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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Screen Saver, Part III

Next in my series of chats with big-screen costume designers is the charming, quiet and sun-kissed Michael Kaplan, who shot out of the gate with his first film, the camp classic Can't Stop the Music, in 1980. Just a couple years later he irrevocably changed the fashion vernacular with Flashdance and Blade Runner. But as he tells me, his next film and dream job, Burlesque (with Cher!), just might be his greatest moment yet. By Cesar Padilla

Let's start with your first film.
Yes, Can't Stop the Music, the Village People movie. There were four of us working on the film and I was assigned the Village People.

How was the experience?
It was the epitome of what was going on at the time. One thing I do remember, which was a first, is [producer] Allan Carr asking me to accentuate the Village People's crotches.

So you were responsible for that?
Yes. (Smiles.)

Was there anyone who didn't need a little something extra?
No, they all needed stuffing.

Were people getting laid on set?
It was a big job and I had my mind on work, although...well, I can't go into detail out of respect for the dead.

Were you getting laid on set?
No, I never combine work and play.

Let's talk Valerie Perrine.
Valerie was supposed to play a high fashion model and, well, it was a little bit of a stretch so I suggested having a make-up artist from the fashion industry do her make-up. Everyone thought it was great idea except Valerie. She was furious and felt challenged. When the day arrived to start filming she said okay, but on one condition. She allowed the make-up artist to do only half her face and she would do the other half because she felt she knew what worked best for her.

How did the split face turn out?
She did two screen tests with each half and she was right. She knew how she looked best. We have the same eye doctor and just the other day I saw her for the first time in a long time. I wondered if she remembered any of that.

You also worked with Michael Jackson. What was that like?
I did two Pepsi commercials with Michael. It was strange because all his comments had to do with food. We'd be deciding on a shirt color and mention the color peach and he'd say, "oh, peaches and cream." Or I'd mention salmon and he would say, "smoked salmon on a bagel." For the color cherry he said, "I love cherries, do you like cherries?" He asked everyone in the room. He was very childlike and sweet.

Did you always want to be a costume designer?
I majored in sculpture, painting and illustration, but as I was graduating I realized I wasn't meant to be a fine artist. After some soul-searching I realized costume design was something that really fascinated me. Not so much fashion design but creating characters with clothing, creating a world. Being a costume designer is such a great job, I may be unemployed at the end of every film but every time I start one it's a whole new cast of characters and a new world to create. So much better than working in a bank.

What's your earliest fashion memory?
There was this movie I was very interested in as a child called The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing, with Joan Collins. She played the original Gibson Girl, Evelyn Nesbit.

Why do you think it resonated with you?
I only saw it once, but it kicked off something.

What was the first piece of clothing you ever made?
It wasn't really a piece of clothing. I painted someone's body for a ball at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The first piece of actual clothing I made was for a party I was invited to at the West Hollywood Women's League. It was their first annual spring formal and all the men had to come dressed as women and all the women as men. I designed a cream-colored silk floor-length ball gown for myself.

Sexy or demure?
Demure, please! It was backless and on the bias. I looked ravishing. My date, Daphne Parker, wore a cream silk tailcoat and top hat. I didn't make her outfit.

Do you still sew?
I can, but very badly. I would be fired if I had to sew the costumes.

What's your process for a film?
I do lots of sketches. Early on I did all my own sketches. Now I do rough sketches and give them to an artist.

Have you saved all your sketches?
I've been better about it as of late. I do have most of the sketches from Blade Runner.

What are the films you are most proud of?
Probably Blade Runner, Flashdance and Fight Club.

Blade Runner came very early in your career, followed immediately by Flashdance. How did your participation in those epic cinematic moments come about?
For Blade Runner, Ridley Scott was interviewing people and most of the costume designers in the union were talking to him about silver mylar as a means to convey the future, but he wanted to meet someone young and fresh with new ideas. At the time I was the newest member of the union. Someone said he should meet the newest member, so we met. After that Ridley recommended me to Adrian Lyne and that's how Flashdance came about. I have to say, I love working with Brits.

With Flashdance, not only did your fashion choices influence a generation, but you influenced fashion for the rest of time! How does it feel to have achieved such a global impact?
I love it.

American Apparel wouldn't exist without Flashdance.
I've had directors say they're doing a movie and they want me to start a trend like Flashdance. But you have to have a good script to start with.

How did you come up with the Flashdance look?
I read the script and thought a lot about the characters and what they would wear. Jennifer Beals was a construction worker without a lot of money, shown reading fashion magazines. The idea of a sweatshirt covered all the areas of her life. As a dancer she would personalize her clothes and Jennifer has very beautiful shoulders. If she didn't have beautiful shoulders I would have covered them.

Do you still have the sweatshirt?
Yes, I kept one of the three we used.

What's your dream film?
I think I may be about to make it. I'm in the process of finishing The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but the film I am about to start is Burlesque.

