Jacqueline Oknaian has costumed Ugly Betty (2008-10), Sex and the City 2 (2010) and The Big C (2012-13), so it might be fair to say contemporary clothing is her forte. For The Intern she dressed Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro in that most tricky of cinematic costume: ‘office attire’. Fashion and practicality collide in what needs to be stylish but relatable clothing inside a believable setting. Here Ms Oknaian chats exclusively about her work on the film.
Anne Hathaway has the perfect office wardrobe, where did you get your inspiration for her smart, but chic looks?
I related to her character personally because I’m a mother and I’ve worked in fashion, I used to be a personal shopper in Barney’s, then I got into styling. I had a lot of friends that worked in the fashion industry for mothers who need to look fashionable, smart chic, modern but have to be practical as well, dealing with life and being always rushed and on a very tight schedule. So I feel like I kind of started there and as I worked with Anne we had also this sort of feeling of this modern Katherine Hepburn look that came to be. So that was one of the inspirations as well, and you know also looking at people like Emmanuelle Alt, and those types of very chic editors, but mothers.
How did you tackle her character’s change from home to office, smart to more casual outfits?
Well the thing is the smart casual look works so well for that. There’s a couple of changes where she is more in sleepwear, and it’s funny because that was a big discussion about what does she wear to bed? She’s a fashionable woman during the day, and then when she comes home, Nancy and I were discussing it like what do you wear? And I said well, I take off my clothes immediately and I put on a pair of comfortable sweatpants and a vintage t-shirt and I read to my children in bed. So, that’s kind of where that came from. That’s kind of the only time we see her at home, everything else is in the morning when she’s getting ready to go to work. There’s one scene where she is wearing a t-shirt with a feline trouser in the kitchen and then we see her later in the office and she has a jacket, she puts a blazer over it like a sense of styling a blazer over it, but that’s like the transition.
Did you work with Anne Hathaway on her character’s style?
Yeah, I mean it was all very collaborative, which is great and always super helpful when you can work with the talent. We did immediately; we were on the same page myself, Nancy and Anne. It was great, it was a process and it was a fun process and it was easy because we all had the same vision.
Robert De Niro’s character always wears a suit. Why do you think that was important for his character?
Well it was mainly to differentiate his age group to the young boys in the office. It was very important to see the young hipster boys that work at the office contrast with how Bob looks out in his suits and his ties. The era that Bob’s character belongs in, of how they would come to work looking very smart and presentable, is completely at odds with how these boys would come now, in their jeans and their sneakers and that sort of thing. I think it was really important to differentiate the two groups.
Robert De Niro’s wardrobe is better organized than most women’s, let alone men’s. Do you think that men need to make more effort in their daily appearance?
I do. I mean I think it depends on everyone’s personality, and how they dress to suit their personality, but it’s nice to see when a man makes an effort. We’ve kind of lost that a bit lately, but I think it’s coming back in different ways. Definitely in New York I see it, but I think it’s really important for men to make an effort, it’s nice, and it’s great to see that. A man taking time even to know their fit with their clothing, if you see something fitted and tailored it just makes such a difference.
The suits that he wears are always accessorized with the right tie and handkerchief. Can you give some tips on how best to pick the right colors or styles?
It’s best to keep it simple, offer them too many options and they can’t handle it. Start by picking the suit, so say a navy suit, and put together no more than three combos of shirts and ties etc. I dress a lot of men personally, I’m a personal shopper for men and I just keep it very clear to them. I say, “ok with this blue suit we are going to do this white shirt with this combo” and I give them like three different combo’s of ties and pocket squares, and then I’ll do the same the suit with a blue striped shirt. I just keep it very clear and easy so it’s not too complicated; because once it gets complicated they get overwhelmed very easily.
Can you tell us about the process of being a costume designer?
Basically you start out by reading the script and breaking it down per character. Note how many changes each character has, what type of character it is and then delve into each character and discuss the process with the director, the writer and get them on board with the aesthetics that you’re feeling. I do a lot of inspiration boards when I start off, then you go out to do your shopping for pieces and fabrics and then you’re onto the fittings, and the fittings are really the biggest part. It’s there where you find the character with the person that’s playing it. The minute the actor or actress finds their character, and it usually happens in the wardrobe fitting when the look comes together, it’s a really special moment. After fittings you start shooting and this is the biggest, funnest part for me as you want the characters to look right because it’s going to be on the screen and be there forever, and you can’t change it after that.
You’ve worked on a lot of modern, high-fashion productions such as Ugly Betty and Sex And the City 2, would you consider working on a period film at all?
I would actually love to do a period. I’ve never done one before, but I would love to. I mean, they are beautiful and I really enjoy watching them and exploring the intricacies of the costumes. It is something that I would love to do at some point, but I’ve kind of gotten caught into this modern fashion genre which is my thing, but I would love to be challenged into that direction in the future.
Director Nancy Meyers’ films are renowned for looking gorgeous. How did you find working with her?
I loved it. Nancy and I instantly clicked. We have very similar tastes, which is nice because it doesn’t always happen with your director. When it doesn’t it’s very challenging, but we had a great time working together. She’s such a hardworking woman; I really could appreciate and respect her for that, and as another woman in the industry it’s just so great to see. It was so collaborative and the vision I think for us both turned out to be great, so I was really happy with it and I would love to work with her again.
With thanks to Jacqueline Oknaian. Interview provided by Grapevine Digital.
The Intern is currently on general release.
© 2015, Lord Christopher Laverty.