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{COSTUME DESIGN}

Outlaws in white

In '3:10 to Yuma,' Arianne Phillips takes the West in a new direction.

September 09, 2007|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

Life would be easier if good guys always wore white and jerks perpetually dressed in black.

We can blame the celluloid canon of Westerns for establishing such sartorial stereotypes that rarely apply to real life. But thanks to L.A. costume designer and stylist Arianne Phillips, the way the West was won -- visually, anyway -- looks a lot more interesting and authentic.

"I wanted to get beyond the archetypal, clich├ęd Western look," says Phillips, whose handiwork can be seen in the just released gritty gunslinger "3:10 to Yuma," starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. "You see those limited hat styles and the duster coat in every movie."

Instead, Phillips -- who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her costumes in "Walk the Line" -- fashioned a wardrobe of layered, monochromatic looks that include banker's pinstripes and frayed union suits with suspendered woolen pants. She imported muslins, silks and velvets from England and Italy that resembled the fabrics of the time and weathered the ensembles with dyes and washings.

"The men's clothes from this period are far more interesting than the women's clothes," Phillips says. "And some of the men's cuts and silhouettes are as valid today as they were back then."

Indeed, Phillips' designs echo the "Deadwood chic" moment in menswear, which has dandified regular guys with "Maverick"-inspired garb from vests to frock coats to saloon-worthy facial scruff.

Still the opportunity to confound expectations and outfit an outlaw in white was too tempting to pass up. Ben Foster, who plays a savage henchman in the film, sports a fitted, bone-white leather jacket inspired by a Civil War-era coat. The double-breasted slim-cut jacket also boasts tails and brass buttons. Phillips had to construct eight different jackets to endure the blood shed on screen during the production. (It was a different scenario in "Walk the Line," when her budget didn't allow for such extravagances. Then, Phillips relied on vintage finds -- and was lucky enough that the one-of-kind pieces weren't damaged.)

"Men back then had that swagger and bravado that is so rock and roll," says Phillips, who spent countless hours at the Gene Autry Museum to research the period. Her own experience as a stylist to Madonna didn't hurt either.

"I wanted to contextualize Ben's look in a modern way. I thought of him as the Keith Richards to Russell Crowe's Mick Jagger."

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monica.corcoran@latimes.com

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