It may not warrant scholarly interest, but National Treasure 2 is an enjoyable enough adventure, with globetrotting locations, a zippy script and trendy Diane Kruger, back again to show how contemporary fashion with a plot is far more fun than a flick through Vogue.
After creating an eye-catching (and cleverly ironic) ball gown for Diane Kruger as Abigail Chase in the original film, Judianna Makovsky returned to design for sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007, directed Jon Turteltaub). Most of the principal cast returned too, including Nicolas Cage as treasure hunter Ben Gates. Although, again, it is Diane Kruger who draws most of our attention.
National Treasure 2 is the story of Ben Gates’ obsessive attempt to clear his ancestral name from the killing of Abraham Lincoln plot and in the process track down Cibola, the lost ‘City of Gold’. Abigail is along for the ride as Gates ex-girlfriend and antiquities expert, along with their tech-geek pal Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and Gates’ estranged mom and dad, Patrick and Emily (Jon Voight and Helen Mirren). Primary antagonism comes in the form of Mitch Williamson (Ed Harris), a rival treasure hunter with his own very personal reasons for getting Gates in on the hunt.
With exclusive insight from Judianna Makovsky, we will take a look at the most interesting outfits in the film. Mainly these are worn by Kruger’s character, as she is unquestionably the costume attractor, though there is always room for Nicolas Cage in a striped seersucker suit:
Arguably the first significant costume character we are reintroduced to is Riley. Here promoting his conspiracies theories book ‘The Templar Treasure’ (of which he has apparently bought most of the copies), Riley is decked in a grey tweed 3-piece suit. This is vastly different to the lightweight casuals, t-shirts and hooded tops that we are used to seeing him in.
Obviously Riley is attempting to appear more academic in the hope he will be taken seriously. He does not seem immediately comfortable in this guise, however, and it is telling that soon his jacket is removed and tie loosened. In the context of the story it is because he walked home after his beloved Ferrari was towed, yet without the full suit, as sharp and trendy as it is, he is beginning to look like old Riley again.
Most of Riley’s suits were made to order for Justin Bartha in Los Angeles, aping the style of Band of Brothers and the work of fashion designer Thom Brown. This is primarily because Judianna and Justin liked the hipper American adopted style of shorter jacket and fitted silhouette, yet these elements proved elusive off the rack in the fabrics they favoured.
Diane Kruger’s introduction as Abigail is a memorable one. Returning from her date with White House aide Connor (Ty Burrell) to the grand mansion she used to share with Ben Gates, Abigail wears a white silk Prada dress with crossover bodice. The colour is a stunning compliment to Diane’s lightly tanned skin, while the expensive cut and fabric deliberately reinforces Abigail’s augmented financial and societal position. Judianna explains:
Diane is just a lovely woman and a lovely actress to work with. In National Treasure 2 her character has come into money, so we were not as limited as to what type of clothing she would have as we were in the first film. Diane has a relationship with fashion, but she was more concerned that the garments were appropriate to the situations Abigail would be in.
Elevated from government employee on a limited budget to moneyed – and we are sure her character would despise this term – ‘treasure seeker’, clearly influenced all costume choices for Abigail; Ben, Riley and Patrick (rakish in a suede jacket) too. As National Treasure 2 is a big budget, unashamedly high gloss Disney adventure, this perfectly encapsulates the mood of the film.
Harvey Keitel pops up for an extended cameo as FBI investigator Peter Sadusky. When working on the first film the actor was keen to ensure Sadusky avoided the traditional sombre suit FBI clichés. If anything he is even wilder this time around in ‘Three wise monkeys’ (“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”) braces.
When Abigail meets Mitch Williamson for the first time she is in a social setting, upscale Washington bar, yet a professional capacity. Her outfit is pure old school elegance; serious but alluring.
A charcoal grey flannel dress with three quarter length sleeves and wide patent belt; this was custom designed by Judianna Makovsky and made by head cutter/fitter Ruth Hossie. The dress is based on a 1950s example Judianna had seen, suggesting a Kim Novak/Grace Kelly vibe (harking back to Abigail’s blue ball gown from National Treasure 1). Interestingly there are also hints of the 1930s, with an exposed back replacing the twenties’ raised hemline.
Gates and Riley make a quick stop over in Paris. Ever the erratic academic/adventurer, Gates wears not a complete suit but a grey single breasted jacket and slacks. He has money, however, and one gets the feeling that he enjoys spending it on clothes, at least in terms of high-end brands. His distinctive sunglasses are testament to this idea; gold frame tinted from the Oliver Peoples’ ‘vintage’ collection. Gates’ tortoiseshell reading glasses are also by Oliver Peoples.
