The Look of Love: Q&A with Costume Designer Stephanie Collie

As is often the way with costume designers, Stephanie Collie is something of an unsung hero. We will not reel off her entire back catalogue, but it does include South Riding (2011, TV), Telstar (2008) Peter’s Friends (1992) and perhaps most exciting of all, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998).

Now, anyone old enough to remember when Lock, Stock arrived will remember just what an incredible influence its Mod inspired costumes had on the world of fashion. You could not pick up a men’s magazine of the time without seeing some guy in slim trousers and a jersey polo shirt. Stephanie Collie invented this look, thus providing one of the clearest examples of how costume design can transcend a movie and become something more. We would go so far as to say Stephanie Collie helped define an era.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels_Cast pic_Image credit PolyGram Filmed Entertainment-001

The young cast of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels wearing the soon to be ubiquitous Brit gangster style, largely created by costume designer Stephanie Collie.

A self confessed fan of vintage clothing, especially from the 1970s, Ms. Collie was the natural choice to recreate the world of ‘Soho King’ billionaire Paul Raymond in The Look of Love. She understood the eras on screen (five decades in total) and how they contributed to the creation and transition of character. Compare Paul in the first flashback scene of the film to the last. He has undertaken a journey represented by his attire, from poor to rich, respected to sleazy, lonely to alone.

Clothes on Film recently had a delightful chat with Stephanie Collie discussing her approach for The Look of Love, scouring for vintage finds, the state of fashion today, plus just a few hints of what to expect from her latest project, BBC gangland drama Peaky Blinders:

Clothes on Film: Much of The Look of Love takes place during the 1960s and 70’s, two decades that it’s easy to get carried away with. Was it a balancing act of just how far you could push both eras on screen?

Stephanie Collie: You do find the most amazing 70’s things. You think “I’ll need that”, but then you realise it is too much. It’s about the characters too; these are real people living in the real world. Obviously, Paul did live to excess. He had a few things, like the fur coat, which is obviously way over the top, but yes, you can go too far, and it starts to look like parody then.  It has to be believable. There is one 70’s dress that I see again and again and I always want to use it, but it’s just too much. Probably someone did wear it at the time, but it’s too high fashion for normal people to wear. I do a lot of stuff in the 70’s. I happen to think that the 70’s is one of the great fashion eras – I love it. And it’s all so different; early 70’s through to mid, to the end where you’ve got all the disco influences coming in. 

You always see the changes more in women’s clothes. For men, the suits – it’s just little differences. The lapels getting slightly wider, the trousers becoming more flared, but with the women you can really see the change. At the end of the day, the most important thing is what looks good on the actor. If, for example, you’re doing the early 70’s but a 60’s suit looks better, they could still be wearing the 60’s suit. People didn’t have as much money then. If you bought a suit in the late 60’s you couldn’t just afford to buy another one because the style had changed. We covered so many eras in the film – it was quite difficult.

The Look of Love_Imogen Poots, Steve Coogan wedding_Image credit FilmFour

Imogen Poots as Debbie and Steve Coogan as her father Paul Raymond. The wedding dress worn by Poots was purchased on eBay for £30, even before the actress was cast.

CoF: Did you know when you were designing the costumes that there wouldn’t be any subtitles on screen to tell the audience when the scenes were taking place?

SC: Yeah, I think back in the script, it does identify the time at the beginning.  And I think there was some talk of doing that. But really, yes, I had to provide visual clues so people could understand the difference in the decades. For those who remember the eras it is pretty easy, but obviously the younger viewers wouldn’t remember as they might have been children, or whatever!

CoF: I did notice there wasn’t much of the 80’s on screen…

SC: I think the 80’s are much maligned as well. And there is that tendency to go “oh, shoulder pads” and all that big stuff. But that’s just what we’re used to seeing in magazines and Dynasty, and real people weren’t wearing that so much. It’s more hair that dates the 80’s, not so much the clothes. It’s like a polo neck. You wear a polo neck in the 50’s, the 60’s…it just goes throughout and people just add shoulder pads underneath in the 80’s. I think if costume is subtler then it’s far more interesting than being in your face. There’s Imogen’s purple jacket that she wears for the interview. That’s definitely 80’s and it’s got a bit of a shoulder pad. But it’s just a bit of detailing and not too over-the-top. I like the idea that it can bring back memories for people, like when people look at the 60’s clothes and say “oooh, my mum used to have a dress like that”.

This film was just so much fun to do. Working with director Michael Winterbottom was fantastic. He had such a great vision, always.

CoF: So, is Michael quite into costume or is it something he leaves you alone to do?

