"The Hunger Games"is a visual smorgasbord of a movie, a cast of hundreds dressed in everything from utilitarian garb with Depression-era grit to glam-gone-grotesque Gaga get-ups inspired by the latest haute couture. Then there's that dress worn by the young heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) that goes up in flames.
It may seem as if it doesn't get much better than this for a costume designer. But the pressure is on to please fans of author Suzanne Collins' YA trilogy, who have purchased millions of copies of the books and have already broken the record previously held by"Twilight Saga: Eclipse"for advance ticket sales for the film, which opens March 23.
"I tried to stay as close to the descriptions in the book as I could," says costume designer Judianna Makovsky. "When I was doing 'Harry Potter,' I changed to an unlisted phone number because I was so terrified I was going to disappoint people."
She needn't worry with this film, which depicts a dystopian universe of haves and have-nots, with a glittering Capitol that is the seat of "let them eat cake" power and the outlying districts, including the drab, impoverished District 12 that is Katniss and Peeta's home. The annual Hunger Games require 24 participants, a boy and a girl from each district who fight to the death until only one is left. And the "show" is broadcast live, watched by everyone in the land with the same fervor real-life viewers have for reality TV.
The costumes in the film are wonderful to look at, but they are also an interesting study because of how they reflect today's fashion world.
The simple beauty of the clothes in District 12, for example, recalls fashion's never-ending fascination with vintage work wear, authenticity and Americana, which is seen in "heritage" brands such as RRL and L.L. Bean. And the outrageous clothing in the Capitol brings to mind the see-and-be-photographed blogger culture that thrives on peacockish personal style and celebrates the kookiest among us, from Nicki Minaj to Bryan Boy.
There's also the legion of "Hunger Games" stylists — led by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) — who help the Tributes, as the Hunger Games contestants are known, dress to impress. In the last decade, styling has become an industry unto itself.
Makovsky put as much thought and consideration into the low-key costumes for District 12 as she did for those in the Capitol.
She started her research by looking at photographs of working-class people from the turn-of-the-19th century to the 1960s in Appalachia and other places in America, particularly images by Lewis Hine and Mike Disfarmer. "We took the basics from that, the simple shapes of the clothes and the colors."
A pair of striped pants Katniss wears to hunt were made from an 1870s Levi Strauss pattern. Her caramel-colored leather jacket was modeled after 1940s styles plucked from costume houses for inspiration. It's not oversized, as specified in the book, where it is described as a hand-me-down from her father.
"We tried that, but it didn't look good, and she couldn't move her arms to shoot," Makovsky explains.
The Sunday-best blue dress that Katniss wears at the Reaping, as the lottery for the Hunger Games is known, was also difficult to get right.
"We made dozens of different versions, some sheer, some not. Originally we thought it would be cotton, but rayon looked better. We found the fabric at the Western Costume fabric shop. And we bleached and dyed it to get just the right blue, and put some smocking at the top. It's supposed to be her mother's dress."
For inspiration for the Capitol costumes, Makovsky looked at Italian Fascist architecture and the work of 1930s and '40s fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli for her "sense of elegance and amusement."
Filmgoers get their first taste of the Capitol when Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the ambassador to the Hunger Games, arrives for the Reaping dressed in a bum-hugging fuchsia dress and a pink wig with a vintage 1930s flower hat stuck on. Her gold booties are from Alexander McQueen, whose work comes to mind when looking at the Capitol dwellers.
Effie is one part Marie Antoinette and one part Isabella Blow, and she can barely walk in her shoes — which was intentional. "She is a fashion victim," Makovsky says.
The stylist Cinna, on the other hand, is more understated. "I wanted a simple elegance for him. I found the black Lurex Prada sweater he wears, and we built on that."
Cinna, whom we meet in the Capitol, conceives of the outfits that Katniss and her partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) wear to represent District 12 in the parade that opens the Hunger Games, and help curry the public's favor. Their glossy patent jackets have flames that shoot out of the shoulders (added in postproduction using CG technology).
For the "girl on fire" dress Katniss wears when she's interviewed on TV on the eve of the games, Makovsky was inspired by Orry-Kelly's transformative gowns in the 1962 film "Gypsy," starring Natalie Wood as an awkward tomboy who transforms into legendary burlesque stage performer Gypsy Rose Lee.
"I wanted the dress to be red, but not so covered in stones that it would look like something out of'Dancing With the Stars,'" Makovsky says. The silk taffeta and organza dress has vertical pleats, so that it moves when Katniss twirls, and flame-like crystal embroidery. The dress is not really "engulfed" in flames, as the book describes, but the skirt does ignite (with the help of CG).
"I didn't want the clothes to overwhelm Katniss," Makovsky says. "We all wanted to go crazy with the costumes, but sometimes it was better to be subtle. It was important to be able to see the characters through the clothes."