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Meet The Great Gatsby costume designer

Meet The Great Gatsby costume designer

As if we weren’t excited enough about the style on screen in Baz Luhrman’s 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, the news that the film’s costumes were created by his wife, Academy Award winning costume and production designer Catherine Martin, with the help of none-other-than fashion designer Miuccia Prada, nearly sent us over the edge!

Here Team LBD finds out what film fanatics and fashion followers alike can expect from Catherine and her high-end help when the flapper fairytale hits cinemas this month…

Have you always loved The Great Gatsby? What made you want to work on the adaptation?

“I remembered Gatsby from being a teenager and not quite connecting with the story, but Baz was very persuasive. So I read the novel and – you know how one can rewrite history – I then became the greatest proponent of Gatsby ever. Much to Baz’s irritation, because it was really his discovery and his insistence that made me read the book!”

In the trailers for The Great Gatsby Florence and the Machine is playing loudly, party-goers are going crazy in colourful sequin-clad get-ups and the Art Deco decadence of the venues seem a lot bigger, brighter and better than we remember from the original book. It all seems very modern!

“Baz’s biggest thing was that he did not want a nostalgic New York, which you can see in everything from the costumes to the cars to the neon debauchery of the sets. He did not want a New York that felt kind of historical; he wanted it to feel as immediate and modern and visceral as it would have felt to author Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, and all the characters in the book. We wanted to be true to the period, but at the same time give a contemporary audience a window into the world, so they understood who these people were. Baz said, ‘We’ve got to get the audience to feel how it must have felt to hear jazz for the first time at a party. You need to feel how scintillating, extraordinary, new and dynamic these things were; there needs to be a frisson of the new for people to actually understand what it was really like to be there in the Twenties.’ And hopefully that’s what we’ve done.”

It’s such a specific brief and obviously people have such a clear vision in their mind from the book. Did you feel like you really had to stick to a certain level of ‘appropriateness’?

“Baz said — because the book was written and takes place in the summer of 1922, but it was actually published in 1925, and it foreshadows the crash that comes in 1929 — he said anything from 1920–1929 we can draw upon to tell the story. So, that was one of the rules. We’re not making a documentary, we’re trying to tell a story, and Baz was all about the book. Of course, it’s going to be his interpretation of the book; it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea.”

You’re credited as costume designer, producer and production designer. When you started this project what did you envisage? Where did you start?

“When Baz and I began envisioning the look of Gatsby, I set out on an extensive research project that shaped the look of the film — from the interior of Gatsby’s mansion to the bleak appearance of the Valley of Ashes. When adapting an original work, whether it’s La Boheme on Broadway, or whether it’s Romeo + Juliet, you always start with the source. You’re like a historical detective as you start creating what Fitzgerald’s descriptions would have actually looked like.”

The 1920s were incredibly important for women both in fashion and in politics. Was that something that interested you in the film?

“I have long been fascinated by the book’s time period, due to the social revolution that took place after World War I. Saying that women were at the forefront of that revolution, I don’t know that it’s entirely accurate, but they were certainly making strides. It was a time of incredible change where we basically go from a 19th century world to a modern, mechanised world reliant on machines in the space of five years. Although maintaining the authenticity of original Twenties clothing was important to both Baz and I, the idea of reconnecting audiences with the story was the a key focus.”

Above: Sketches for The Great Gatsby costumes inspired by past Prada and Miu Miu collections.

You worked with Miucci Prada on the costumes for Gatsby, what did that involve?

“The relationship between Baz and Miuccia actually goes back 16 years, to when Prada collaborated on Leonardo DiCaprio’s suit for Baz’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. Since then Baz has been the creative consultant for Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada’s Impossible Conversations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition – but this is the first time such a large scale collaboration between the two of them has taken place.

Alongside Miuccua we created a bespoke collection of over 40 cocktail and evening dresses – each inspired by Miu Miu and Prada runway looks from the last 20 years. From Daisy Buchanan’s golden Prada party gown worn to a ball at Gatsby’s mansion, to fringed, fur-lined dresses made for dancing the Charleston each one of these garments is handmade and totally unique!”

What were you and Prada hoping to achieve in your dress designs?

“We had the same ideas about where we should take the costumers for Gatsby. It was our shared fascination with finding modern ways of releasing classic and historical references from the shackles of the past that brought us together and I think the designs really show that. The costumes should illustrate the European flair that was emerging amongst the aristocratic East Coast crowds in the 1920s, and the dichotomy between the privileged, Ivy League look and this emerging European glamour.”

We can’t wait to see Daisy and the other women’s glamorous flapper fashion! How did you go about recreating the exuberant outfits of the leading ladies?

“Fitzgerald’s vivid descriptions, told through the eyes of midwestern outsider and bond salesman Nick Carraway, allowed me to craft the elaborate ensembles worn by Daisy Buchanan (played by Carey Mulligan), the object of Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) affections and the wife of strapping polo player Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). But I also had the advantage of 1920s photographs and films. Women were starting to abandon their corsets and heavy underpinnings in favour of the shift dresses that showed their bodies more comfortably than ever before.

The costumes we used and created reflect the pre-crash vivacity, prosperity, and optimism of the 1920s. The jewels worn on set were courtesy of Tiffany & Co. and were worth millions. Carey Mulligan was actually followed by a security guard when she was wearing the full collection as it was worth so much! In a key party scene, Mulligan’s character wears what I like to call the “chandelier dress,” a dreamy party frock covered with tear-drop crystals. But for the film, the dress was made with acrylic crystals to make it lighter for Mulligan.”

Daisy is such a well-known, iconic character now, how did you get past that and create her character for this adaptation?

“Fitzgerald wrote that Daisy’s voice was full of money. I went to an all-girl’s school, and I thought about the most popular girl in school. That was the image that I wanted for Daisy.”

How did you recreate the main character, Gatsby?

“Jay Gatsby is an iconic character. It says he was the most optimistic person, you know… he looked at girls the way all girls wanted to be looked at. He smiled the smile that someone wanted to be smiled at with. So, you’re obviously trying to make him have an iconic look and you want people — as many people as possible — to access those messages in the book.”

Did you have to design dresses for all of the extras too?

“The extras needed to look every bit as privileged as their host. Fitzgerald describes these guests as arriving en masse from the city every weekend, uninvited and ready for a good time. I spent a lot of my time working on the main characters’ ensembles because they were so intricate, but the team had to make over 30 detailed and bejewelled and of course individual designs for the extras.”

Did you read a lot about the Fitzgeralds?

“Oh, we looked at everything. And, for instance, we have a lot of associations in terms of commercial associations in the movie, which directly link to his life. For instance, Scott Fitzgerald was a Brooks Brothers customer, so I collaborated with Brooks Brothers as well as Prada. And all the Tiffany’s jewellery, Fitzgerald was also a Tiffany’s customer.”

What about Zelda Fitzgerald, what brands did she wear?
“That was more loosey-goosey. She wore a bit of everything.”

It seems so natural for the two of you, director and designer, husband and wife to collaborate. How long were you and Baz working on Gatsby for?

“He mentioned it years ago. He listened to a talking book on the Trans-Siberian Railway and he absolutely loved it. So it’s sort of been in the back of his mind for years and years and years and years. But in terms of actually physically starting the wheels in motion, I’ll have to double check, ’cause it could’ve been ten years and I can’t remember. It’s like having a baby: you forget the pain.”

Get the Great Gatsby look at here.

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