Movies: Designs that build character

Los Angeles Times

A movie doesn’t have to be jampacked with cinema style to have a memorable fashion moment or two, and in the course of screening the slate of holiday-season films, we found all kinds of clothes, accessories, hairstyles and makeup worth a mention.


Yes, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” based on a book by Brian Selznick, is a movie about an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station. But it’s also a filmmaker’s film about a filmmaker making films, and as such even the costumes and makeup (designed by Sandy Powell and Morag Ross respectively) layer in subtle references to past films and historical figures.

For example, Powell explains that the striped scarf worn by one of the supporting characters (Monsieur Frick, played by Richard Griffiths) had its roots in another movie. “It was similar to the one Alec Guinness’ character wore in a movie called ‘The Lavender Hill Mob,’ she says. “It was my little tribute to that.”


To find inspiration for the hair gracing the face of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Station Inspector, Ross didn’t have to go any further than the boss’ body of work. “Taking a World War I mustache and balancing it out for Sacha’s features… you get a mustache that’s kind of reminiscent of Daniel Day Lewis’ in ‘Gangs of New York’ so that’s the reference I went with,” she says.

During a chase scene through the train station, sharp-eyed viewers might be able to recognize background actors with facial hair groomed to resemble the distinctive mustaches of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, artist Salvador Dali and writer James Joyce.

—Adam Tschorn

“Iron Lady”

The costumes in “The Iron Lady,” the unconventional biopic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that opens in limited release Dec. 30, say a lot about political power dressing. Meryl Streep, who plays Thatcher, has nearly 40 costume changes in the film, and almost all of what she wears is Tory blue, a color the PM favored because it set her apart from a sea of men in gray suits.

“She used blue in all forms, from the most pastel and girlish to the most deep,” says the film’s costume designer, Consolata Boyle. “We used blue in a very deliberate way in the film, as a metaphor and a tool to convey Margaret’s emotions and her ideas.”

Early in her career, Thatcher takes advice from political consultants who tell her to lose her ultra-feminine, fussy style, particularly her hats. She agrees to all but one thing: “The pearls are nonnegotiable.” That double strand of pearls, a copy of Thatcher’s own, is one of many pieces of her jewelry re-created for the film. “She was a great collector. It’s such an iconic look she had with the pearls and the brooch on the shoulder,” Boyle says.

All of Streep’s costumes were handmade — from the pretty, pale blue suits her character wears early on to the sharper ones with defined waists and strong shoulders that she wears later in her career. “But this wasn’t slavish copying,” Boyle says. “Everything had a heightened intensity to move the story along.”


There is evidence, she says, that Thatcher thought a lot about her clothes. During the 1982 Falklands War, for example, Thatcher wore a lot of bow-front blouses. “There was a mixture of femininity and strength in how she presented herself then.”

Still, Thatcher came from a lower-middle-class background and was always an outsider among the elite Tory party. Ultimately, her social status was reflected in her perfectionism, Boyle says. “It was not a confident way to dress. There was nothing nonchalent about it. It was armor.”

It’s also worth singling out the makeup artists on the film, a team nearly 12 people strong, who succeeded in aging Streep so artfully, the actress was virtually unrecognizable.

—Booth Moore


“My Week With Marilyn”

The transformation of Michelle Williams into a 30-year-old Marilyn Monroe was no small task. It required the actress to spend three hours a day in hair, makeup and wardrobe to look not like the heavy-lidded glamour girl with a crimson pout who is most familiar to the public, but like the pared-down woman behind the icon.

“My Week With Marilyn” focuses on the tense working relationship between Sir Laurence Olivier and Monroe during the filming of the 1956 movie “The Prince and the Showgirl,” as well as on a budding friendship between the voluptuous actress and a young director’s assistant.

Though the film captures an “off-duty” side of Monroe, her wardrobe is still tailored. But it has an ease that draws a strong contrast to the constricting, sexy dresses we’re used to on her. Costume designer Jill Taylor used ladylike pieces including ivory silk button-down blouses, camel-colored pencil skirts and classic trench coats punctuated by chiffon head scarves and oversized sunglasses. All are worn with an air of insouciance that brings out a more vulnerable and down-to-earth side of Monroe.


