When she first envisioned the wardrobe for the Coen brothers’ film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” costume designer Mary Zophres knew what she didn’t want: a movie that looked like “Mad Men.” Joel and Ethan Coen’s take on 1961 is gray, windswept, and stark. Zophres was not interested in turning it into a midcentury modern fashion show.
“American Hustle” costume designer Michael Wilkinson also wanted to avoid retro cliches as he outfitted leading ladies Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in vintage 1970s Gucci, Armani, and Halston. And for the Spike Jonze-directed “Her,” costume designer Casey Storm faced the challenge of trying to determine what everyone will be wearing in the not-so-distant future, without making the actors look like extras from “Star Trek.”
In this season’s holiday movies, costumes are earning as much attention as actors and scripts. Clothes are key to setting the scene. Here’s what costume designers have to say about their work in three of the season’s biggest films.
Inside Llweyn Davis
costumes by Mary Zophres (opening here Dec. 20)
For the past 18 years, Zophres has been the go-to designer for Joel and Ethan Coen. She is responsible for the look of films ranging from “Fargo” to her Oscar-nominated work in “True Grit.” In researching the New York of 1961 for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” she found that silhouettes of the time had changed little since the 1950s. The 1960s of rising hemlines and widening trousers was still in the distance.
“I noticed that the people living downtown were very aware that changes were about to take place,” Zophres said. “The formality of the 1950s was starting to be deconstructed. Shirts were untucked and collars unbuttoned. The rules were changing. It was very different from how people were dressing uptown, where the rules were still in place.”
Zophres, who also designed costumes for films such “Catch Me If You Can,” “Ghost World,” and “People Like Us,” spent an extensive amount of time finding an ideal look for folk singer Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac). Although his slouchy corduroy blazer looks as if it was plucked off of a thrift store hanger, it was custom made, inspired by a few different coats that Zophres found in her research on the pre-Dylan folk scene.
Even the beat-up shoes that Isaac’s character wears were custom made.
“Throughout the movie his character is cold. He doesn’t have a winter coat,” she said. “His shoes are uncomfortable. [Isaac] said what he was wearing helped him portray that discomfort in his character.”
costumes by Michael Wilkinson (in theaters Dec. 20)
Two months before it hit theaters, “American Hustle” was already receiving accolades for its highly anticipated — and relentlessly chic — look back into the 1970s and early ’80s. Wilkinson took home the Hollywood Costume Design Award at the Hollywood Film Awards in October.
For David O. Russell’s period drama, which finds Christian Bale with a combover and Jeremy Renner sporting a Steve Lawrence-like helmet of hair, Wilkinson realized that the characters are defining and reinventing themselves through their wardrobes. And what wardrobes they are.
Amy Adams’s character is a con artist and a vamp in a plunging chocolate leather dress from the Halston archives and a Gucci python and bamboo handbag. She’s outfitted in one stunner after another. One of her most memorable looks was designed by Wilkinson: a sheer gun metal sequin evening gown.
“These characters really have a unique relationship to their clothes,” Wilkinson said. “They’re using clothes to find out who they are. Amy’s character arrives in New York as a small town girl, but ends up scamming people by reinventing herself.”
“American Hustle” is an interesting change of pace for Wilkinson, who is better known for designing for films such as “Tron: Legacy,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” and the most recent iteration of Superman. He’s also designing for the forthcoming “Batman vs. Superman.” He’s tight-lipped on details of the superhero costumes.
“I love the range,” he says. “I have the best job in Hollywood.”
costumes by Casey Storm (in theaters Dec. 25)
The not-so-distant future of Spike Jonze’s “Her” is not filled with tinted-plastic jackets or Google glasses, but utilitarian office casual clothes, and, perhaps most startling, high-waisted pants for men.
“I didn’t want the clothes to be a distraction,” Storm said. “But the clothes needed to be different enough from what we wear every day to let people know that it’s not set in 2013.”
In the film Joaquin Phoenix plays a brokenhearted man who falls in love with the voice of his new computer operating system, voiced by a throaty Scarlett Johansson. Phoenix is often seen in banded collar cotton and linen shirts (another nod to a potential menswear trend of the future). Storm confessed that he prefers working in advertising over costuming for film. He got his start with music videos, outfitting the Beastie Boys, Bjork, and Michael Jackson.
Although “Her” seems to be the least glamorous of the holiday movies, it’s the one that has spawned a high-end clothing tie-in. Jonze and Storm teamed up with Opening Ceremony to create a collection loosely based on the look of the film. Which means the fashion future is now — almost.