it’s not given, garments are late and not to spec and sometimes need to be re-worked entirely. Not to say this happened with Ocean’s 8, although if Edwards did manage to successfully negotiate the fashion / costume collaborative minefield she should be commended because the results are spectacular. The Met Gala is set in 2018, but without a rigid adherence to trends it’s just lots of glitz and glamour and shiny things. It’s a big party, whenever.

In addition to the Met Gala, Edwards was required to establish seven (later eight) new characters, all intended to be aspirational and relatable, and all with very different personalities into a cohesive unit. Ocean’s 8 feels almost exactly like Soderbergh’s trilogy in every way, and surely it cannot be coincidence that this all female line-up resembles the original movies’ team so overtly. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is the sister of Soderbergh’s lead protagonist Danny Ocean (George Clooney) after all. Plus, although Lou (Cate Blanchett) might not be related to Danny’s right hand-man Rusty (Brad Pitt) there is no denying a similarity in their personalities and mode of dress. Both are the frappé chilled eccentrics of their particular crew. Rusty favours actual snakeskin shirts and shoes to match with pale Med suits, while Lou is practically always in trouser suits festooned with necklaces and rings. It takes a special kind of attitude to pull off Lou and Rusty’s look. They are so impossibly laid-back and extrovert you will find yourself either wanting to marry them or be them. Interestingly Lou is – by traditional and arguably outmoded gender interpretations – positioned as subtly masculine while Rusty is subtly feminine. Even Lou’s stance replicates the kind of penis proud guy who sits on a packed train carriage legs open and apart. This helps Lou to own the room, and not because she is trying to emulate a man, but because she is not bound by gender stereotypes. In short she will sit how the fuck she wants and YOU can deal with it.

Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) is clearly based on legendary fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, although no-one is suggesting Westwood is defunct or doesn’t pay her taxes. Floral and flamboyant, Rose’s Met Gala gown is a highlight that feels completely accurate for her ditzy, OTT persona.

The rest of the Ocean’s 8 team are just as decisively drawn with regard to costume. Nine Ball or ‘Baller’ (real name: Eight Ball) is perhaps the most defined by her heritage and lifestyle. Hacker types don’t wear pleated slacks and button-down shirts, or we certainly don’t expect them to, so Nine Ball rocks a Caribbean inspired Bob Marley retrospective of crochet ‘tam’ hats, oversized knits and an army jacket. One amusing scene shows resourceful Tammy (Sarah Paulson) arriving at Heist HQ with a rack of Gala dresses for the crew. Eight Ball collects hers as if she’s being handed a week old kipper and saunters off with her arm outstretched to keep the stinky item as far away as possible. It’s not that Eight Ball looks bad in a fancy gown, far from it as we will eventually see, she just does not want to wear one. Jewellery maker Amita (Mindy Kaling) on the other hand could not be more excited about getting dressed up for once. A multifaceted group of women represented in a crew that feels believably in tune.

What’s cruel for a costume designer is that rarely will he / she get any say in how their garments are presented on screen. There have been many behind-the-scenes tales of beautiful ensembles that were only shot from the waist up or just seen for a split second. This is the craft; costume designers are ultimately at the mercy of their director’s vision. Still, it must have been a real bummer for Sarah Edwards that Lou’s baroque green trouser suit worn for the Met Gala appeared in Ocean’s 8 for about three seconds. In contrast Tammy’s wide-leg cropped jeans get plenty of screen-time because it makes sense for them to. Not the most glamorous of attire but practical and true to her character. Even in the make-believe world of the Ocean’s movies (all of them), to bond with the characters we need to recognise them as real people. This is what great costume does; we can salivate over incredible gowns but in actuality costume is even better when we do not notice it at all. Subtleties that may or may not catch our eye can provide an extra level of meaning, but nothing should be lost if they don’t. There’s a nice little touch along these lines in Ocean’s 8 when we see Debbie wearing the same dress she is released prison in during the flashback sequence. For those eagle-eyed enough to spot the garment it was a hint as to what was about to go down. Debbie, actually. That the dress feels very ‘2013’ (notably the mesh features) demonstrates Edwards’ knack for detail, coupled with the nautical hints to ‘Ocean’ she later incorporated into Debbie’s Met Gala gown. Style and trends have their place in film but only to serve the story. The costumes in Ocean’s 8 are fun, functional and just the right amount of contemporary. Time will be kind to them.

Ocean’s 8 is currently on general release.

© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.

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 Dillon 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 Dillon 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 Dillon 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.

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.

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.