Burlesque, the new Cher film?
Yes. I have worked with many beautiful people, but this is a musical with so many beautiful women. There are eighteen numbers in the entire film. It's about a young girl, played by Christina Aguilera, whose parent dies and she decides to go for it and get the fuck out of town. She heads west and winds up at a burlesque club run by Cher!

Have you worked with Cher before?
I worked as a sketch artist, fabric shopper and assistant costume designer on the Sonny and Cher Show, after the Cher show. It was my first job. I doubt she remembers me. We had little contact.


What can we look forward to, clothing-wise, in Burlesque?
I don't know yet. I need to go on my vacation next week and separate myself from this last film before I start on this one.

How was working on the most recent Star Trek?
It was terrible for me. I got sick in the middle of production and I wasn't able to enjoy the project as much as I would have liked. It was interesting because I never watched Star Trek and I told the director that I probably wasn't the most qualified for the job. He answered that he wanted a fresh take on Star Trek and that qualified me even more. I was so afraid I was going to wake up one morning to a legion of trekkies outside my door.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fight Club is a very sexy movie. Was that something you were conscious of while making the film?
[Director] David Fincher and I spoke before I started creating the look for the film. I said to him I know you don't like color and flamboyance, so how far can I go with Tyler Durden. He said not far.

It's a very homoerotic film. It caused a lot of boners.
In the audience maybe. I just followed the road map of the screenplay.

Speaking of boners, what was the air like on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith?
You could cut it with a knife. I love working with them. I've worked with Brad a few times now. It was my first time working with Angelina. Once we got to know each other everything went great.

What's been your biggest fashion faux pas?
I don't regret any of my work.

What's your guilty pleasure?
You sound like Barbara Walters.

But she can't smile like I can, Michael.
My guilty pleasure is bacon, french fries, calamari—anything that combines fat and salt.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Screen Saver, Part II

By Cesar Padilla...

For the second installment of my illuminating, hilarious and sometimes salacious Q&As with costumers (notice the vowels), I caught up with goth mama Arianne Phillips. And let me tell you it was no easy feat, considering she's constantly on the road styling for Madonna, Courtney Love or Lenny Kravitz (her former roommate). Plus she's one of the most sought-after costume designers in Hollywood, with film credits that include Girl, Interrupted, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Walk the Line, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination in 2005. But caught up with her I did, and I made sure to cover all the bases. We talked candidly about everything from drugs and male idolatry to dressing the Material Girl and (not) doing Guy...

You just finished a film last week. Can you tell me about it?
It was the new Tom Ford film. It's his directorial debut and it was awesome. He's a natural director and it was so great to work with someone who has such an amazing vernacular for costumes and clothing. The story is so great. I've been attached to it for a while, since he chose to go for independent funding. It's based on the Christopher Isherwood novel A Single Man. Set in 1962, it stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. I guess I'm becoming the mid-century girl.

What was your first film and how was the experience?
Bail Jumper, a small indie film in New York that was very patched together. I had absolutely no experience other than the music videos I had styled. I was learning on the fly. It was down and dirty and I wanted more!

What's your dream film?
It would be a moody spectacle starring Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet and Tilda Swinton, directed by Bob Fosse, Fellini or Kubrick, with cinematography by John Alcott, Sven Nykvist, Robbie Muller, Chris Doyle or Harris Savides. It would be a period piece on location in London, Paris or the south of France, with music by Bowie, Eno, Stephen Trask and Mozart.

What's your worst moment on set?
It was at the beginning of my film career. I was getting my trailer door kicked in by an angry actress who I neglected to get thermals for. The producer told me I should go home and not come back for a few days.

What's your worst diva moment?
Me? Diva? Never!

Do you sew?
Only in an emergency.

What's the first thing you ever sewed?
The holes in my rainbow toe socks circa 1976.

I know you're into black. Do you ever wear color?
No. Black, black, black! I'm a tired ol' goth!

What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be all my Halloween costumes—a witch, an actress and a princess.

Who do you want to be when you grow up?
In all seriousness, my mother. She is an awesome woman.

What was on your walls when you were 15?
There is a funny story about that because it was my 15th birthday exactly. I had very liberal hippie parents and I told my mom I wanted to do mushrooms. She said the only way I could take them was under her supervision, which is the same thing she did on my first date. I had to take them in the house and I had to get them myself because she wasn't going to score my drugs. So a few of my girlfriends came over for a sleepover and right as we were peaking my mom walked into the room and sat on the corner of my bed. There wasn't a inch of space on my walls that wasn't covered with a poster of a British rock star—Rod Stewart, The Bay City Rollers, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, etc. We were listening to rock music and she decided that this was the time for her to give me her feminist dissertation on rock gods and male idolatry. In particular, you may know this poster, Robert Plant in the tightest pair of hip huggers, with the biggest bulge imaginable. My mom was going on about these men I didn't know on my wall and we were just tripping our brains out.

Still into rock gods?
Well, just last night I had a moment. [Night Ranger's] Sister Christian came on the radio and, I don't know, I just had a moment and turned it up.

