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Arianne Phillips for Numéro Berlin
Arianne Phillips was interviewed by Numéro Berlin for a special cover feature! The highly-esteemed costume designer and fashion stylist spoke with Sina Braetz about her current work, how she got her start, and the fight for equality for women in the film industry. Read the translated interview below. Photography by Charlotte Rutherford, Makeup by Donald Simrock, and Hair by John Blaine.
Clothes make people. Movie costumes influence our perception of characters, stories and time periods. At the same time, they test the sense of style of the audience more sustainably than any campaign of the modeling industry. Costume design can affect the style of generations, it hits the right nerve. Selt Kingsman: The Secret Service by Matthew Vaughn, movie looks are just an order away with a mouse click. Merchandising 3.0. The film industry has been inspired by the fashion world and invented a very own version of "See Now, Buy Now". And that is just the beginning. But what about the artistic appreciation of costume design in films?
Arianne Phillips works almost 30 years as a costume designer, for films like W.E. and Walk The Line, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She worked with James Mangold, Tom Ford, and Madonna. The most recent big work of the 56-year-old was Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood. Arianne Phillips was born in New York and grew up in California. But her career began in London, where she befriended Lenny Kravitz and styled his music videos. A conversation about green cowboy boots, leg prostheses, and the Manson Family.
NUMERO BERLIN: Congratulations on your fantastic costume design in Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood. What was it like to watch the movie?
ARIANNE PHILLIPS: Very emotional. I watched the movie three times. And each time I focus on another aspect. The first time I let the film act on me as a whole. The second time, I focused more on my own work, and the third time ... Well, I think it's a movie that you have to look at several times. My experience with Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood was different than other films I've worked on. Usually, I watch a movie with a very analytical look. Here I was captivated by the feelings that the film triggered in me. My memories of old Hollywood, the music and above all Margot Robbie in her role as Sharon Tate touched me a lot. Seeing her on the screen, after all my research on Sharon Tate, touched me a lot. Her performance was as pure as a tribute to the real Sharon Tate. Suddenly I realized how many feelings I had suppressed while working on the film. I was a little girl when the Manson tragedy happened. A terribly dark moment in American history.
NB: Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood, Tarantino tells Manson's story differently than it actually happened. What did you think about it?
AP: I do not want to talk too much about that, because I do not want to reveal anything. But I love Tarantino's script and the fact that the film is less documentary and rather Quentin-style and he makes the story his own.
NB: Let's talk more specifically about your work as a costume designer.
AP: It all starts with the script. I read this several times and make comments. Then I meet the director to get a complete picture of his vision. Only then do I start working with the product designers, the cameraman, discussing light, the sets and so on.
NB: How do you research the costumes?
AP: That depends a lot on the story. These can be books, interviews, and conversations with specific people, biographies. I work a lot with the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, which also awards the Oscar. Often I get inspired by old magazines, which I find on eBay or flea markets. For Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood, I watched films and TV shows from the late 1960s. Slowly, a picture emerges. Of course, with films like Tank Girl based on science fiction or fantasy stories, things are different. The beauty of my job is to be a kind of detective. Costumes are very immediate and important elements to tell a story. Each film sends me in preparation for an exciting journey of discovery.
NB: How do you feel the responsibility to allow actors and costumes a physical experience of their character through costumes?
AP: Very big. Costumes have several goals, but above all, they are crucial for the visual storytelling of a story and the sharpening of characters. Fashion, of course, on a larger scale, is a reference point and the reflection of a culture and time. If you were to watch a movie without sound, the costumes should allow the viewer to understand the characters as well as the tint of a movie, hopefully (laughs). On the other hand, costumes also have an important function for the actors themselves: when they slip into a costume, they get a direct feel for the time in which the film plays. Costumes are a physical element in creating a figure. I love this aspect of my work. For example, in the Western Death Train to Yuma, Christian Bale's character bore a prosthetic leg. Of course, we worked with special effects, but also made a shortened boot, which should enhance the impression of a prosthetic leg. We researched a lot about the late eighteenth century and how such dentures were worn back then. The prostheses were partly made of metal and very heavy. We used lighter material to make it more comfortable for Christian. He would rather have it hard to understand how his character runs and limps. So we made it heavier again. Every actor has different demands.
NB: Do you think that the performance of costume designers is underestimated and not sufficiently recognized? Many iconic figures in film history are immediately recognizable by their looks...
AP: I think people often do not understand costumes and their meaning. However, that also happens within the industry—they do not understand what we're doing to design these costumes, how much time and money is involved. Costume design is a craft and a process that ultimately varies from film to film.
NB: What was it like working with Tom Ford?
AP: There are many anecdotes, especially about working on Nocturnal Animals. Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars in the movie as this sensual, unaffordable, furious killer. At the fitting, I gave him green cowboy boots that would really only attract someone who is very special. The boots themselves are scary (laughs). This helped Aaron to portray the character. Such ideas often only emerge together in the rehearsal room.
NB: Was there ever a big fight between you and the actors or the directors about a costume?
AP: (laughs loudly) That's a great question. Well, if you work in a creative environment, you will always come across strangers and different ideas and ideas. Of course, I also had bad experiences but not only.
NB: I can imagine that's difficult. Does a costume designer certainly talk many people into it?
AP: Sure. But costume design is a long process, decisions are not made overnight. With all meetings and fittings, it can take up to twelve weeks for the outfits to stand. You sometimes work with colleagues you might not want to work with otherwise. With current shootings, however, a major problem is that everyone on the set has an opinion.NB: In the past, you have mainly worked with male directors, but there have also been some female directors, for example, Gia Coppola and Rachel Talalay. Where is the biggest difference?
AP: Unfortunately, I have worked with only a few directors. But I can definitely say that it has always been a very different experience compared to my collaborations with male directors. Sensitivity to design and aesthetics is more natural for women, I think. Her temperament is different too. I hope to work with more female directors in the future.
NB: In your opinion, is Hollywood making progress toward equality?
AP: I think we still have a long way to go to achieve equality between men and women. Especially in terms of representation and pay equity. We make progress by conducting the conversation, but to make a real change, we need to change the system.NB: What do you think is the biggest problem with this system?
AP: I think that's, on the one hand, the mentoring and on the other hand the promotion of a talent pool for women. So to guide women through the directing process. In addition, internship programs take too long. Young women need ways to help them get started. There is a great nonprofit organization called Free The Bid in Hollywood. It supports female directors in Hollywood's commercial system. In general, one develops a keen awareness here and talks about the problems. Nevertheless, we are still a long way from equality. I hope this positive movement continues to grow.