Jenny Shircore designed Williams’ makeup to look like no-makeup makeup. Shircore used shadowing and contouring to reshape the actress’ face to appear less round and longer, like Monroe’s.

“She never lost the mole, the shape of the eyebrows or the bow-shaped lip,” Shircore says. “We pinpointed features on Michelle that, no matter if she was doing a scene where she was crying at home or on the movie set, reminded us that this is indeed Marilyn Monroe.”

Shircore also had to reshape Williams’ eyes which she says have a much smaller lid than Monroe had. By using various tones of foundation to shade the area and white eye shadow across the lid, Williams’ eyes appear a little more sultry and seductive. Williams’ naturally green-brown eye color was altered to blue in post production.

The actress decided against contact lenses and any kind of prosthetics so they didn’t interfere with her performance. “She wanted to capture the essence of Marilyn without forcing her face where it just didn’t want to go,” Shircore says. “She also didn’t want to wear red lipstick as it seemed too glamorous considering we were capturing Marilyn’s private life. She wore a red lip in the very last scene when she returns to Hollywood. It’s like putting your mask back on to face everything — the glamour and the glitz.”


—Melissa Magsaysay

“The Muppets”

Rahel Afiley had the thankless task of being the costume designer for His Frogness and friends’ return to the big screen — thankless not only because most people would barely notice if Kermit turned up without clothes on but also because whatever clothes ultimately do end being worn by Muppet or human cast member, they’re inevitably forced to compete for attention against a lot of focus-pulling animated fabric creatures.

That makes the clothes that do catch our attention all the more memorable — like the matching two-button, notch-lapel powder blue suits with contrast taped pockets Jason Segel’s character and his Muppet sibling (“Mibling?) Walter wear in an early musical number, and which Afiley created after batting around a few ideas with director James Bobin. “We thought it was funny, sort of a reference to the ‘70s. It had that kind of ‘70s feel like someone was living in the past, but at the same time the suits had a current cut,” Afiley says. (Not unlike a certain bunch of Muppets).


There were other fashion moments too, with Afiley tapping fashion designer Zac Posen to design the dress Miss Piggy wears for her “Rainbow Connection” performance and having Brooks Brothers design a frog-appropriate tuxedo for Kermit.

But in my estimation, the best fashion in joke of the whole movie (besides Piggy’s new job as plus-size editor of French Vogue) was to have none other than Christian Louboutin himself create a pair of his red-soled heels expressly for the porcine princess to wear.

— Adam Tschorn

“War Horse”


Have you ever heard of an equine makeup artist? Neither had I, until I read the production notes for “War Horse,” which opens Christmas Day. But it makes sense. Steven Spielberg’s epic film is about a young Englishman named Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who enlists in World War I after his beloved horse Joey is sold into cavalry, and the horse’s journey through war-torn Europe. The cast of horses was every bit as important as the cast of humans.

There were 12 horses that played Joey, each one trained to do a different action, and they all had to look identical with four white socks and a white “star” on the forehead. That’s where equine makeup artist Charlie Rogers came in. Apparently, it took 45 minutes to get each horse into makeup.

With all the battle scenes in the film — based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel “War Horse,” which was adapted into a stage play in 2007 — making costumes was an enormous task for Joanna Johnston. She fashioned 1,400 military uniforms for British and German soldiers.

The Imperial War Museums in London turned out to be an invaluable resource for photographic research, as well as every type of clothing, from helmets to boots. “We had to hit all the right looks for the right dates, and everything had to be aged,” Johnston says. And she had only eight weeks to do it.


She even helped some of the actors get into character by sewing good luck charms on the insides of their uniforms, something many soldiers did during World War I.

Another piece of the costume puzzle was wardrobing Albert’s rural farm family, including his mother Rose (Emily Watson). Johnston enhanced the simplicity and the texture of their costumes to match their environs in the Devon countryside.

“Strong but feminine, that was Rosie. I wanted that make-do-and-mend mentality,” she says. She had a special wool woven in Scotland to use for Rosie’s long skirts and designed original prints for her feminine blouses.

In a respite from the war, the horse stops briefly to live with a French farmer and his granddaughter Emilie (Celine Buckens), who wears sweetly embroidered dresses. “I had a whole back story about her mother having been an elegant woman. When I’m designing costumes, I love to have a back story, whether it really exists in the script, or I just make it up.”


—Booth Moore