I’ve always thought it must be frustrating for costume designers who work on contemporary films — their work is rarely recognized at awards time, when period films and showy fantasies are richly rewarded. But it’s an art, no less difficult, to clothe a contemporary character in a way that tells you exactly who she is, the minute you see her. I thought this as soon as Cate Blanchett appeared on screen in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” dressed in pearly tones, a white jacket immediately recognizable as Chanel, an insanely expensive handbag — these were things Jasmine, whose money and home were seized after her husband was exposed as a Bernie Madoff-like crook, clings to like life preservers. The New York Times today has a great interview with Suzy Benzinger, who’s designed several Allen films including “Blue Jasmine,” and who talks about how she costumed the entire film (including extras!) for $35,000. The whole story is worth a read, but here are some fun tidbits:
I live on Lispenard Street, the street of fake everything. I’ve seen fake Louis Vuitton backpacks and fanny packs and purses but never fake luggage. When I read in the script that she arrives in San Francisco with Louis Vuitton luggage, sweat started pouring. If this was a normal film with a normal budget I’d just go and buy the bags. We knew we had to go to Vuitton. They said, “Well, we love Woody, but we have to see the script.” O.K., nobody sees the script.
So I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m never going to get this luggage.” But then Cate said, “You know, I just opened the Vuitton store in Australia, let’s call them.” And they relented. But first it was a month of begging, begging, begging on the phone.
For some reason, everybody that gets cast in a Woody Allen film immediately goes on a diet. I told Woody he should do a diet book. I hadn’t seen Andrew Dice Clay since the first fittings, and all of a sudden when he came to the set everything is too big. He was a 42 waist. Now he’s a 36. Even the guy that plays a cabdriver in the film went on a diet. Alec Baldwin was on a diet. We were taking his clothes in every two minutes.
If you took a picture of Woody from 30 years ago and another from today, he’s wearing the same thing. Don’t expect him to come out in a John Varvatos suit. It’s not going to happen.
So, when Woody watches screen tests, he never understands why characters have to have more than two costumes. He’ll say: “Oh, she’s dynamite in that dress. She can wear that in the scene with Clay.” And I’ll say: “Woody, there’s no way she would be wearing that dress. It’s six years later!”