Pret-a-Reporter

How Costume Designers for 'Trumbo,' 'Joy' Found the Perfect Fit

Helen Mirren in 'Trumbo'
Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media

Wardrobing historical figures from legendary Hollywood gossip queen Hedda Hopper to Eddie Redmayne's Lili Elbe, four designers reveal they started with "the deepest, most thorough research possible."

Trumbo
Costume Designer: Daniel Orlandi

"It was great to work with the more glamorous looks of the '40s and '50s, but our work also encompasses people at home, in prison, in a sleazy Hollywood producer's office, on the set of a gangster film and the set of Spartacus," says Orlandi. The Emmy winner created more than 60 looks for Bryan Cranston's screenwriter Dalton Trumbo — ranging from pajamas to three different tuxedos — as well as costumes for actors portraying Hollywood notables Kirk Douglas, John Wayne and Otto Preminger and gossip queen Hedda Hopper, played by Helen Mirren. Most of Hopper's frocks were created from vintage fabrics; Orlandi pulled from his own collection of vintage buttons, jewelry, feathers and flowers for the columnist's trademark headwear. "Daniel did a phenomenal job with her character," notes director Jay Roach. "It may seem like an exaggeration, but Hopper really dressed like that, and it's fantastic." Orlandi styled Mirren's ensembles during a "marathon" fitting session in New Orleans. On set he draped her daily in custom gowns and playful hats, many with sparkling, dangling pieces. Mirren's take, he recalls: "Daniel, I feel like I'm your own personal Christmas tree."

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Joy
Costume Designer: Michael Wilkinson

Based loosely on the true story of Joy Mangano, who rose from struggling single mother to inventor of the Miracle Mop and founder of her own multimillion-dollar company, David O. Russell's Joy spans 30 years. No stranger to working with Russell and designing costumes for stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (having worked on, and received an Oscar nomination for, American Hustle), Wilkinson had one key directive: to create timeless looks free from the cliches of each era. "For the core of the story, the costume choices would be timeless and classic — sturdy, 'honest' pieces that have an emotional authenticity, an effortless beauty," says Wilkinson. "Films are usually defined by their period, but we strove to find a different type of authenticity: a personal, psychological authenticity that expressed character more than era." Lawrence undergoes 45 costume changes through her evolution — from jeans to a wedding dress to tailor-made suits — "as she finds different ways of using her clothes to express her determination," explains Wilkinson. "Through her costumes, we see her shifting levels of desperation, disillusion, empowerment and wealth."

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Suffragette
Costume Designer: Jane Petrie

Wardrobing the 1912 movement for women's right to vote in the United Kingdom — which united female "foot soldiers" and "forward-thinking women" from different classes — meant dressing hundreds of extras as well as the principal cast (including Carey Mulligan as a laundress). Petrie did a massive search through the costume houses of London and Paris for original garments "even though we knew they would be high maintenance," she says. "We would take as much original stock as we could lay our hands on and recycle it like crazy." Inspired by Edward Linley Sambourne's photographs, the designer also used the colors of the movement ("Purple represented dignity and ability. Green stood for hope. White was purity," notes actress Helena Bonham Carter). "Doing the deepest, most thorough research possible, I find, usually produces the right results," says Petrie. "The answer is in the script."

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The Danish Girl
Costume Designer: Paco Delgado

A pair of ivory stockings and matching silk pumps provide an aha moment for Eddie Redmayne's character in The Danish Girl. Spanish costume designer Delgado literally transformed the married Copenhagen artist Einar Wegener (who undergoes a gender transition — and was one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery — to become Lili Elbe) by stripping away his constricting Edwardian menswear in favor of the freedom of fancy feminine dresses. "Most of my inspiration came from the real illustrations, drawings and paintings of Gerda Wegener [Elbe's wife, played in the film by Alicia Vikander]," says Delgado. "Also from some of the couturiers of the period in France, particularly Jean Lanvin for Lili and Chanel for some of Gerda. The major challenge was, obviously, to make Lili credible as a character. To avoid caricature, we experimented with shapes, color and hair — and Lili herself had to experiment with her look, to find what is best for her, what enhances the woman." With period fabrics and a color scheme that shifts from oppressive, dark suits to warm colors as Einar/Lili transitions and the action shifts from Copenhagen to Paris, the costumes become a character of their own, vividly evoking the 1920s.

This story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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