"Landline's" costume designer spoke to us about the film's nod to '90s fashion, and her Cher Horowitz phase
The best costumes in movies feel realistic and consistent to the characters while still standing out as statements when the scene demands. This is exactly the vision that Elisabeth Vastola, the costume designer for Landline, had in mind when she set out to curate a ’90s-themed wardrobe for the cast.
The newly released period piece Landline follows sisters Dana (Jenny Slate) and Ali (Abby Quinn) through ’90s NYC as they search for answers about their parents’ fidelity, and in the process, themselves. The film was directed by Gillian Robespierre, who also worked with Slate on the refreshing abortion-themed romantic comedy Obvious Child back in 2014.
Without risk of leaking spoilers, the film leans heavily on the ’90s NYC aesthetic without feeling overdone. From the cuts of denim to the use of velvet, the costumes hark back to the actual clothing people wore during that era.
HelloGiggles spoke with the costume designer, Elisabeth Vastola, about the process of designing the outfits and her favorite looks from the ’90s era (including her Clueless phase).
HelloGiggles: Did you have any ’90s fashion icons that inspired your costume design for Landline?
Elisabeth Vastola: I think we tried to look mostly at street style in the ’90s in New York and use that as a point of reference, as opposed to any one pop culture reference or celebrity. Although, I will say the earthy, grungy, rebellious fashion that came into the trend in the mid-90s was always in the back of my mind because it was new and fresh for the decade. For the most part, we tried to stick to looking at photos of everyday people and life in the city. We used everything from personal photos to yearbooks and home videos.
HG: When you first read the script did you immediately get a vision of the costuming?
EV: When I first started reading the script, I was so excited that it was taking place in the mid-90s in New York because it feels to me like an era that isn’t often explored in contemporary films. I realized I would get to investigate this period of my life really. I grew up in New York in the ’80s and ’90s, so, first and foremost I had this rush of memories and nostalgia. Once I let that wash over me, I immediately had to put it aside and focus on the character, the actors, and the specific script moments that occur in the movie and nowhere else. In the beginning, I sat down with Gillian, and hashed everything out — we wanted to see the ’90s but not feel overwhelmed by it or feel gimmicky.
HG: What ’90s trends did you like to wear?
EV: I went through it all. I definitely wore super wide-leg JNCO jeans with tiny baby doll tees. Of course, I had never touched a skateboard, but for some reason I needed Airwalks. I rocked a choker all the time. I totally went through a Clueless phase. At my fifth grade graduation, I wore a plaid spaghetti strap midi dress, knee-high socks, and those chunky lace-up sketcher white patent leather shoes, and a tiny, white ribbed tee underneath it all. That was pretty much the most ’90s you could get in one look. I started in skater land and then moved towards the Cher Horowitz mini-skirts.
HG: Which personality traits of Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn’s characters most influenced what you picked for their costumes?
EV: I think that Jenny’s costumes, Dana, was someone who I never thought of as particularly expressive with fashion. She’s someone who wore what was comfortable to her, what was flattering but also felt a little normcore for the time. She had these cute floral cotton-knit dresses, she had a great pair of mid-90s jeans she’d wear with ribbed tops. The exciting parts working with her closet were finding the moments where maybe she could step out of the box and take a risk fashionwise — whether she’s on a date or having her birthday dinner. When she goes to this party at her friend’s apartment and it has a hippy vibe, we put her in this red velvet tank dress, which is pretty and slightly sexy but not over-the-top. Of course, her Halloween costume was a cute pop culture reference. It was nice to start with Dana’s baseline of being conservative and middle-of-the-road fashion because that gave us a jumping off point for these later scenes where she played around more.
HG: What did your process of costuming involve? Did you visit thrift stores, or make custom outfits?
EV: I would say about 95 percent of the costumes in the movie were thrifted or vintage. We scoured the city for clothes — it was fun because ’90s fashion in thrift stores isn’t usually what people are buying. Especially from a costume design perspective, it’s not a super touched period. We also used online vendors once we felt we’d exhausted the city — we used Etsy and eBay to find a few of the more specific pieces. We did make the Halloween costumes because we wanted to get into the mind of how someone slap dashes their Halloween costume. We wanted to imbue that feeling into that night.
HG: How did you first get into costume design? Were you always a fan of playing dress-up?
EV: I was always interested in fashion. They had these courses for high school students at FIT and Parsons on the weekends, and I was able to take sketch classes. So I found my love through loving fashion. My mom is a huge influence on me because she is a great shopper. One of the tenets of a good costume designer is being a good shopper. I was pretty shy in my adolescence, dressing up in certain ways was a way that I was expressing myself. I don’t think I was aware of it at the time, but when I look back, it’s totally clear that I was using fashion as a way to find out more about myself and solidify my identity. That was really powerful for me and has stayed with me over the years.
I went to school for liberal arts, and there wasn’t a costume program there, so I started working for fashion firms as an intern and I’d get introduced to costume designers and I realized that’s what I really wanted to do. The beauty of going to a Liberal Arts school is I was one of 5 people in the school interested in costume design. So I had an incredible experience doing it on student productions and around the city. Once I graduated, I decided to go for it. It’s evolved naturally in terms of who I am and how I approach clothing, so once I realized I could do it as a profession, that was it.
HG: Now that Landline is out, which of your upcoming projects are you most excited about?
EV: Honestly, Jessica Jones. It sounds like I’m just saying this, but in all honesty, it has been an incredible project. The ethos of the show, the show runners, working with Marvel, all of the cast and working in NYC, it’s been a dream. Truly a dream job. I think it shows on screen, people really love her and they love the show. Season 2 is incredibly exciting.