'Jackie' Costume Designer on Dressing Natalie Portman as the Former First Lady

Stephanie Chan
The Hollywood Reporter

Natalie Portman is bringing former first lady Jackie Kennedy to the big screen in Pablo Larraín's highly anticipated biographical drama Jackie. 

The film, also starring Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Max Casella and Billy Crudup, chronicles the days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, focusing on his widow's Life magazine interview with journalist Theodore H. White at Hyannis Port, Mass. Of course, telling the story of the late FLOTUS wouldn't be complete without looking at her iconic wardrobe. To bring Jackie's famous sense of style to the big screen, Larrain enlisted French costume designer Madeline Fontaine to re-create the famous red wool Dior, as well as the pink Chanel suit with navy trim collar and matching pillbox hat that Jackie wore on the day of her husband's assassination.

Here, Fontaine, best known for her work on Yves Saint Laurent (2014) and Amélie (2001), chats with The Hollywood Reporter about the pressures of re-creating Jackie's iconic style and her thoughts on designers refusing to dress future first lady Melania Trump.


How did you begin your research for Jackie?

As with any project, I pick up on everything that could help in creating the atmosphere of a period, the context and its characters. Each period has is own colors and lines. This project was special because of the collective memory concerning Jackie - those terrible days, all the official ceremonies. We had access to an incredibly large quantity of pictures and footage.

What did you find most fascinating/surprising during your research?

The huge amount of pictures of this family, even in the more intimate moments or places like Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, have been immortalized. [They were] never surprised, always perfect-looking, young and beautiful - the strong idealized images imprinted in our memories.

The film obviously captures many iconic style moments. What was the process like to hunt down pieces, if you did pull anything original?

All the iconic pieces were homemade in our workshop. We needed more than one sample! We found some of the less iconic ones for relatives and extras in antique collector's shops or rental houses in France and L.A.. The rental houses we worked with in France were La Compagnie du Costume, Le Vestiaire and Eurocostumes, and Western Costume and The Palace in L.A.

William Gray/Twentieth Century Fox

How did you remake her designer pieces?

The red dress she wore during the [Charles] Collingwood's interview in the White House was originally from Dior. We found the right fabric, made the right color after some camera tests. We even had to make a pink version for the scenes shot in black-and-white, to match with the footage - the red was too dark. I'm not sure which house designed the black outfit she wears at the funeral, but we made that, too.

We also made the pink suit she wore at the time of her husband's assassination that was originally by Chanel. We went through tests to make sure of the color's result. And we needed five of the same outfit, and made every one! Chanel helped us with the right buttons.

We had about 10 weeks before shooting to prepare, search and make.

How many looks did Natalie wear in the film?

About 10, plus the ones she tries on one-after-another while drinking and wandering alone in the White House corridors.

The resemblance between Jackie and Natalie is uncanny in the film - was there a particular look that made you think Natalie is basically Jackie?

Natalie is a wonderful actress, and I think she will be accepted as Jackie from the first few minutes. Of course, the test was the pink one with the pillbox hat.

Stephanie Branchu/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Given how many people adored Jackie's style, how intimidated were you by the fact that you would be re-creating these historical fashion moments for the film?

It was a challenge. I had this feeling already, working on Yves Saint Laurent. He was also a very well-known and famous fashion icon. It is obviously delicate to touch the public memory of such a famous and beloved lady, an ambassador of elegance. I hope we did not betray this memory.

Designers loved to dress first ladies like Jackie, Michelle Obama and Nancy Reagan. What are your thoughts on some of the designers refusing to dress future first lady Melania Trump?

Elegance cannot be bought.