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Q&A with 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' costume designer Ellen Mirojnick

The designer for the Gordan Gekko sequel (as well the original movie) talks about how sharks, bloggers and face shapes influenced her choices.

September 26, 2010|By Adam Tschorn | Los Angeles Times
  • Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." (Barry Wetcher / 20th Century…)

The 1987 movie "Wall Street" left its mark on the American male wardrobe of the late '80s and early '90s, popularizing the power suit, spurring sales of suspenders and braces (the fancier button-in cousin of the suspender) and making the contrast collar banker's shirt de rigueur.

But for the better part of two decades, Gordon Gekko — in all his pleated-pant glory, with his slicked-back mane of hair, thick-knotted tie and brick of a Motorola Dynatac cellphone to his ear — has been in sort of a sartorial suspended animation.

On Friday, Gordon Gekko walked out of prison and back into pop culture when "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" hit theaters. In addition to putting Michael Douglas back in the role that won him a 1988 Academy Award, the sequel puts the original film's costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick, in charge of revisiting and revising that iconic Wall Street wardrobe circa 2008, in the final days before the banking crisis.

Instead of Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox character, the young gun is Jake Moore, an idealistic — and smartly dressed — young trader (played by Shia LaBeouf), who just happens to be dating Gekko's daughter.

Before the movie's release, Mirojnick sat down to discuss how sharks, bloggers and face shapes influenced her wardrobe choices; to weigh in on the prospect that the movie might have men dashing off to the haberdasher for a bespoke suit; and to explain the provenance of a certain pricey ball gown worn by one character.

Were you surprised at the impact the first "Wall Street" had on the way men dressed at the time?

In January of 1988 I was working on a movie in Canada and I remember [then-fashion editor] Bettijane Levine from the Los Angeles Times calling and saying: "Did you know that everyone in Los Angeles is slicking their hair back and wearing braces? What did you have in mind?" I didn't have anything in mind. Gordon was a villain — who knew people would want to dress like the villain?

What inspired that original Gordon Gekko look we all remember?

It was a combination of Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor. [The first "Wall Street" movie] was this story about money, power and seduction, and I thought that through Bud's eyes that Old Hollywood movie star quality would be seductive.

What about Gordon Gekko 2.0? Is his look based on anyone in particular or is he just an update of the same guy?

When he gets out of prison at the beginning of the movie, he's actually dressed the way [former ImClone CEO] Sam Waksal was when he got out of prison, but there wasn't anyone in particular for the whole movie. I did a bunch of inspiration boards. One was for Gordon Gekko as an author — he wrote a book — so I looked at writers like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and John Cheever. We wanted white hair, so I looked at men like Giorgio Armani and John Huston. I took some inspiration from Picasso too.

How did you approach this movie's costume design?

Oliver [Stone] said to me: "There's nobody [morally] good in this movie; they're all sharks. It's the biggest shark pool ever." So I looked at it as Shark 101. Shia's character came up from nothing, and when we first meet him he's swimming in a sea of sharks. And I see Gordon as the emotional shark that runs around the story — a shark swims until he finds the place that he can feed. That's why when we meet him he's wearing colors that reflect his surroundings — the urban grays and silvers of New York that also happen to be the same colors of a shark in the water.

And, without giving too much away, how did that manifest itself in Gekko's dramatic wardrobe shift later in the movie?

When a great white shark emerges from the water you can see that it has a blue belly — that's the truth — and when Gekko does go bold, his wardrobe shifts from those reflective colors. Shoom! He's everything we remember him to be.

Wardrobe-wise, there seems to be a lot of focus on the shirt collar in this movie, and each of the three lead actors seems to have a distinctly different type of collar. Is this supposed to indicate some sort of hierarchy, or is there some other significance?

It was actually more about architecture and framing the actors' faces on the screen. Michael Douglas had an English spread collar, and Josh Brolin had what's called a high English spread [collar] because of the proportions of his head to his shoulders. And I gave Shia a double-button collar because he needed to grow up in this movie. Audiences are used to seeing him as an 18- or 19-year-old from "Transformers," and we needed him to be a 23- or 24-year-old guy.

What about the distinctive collar Gekko is sporting when he's in casual mode? It's unusual.

I call that the Hollywood collar. Unlike a regular dress shirt, it's cut as a single piece of fabric that forms the front of the shirt and rolls right into the collar. Michael looks very attractive in a high collar, and we wanted something that would still frame his face even when he wasn't wearing a tie.

Who made that shirt?

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