While in London, at Buckingham Palace no less, Gates and Abigail execute an elaborate, shouty infiltration of the building, basically by hiding in plain sight. Again Gates is the contemporary adventurer, just at home with technology as scrambling around inside dusty tombs. His lightweight single breasted suit is cotton khaki, made by J. Crew and finished in a slimish cut that suits Nicolas Cage’s tall frame.
Abigail is neat and inoffensive, in tune with her environment. She wears a navy blue chiffon shirt style dress with open circle pattern and short sleeve natural cashmere cardigan. The requirements for this costume changed following a script re-write. Judianna elaborates:
We had chosen the dress for a certain scene that only needed a one off and then the scene was rewritten to have major stunts so we needed a lot more which by then were unavailable. We finally found the model of dress in larger sizes and red. We had to re-dye all the dresses to match and completely remake them all to be Diane’s size.
Although only seen briefly, it is worthwhile noting the costumes worn by Ed Harris’ character and his henchmen. Evidently not low-grade hoods, as per the first film in fact, these are professional men, ex-military, educated and just a touch continental, wearing sharp suits, patterned jackets and jeans.
Helen Mirren brings inherent refinement to her role as Gates’ mother Emily. Dressed practical yet stylish, we first meet Emily in a cashmere buttonless hooded cardigan by Donna Karan. Having only arrived on the film a day before shooting, her fitting was a whirl. Outfits were chosen and put together literally overnight before appearing on camera the following morning.
We wanted to keep her classy (which of course, is not hard…Helen just is!). So having a classic, but hip side seemed to work.
Judianna ‘s choice of an uncomplicated colour scheme for Emily, plus layered luxury fabrics that drape, compliment Helen Mirren as someone who, while obviously older and more ‘covered up’ than the film’s leading lady, is no less appealing on screen.
The White House Easter egg hunt reveals some costume gems, all highly visible, yet all serving purpose to interpret character or progress the narrative.
The cap sleeve dress worn by Diane Kruger, arguably a showstopper, in a peach wool crepe by Celine is a graceful tease for Abigail to entice the gaze of besotted Connor, so desperate to demonstrate his authority by showing her and Gates around the Oval Office.
When outside, Abigail is once again exuding bygone movie glamour, this time from the 1960s, evoking the style of Audrey Hepburn in a cute cream double breasted A-line coat and matching wooden heel shoes. Judianna explains her reasoning behind Abigail’s often neutral colour palette:
I am not sure why it worked out that way. But I think she also wore a lot of grey, navy and black. I think we just went with what looked good in the locations and neutrals always make a statement about a character having a preference for good classic clothing.
There is no avoiding Gates here either. Head to foot in blue striped seersucker, he sports an ensemble that might be considered ‘loud’ in Europe, even for such a grand occasion, but according to Judianna is a classic American look in spring. Incidentally, the random toy bunny in the chest pocket was all Nicolas Cage’s idea.
During the opening moments of the White House sequence, Gates has an amusing conformation with a bold little boy in a bow tie (Zachary Gordon):
We did want to make him appear annoying by being so dressy. We put him Brooks Brothers Children’s line…. very appropriate for the White House.
When kidnapping the President, Gates dons a two-button, single breasted tuxedo (could this become a costume feature in every National Treasure film, as with James Bond?). Seemingly a nod to 007 or by proxy Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies (1994), the aim was a more direct reference to Cage’s appearance in a dinner suit for National Treasure 1, when it was hidden under a workman’s overall for the Library of Congress party.
Moving on to the actual Library of Congress for National Treasure 2, Diane Kruger is wearing one of Judianna Makovsky’s favourite costume choices, a biker cut leather jacket by Donna Karan. Teamed with a black rollneck sweater and slim black trousers, Abigail is sixties spy chic without taking the concept too far. Green offsets the ‘cat like’ quality of the all over black, allowing her character to stand out while still remaining believably clandestine.
The film’s climax takes place within a series of caverns deep beneath Mount Rushmore. Helen Mirren’s costume is notable for expressing another side of Emily’s personality. She is a university professor but, like son Ben, is still happy to be in the field, choosing to don a modern belted Barbour jacket.
National Treasure is in no sense a ‘fashion movie’, despite the á la mode outfits worn by many of the lead characters in the film. Judianna explains her thought process:
Clothing that is appropriate for the characters is always the main priority. Fashion is secondary. Why do these people have and wear these clothes are always the big questions.
Costumes need not to be sci-fi, period or fantasy to tell a story; contemporary can be just as important and arguably the more difficult genre to master. With National Treasure 2, Judianna Makovsky has created a believable costume world for the characters. Style is not priority, though of course it is always fortuitous when fashion and meaning collide.
With thanks to Judianna Makovsky.
© 2011 – 2013, Chris Laverty.