From the moment we got a first look at the unique wardrobe stylings and coiffure on display in the award season darling "American Hustle," it became a talking point. From Christian Bale's comb-over to Jennifer Lawrence's reality star-inspired look to Bradley Cooper's permed hair to Amy Adams' plunging necklines, people were talking about this film's style then and have been talking about it ever since.
Unsurprisingly, one of the film's 10 Oscar nominations is for Best Costume Design. Yahoo Movies recently caught up with Michael Wilkinson, the film's costume designer and first-time Oscar nominee, to find out the story behind that uniquely swingin' 1970s vibe. Here's what you should know about the electric looks of "American Hustle."
It's all about silk and synthetic fabric. Loads of it.
"Some of the textures we enjoyed on 'American Hustle' were the beautiful silk jerseys and the chiffons of the Halston-inspired clothes that Amy Adams wears, the Ultrasuede as well, very sensual fabrics," Wilkinson explained, aside from the truckloads of polyester. "It was definitely the most contact I've ever had with the polyester fiber, I can say that in all confidence [laughs].
"It was fascinating gathering all of the clothes for this movie. As you can imagine, we had a huge warehouse full of authentic clothes from the '70s in order to dress hundreds of extras and secondary characters, not to mention the principal characters, so we processed and prepared hundreds of costumes. There's something so exuberant and expressive about clothes from the '70s that just really appeals to me, a sense of fun, the prints are loud, the fabrics are stiff, the lines are exaggerated, it was a pleasure to be around them."
So is there a trick to getting polyester to move?
"I don't think there is actually [laughs]," Wilkinson said. "I don't think polyester moves. I think polyester has a mind of its own."
Jennifer Lawrence's first fitting was the quickest, and Amy Adams's the longest, while Christian Bale's involved the least amount of clothing.
"What keeps me fascinated is that every actor has their own process of finding clothes and exploring costumes for their character," Wilkinson said of his first fittings with the principal cast. "So for example for Ms. Lawrence, we had very limited time with her because her schedule is so crazy. But thankfully for me she has this amazing, intuitive relationship to clothes that she can look at three racks of clothes and pull out the two or three things for each scene which is the perfect choice. She's very swift with her choices and it was fun to have this different approach to costuming. It was less, very immediate and energetic and fun."
He continued: "Christian Bale's first fitting we didn't try on any clothes. It was just about talking in depth about his character, how his character would want to present himself to the world, what sort of physicality Christian was going to achieve as far as putting on weight and adopting a bit of a hunch, so it was a meeting about concepts and ideas rather than trying on clothes. Then I remember my first fitting with Amy Adams I'd kind of outdone myself a bit and had about five racks of clothes waiting for her when she opened the door. She took a deep breath, and she's the most amazingly thorough and energetic actor you'll meet, so she has amazing stamina for fittings and we often had five- or six-hour marathon fittings to try and work out who this character was and map her transition from small-town girl to elegant lady in Manhattan."
Costuming Amy Adams's plunging necklines was an art form.
"I think it would be the vintage Halston silk chiffon blouse that she wears in the opening scene of the film," Wilkinson said when asked which of Adams's ensembles was the most challenging to keep in place. "We knew we wanted something very impactful and something that would define the character and so we loved the dangerous element of her sort of standing in the blouse and everything looking the way that we wanted it to look. That was probably the most challenging because we couldn't use any tape because the fabric is so fine and sensual so it was really all about Amy holding herself the right way. It's a credit to her that you never sense that she's trying to keep everything together. She's just owning the clothes. She knows how to wear clothes. It was very impressive to watch."
Award-nominated costume pieces can be found in the darndest places, like flea markets.
"Sometimes the pieces just weren't out there," Wilkinson admitted. "We searched high and low, with vintage collectors, and rental houses and boutiques and flea markets, but sometimes you still couldn't find the right piece that was the right size and the right color and had the right freshness. So I designed and we made many clothes for the film. One piece I really am proud of, it's a tiny thing, but I'm proud of the belts that Amy wears in the first costume of the film. It's an interesting look at how we got the costumes together for the film, that exemplifies it. She's wearing a vintage Halston blouse that I found in the Halston archives here in Los Angeles. She's wearing an Ultrasuede skirt that I made from scratch for that scene and then it came together with a found object, a vintage belt that I found at the Rose Bowl flea market. We had the leather reconditioned and the glass re-plated and they all came together so beautifully, those three pieces from three very different spots."
The evening gowns worn by Lawrence and Adams are one-of-a-kind.
"The two dresses our leading ladies wear in the casino scene I'm proud of for different reasons," said Wilkinson. "Amy's dress, we tried on so many killer evening dresses from the '70s to try and find the right look for her, but at the end of the day none of the pieces were quite right so I ended up designing and making from scratch this gun metal sequined dress for her. We found a fabric that was sheer and stretchy and really allowed me to create a provocative and body-hugging ensemble for her, so that was something I'm proud of. And then Jennifer's white stretchy sort of metallic jersey dress had an interesting evolution, too. First I designed a dress for her that was beautiful, cut satin that was rather elegant and awesome but our director David O Russell kind of encouraged me to make it simpler, make it stronger. It didn't have to be something expensive, it should be something that sums up the suburbs of Long Island in 1978 which is where Jennifer's character was from so I ended up stopping over-designing it and going with a metallic fabric. The shape is quite simple, it has the rhinestone straps that sort of exemplify the Long Island spirit, so I think it was a lesson in not over-designing things and being more intuitive and automatic, that's a great approach to creative decision-making."
The actors did not take their work wardrobes home with them.
"I think they liked to keep difference between work personalities and real-life personalities," Wilkinson said when asked if the actors wanted to keep any pieces of their signature onscreen looks. "I think Amy might have taken a few Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses because they're classics and she looks so beautiful. I think the gentlemen were happy to leave their double breasted suits hanging in their trailer closets. Bradley got rather fond of his silk shirts."
No pants were harmed or split during filming.
"I can't remember any pants splitting," Wilkinson said when asked if there were any wardrobe emergencies similar to Lawrence's Doritos incident. "I think it's a credit to the gentleman in the film that they really knew how to work these trousers."
You might see "American Hustle"-inspired fashion on the Oscars red carpet.
"It's interesting to me just the red carpet looks for the A-listers this season, I don't know whether it's just me but I've noticed a wonderful expressiveness in the way that even the men are dressing themselves," said Wilkinson. "Whether it's Matthew McConaughey wearing beautiful suits in unusual colors and textures of fabrics, he's wearing velvet and sharp silks and beautiful detailing and using lots of imagination. I even saw Benedict Cumberbatch the other day wearing a beautiful pale grey suit with an open-necked shirt looking very elegant. It just feels like the spirit of the '70s, making an impression on people and taking the imagination and self expression that '70s clothes have, that sort of exuberance. I feel like we're seeing a little bit of that on the red carpet this year."