We spoke to Mary Zophres the costume designer of Gangster Squad about how she found the 40s outfits, why Emma Stone doesn't suit hats and what it's like to dress Ryan Gosling. Mary has worked on lots of Hollywood's biggest films such as Catch Me If You Can and she was nominated for an Academy Award for her work on True Grit....
Grazia Daily: How did you start with a project like this? What is the starting process?
Mary Zophres: I do the same on every film, first I read the script and then I do my breakdown which is by character and by scene. I really internalise the script so I know it backwards and forwards and I make notes about characters and who they are. But you don't necessarily get all your cues from the script – for instance Rita Hayworth was a big inspiration for me for Emma Stone’s character. It doesn’t say that in the script but she was the one that popped into my mind. Then from there I research, then I came up with a palette, discussed it with the director, then I started sketching and then I put together boards. I do the same process on every movie.
Grazia Daily: What research did you do?
Mary Zophres: I’ve done this period before but it was about ten years ago so I had to remind myself and do a lot of research. There is a magazine called Photo Play which was a magazine in the 40s and 50s of photographs of people going to nightclubs and candid shots of movie stars and society people. We had so many nightclubs in the film that Photo Play was a great resource for me. I also used Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and catalogues. Then we found that the Los Angeles library have photos online from the period and they even have moving pictures of people walking on the streets of LA in 1948. I watched those over and over again because they informed me hugely about how people dressed on a day to day basis in LA in that time period.
Grazia Daily: Is the history important to you? How do you make sure it’s historically accurate?
Mary Zophres: We definitely wanted to be historically accurate and fit in with the language of the movie, but we also wanted it to be appealing to a modern audience. It takes place in 1949 and in that moment Christian Dior influenced fashion heavily with a very nipped waist and a full skirt. But for Emma it’s a cute look on her, but we wanted her to look sultry and sexy, so I looked earlier where dresses were cut more on the bias and it was more body conscious. So it wasn’t exactly 1949 as her gowns are a little earlier, but they still are accurate.
I think the clothes the men wore in the 1940s were very handsome - the strong shoulder, a nipped waist and it’s not a shortened jacket like what is in fashion now. I personally think it’s the style of a suit that is coming on every man – so we got lucky that we could be historically accurate and appealing.
Grazia Daily: What about the hats?
Mary Zophres: We got lucky in that all of our actors look good in fedoras, which was the most popular hat and was worn by almost every man on the street. It took us a while to find the hat for each of them, because believe it or not there are slight differences between the brim and the crown of each of them. Some of them we made with a Chicago hat maker, such as Ryan and Josh’s.
Which designers did you use?
Mary Zophres: I didn’t use any contemporary designers as I designed the clothes and we then them made in LA. There is a contemporary shoe company called Allan Edmunds that makes very traditional shoes and O'Mara wears their shoes. Whereas Ryan and Emma both wore original shoes from the period. I hope it’s a fashionable movie, but it was very much inspired by the time period but not anything in a contemporary way.
Grazia Daily: When did you first meet Emma Stone?
Mary Zophres: I had sketched hoping that Emma would be cast, so I designed everything with her in mind. I’d say it was seven or eight weeks out when I met her and she is one of my favourite people I have ever worked with. She’s lovely, has a great personality and was very open to the idea. She turned to me for my expertise because she knew I had done this period before and doing all this work before she started the project. In our first fitting with her she tried on existing 1940s gowns which are very hard to find and not always in the greatest shape and are built for different people. So we got ideas that we liked and had her measurements taken to then make our own designs.
Grazia Daily: What was she like to work with?
Mary Zophres: She was a dream to work with. You have to do a lot of fittings when you do a period film. She also had to wear a corset and they took in her waist by about three inches. She is a small girl but in those days girls had smaller waistlines. So she had to basically be in a corset every time she was on set and she was a total sport, with a sense of humour and a lovely attitude towards everyone. She pulled it off tremendously – she is a sultry 40s glamour puss in this movie. You can turn around and Emma is the girl next door but in this role she really became a woman. I would love to work with her again – any time, any place, I’m there.
Grazia Daily: Was there anything she wouldn’t wear or was she open to trying anything?
Mary Zophres: She was open to anything but as a designer you want your actress to look good. For instance we tried suits on Emma – we thought maybe when her character is going to get out of town she would wear a suit, as women in those times would often travel in a skirt suit. We tried maybe twenty suits on her, over and over and over again and it just didn’t work. Emma’s got strong shoulders, not huge broad shoulders, but she’s got shoulders, so the 40s suit just didn’t look good on her. She was in agreement, so it wasn’t that I wanted her to wear it and she said no. She knew it didn’t look good on her and I knew it didn’t look good on her, so we scrapped it and kept her in day dresses.
We also discovered that she looks better without a hat on. There are certain things you discover in the fitting process- I’d have thought she would have worn hats with her day dresses but it just didn’t work so you eliminate it, that’s all. We were in complete agreement that there were certain things that didn’t work on her and certain things that did. It just happened very organically.
Grazia Daily: How was it working with Ryan Gosling?
Mary Zophres: Ryan was great, he was working on another movie when we were prepping and we met him in New York and he was on a press junket and also filming on another movie. He had a lot of movies going on in his brain! We didn’t have long to fit him but found a few basic silhouettes that worked on him. I then went back to LA and made and plotted out his wardrobe and then we had our first fitting at the camera test.
Ryan was very into it because he likes his clothes tailored, and the key to this time period for men is tailoring. Ryan's into his clothes. Every day when there was a choice to be made for his costume, he definitely had an opinion, but he was open. The whole cast was into the clothes and there wasn’t anyone who gave me a hard time – they felt their costumes helped them get into character.
Grazia Daily: What are the differences between each of the Gangsta Squad's look?
Mary Zophres: There were different looks for every one of the squad – Josh Brolin is more utilitarian he went from his uniform to a cop uniform to the squad. He has different suits throughout the movie but I was hoping that the audience doesn’t really notice that they change, as it’s not important to him. Whereas Ryan's character gets up in the morning and thinks about this is what I’m going to wear today.
His character is the best dressed guy of the gangsta squad - he is the only one in the squad that has a double breasted suit and he wears shirts that are a little bit fancier. There is also an arch to how Ryan's character dresses as he gets more and more dedicated to the squad. No matter what Ryan's character is always a ladies man and the one who will spend his extra money on clothes, whereas O'Mara puts any money he made in the bank.