With costume designers like Sandy Powell and Patricia Norris at work, 2014 was bound to come with a wardrobe full of sharp threads, outré space garments and apocalypse-resistance leisurewear. And so it proved. From Oscar season stalwarts like 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street to the summer's big tentpoles, the best-dressed list was long and catwalk-ready. Even Russell Crowe's Noah scored highly with its biblical Derelicte range. Here, guest writer Chris Laverty - better known as the sartorial scoundrel behind the brilliant clothesonfilm.com - picks the year's ten defining costumes.
12 Years A Slave
Don’t underestimate the importance of costume, even when it looks like a pile of discarded laundry. 12 Years A Slave's costume designer Patricia Norris previously worked on the flashy excess of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, but here proves just how important attire at the other end of the scale can be. Such is her attention to detail, she covered the slave ‘uniforms’ in mud from actual plantations used during shooting. Moreover, we can chart just how far Solomon Northup has fallen via the clothes he wears, from an immaculate frock coat at the start of his journey (professional) to ill-fitting linen rags at the end (captive). This is costume purely as function.
Director Spike Jonze’s regular costume designer Casey Storm was supposed to be starting a high waist trouser trend with this film that would turn us all into nerd chic hipsters. Yet, despite a tie-in collection of nipple bothering pants with US boutique Opening Ceremony, the trend just didn’t take. That’s not say that the idea does not work perfectly within the film’s setting. Her is literally a buttoned-up and repressed near future, but oddly comfortable at the same time, very much echoing the 1920s ethos for the young and trendy: ‘dressing soft’.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
There is terrific fun to be had with Judianna Makovsky’s costuming for The Winter Soldier as Captain America and Black Widow go undercover in a mall wearing a baseball cap and hoody. This concept is trickier than it seems. You can’t just zip two superheroes in civilian clothing and hope for the best. Too subtle and the joke is missed; too overt and their attire becomes distracting and potentially a tension killer. Costume has to work in context. Check out Nick Fury in the film’s last scene – he looks practically homeless but crucially for the story, he blends in. He later reprises this look for a cameo in Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Alexandra Byrne’s costume design for Guardians Of The Galaxy is a cross between Flash Gordon and The Fifth Element. This is the intention; a high camp world that cannot be taken seriously. Fascinatingly, this film is one of the few to use its intergalactic setting to embrace stylistic trends. Generally sci-fi clothes just reflect creed or hierarchy, but there is only one reason Benicio del Toro’s the Collector looks like a David Bowie tribute act, and that’s fashion. Nonetheless, Byrne’s finest achievement is perhaps the seemingly innocuous yellow Kyln prison livery. Look closely and they all feature different embellishments reflecting the prisoner’s crimes and length of stay.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
The Wolf Of Wall Street is apparently all about Armani suits, yet director Martin Scorsese’s go-to costume designer Sandy Powell only used one for the film, and she thrifted it herself. Really it’s movie tailor Leonard Logsdail we have to thank for making Leonardo DiCaprio’s wide-boy embezzler look simultaneously so cool and such an asshole. The silhouette is primarily early 1990s, so that’s wide shoulders with a nipped-in waist and lots of pinstripes. The wider your stripes, the further up the money making tree you were. Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick defined this style for Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, and Powell pays honourable respect to it here without veering into satire.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Mary Zophres is a costuming legend with an eclectic CV that includes Dumb & Dumber, Catch Me If You Can, and True Grit (she is the Coen brothers’ regular designer). This year alone Zophres has gone from Llewyn Davis to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and still somehow managed to make her mark on both projects without grandstanding her input. Inside Llewyn Davis is so quietly attired it’s barely apparent we are watching a period piece at all. New York in 1961 is prototype for contemporary aesthetes: knitwear, sports jackets, slim trousers, thick scarves – without any liberties taken for era, Zophres has somehow made the ‘60s look like a Paris coffee shop.
Without getting too spoilery, if you did want to become the Babadook, theoretically you could dress how you please. The Babadook is the spectral manifestation of despair – this is far more sinister terrain than just your average dressed-to-scare bogeyman – and where that comes from is dependent on its victim. Costume designer Heather Wallace gives the Babadook a look interpreted from erratic six year-old Samuel’s love of magic. His top hat, cape and pointy cardboard fingers are primitive, but that is the point. The Babadook is just a scary monster based on the Nosferatu silhouette from German Expressionist cinema, but what he symbolises is far more terrifying: your inner demons come to life.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The most pretty costume film in a very pretty year (Maleficent, The Two Faces Of January and Mr. Turner all warrant honorable mentions). However, simply dismissing The Grand Budapest Hotel as a lot of fancy outfits is to ignore its real beauty; every one of designer Milena Canonero’s ensembles helps create a parallel Wes Anderson universe that’s instantly accessible yet utterly unfamiliar. Tilda Swinton’s old dame Madame D best represents this concept because she is deliberately all over the place costume-wise. Giant hair from the Belle Époque, hat from the Roaring Twenties and ‘30s-era evening dress equal a sad, decrepit woman still trying to recapture her heyday, neatly echoing the fate of the Grand Budapest Hotel itself.
Get On Up
It’s not fantasy or sci-fi, but Get On Up is still one of the most ambitious costume films of 2014. The best compliment that can be paid to costume designer Sharen Davis’s work is that it looks real. Get On Up is not a documentary and costume is not historical record. That said, for any biopic there has to be familiarity with clothing – something we can latch onto. Here that is James Brown’s faithfully recreated red stage suit. Clothing defined Brown’s life, certainly in context of the movie. He snatched shoes from a dead man as a boy and then wore them to steal a suit that sent him to prison as a man, which ironically provided his ticket into the professional music business.
The brilliance of Michael Wilkinson’s costumes for Noah is just how much they resemble an environmentally friendly production of Mad Max. These deceptively simple draped and wrapped ensembles are part of the landscape. Wilkinson used natural materials such as linen, aged leather, horsehair, even bonded fabrics, to achieve a look that genuinely feels integral. They have a timeless, otherworldly finish giving the impression we could be watching a film set far in the past or just as far into the future. Stand out costume has to be Russell Crowe’s Noah ‘Henley’ top. He comes across like a beefed up, biblical Ryan Gosling in Drive. It is relatable clothing in an entirely alien landscape.