SC: He is, but he just lets you get on with it. We work at a very fast pace and he just trusts you to get on and do it. To have to go back to him with pictures of every single thing? There’s just not enough time. 

The Look of Love_Steve Coogan fur coat, Tamsin Egerton_Image credit FilmFour

Coogan with Tamsin Egerton as Fiona Richmond. This image recreates the time Paul dressed Fiona as Lady Godiva and paraded her through the streets of London to promote his latest Soho show. The fur coat was a lucky find for Collie via a relative of someone working at Carlo Manzi Rentals.

CoF: Were you slavish about recreating the real-life characters?

SC: We did have masses of reference. However, someone like Tamsin Egerton is such a different shape to the original Fiona – she is massively tall with hugely long legs. We though “great, let’s make a feature of that” instead of just literally copying what Fiona wore. Recently, I was looking at photos of a new Diana film (released 20th September) and I watched the Burton and Taylor biopic (shown on BBC 4), and I think to literally copy the original clothes doesn’t always suit the actor. They could be a different age, different build…Here it was about getting the essence of Paul Raymond but making sure it worked on Steve Coogan. The real Paul was always wearing crazy glasses, but we thought it was just too much and could start to look a bit comedy. I really think Steve was just fantastic all the way. 

CoF: I’ve heard he’s quite into clothes.

SC: Steve loves clothes. He LOVES them. It makes such a difference, because, you know, when people love clothes they wear them so well. He knows a lot about fashion as well. It’s really nice to dress someone when they really care. It’s interesting when you’re taking photographs of actors during fittings – the ones who really love clothes will pose in them, whereas others will just stand there straight. I’ve got to say, the boys on Peaky Blinders loved their clothes. They loved them too much! Sorry, I know I’m talking about the wrong thing, but I just loved it so much. Hats are so great. It would be great if people thought “I’d like to wear something like that now”, because fashion just ends up repeating itself.

The Look of Love_Anna Friel dress white top_Image credit FilmFour

Anna Friel as Jean Raymond. Friel wears vintage clothing in real life, so it is perhaps no wonder the costumes suited her so well.

CoF: It’s funny you mentioned build earlier, because I was thinking that although Tamsin looked great, Anna Friel, who’s very petite, looked more 60’s to me.

SC: Tamsin loves fashion. Actually, they all did, really, but Anna Friel wears vintage a lot anyway. And Imogen Poots as well, but not quite as dressy as the stuff Anna likes. She likes simpler things. I brought in a pair of dungaree cut-off shorts from the 80’s – they were actually mine. I’m trying to remember when people did wear them; I think it was late 80’s/early 90’s. They were short at the knee, and she loved them so much I told her that she could have them.

CoF: What shoes do you wear with those?

SC: I used to wear cowboy boots, I seem to remember! (laughs) You know, the 80’s is back in such a big way now. This makes me laugh so much, because the 80’s is the one period which is my least favourite. You know, the 70’s really suits men though. Men looked really good in the 70’s. That slightly higher-waisted trouser – that looked so flattering. I don’t know why men started to think that a low-slung jean and trouser was fashionable. It’s not attractive!

CoF: I felt that Carl (played by James Lance) looked great in all his suits.

SC: He does, doesn’t he? And his hair. It’s all his own hair!

CoF: Did you try to make his look ape that of Paul Raymond later on?

SC: I didn’t actually think about that, but now that you’ve mentioned it…yeah, it did. Though we never actually discussed it and thought about doing it. He was a lawyer but we did quite trendy 70’s suits for him, especially that nice black one with the pinstripes. He wasn’t just boring all the time in a navy suit. And we changed the ties. I LOVE 70’s ties. 

CoF: This really is a tie movie.

SC: (laughs) Yeah, the number of times the boys had to retie them, because they wanted to get them in line with their trousers. They drove everyone mad.

The Look of Love_Tamsin Egerton, Michael Winterbottom set_Image credit FilmFour

Egerton on set with Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom was a big draw as to why Collie became involved with the project.

CoF: What about Tony Powers’ look in the film?

SC: It’s what I call the leisure look. The safari jackets and stuff – we wanted him to have a loucheness about him. We got him in a suit at one point. Well, obviously he’s in a suit at the wedding, but really he was more casual and relaxed. So part of the time. He was doing a lot of drugs. Really, his look doesn’t change that much.

We were lucky in this film that we didn’t need to make anything; everything’s vintage. When you do make something to be vintage, I don’t know, I can’t explain – it just doesn’t have the same feel, or smell. I will always use original stuff if I can. It’s been worn too. When you make something new, you can break it down but it just never feels right. It doesn’t feel the same. I think wearing these clothes helps the actor, kind of roots them a bit. Suits now are made from such fine wools, they just look like they’ll blow away. The old ones have a rigidity to them that modern suits don’t have. They look better on camera as well. The weaves, the textures…they look good under the lights. Modern suits just seem to look bland. The fabrics were just a lot more interesting, and the 70’s did love the Terylene.

