It's not often that an actress could wear her period costumes straight from the screen to the red carpet and be called fashionable. But French star Berenice Bejo's Jazz Age-wardrobe for The Artist -- which has been garnering Oscar talk since Cannes -- is right in step with what the fashion world is sending down runways. For spring 2012, designers Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Etro and Alberta Ferretti showed slim, straight flapper silhouettes and Art Deco black-and-gold beaded loose sheaths. And actresses Zoe Saldana, Camilla Belle and Evan Rachel Wood have already worn '20s looks by Gucci out on the town.
"I just adored wearing those clothes," says Bejo. "The '20s have the most glamorous styles of all time, so no wonder they keep coming back in fashion." With the look also cropping up in Boardwalk Empire, Midnight in Paris and Baz Luhrmann's upcoming The Great Gatsby, it's a resurgence of '20s clothes not seen since the 1974 version of Great Gatsby, starring Mia Farrow.
To research the black-and-white silent film, due out Nov. 23, costume designer Mark Bridges looked back to movies with such '20s-era stars as Clara Bow, Joan Crawford and Mary Pickford to tell the story of Bejo's Peppy Miller, a cloche-wearing ingenue. The star-crossed romance follows leading man George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) as he struggles with the advent of the talkies and watches Miller move from struggling bit player to Hollywood star.
Her clothes become increasingly luxurious along the way. Early on, she wears girly drop-waist cotton dresses, graduating to beaded silk and chiffon gowns and fur-collared coats. Bejo also wears a monkey-fur jacket (vintage, PETA people) that was referred to as King Kong on set. Says Bridges, "It was wonderfully contemporary in a way because it had really slim sleeves, as the great coats nowadays do."
For Bridges -- an aficionado of early Hollywood who recalls his mother taking him to see silent films growing up -- designing the period outfits was a dream despite the film's low budget and just eight weeks to prep. A big hurdle, though, was the lack of period '20s dresses. "After 90 years, most of those silk dresses are just shattered. Perspiration, time, hangers and dust have rendered them unusable or so fragile they wouldn't have made it through the shoot," says Bridges, who received Costume Designers Guild Awards nominations for his work on 2001's Blow and last year's The Fighter.
Bridges became a master at cobbling things together, copying patterns from period items, remaking them with modern fabrics and adding the occasional Art Deco border, beads or a vintage collar from his own collection. "It's whatever we can find, remake, rent or buy," says Bridges, who's in Philadelphia shooting the David O. Russell comedy The Silver Linings Playbook. He even scoured eBay for delicately aged '20s-style beaded dresses from later eras.
"The beading was so good, I used two on Peppy. I reconfigured one a little bit, but the other one went right on her. We didn't have all the time or the money in the world, so having a couple of beaded dresses that I could readily buy and convert helped a lot."
What struck both Bridges and his star were how simply constructed the clothes of the era were. "They are really the first feminist looks! They represent freedom. Before that, women lived in corsets," says Bejo.
Right now, the film's costumes are tucked away in Bejo's closet at her Paris home, but the stunning dresses and accessories will travel to Los Angeles for a display at downtown's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising during this Oscar season. And Bejo tells THR that indeed she's already thinking she just might wear a gown or two from the film on the red carpet during the coming months.
-- Merle Ginsberg and Carol McColgin contributed to this report.
THE JAZZ AGE LOOK
The Inspiration: To prepare for The Artist, Bridges watched Clara Bow in 1927's It and Joan Crawford in 1928's Our Dancing Daughters. The costume designer and director Michel Hazanavicius are also fans of the 1928 Marion Davies film Show People. "It's a slice of life at MGM from that period," says Bridges.
The Hat: Bejo's black-satin hat was from Western Costume Co. "That particular period shape is difficult to find. They were gracious enough to let me add some more stones to complement the dress," says Bridges.
The Bracelet: Bridges rented the rhinestone bracelet from PalaceCostume. "It catches the light in a great way and looks expensive on film," he says.
The Dress: Bridges re-created a '20s dress he found at San Fernando Valley shop LeLuxe Clothing in iridescent sequins.