"That was the biggest challenge of the movie," says "Button" costume designer Jacqueline West, who received an Oscar nod last week for her work on the film and was also nominated by the Costume Designers Guild, which will bestow its awards Feb. 17. "The challenge was keeping the integrity in so many eras, so many decades and so many characters that had to evolve, but yet keep their internal essence."
It was originally designed for a nightclub scene in the '40s in New Orleans, and at the last minute I decided to have her dance in it. But she really sold that dress to David [Fincher, the director]. David doesn't like red. But when I put it on Cate, she said, "Let me show David." She said to him, "It has to be red." She said that David, never having worn a red dress himself, "just doesn't understand the power of it."
What's it like working with David Fincher?
He's a real artist. Every scene he frames is like a painting. I would walk onto the set to see how he'd lined up the shot, and it would be like looking at a Degas or a Lautrec. So it was amazing, getting to dress the people to put in his painting. That's what I felt like.
Tell me about the Sherpa jacket Brad wore when he met Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth in the elevator.
That was actually a leather jacket based on a military officer seaman's coat from the '30s. I figured his wardrobe would all be pretty old, hand-me-downs, or secondhand. It was also really an homage to Gary Cooper in "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
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Tell me about Brad's driving cap he wears in Paris. Have I seen him wearing that in his personal life?
That was a genuine cap from the '50s but that style has a quite contemporary feeling. Brad loved those hats from the '50s so much. It's very Brando-inspired. Then he had me make him some and he started wearing them when he did press. Every time we see him on a tabloid, he's got the cap on, and I think, "Darn him! Ruin my thunder like that!"
Cate Blanchett had dance training, right?
One of the first things I tried on Cate were the ballet clothes, and she put those clothes on and become a ballerina. She had studied dance and she would just change her whole posture, even her feet would go out, like dancers', and her back was straight and she'd tuck her heinie in and she would just become a dancer. You don't get that with every actress.
What's one of your favorite outfits in the film?
I have to say Elizabeth Abbott in the elevator wearing the striped mink, is one of my favorite costumes. I looked at a lot of wartime British Vogue magazines. English women were much more conservative, staid and quiet in their dress than Americans. I really wanted to convey that about her character, a certain reticence, of not flaunting your wardrobe or your wealth.
What was one of Brad's favorite costumes?
Brad loves his brown suit that he wears when he goes to Delmonico's with Cate. He hasn't inherited any money yet, so he borrows a Nolan House elderly resident's suit. We called it his "sad brown suit," and it became his favorite thing in the movie. He always wanted to wear it. "Give me my sad brown suit" or "my sad brown suit pants."
How hard was it to make Brad Pitt look elderly?
That was another big challenge, making Brad's body look old and sagging the clothes out in the bottom and cutting them so they wouldn't show his perfectly sculpted bottom.
Elizabeth Snead writes the Dish Rag blog at TheEnvelope.com.