The interrelationship between fashion and film makes for compulsive viewing says Penny McCormick who meets three Irish women responsible for dressing and accessorising le tout Hollywood …
“The film fashions of today are your fashions of tomorrow,” once declared couturier Elsa Schiaparelli who, besides planning haute couture collections, also designed costumes in the 1930s for actresses such as Mae West, Margaret Lockwood and Anna Neagle. Schiaparelli rightly believed that Hollywood was a “dream factory”. The genres of fashion and film have been inextricably linked for the past century.
Films have not only launched fashion careers, but also trends. Who else channelled Diane Keaton’s off beat Ralph Lauren wardrobe in Annie Hall? Or wanted everything that Cate Blanchett wore in the Manhattan-based romantic drama Carol? Or coveted the glitzy Prada and Miu Miu pieces as worn by Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby? Would Giorgio Armani’s career have taken a different trajectory if he had not dressed Richard Gere in American Gigolo, in the process sparking the designer’s longterm silver screen collaborations. Armani’s film credits include The Wolf of Wall Street, The Untouchables and The Dark Knight. What would Barbarella have been without Paco Rabanne’s prescient space age creations? Would Holly Golightly have become a pop culture sensation without Hubert de Givenchy’s sophisticated designs? Blake Edward’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is apparently the most referenced film in fashion. By the way, the final resting place of Audrey Hepburn’s LBD is in Newbridge Silverware’s Museum of Style Icons, alongside other garments worn by Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
Expect an uptick in Gucci sales now that Ridley Scott’s The House of Gucci, starring Adam Driver and Lady Gaga, is in cinemas. The mixture of sex, lies and scandal is based on Sara Gay Forden’s book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed which retells the story Patrizia Reggiani and her marriage to Maurizio Gucci. Reggiani was convicted of Gucci’s assassination in 1998 after hiring a hitman to kill him. Images of Lady Gaga on set reveal how costume designer Janty Yates has dressed her in an array of fur coats, gold jewellery and many heritage and logo-bearing Gucci styles, just the sort of fashion fiesta needed on an autumn evening. Yet what is like creating period and contemporary costumes? A trio of top Irish costume designers reveal all …
The costume designs of Dubliner Consolata Boyle have helped audiences get acquainted with all manner of characters – from reigning monarchs to true blue Dubliners, Belle Époque lovers and even tone-deaf amateur sopranos. “Archaeology was the most brilliant training. It’s a painstaking and detailed process – like costume design for film,” she says of her archaeology and history degree at UCD prior to an apprenticeship in the Abbey Theatre where she worked her way up to resident designer (creating both sets and costumes) in the Peacock. She has collaborated with director Stephen Frears nine times, designing costumes for Philomena, Tamara Drewe, Chéri, The Queen, Mary Reilly, The Van, Florence Foster Jenkins and The Snapper, dressing Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeiffer in the process. TV credits include Miss Julie, written and directed by Liv Ullmann, Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain’s memoir, and Hugh Hudson’s Altamira, with Antonio Banderas and State of the Union.
Michelle Pfeiffer in Chéri, the Stephen Frears romantic comedy for which Consolata Boyle designed the costumes.
Boyle says she enjoys reading and re-reading scripts forensically: “It’s a living document and on virtually all films there are regular rewrites all the way through.” As for inspiration, “It can take the form of looking at actual garments and fabric, whether old or new, books, newspapers, paintings, prints, photographs, video footage – whether archive or contemporary – and of course online resources.” This attention to detail may account for some of her beautiful costumes being in the exhibition, “Hollywood Costume”, which opened in the V&A in London in 2012, and has since toured to Australia and several museums in the US – its final destination the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences in Los Angeles.
Boyle admits she prefers period costumes though says that “contemporary costume design is sometimes deceptively more difficult and equally challenging. One thing I’ve learned is you have to start from scratch every time. Even if you’ve worked on the period before, you have to put it on one side and use your imagination to help create a world and the characters that inhabit it.” Currently she is in London working on Enola Holmes 2 – based on a series of young adult novels, with Millie Bobby Brown as Sherlock Holmes’s rebellious – and smarter – younger sister.
Boyle explains, “The success of a film is often nothing to do with how enjoyable the process has been. What’s important is how strong the story is and how good the script is. The budget is important too, and part of my job is to fight for it and, during each project, along with my costume supervisor, to marshal all our resources and use them wisely. I’ve been able to gather my own team over the years but I enjoy adding new people to the group. However, the key thing on these projects is that Stephen Frears is there at the centre of it all; there’s a shorthand and mutual trust.”
EIMER N? MHAOLDOMHNAIGH
“Knowing how to deal with people on set, especially actors and directors is an important skill set I learned during my time as an apprentice,” says Eimer Ní Mhaodomhnaigh, who in the past assisted costume designer greats such as Sandy Powell, Joan Bergin and Marit Allen.
Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh’s own film credits include The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Brideshead Revisited, Love and Friendship, Breakfast on Pluto, In America, The Guard and Ondine. “I always hope films will be collaborative and enjoyable for everybody. It’s an intense working environment, often with insufficient time and small budgets and it’s important to keep a cool head. On the upside I have made lifelong friends with many work colleagues and actors – crew members have a deep respect for each other.”
Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane.
Dressing Cillian Murphy as Kitten Braden in Breakfast on Pluto was a high point in her career to date. “It was so exciting to work with film director Neil Jordan and create a character like Kitten. At the time I wanted to portray Kitten as androgynous but today he would probably win Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I found his yellow jacket in Rome in high summer and the pants were made with curtains from a charity shop.” Often inspiration for costumes will come from the most random of places. When she dressed Hayley Atwell as Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, she found the embroidered panels for one costume in a market. “Julia wears this dress in Venice and I loved the craftsmanship that went into making it and its oriental references. It was made by an atelier in Paris, where the panels were appliquéd on to the dress.”
Chloe Sevigny in Love and Friendship.
Dressing style icon Chloë Sevigny on the set of Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship was another highlight. “I could have been nervous as she is both an icon in the world of independent film and has also worked as a fashion designer. However, Chloë hadn’t done a period film before so she was very happy to let me get on with my job. I loved the drama of this costume [above] with its gold and blue tones. It was made in Dublin and we had just over a month to prep and make for the whole film.” Most recently Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh has developed costumes for Apple TV’s sci-fi thriller Foundation. “The costume for Indian actress Kubbra Sait, who plays the warrior Phara, took months to make. The armour was made from leather and etched to look like bark. It was a real departure for me, but I saw sci-fi in terms of doing a period film and that was how I found a way into it.”
“To understand these extraordinary people was a constant search for crumbs of knowledge as to what they did wear. They did not wear horns on their heads,” says the Emmy award-winning costume designer Joan Bergin of her research for the wardrobe of Vikings. “I learnt they were obsessively clean. They wove the cloth they wore with intricate bands of colour. Undershirts were in embroidered linen. Furs were used everywhere, even to line breeches. Jewellery denoted rank and was often used to pin one item of dress to another. Viking dress was as refined as their white-blonde hair and skin. Alexander McQueen’s “savage beauty” often sprang to mind.” For Bergin’s final costumes for Katheryn Winnick, who fights alongside the men in Vikings, “The embroidery and Irish tweeds on her costumes were a nice fusion between Celtic and Viking,” she says.
Katheryn Winnick in Vikings.
Bergin has dressed Gabriel Byrne and Olwen Fouéré, plus the Riverdance crew (when they appeared on Broadway). When Meryl Streep saw the clothes she’d be wearing in the film Dancing at Lughnasa, she apparently gave Bergin a hug. On the set of My Left Foot, method actor Daniel Day-Lewis insisted she feed him his lunch while in the role of Christy Brown. Bergin also dressed Day-Lewis for the part of Gerry Conlon in In The Name of the Father. If you recall his white Afghan coat, Bergin sourced the skin from Afghanistan and had it made up in Dublin. While shooting the Neo-Victorian thriller The Prestige in LA, David Bowie said he loved the costumes she created for his cameo role and those of Scarlett Johansson. Praise indeed for the Cabra-born designer, known for her own style – a trademark cowboy hat. One of my personal Bergin favourites is Annabelle Wallis’s costume from The Tudors in which she played Jane Seymour in decadent gowns featuring quilting and embroidery.
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