I know you all are wondering who we need to thank for this
Her name is Jacqueline West and she is the costume designer on ‘Water For Elephants‘. We all have commented on the intricate costume details and how fabulous everyone is looking. Let’s learn a bit more about Ms. West and her thought processes as a costume designer.
Oodles of info on costume designer, Jacqueline West, after the scissor cut…SNIP!
First, there’s a very good interview done by Blog Talk Radio. They had Jacqueline West as a guest for her work on ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘ but they asked many questions that give us great insight into Ms. West’s work ethic. I transcribed the parts that were more general to costume designing.
How did you get started in the business and what was it about costume design that you had so much passion for and dedicated you life to?
I was a fashion designer in the San Francisco area for many years, and I became acquainted with the brilliant director, Philip Kaufman, who first asked me if I would design ‘Henry & June‘ for him and he really gave me my start. I wasn’t actually able to design ‘Henry & June‘. I went to France as an artistic consultant to the director but the very next movie he did which was ‘Rising Sun‘ he asked me to design the entire movie and after that I did ‘Quills‘ with him. He just decided there was something in me that he thought was right for the business and costume design.
What is your collaboration like with each director? How does it change from each movie that you do?
First I read the script. Its the power of the script and who’s directing them because often you don’t know the actors that are going to be attached to them when you sign on. It’s really the vision of the director after you reading the script and you go and meet with them. The initial conversations when there’s a chemistry between you and you have the same excitement and same ideas about that particular script and about the characters. Im drawn to directors that really are character driven. They want me to dress characters from the inside out. The process is usually after the first meeting and we realize we see eye to eye and are on the same page I go back and read the script many times. I start putting visuals together for the director and show them a lot of my ideas for the main characters and the backgrounds. We start talking and it becomes a very collaborative process.
How early on in a pre-production do you get ready for a picture?
I have different lead times. I come on usually when the lead actors are cast. (…) Usually get about 12 week prep. The production designer comes on first. Usually to scout different locations and to some sets take longer to build than costumes and to figure out locations. and then the cost designer usually 12 weeks out, depending on the project. Contemporary movie its usually 10-12 weeks.
What are some of the things that can be portrayed through a characters costumes?
When you read a script 7 or 8 times, you start really knowing the characters from the inside and out. then youre virtually taking them shopping in the era of the part they’re playing. That character once you know them can only make certain choices. When you know a character really well, they dress themselves. That’s what I always feel. There are certain things they wouldn’t pick based on who they are, what their career is, their economic situation, just their mentality.
It’s like a collaborative process even with your actors…you both arrive at the same decision?
I usually start with the director and show him a look and make sure its something he feels its right because he has the vision of the overall production. How those characters are going to intermingle how they are going to interact. How they are going to look up against the backgrounds they are in He’s seen the set designs. He knows how he’s going to shoot it and he knows the circumstances and the moods. Then I’ll have within that concept several choices to try on an actor because sometimes the cut of one shirt though you feel its right for the character you’re dealing with a real body and real actor playing that char so if you’re not going to make it and your just using genuines that gives you a limited number. But maybe if you’re trying genuines on an actor and then your going to make it because you’re going to need 5 or 6 so the actor gets the feeling of it then you also have to take into consideration the body of the actor and how he’s built or her body language or her movement or her style, the way she carries herself. Whether a certain item is going to work on that actor so you need choices in a fitting. I often know the second I see an actor in something if its right. if its something they’re leaning against then ill talk to them and tell them a back story and try to sell them on it. Brad [Pitt] always calls me a method costumer.
What are some of the biggest challenges when working on a film?
At the very beginning really setting the look . Really conceptualizing each character and coming up with a look thats right for each character. (…) With seasoned actors, serious actor, its very easy because they really rely on you and trust you to be the bridge to their character. The most challenging thing for me is building the right bridge.
Where do you draw your inspirations from?
Im a bit of a detective. I like to find just the right inspiration. Especially when I’m doing historical pieces. (…) I dont watch other contemporary movies when I’m creating a film. I’ll look at some old movies that I held in great reverence. You look to them for inspiration. Usually your project is so unique to other and you dont want to copy. We’ll often inspire the fashion industry .
At the time of the interview, she just completed ‘Tree of Life‘. She was about to start work on a movie set in the 30s but the movie fell through and she was not working at the time. How cool that the next film she did was ‘Water For Elephants‘! May not have been the same film she was slated to work on but she already had the 30s on the brain Click HERE if you’d like to listen to the entire interview.
We’ve addressed the caliber of cast and crew working on the film already, but check out Ms. West’s own accomplishments. According to IMDb, she has been nominated for several awards. Below are just a few of the distinguished awards:
- 2009 Nominated 81st Academy Awards Best Costume Design for: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- 2009 Nominated 62nd British Academy Film Awards Best Costume Design for: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- 2009 Nominated Costume Designers Guild Awards for Period Film Costumes for: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- 2001 Nominated 73rd Academy Awards Best Costume Design for: Quills
- 2001 Nominated BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design for: Quills
- 2001 Nominated Costume Designers Guild Awards for Period Film Costumes for: Quills
We’ve got our fingers crossed that WFE brings it home for her
The Blog Talk Radio interview above mentions the red dress that Cate Blanchett wears in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘. I enjoyed Jacqueline’s comments on this since we know the lovely Marlena wears a red dress in WFE. Here is a comment from an LA Times article with Ms. West:
Tell me about that red dress.
It was originally designed for a nightclub scene in the ’40s in New Orleans, and at the last minute I decided to have her [Blanchett] 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.”
Red is powerful indeed!
Next, lets take a look at this video. While the interview is about ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘, you get a sense of her foundation and inspiration in costume design.
I try to recycle and use clothes that are already made, whenever I can in a movie.
See? Watch the video. Because we all KNOW we’re liking what we see. *note the picture of the extra above*
Cool WFE trivia:
- First on the movie, ‘The New World‘ (2005)
- Next, just before WFE, ‘The Tree of Life‘ not yet released
- The one we all know, ‘Water For Elephants‘
- Currently, another project (untitled) directed/written by Terrence Malick (‘The New World‘ & ‘The Tree of Life‘ also directed/written by Malick).
These 3 are like The Avengers of Art Departments! We’ll have Crew Corners with the dynamic duo, Fisk and Crank later I don’t know about you, but I can’t WAIT to hear from Jacqueline West about her experience working on ‘Water For Elephants‘! I want to know what it was like working with Francis and all the leads. I want to know how it was dressing the extras and all the circus performers. The clowns and coochie girls and the side show performers and Marlena’s entire wardrobe! Did she dress Rosie too? And PLEASE talk about the suspenders and the vests on Jacob! GAH! I want to know it all! Can’t wait can’t wait :) Maybe I just need to find her myself and go all rogue reporter on her (kidding).