YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Movies: Designs that build character

A behind-the-scenes look at costume, hair and makeup production on 'Hugo, 'The Iron Lady,' 'My Week With Marilyn,' 'The Muppets,' 'War Horse.'

December 18, 2011|By Melissa Magsaysay, Booth Moore and Adam Tschorn | Los Angeles Times
  • London's Imperial War Museums proved an invaluable resource for the World War I uniforms in Steven Spielbergs upcoming War Horse.
London's Imperial War Museums proved an invaluable resource for… (David Appleby, DreamWorks )

A movie doesn't have to be jampacked with cinema style to have a memorable fashion moment or two, and in the course of screening the slate of holiday-season films, we found all kinds of clothes, accessories, hairstyles and makeup worth a mention.


Yes, Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," based on a book by Brian Selznick, is a movie about an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station. But it's also a filmmaker's film about a filmmaker making films, and as such even the costumes and makeup (designed by Sandy Powell and Morag Ross respectively) layer in subtle references to past films and historical figures.

For example, Powell explains that the striped scarf worn by one of the supporting characters (Monsieur Frick, played by Richard Griffiths) had its roots in another movie. "It was similar to the one Alec Guinness' character wore in a movie called 'The Lavender Hill Mob,' she says. "It was my little tribute to that."

To find inspiration for the hair gracing the face of Sacha Baron Cohen's Station Inspector, Ross didn't have to go any further than the boss' body of work. "Taking a World War I mustache and balancing it out for Sacha's features… you get a mustache that's kind of reminiscent of Daniel Day Lewis' in 'Gangs of New York' so that's the reference I went with," she says.

During a chase scene through the train station, sharp-eyed viewers might be able to recognize background actors with facial hair groomed to resemble the distinctive mustaches of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, artist Salvador Dali and writer James Joyce.

—Adam Tschorn

"Iron Lady"

The costumes in "The Iron Lady," the unconventional biopic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that opens in limited release Dec. 30, say a lot about political power dressing. Meryl Streep, who plays Thatcher, has nearly 40 costume changes in the film, and almost all of what she wears is Tory blue, a color the PM favored because it set her apart from a sea of men in gray suits.

"She used blue in all forms, from the most pastel and girlish to the most deep," says the film's costume designer, Consolata Boyle. "We used blue in a very deliberate way in the film, as a metaphor and a tool to convey Margaret's emotions and her ideas."

Early in her career, Thatcher takes advice from political consultants who tell her to lose her ultra-feminine, fussy style, particularly her hats. She agrees to all but one thing: "The pearls are nonnegotiable." That double strand of pearls, a copy of Thatcher's own, is one of many pieces of her jewelry re-created for the film. "She was a great collector. It's such an iconic look she had with the pearls and the brooch on the shoulder," Boyle says.

All of Streep's costumes were handmade — from the pretty, pale blue suits her character wears early on to the sharper ones with defined waists and strong shoulders that she wears later in her career. "But this wasn't slavish copying," Boyle says. "Everything had a heightened intensity to move the story along."

There is evidence, she says, that Thatcher thought a lot about her clothes. During the 1982 Falklands War, for example, Thatcher wore a lot of bow-front blouses. "There was a mixture of femininity and strength in how she presented herself then."

Still, Thatcher came from a lower-middle-class background and was always an outsider among the elite Tory party. Ultimately, her social status was reflected in her perfectionism, Boyle says. "It was not a confident way to dress. There was nothing nonchalent about it. It was armor."

It's also worth singling out the makeup artists on the film, a team nearly 12 people strong, who succeeded in aging Streep so artfully, the actress was virtually unrecognizable.

—Booth Moore

"My Week With Marilyn"

The transformation of Michelle Williams into a 30-year-old Marilyn Monroe was no small task. It required the actress to spend three hours a day in hair, makeup and wardrobe to look not like the heavy-lidded glamour girl with a crimson pout who is most familiar to the public, but like the pared-down woman behind the icon.

"My Week With Marilyn" focuses on the tense working relationship between Sir Laurence Olivier and Monroe during the filming of the 1956 movie "The Prince and the Showgirl," as well as on a budding friendship between the voluptuous actress and a young director's assistant.

Though the film captures an "off-duty" side of Monroe, her wardrobe is still tailored. But it has an ease that draws a strong contrast to the constricting, sexy dresses we're used to on her. Costume designer Jill Taylor used ladylike pieces including ivory silk button-down blouses, camel-colored pencil skirts and classic trench coats punctuated by chiffon head scarves and oversized sunglasses. All are worn with an air of insouciance that brings out a more vulnerable and down-to-earth side of Monroe.

Los Angeles Times Articles