Oz the Great and Powerful: Costume Interview with Gary Jones

Costume designer Gary Jones took on the difficult task of bringing The Wizard of Oz back to life for a new millennium and a new audience that had grand expectations. Yet in the end his overall look for Oz the Great and Powerful was more grounded in reality than most of us expected.

This is about as far away from pantomime fantasy as you can get. Some of the outfits are, dare we say, wearable, even if you don’t have a costume party to go to. We inspected four of them close up back in February (read our analysis HERE) so can attest at their relative simplicity. However don’t underestimate their intricacy. After working on The Talented Mr Ripley and The Princess Diaries, Gary Jones knows his way around pretty gowns, although surprisingly Oz the Great and Powerful is his first attempt at out-and-out fantasy. We had an exclusive and rather lovely chat with Mr. Jones to find out more:

Oz the Great and Powerful_Theodora evening illustration crop_Image credit Disney Enterprises

Costume illustration of Theodora’s (Mila Kunis) white gown. Theodora has several looks for Oz the Great and Powerful, this being her most virginal. The hint of crimson red is a set-up for story’s inevitable pay-off.

Clothes on Film: How did your collaboration with character illustrator Michael Kutsche work? Presumably this approach must be considered quite unusual within the industry?

Gary Jones: It’s not as unusual as you would think, although sometimes we actually begin together sooner than we did on this project. Michael was brought in to work on the characters with our director Sam Raimi. Also, he had worked previously with our production designer, Robert Stromberg. He was able to brilliantly flesh out the kind of characters that Sam was looking for, and then he put clothes on them. That was an ongoing project, much of which was done by the time I came on board. There were still things in the works that we collaborated a little bit more on, but because of the timing of it all I didn’t talk to Michael about how the costumes would be made. It worked out that he had a different kind of take on things because of his computer background. That was the genesis of the whole project. I did say early on to Sam that it was just wonderful to interpret those drawings, that that kind of illustration could be part of my design process. This was a first in the fantasy world for me – I’d been rooted in romantic comedies!

CoF: Your costumes are restrained for the fantasy genre…

GJ: I have to say that we did go to that far end very early on. The Winkie Guards are still very far out. They were one of our first prototypes. They had to be six foot seven or taller. The list of requirements for them was quite extreme. Having said that, we then made a couple of prototypes, one for Evanora and one for Theodora that were both in that very sculptural vein, but Sam wanted the principal characters more “rooted in reality”. He would say things like “what would you say if I asked for a collar that wasn’t two and a half feet tall?” and I would say “That’s perfectly possible, we just felt that…” etc. etc. For instance, the dress that Theodora wears in the crystal ball scene was much, much bigger.

CoF: I call that the Audrey Hepburn one…

GJ: It’s Theodora’s Givenchy throwback. That was much bigger and much more complicated. We started off testing whether she could run in it, and she could. We had showings of the dress, either on the mannequin or on fit models…the bottom line was, it didn’t need as many layers as we’d planned, it didn’t need such a wide circumference. It was scaled back because the goal was to have us familiar with the Wizard of Oz land but these are all new characters. We wanted them rooted in our reality, somewhere.

Oz the Great and Powerful_Glinda dress illustration crop_Image credit Disney Enterprises

The first dress worn by good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Although pink is used for tulle underskirts in her final ensemble, Glinda does not hark back to the more fragile characterisation of The Wizard of Oz (1939). Indeed at one point her bodice is intended to resemble armour.

CoF: Theodora’s riding outfit is beautiful but rather risky in terms of fantasy, don’t you think?

GJ: We had that in the film straight away. That drawing, apart from minor adjustments from my point of view, had existed for quite a while. It may well have been one of the first. I think Michael’s inspiration, and certainly mine, was to be a colour that could come out of those flowers and that dense foliage, and hold its own. The red is a fire from within. That particular red, the shape of it and everything, was my interpretation, but none of it was particularly talked about. The fabrication of this costume came over about three and a half months and Sam was involved at every stage.

Really, everything that is on screen is just a trip back to the approved artwork that Michael did. Even though I read that Rachel Weisz did mention the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson). She was not familiar with, and a little uncomfortable with, the severity of her costume. The architectural quality was softened by the fabric, but after our first couple of fittings, Rachel asked if it would be possible to explore the Duchess of Windsor aspect with the costume, so we did. We changed the shape of the jacket, the shape of the bodice; it wasn’t so corseted, and it was just a softer feel. She was so much more accustomed to characters who weren’t restricted in any way – she’s used to playing characters who don’t have those kind of restrictions. I wouldn’t normally mention this to anyone, but as Rachel brought it up, I’m more than happy to.

