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In an interview with Vogue, Don’t Look Up‘s costume designer Susan Matheson broke down how she created each character’s distinct look for the film. While discussing Chalamet’s Yule, a young man who strikes up a bond with Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate amid the impending apocalypse, she revealed that the very first conversation she had with the actor was about his hair.
Chalamet quickly revealed the style icon for his character’s end of the world look as the zoo owner made famous in the 2020 Netflix docuseries.
“The first thing he said to me was ‘I want a mullet,’ and of course, he sent me pictures of Joe Exotic,” Matheson said. “At the time everyone was obsessed with Joe, but instead I found this guy from New Zealand who had this amazing mullet and the moment I showed it to Timotheé, he said: ‘Bingo!'”
Outside of his hair, Matheson says she was thrifty when choosing the clothing look for the character, who is described in the film’s log lines as an “evangelical shoplifting skater punk.” To help portray his religious background and how exactly that informed his end-of-the-world choices (including reciting a prayer toward’s the film’s end), the costume designer says she found vintage patches and T-shirts from Christian camps and had Chalamet wear them, even if they weren’t always visible under his other layers.
One shirt, in particular, features a coy easter egg, which Matheson crafted after McKay expressed that he “wanted there to be these little symbols within the movie, signs of the impending doom.”
“My friend’s brother designed the art for a fictional Christian rock band called Noah’s Flood,” she said. “You have to look in order to see the shirt, but the hand-painted design was this incredible image of Noah’s ark riding away like a surfboard with an electric guitar sticking out.”
Beyond Chalamet, Matheson put a lot of thought into star and singer Ariana Grande’s look for pop star and diva Riley Bina, which the costume designer says had to be “contrary to how Ariana looks in real life.” That resulted in the white Valentino haute couture dress she performs in while dueting with her character’s on-again-off-again musical boo, Kid Cudi’s DJ Chello.
McKay “went wild” for the plume-centric design from Pierpaolo Piccioli’s all-white fall 2020 Valentino collection after Matheson showed it to him, but once on set, the team discovered that it was a bit of a fire hazard.
“The producers had the effects people running over to me to say they’ve got fireworks going off next to Ariana who was suspended in the ceiling,” Matheson recalled. “They’re telling me that we have to fireproof the feathers, and I had to go, ‘Do you know what happens to feathers when they’re wet?’ Plus, I couldn’t let them touch it or get firework sparks anywhere near Ariana.”
The resolution was to move the pyrotechnics farther away from Grande. “We had to figure out ways to do everything safely,” the Don’t Look Up costume designer explained. “I may have yelled, but that’s a museum piece; I felt incredibly protective.”
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival