There is a problem with the costumes in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it has nothing to do with the film itself but the coverage they have received. Namely, that this coverage is incorrect. Articles such as this one for Vogue France, or this for The Hollywood Reporter, or a ‘suit guide’ by Esquire, concentrate almost solely on Giorgio Armani’s contribution to the project with barely a mention of costume designer Sandy Powell. And this is the Sandy Powell by the way: 10 Oscar nominations and so well respected she has an OBE for services to the industry. It was Powell who costumed The Wolf of Wall Street, not Armani. As a matter of fact there are only two Armani suits featured in the film, the light greyish one worn by Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) when he snorts crack with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) near the start of the story, and the darker one when Jordan crashes his helicopter and falls in the pool. For DiCaprio, the remainder were designed and made by Powell and tailor Leonard Logsdail in New York.
This is not say that Armani’s influence is not all over The Wolf of Wall Street, because it is. Armani was certainly a name that young brokers chose when ‘coming up’, their first experience of a designer label on the road to bespoke, which is why Jordan sports one initially. More often than not though, Armani was favoured by media types, worn with a wool scarf and rollneck. In the film we see Armani’s influence in some of Jordan’s suits, particularly during the early days. The padded wide shoulder silhouette narrowing to a trim waist with long tails to cover the buttocks is an Armani trademark from the mid-1980s, itself heavily borrowed from the ‘New Deal’ suits of the 1930s. This stance was intended as broad and imposing, basically the exact opposite of contemporary suit styles over the last twenty years. We cannot deny Armani’s contribution to The Wolf of Wall Street, but it is symbolic rather than practical.
The real Jordan Belfort wore tailored suits when he started to make big money. Tailoring was the real mark of success for these guys, echoed in an amusing scene featuring brokers literally being measured for suits in their office. Belfort’s suits in the early nineties were made by Anthony Gilberto of Manhattan. He would routinely create suits for Belfort and his associates that cost upwards of $1,400. Belfort himself once spent $21,000 in a single order. The style was Armani esque, but far less relaxed and the fabric richer and heavier. The finish, of course, had to be pinstripes. Layering stripes is seen as somewhat bad taste now, though is completely acceptable providing the spacing and weight is varied, such as narrower on the shirt than the suiting, and perhaps offset with a paisley necktie. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan’s ties are printed silk with Aztec and similar patterns. This is a very nineties look, not to be confused with Armani’s influence on men’s fashion which was very much the eighties.
With the Wolf of Wall Street, Sandy Powell is essentially recreating an era that Hollywood itself had a role in originating. When Jordan opens his own company, or more accurately when that company begins to turn a huge profit, we see his first contrast shirt: white medium spread pointed collar against pink poplin. This is the Gordon Gekko look created for Michael Douglas in Wall Street (1987) by costume designer Ellen Mirojnick. Although Mirojnick researched the trading floors of the mid-late eighties, she found that most brokers were rather sedate in their dress. Busy, loud, Gekko style, as seen on some of the brokers in The Wolf of Wall Street, was a Hollywood creation. In hindsight, it was a logical step; these men wanted to live like movie stars so they dressed like them.
The nineties is a difficult era to accomplish on film. It is not as defined as the decade before or as generally tasteful as the one after. Colour was of huge importance. Lots of soft pastels and wishy-washy cottons (as anyone who recalls Global Hypercolour t-shirts will testify). We see Jordan sporting this look for The Wolf of Wall Street but only in casual wear. His most appealing ensemble of Ralph Lauren polo shirt and Armani linen slacks is one of the few times in the movie he does not act like a complete asshole. Yet his suits are not ugly, just deliberately imposing. The tailored suits Powell made for DiCaprio are more Ralph Lauren inspired than Armani, which they would be in 1991 or thereabouts. Lauren really had a lot more to do with this era than Armani. The wedding dress worn by Jordan’s wife-to-be Gloria (Margot Robbie) is worth mentioning, too. Powell worked on the dress with prestigious designer Lorenzo Caprile, known for his stunningly flamboyant creations. The dress straddles a fine line between ostentatious and classically ornate. This is what Jordan and his ilk symbolise: money cannot buy you taste, but it can buy you beautiful things.
What The Wolf of Wall Street is really all about are labels – the designer name you wore and the crowd you ran with. A mild mannered young broker in Jordan’s office dramatically fails to make the grade. After an astonished “Is he wearing a bow tie?” from Jordan, the poor man is fired on the spot. He might have been in the correct suit (even if he screwed up the neckwear), but would never have been part of the club. These guys were repulsive, and that was the first attribute you needed to join. Actual physical labels are dotted about The Wolf of Wall Street as markers of success; even a naked prostitute is wearing a Chanel cuff as she plies her trade in a private jet. Gloria flashes Gucci boots toward the end of the story, right at the point when her husband is supposedly about to lose everything. The last thing to go with these people is the clothing and jewellery. If they can dress the part, they can just about convince themselves the dream is not over.
The Wolf of Wall Street is one of Sandy Powell’s less ‘showy’ films in terms of costume. There are no breeches or ruffs, and as such no Oscar nomination. Perhaps the Academy thought that Giorgio Armani did all the work and not being eligible for a nomination the entire costume design was overlooked? This is real shame too because it’s Powell’s most interesting collaboration with director Martin Scorsese for a long time. It is not easy to recreate a period that in terms of fashion at least, almost everyone hated.
The Wolf of Wall Street is currently on general release.
© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.