'Inside Llewyn Davis' Costume Designer Mary Zophres Makes 1961 Downtown Style Modern

With muted colors, jeans, button downs and an Americana feel, the Coen Brothers' latest 1960s-set film feels decidedly 2013.

For the past nine months, costume designer Mary Zophres has been working on Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, her latest project since wrapping Inside Llewyn Davis,  Joel and Ethan Coen’s cinematic ode to Greenwich Village's magical, Pre-Dylan folk music scene that hit theaters on December 6. She has something to confess: In that time, she hasn’t looked at a single fashion magazine. In her words, “I don’t even know what’s going on in fashion.”

By the looks of the outfits she created for Llewyn Davis, she sure could have fooled us. Much of the 1961 Greenwich Village style aesthetic that fills the film—  which has an almost academic, up-market Americana feel —  is evident in 2013's most relevant looks. 

“Our movie had a little toe in the early sixties, but it mostly got it’s foot in the late fifties,” explains Zophres, who is the Coen Brothers' go-to costume designer having worked on True Grit (for which she received an Oscar nomination) and Fargo, among others.  “There is a classic, overall silhouette, to that time period and so you find that often it is so appropriate that you see it repeated over and over, throughout time.”

How, then, did Zophres -- a self-proclaimed vintage lover -- add period-film flair to a style that has become so engrained in modern dressing? For starters, the film's overall palette was inspired by the 1963 album cover of Bob Dylan's Freewheelin, which featured the young folk artist walking down a Village street in jeans and a mustard jacket. Then girlfriend Suze Rotolo was at his side in an army green short trench and flat boots — a look that is likely lingering in any street of any city, this very second.

NOW AND THEN: 1960s New York or 2013 L.A.? The similarity of film fashion to modern looks is uncanny. 


One theme Zophres explored that isn't seen in our modern world of democratized fashion, though, is the 1960s disparity between uptown polish and downtown bohemia visible in both sexes.

“The clothing was roughly the same, they were just deconstructing and being less formal about the clothing they were wearing uptown,”  Zophres says. She wanted to make uptown a bit more formal to make it seem like a different world to Llewyn, played by Oscar Isaac (Carey Mulligan also stars).

The costume of struggling musician Llewyn (see above), as you can imagine, isn't formal: think layers, lots of knit wear, a caramel corduroy jacket (rather than tweed, the more appropriate fabric for a chilled New York winter) with slouched pockets to make him look worn down. And he never changed clothes because, as Zophres said: “You wanted to sense the somewhat desperate nature of his character.”

Isaac, absorbed that sense of desperation as he wore his outfits – most of which were handmade by Zophres and her crew -- weeks before filming to get into character.  Somewhat surprisingly, he became especially connected to his shoes.

“He grew to be so attached to [his shoes] because they made him feel really vulnerable,” Zophres says. “To me, if you can help your actor get to a place that helps them get into character, it’s the reason why I do my job. It is the most satisfying part of my job -- just to have an actor say to you their costume helped them get to where they needed to be. With him, it started with the shoes.”  

Inside Llewyn Davis is in theaters now.