5 Costume Designer Contenders on Creating Characters and Key Pieces

Costume Designers Roundtable - H 2014
Joe Pugliese

Catherine Martin ("The Great Gatsby"), Michael Wilkinson ("American Hustle"), Mary Zophres ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Trish Summerville ("Catching Fire") and Daniel Orlandi ("Saving Mr. Banks") reveal the inspiration behind the sartorial splendor they created onscreen.

Catherine Martin

The Jazz Age flair of The Great Gatsby

Martin is no stranger to Oscar voters, having won two statuettes in 2002 for her Moulin Rouge! costumes and set decor. In The Great Gatsby, her fourth film wit husband-director Baz Lurhmann, she mainlines fresh blood into F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary autopsy of the empty emotional lives of Long Island's wealthy elite during the gin-soaked Prohibition era. Thanks to Martin, who again did double set and costume design duty, the film's parties in Gatsby's East Egg mansion are ocular orgies set to the music of Jay Z, Beyonce and Andre 3000. But Martin's aesthetic also remains unerringly true to Fitzgerald's period, including body-conscious gowns, assymetrical hemlines and iridescent satins.

Like many other costume designers, Martin is prone to putting hidden touches in costumes, details moviegoers won't see but that give the actor insight into the character. To that end, she added a skull-and-bones silk lining to one of to-the-manor-born Tom Buchanan's (Joel Edgerton) suits. The lining references his character's Yale days and The Order of the Skull and Bones, the university's elitist secret society, founded in 1832.

Martin prepares far in advance. "We were doing a 3D test for the movie with Leo [DiCaprio] and Tobey [Maguire] about 18 months before we actually shot the movie, even before we got greenlit," she recalls. One of the film's key pieces is the suit worn by DiCaprio's Gatsby during his final confrontation with Tom. "That suit is a character in itself," she says. "Tom tries to undercut Gatsby's position by implying that he's nouveau riche and he mentions the pink suit disparagingly," says Martin. "Brooks Brothers was actually making pink seersucker suits in the early '20s." She admits: "I don't know whether Leo was that thrilled about having to wear a pink suit. But I think it's an instrumental part of reflecting the intense romanticism that lives inside Gatsby's heart."

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Michael Wilkinson

American Hustle's cliche-free 1970s chic

Three-time Costume Designers Guild Award nominee Wilkinson is widely acclaimed for his futuristic and fantastical costumes in such films as Tron: Legacy, the Spartan epic 300 and Man of Steel, for which he reenvisioned Superman's iconic costume. But the Australian-born designer has come back down to earth for David O. Russell's intricate 1970s-era black comedy American Hustle, which already has garnered him a 2013 Hollywood Film Award win for best costume and production design.

"David O. Russell created this amazing story full of characters who are constantly reinventing themselves to keep their head above water. You have people dressing to be the people they are aspiring to be. For a costume designer interested in how people's personalities are expressed in their clothing, that stuff is golden," he says. Yes, Wilkinson stocked up on bolts of vintage polyester to capture the era -- but he also worked to avoid cliches. "We looked deeply into photographs of real people from the period for a more gritty, real approach," says Wilkinson.

For star Christian Bale, he tailored vibrantly colored suits, shirts and pants to show "that his character came from humble beginnings in the Bronx, but he tried to present himself as a sophisticate, a man of the world." When it came to the female characters, like star Amy Adams, bras were few and far between in 1978. "The '70s bodacious, plummeting necklines meant we had to keep our eyes on the monitor all the time to make sure there was nothing untoward happening." Many of the costumes were made from scratch. "Those dresses are now over 30 years old and were looking a little worse for wear," he explains. "So finding fabrics to remake the vintage styles was the key, including a sequin fabric that had the right amount of sheerness and stretch to take every curve of Amy's physique."

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Mary Zophres

Inside Llewyn Davis' down-and-out realism

Zophres -- who has worked on 12 Coen brothers movies and was Oscar-nominated for their 2010 film True Grit -- is back on the Oscar buzz list for their latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, set in Greenwich Village during the 1961 folk music revival era. And, believe it or not, it's a film in which the lead character, a perpetually depressed singer played by actor-musician Oscar Issac, wears just one outfit throughout the entire film. "His character is constantly living in someone else's apartment, so I thought he should have a smaller bag and fewer clothes." All of Davis' pieces -- slouchy corduroy jacket, pants, gloves and muffler, as well as his hand-knit cardigan and scarf -- were made in multiples. "He wore his costume for 45 days of shooting, so there was nothing that could have lasted the duration of the shoot."

Trish Summerville

Catching Fire's full-throttle couture

Summerville jumped from styling music stars (Pink, No Doubt) to big-budget movies in 2011, when she nailed the punky garb for David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, for which she won a Costume Designers Guild Award. Now she's gone futuristic for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, with jaw-dropping ball gowns for Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Cerre leather moto jackets for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and hyper-designed Alexander McQueen dresses (including one with trembling butterflies) for Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). The biggest challenge? Outfitting the Games contestants, who all are in unitard-like sweatsuits that had to fit 24 different body types ranging from age 19 to 79. Says Summerville, "The shoes also had to be things they could swim in and run on lava rock."

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Daniel Orlandi

It was tweed under blue L.A. skies in Saving Mr. Banks

Orlandi -- whose big-screen credits include Frost/Nixon and The Da Vinci Code -- won a 1989 Emmy for The Magic of David Copperfield XI and most recently designed HBO's Emmy-winning TV movie Game Change. He's now in the Oscar race, already nominated for a Critics Choice Award for his work in Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, a film about the amusingly antagonistic relationship between congenial Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and Mary Poppins' prickly author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson). "When we first see P. L. Travers arriving at the airport in Los Angeles, she is holding on to her English traditions," explains Orlandi. "A nice tweed suit and overcoat. Even though it's sunny Southern California." He fashioned her clothes on what a proper British woman of some means would wear, using autumnal colors as contrast to pastel Southern California. Disney -- whom Orlandi dressed in his daily gray-suit uniform -- was expecting a nice little old lady he could charm and cajole. Instead, he faced a suffer-no-fools matron, with very definitive ideas about the film he wanted to make about her Mary Poppins. "We wanted her clothes to have strength. Tweed became her armor. She also carries a big alligator purse, which she clutches to her chest. That became her shield. She wasn't going to give an inch."

The real Travers always wore silver bracelets, so Orlandi used a beautiful Georg Jensen turn-of-the-century silver piece. "It became her amulet to ward them all off. I had her wear it all the time, even with her nightgown." Orlandi did take liberties with Travers' sleeveless gown worn to the film's 1964 premiere. He opted for a more matronly sleeved sheath with a pale blue silk wrap because he was afraid that Thompson would look, as he puts it, too "hot" in sleeveless.

His proudest moment was re-creating Disneyland, circa 1961. "We dressed hundreds of children as extras that day. Many of the crew brought their kids, wives and husbands. All of the people who had grown up here were saying, 'Oh, my God, it's just like the first time I went to Disneyland with my parents.' It was a great day." But as deep as Disney's archives are, they had no original life-size costumes of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto. "At the last minute we had to re-create all of the 1961 Disney mascots and retain that original, handmade look," says Orlandi. "Mickey looked a lot different back then!"



This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.