What's your biggest fashion faux pas, personally?
A deconstructed hippie grunge plaid baby-doll dress or a collaged/decoupaged pair of wooden platforms that I wore in high school.

What's your dream decade?
The future.

What's your guiltiest pleasure?
Anything salty followed by a sugar chaser. All of my memories are built around food. Food is my inspiration.

Best Courtney Love moment?
We're at an Oscar party and she and Jack Nicholson are smoking cigars in the dark. Too many more to mention.



Best Madonna moment?
My first meeting with her and Jean-Paul Gaultier in her apartment in New York, listening to the Ray of Light CD before it was released, planning and discussing the costumes for the Frozen video.

Worst Madonna moment?
Being chased by rabid paparazzi in Italy en route to the MTV Europe Music Awards. I thought we were going to die in that car.

What was working on Swept Away like?
It was one of the best times I ever had. We were on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. It was a very intimate crew. I got permission to leave a week early and then I was called back when they decided to add a musical number at the very end. We needed an outfit and I couldn't find one so I ended up at the Versace showroom in Milan. I remember it was truffle season. It was awesome. See, all my memories are tied to food.


Madonna in Swept Away

Tell me your favorite outfit of this Madge tour.
The sexy robot section, the crystal football shoulders and the Joan of Arc silver armor breastplate in the final section.

Any onstage accidents?
In 1989, Lenny Kravitz ripped a pair of vintage bell bottoms onstage and, to my shock and horror, he turned around and out popped the jewels!

Your favorite rock band right now?
Wilco, Goldfrapp, Vampire Weekend, The Ting Tings, Duffy.

Who taught you air guitar?
Jimmy page, of course!

What's your next project?
I'm flying to Rio to shoot the cover of W with Madonna and Steven Klein. It's our third W cover.

Last question, and please be honest with me. I really want to bone Guy Ritchie. Do I stand a chance?
No way.

That sucks. Thanks, Arianne. See you in L.A. in a few weeks for mango margaritas.


Sketch for Hedwig and the Angry Inch / still from Walk the Line / Arianne's Oscar nomination certificate

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Screen Saver, Part I

Cesar Padilla, owner of Cherry vintage store, pops a few questions to Emmy nominated costume designer John Dunn...

Having a vintage clothing business in New York City has afforded me the privilege of working with many creative and talented people. Over the next few months, I will be conducting a series of interviews with costume designers from the worlds of film and television. First up is John Dunn, whom I met when we worked on The Notorious Bettie Page. I've since had the pleasure of supplying clothes to him for Factory Girl, I'm Not There and the pilot of Mad Men, the show for which he's currently nominated for an Emmy...


The cast of Mad Men

Let's start with the basics. What was your first film?
New York Stories, directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Nick Nolte and Roseanna Arquette.

What was the first outfit you ever made?
I was in the first grade and my teacher, Sister Mary Joseph Ignatius, had a class contest. Each of us had to make an outfit for the Virgin Mary on her holy day. Most of the kids made things out of crêpe paper and foil. I went home at lunch and picked an armload of flowers from our lilac bush. I fashioned a spectacular robe and crown out of them.

Who have you most liked dressing?
Gretchen Moll as Bettie Page. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan and Heath Ledger as Robbie in I'm Not There. David Bowie as Andy Warhol in Basquiat. Guy Pierce as Andy Warhol in Factory Girl. My favorite films ever are The Women (the 1939 version), Doctor Zhivago and Bonnie and Clyde.


I'm Not There

What's your dream film?
Javier Bardem and Cate Blanchett, directed by Todd Haynes.

Typically, what's your biggest challenge?
Convincing film directors to add dream ballets to the script.

What was your worst experience?
It's one of my life goals to never work in Shreveport, Louisiana, ever again.

Your most embarrassing moment?
Stabbing an A-list actress in her butt with a huge safety pin when I was adjusting her pregnancy padding on our first fitting. No regrets, though. Except not having a trust fund.

Now, darling, what was your worst drama queen moment?
How dare you? Don't ever, ever ask me that question again.

Lee and I love it when a bulbous cockhead is visible through pants. Was it your idea to make Seth Rogen's trousers such a prominent feature in Pineapple Express? I'd like to think that was your expert tailoring.
We weren't even thinking about that! We spent countless hours fitting that suit so it would look like a cheap suit that Seth's character had stolen from his uncle's closet.

Do you sew?
Yes, but don't tell anyone.

What sewing machine do you use?
One that someone else is operating. I'm pretty lousy, but when forced at gunpoint to sew, I'm almost passable on a vintage Singer Featherweight. They're indestructible and unstoppable.

Where were you when you heard that you were nominated for an Emmy?
One of my closest friends called me at six in the morning while I was in my bathroom upchucking some bad shellfish. I instantly felt much better.

What are you wearing to the Emmys?
It's a black tie event and Mad Men is set in 1960 New York, so I'm going in a vintage tux à la Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses.

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