Inglourious Basterds: Costume Lowdown by Anna Sheppard

Oscar nominated costume designer Anna B. Sheppard grants us exclusive insight into the unique period look of Inglourious Basterds (2009).

It transpires that most of the film’s extraordinary costumes, including Diane Kruger’s brown suit and Julie Dreyfus’ ‘cat hat’, were constructed entirely from original designs by Anna Sheppard. Moreover all period jewellery was sourced from her own private collection, accumulated since working on Steven Spielberg’s holocaust drama Schindler’s List in 1993.

Clothes on Film: Is it fair to say that the costumes in Inglourious Basterds are intended as ‘stylised’ as opposed to entirely historically accurate?

Anna Sheppard: I wouldn’t call them stylised as such, simply they are maybe more flamboyant. Many previous films on WW2 have brought down the costumes rather than make them elegant or expensive looking but I had the luck of providing costumes for a German film star, Italian film star and a big film premiere in Paris with everyone dressed to the nines which meant I could be a little more creative. After all, every period has mavericks and those with personal style, so I think my costumes in this film are less cliched than perhaps others I have done in the same period.

COF: Where is Diane Kruger’s brown suit from? Is it custom made or sourced vintage?

AS: Diane Kruger’s brown suit is made from scratch, as most of the other costumes are. It was made by a tailor in Berlin according to my design.

COF: Mélanie Laurent wears what looks to be an Elsa Schiaparelli inspired siren suit inside Le Gamaar cinema. Was this an intentional nod?

AS: Yes and no. I generally put Melanie’s costumes as clothes that don’t draw attention to the person wearing them, hence the trousers rather than flowery dresses, the siren suit more than a tailored suit and more quirky pieces that looked better on her very tiny frame. Again, not being cliche to the usual expectations.

COF: Christoph Waltz’s long coat is intimidating in the first scene at the farmhouse, obviously by association, but also because of the constant thumbscrew-like creaking from the leather. Does Quentin Tarantino take an active interest in how costume influences character?

AS: Naturally Quentin took a very active interest in all of the costumes as it was his first period film. I had to do a lot of visual presentations and sketches to give him the opportunity to choose his favourite pieces from a selection.

COF: Were Diane Kruger’s sparkily evening shoes also custom made in Berlin like her brown pumps?

AS: No, her sparkly shoes were made with Swarovski crystals to special order in Boldini in Venice.

COF: Is Mélanie Laurent wearing men’s period trousers when working outside the cinema?

AS: Melanie’s trousers were a period version of modern dungarees with a detachable bib, which she wore both ways. Again, these were to go against the grain of floral dresses and small patterns that were associated with the period. They were made in Berlin, according to my design.

COF: What was the thinking behind Brad Pitt’s white dinner jacket?

AS: As I was using a lot of black tuxedos, uniforms and SS black dress uniforms in the final scene, I wanted to use a more flamboyant and visible design to highlight the fact that he plays an Italian film maker.

COF: Brad Pitt also wears a lot of casual knitwear, flat caps and scarves, that are not normally seen on soldiers in World War 2 movies. Was this a conscious choice to do something different with his character?

AS: Brad Pitt’s character in this film is an American soldier in disguise as a French partisan so I didn’t follow usual stereotypes. Instead, I chose to create another character based on this role. Also, if you pay attention, the other Basterds are in very similar styles, the only difference is the boots that created an individual silhouette for his character.

COF: Can you tell us about Julie Dreyfus’ striking leopard hat ensemble – again spotting Elsa Schiaparelli’s influence here – also the finale outfits of the leading ladies: Mélanie Laurent (red dress), Diane Kruger (black sweetheart gown) and Julie Dreyfus (bias dress with turban).

AS: All of the costumes for these actresses were handmade, according to my designs. Of course, Julie’s cat hat is a very visible homage to Elsa Schiaparelli’s famous hat, but I think in this case it was a slightly ironic take on the prototype. It’s one of the costumes that I’m very proud of and perhaps a personal favourite.

Melanie’s red dress was a second thought. Originally, I designed a short black dress for her which Quentin liked very much but I talked him into a change of heart. I thought that in the black dress, her character would disappear as she is so tiny. As it was the last day of her character’s life, I didn’t want her to disappear in the crowds of people wearing beautiful evening gowns as her other costumes had a much more tomboy-ish feel to them. I wanted her to look beautiful and very feminine, hence the red dress with a very seductive shape.

Diane’s dress was also made in Berlin too out of beaded silk fabric with additional hand applied Swarovski crystals and a train made of tulle and silk feathers sewn on to it. All of the jewellery was from the original period, from my own private collection which I have been building since Schindler’s List.

COF: Brad Pitt’s Belstaff wax jacket with shawl collar is very interesting visually. Was this your choice for him or Tarantino’s?

AS: I’ve previously worked in conjunction with Belstaff on several other projects and it was my choice to include the shawl collar jacket in Brad’s costumes. Of course, it was aged and distressed beyond recognition but I think he looked very good in it and it tied in nicely with his other pieces.

With thanks to Anna B. Sheppard.

© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.