Oz the Great and Powerful_Theodora riding crop_Image credit Disney Enterprises

Theodora’s riding outfit. Wearing a twist on the classic Victorian costume, this is our first introduction to Theodora. Here she is active, romantic and just a little bit tomboyish.

CoF: Did you find the use of colour important to inform character?

Well, it was particularly important with Evanora. Her dress actually started out white, then we went to pale green, then we made it an emerald green. So in this sense, the only thing that exists from the original drawing is the shape of it. It became apparent when Rachel was on set that it needed to be emerald green. This kind of thing happens all the time with costume. It could quite have easily been the reverse – we could have been saying “shall we dig that old white dress out again?”

CoF: Glinda’s costumes must have been particularly difficult to design. Did you attempt to hark back to her character in The Wizard of Oz?

GJ: It was really wonderful to work on these costumes with Michelle Williams. Her costumes are more current looking than I ever expected them to be; that’s mainly to do with the materials, or lack thereof. They really are very, very sheer. The celebration dress she wears at the end was created very early on in the process – it was one of those things we needed to work on 18 hours of the day. It took about three weeks to accomplish it. It turned out much smaller than one would have thought from the original drawing. Michelle was so keen and focused on being ‘the good witch’ without any silliness. She wanted to be a seriously good witch! I joke, but it’s absolutely true. When I used to work in the theatre, if there was a bad review, you never wanted them to say “the evening was dreadful, but the costumes were good”. I always function this way; it really has to be collaboration and it has to serve the literature. That dress was the only dress she didn’t have to do stunts and antics in, although she did fall down the stairs. We shot that early. We were lucky to have all the stages to ourselves when shooting in Michigan, but really for one stage to go up, another had to come down, so we had to work very tight.

Oz the Great and Powerful_Winkie Guard illustration crop_Image credit Disney Enterprises

Winkie Guard in full regalia. Mainly because of their extreme height, the Winkie Guards were the most difficult characters to costume in the film.

CoF: Tell us about the little details you bring to costume. I noticed a cobwebby-type pattern on Theodora’s leggings.

GJ: That’s actually an elongated figure eight. It’s pin tucking – there are 5 rows of pin tucking that go round and round. There are only a couple of places that you can see it, but you can see it. There is another detail – when you see Theodora’s jodhpurs, they are very quietly striped around the leg. It’s a charcoal and black stripe that has a watercolour feeling. We wanted to continue with some detail later on, so that’s how we did it, with a figure eight pattern.

CoF: The chances are, nobody’s going to see this, though.

GJ: It still has to be there. It’s part of the way I was trained in this business. If you’re standing in the fitting room and you feel something is slightly wrong, you have to attend to it, because it’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse. It doesn’t fix itself; in fact it seems the camera goes to that one thing you were worried about. That’s all you can see! I’m happy to say, in this instance, I was more involved in watching the movie than I was the costumes.

I have to say that all three of the ladies, and James Franco, wore their clothes as though they had grown up in them. They were just as everyday to them as I wanted them to be.

Oz the Great and Powerful_Evanora illustration crop_Image credit Disney Enterprises

Evanora’s (Rachel Weisz) green dress is a nod to the silver screen looks of the 1930s. The colour echoes that of the Emerald City, although in the film its tone is slightly more mercury green than emerald.

CoF: Let’s talk about James Franco’s costume as Oscar Diggs.

GJ: There were about six versions of the same suit, but they were mostly degrees of degradation. The last is the one that has an apparently new vest and new shirt, and a band added to the top hat.

CoF: You say “apparently new”?

GJ: Everything he wears until the last outfit is the same, just with differing amounts of disarray.

Oz the Great and Powerful_Oscar jacket illustration crop_Image credit Disney Enterprises

Suit with frock coat and striped trousers worn by Oscar Diggs aka ‘Oz’ (James Franco). This is his only ensemble for Oz the Great and Powerful, seen at various stages of distress with subtle variations.

CoF: But it actually works in reverse – his costume gets better, as it were.

GJ: He does say to Finley (Zach Braff) about his sleeve that “we’ve got to get this fixed”. That is the most patched and beaten-up version of everything. This is hypothetical and never discussed, but if you wanted Oscar to be that crazy old man with the wig and the teeth at the end of The Wizard of Oz, that was a whole different kind of movie. I want to say “stubborn”, but I was clear in my head that we shouldn’t pay attention to what he was wearing. I didn’t add those things that he might have had – he had the jacket, the hat and the bag, and he was done.

With thanks to Gary Jones.

Oz the Great and Powerful is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Costume illustrations copyright Disney Enterprises.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.