CoF: Were all of the female costumes vintage too, then?

SC: Yep, we didn’t make anything. We did have some trouble with sizes, particularly with 70’s stuff – you don’t want anyone too tall or too large, because, as you said, people were generally thinner and smaller. We scoured from a mixture: Carlo Manzi’s costume house I used a lot, especially for menswear, Angels, and I bought a lot of vintage stuff as well. I went on eBay and the markets, like Spitalfields. I’ve forgotten the name of the other market…

CoF: Greenwich?

SC: No, I used to go down there a lot but I haven’t been there for a bit. Camden – I used to go ‘round there and get lots from there but it’s not the same anymore. Portobello Road isn’t quite the same either; it’s good for furs though. There are vintage fairs too, but they are a bit more particular. There’s a good one at Hammersmith once a month. We didn’t have a lot of money, so what that basically meant was, with the crowds, we were re-using a lot of the outfits for different scenes. We’d have a stock of stuff and just keep refitting it. That’s another reason you don’t want to be too obvious, because if you have a dress and you need to use it three times, it’s just going to be too recognisable. I’d put a different jacket over the top or add a scarf. Also, I tend to not do many patterns, because again, that’s another recognisable thing. Patterns are difficult too. I think you should just do one or two people; not like a room full of people with lots of patterns. It just gets too confusing. 

The Look of Love_Steve Coogan 1960s full_Image credit FilmFour

A recreation of Raymond’s ‘Revuebar’ circa late 1960s. Note the overall slim shape of Coogan’s trousers. According to Collie, men’s suits rarely change much, certainly throughout the timeline of The Look of Love, with the only major differences being lapel width and trouser flare.

CoF: Did you have a favourite look from the film?

SC: I was really pleased with the wedding. All the girls’ outfits – there was such a progression of fashion at that stage, sort of late 70’s. I’m not really sure of the name of it but I think we managed to capture that at the wedding. I do love Imogen’s wedding dress. I bought it on eBay for £30 and I thought it fitted her perfectly. I bought it before she was even cast. I just thought “I really like that dress. I’m going to buy it.” 

CoF: It’s a shame we don’t get to see the wedding dress that clearly on screen. Was that frustrating for you?

SC: Yeah it is, but I suppose at the end of the day it’s not about the clothes, it’s about the story. Anna has this fantastic velvet trouser suit but you hardly see it – it’s when she comes out of the court just after being divorced. It’s such a shame because it was so lovely.

CoF: I’ve just got to ask about the dance and stage-wear. Did you not create that from scratch?

SC: In the 70’s yeah, that is a bit of a cheat there; we did have some of the stuff made. Those silver outfits were based on a reference of a real Paul Raymond show that was actually performed during that period. Just because of money really, we went to a shop that does showgirl outfits, and these outfits haven’t changed much, so we felt we could go with those. I do feel that we went with colours and fabrics that went with the period, though. The rehearsal stuff we actually found, for example the leg warmers they were wearing. For Debbie’s show though, that was all original. We found that – the shorts and cardigan. It was this kind of whole, tacky show that just went horribly wrong for them. 

Peaky Blinders_Cast first pic_Image credit BBC

1919 set Peaky Blinders, aka the ‘British Boardwalk Empire’, starts 12th September on BBC 2. You can be sure we’ll be talking to Stephanie Collie about her already spectacular looking costumes for the show soon.

CoF: Finally, with all of these tie-in ranges coming out for films like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo from H & M, and Banana Republic with Anna Karenina – being as you are so interested in fashion, is this something you would like to be involved in?

SC: I think it depends. It can be just such a tenuous link that it doesn’t really make sense. The Banana  Republic one for Anna Karenina was just so tenuous. For me to do it, it would have to make sense. To do it with that real old period stuff is very difficult.

CoF: How about Peaky Blinders?

SC: Yeah, with Peaky Blinders, we did actually want to create a look that would then translate into Autumn and Winter ranges this year for, I don’t know, Top Man. They could actually translate the look from Peaky into the shop window. So with that, yeah, I could see it working. For me, I see it more with menswear. I love dressing men. I love it. Right from the boys on Lock Stock – I’ve always just loved dressing men. They can look so good. And not even just vintage. I dunno, I just think men have lost the art of dressing themselves. It’s all too casual. I just think that people don’t look in the mirror anymore and REALLY look at themselves.

With thanks to Stephanie Collie.

The Look of Love is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.