Pret-a-Reporter

How Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard Got the Bespoke Treatment in 'Allied'

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures; Costume Design by Joanna Johnston/ Illustration by Jacqueline Bissett
"This is the first time we see Marion's character in the film and I wanted her to look sexy and elegant. The dress is quite structured and was made from a beautiful Italian silk that had a silver thread running through it, which gave a gorgeous shimmer," says costume designer Joanna Johnston.

Costume designer Joanna Johnston shares how vintage fashion becomes a modern-day style statement in the sweeping romantic World War II drama.

Everything about the movie Allied (due out Nov. 23) — from the subject matter to the execution — was done in an old school way, and nothing could be more fitting for this sweeping romantic tale set against the backdrop of World War II.

Starring Brad Pitt (Max Vatan) as an intelligence officer, and Marion Cotillard (Marianne Beausejour) as a French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission, their relationship is challenged by the pressures and allegiances of war. To create the look and feel of the period drama, director Robert Zemeckis shot the film mostly in studio, harkening back to the days of classics like Casablanca. "Bob wanted it shot like a classic film where you create the world, you don’t shoot the world," says costume designer Joanna Johnston (who previously worked with Zemeckis on Forrest Gump, Cast Away and Back to the Future).

The challenge with costuming such a high-profile film that’s based on a true story is the details. "The 1940s was such a glamorous time period for fashion; I think people intentionally dressed like that during the tumultuous time period just to keep their spirits up," says Johnston who had a little over four months to do the research and spent many hours poring over noir classics such as the aforementioned Casablanca, To Have and Have Not and Now Voyager, as well as studying the style of period favorites like Hedy Lamarr, Katharine Hepburn, Gary Cooper and Charles Boyer.

"I always develop a crush on a period when I’m doing a film and I became seriously obsessed with Barbara Stanwyck and her style," adds Johnston.

Since the film was initially shot in studio in London (with later exteriors in Grand Cayman playing the role of Morocco), Johnston didn’t have to go far when it came to sourcing. "My first port of all is always the clothes market on Portobello Road. I’ll just tell the dealers what time period I’m working with and they’ll pull pieces for me."

Of course, no matter how pristine the condition a garment has been preserved in, it’s rare that an authentic piece can be worn by a star; looks are cobbled together from various design inspirations and details, with prints changed and accessories added. "When working on a period piece, it’s important to focus on capturing the essence of that period in a way that isn’t jarring to the audience and will help transport them into that world," says producer Graham King.

When Johnson found out Pitt was to be the male lead, she immediately hired tailor Michael Sloan (Lincoln and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and got classics clothiers on board like Mackintosh for Pitt’s raincoats, as well as century-old English shoemakers Crockett & Jones for his timeless brogues. For the military uniforms, she enlisted the guidance of period expert Andrew Fletcher "because I knew I needed to be on terra firma for that since they have to be extremely accurate, and especially for Brad’s role, the uniforms were the anchor point," adds Johnson. 

For Cotillard, the options were endless and also created some of the most challenging work. Every piece for the lead actors was custom made and, while invisible to the average movie goer, took weeks of painstaking problem solving. A favorite piece of Cotillard’s features a cream blouse with a full skirt and involved custom printing a fabric and then painstaking sewing box pleats to make sure the patterns matched up perfectly.

"You always get a good feel from what the crew say when the actor first walks on set, and this one got a big thumbs up," says Johnston of the outdoor cafe scene in a Moroccan market.

So like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman over half a century before them, Pitt and Cotillard, take a style that was as revered and copied then as it is now. "Joanna’s overall vision for the characters’ costumes made the story come alive and the combination of all the elements draws you into the film in a way I’ve never seen before," adds King. Here’s looking at you, kids. 

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