We spoke to “La La Land’s” costume designer about what it was like to create vintage-inspired costumes for the film’s dance scenes
Whether or not you’re actually from California, the idea of old Hollywood in all its glamour will probably make you feel something, or a lot of things. The idea of being transported to the Golden Age of cinema is probably inviting for many. And maybe that’s why La La Land, the six-time Academy Award winner, tugged on so many of our heartstrings. The film, which stars the effervescent Emma Stone as Mia and the dashing Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, had all the dazzle of the Hollywood we imagine woven into the Los Angeles we have today.
Through love, art, and heartache we experience the characters grow just as the city they live in evolves alongside them. And thanks to costume designer Mary Zophres, we had the chance to get to know La La Land and all her inhabitants in a visual way.
We spoke to Academy Award nominated Mary about making costumes for dance numbers, what it was like designing for aerial shots, and the challenges that came with doing a vintage-inspired movie.
HelloGiggles: Can you tell me about how you got involved with La La Land?
Mary Zophres: I had seen Whiplash in 2014 and knew it was my favorite film of that year. That’s how I sort of pick my projects, by a director and then subject matter and actor. So Damien Chazelle [the director of La La Land] was on my radar. I had finished Hail, Ceaser! and I heard that he was directing a musical. There was a musical number in Hail, Ceaser! and I’ve always loved musicals, MGM musicals, more than anything. It didn’t have an official green light but I asked my agent to wait and see if I could get a meeting and see what happened with La La Land. He wanted someone with experience doing period films because he wanted a nostalgic feeling to the film. We had a good meeting and then I got the job!
HG: What was it like working on this film?
MZ: Damien had been living with this script for six years, maybe more, so he had a lot of the movie in his head. There was a lot of music already attached to the scenes, not the final product but the general basic framework of a lot of it. He gave us the feeling, and many times, it was accompanied by a song, and he knew different scenes of traffic like in the first number. Having those details was inspiring. He was decisive, lovely, nice, and trusted me. He loved getting ideas from us, he’s a collaborator. I think down the line, everyone on that film had a very positive experience.
HG: Did you expect the film to be so successful?
MZ: When we were making the movie we thought that people are either going to think “this is gonna be great,” or people were going to say “what the hell were you thinking?” So I’m glad it was the former. We knew we were doing something special, but we just weren’t sure how well it would be received.
HG: What was it like to create costumes that actors had to be able to dance in?
MZ: We wanted to have an element of magic that happens in movies like The Band Wagon, but also wanted it to have a foot in reality. The reality is what makes it a little bit more contemporary, it’s not like we were just trying to copy an older style. It was understanding what you would need in terms of the cut of a piece of clothing. Damien decided early on that any time Emma danced she would have either a skirt or a dress. So we cut the dresses, and I knew that I didn’t want gathers at the waist. As the film progresses, her skirts get a little bit more voluminous.
I knew I wanted to have fullness in the skirts for when she twirled around. But for instance, in the yellow dress, she’s at a daytime pool party. I wanted it to feel realistic, so that dress has a half circle as opposed to a full circle. You take into consideration “oh, this is going to be a dance number where she’s gonna move her arms,” so then there were sleeveless dresses or a cap sleeve that allowed for that mobility. For Ryan, we had trousers that had a little bit of stretch in them and we always had a second pair standing by. We literally gave them double stitching in the rear, and anywhere it could tear. We never had a blowout, by the way!
HG: How was it planning the big numbers where, visually, the costumes have to fit together aerially as well?
MZ: I knew all of Mia’s colors for the film at that point. So we thought it might be nice to use the same colors throughout the film. So if Mia’s wearing blue in the summer, we can have a roommate wear a yellow that’s similar to the yellow Mia wears later. When we did the traffic scene, we had the benefit of shooting towards the end and we assigned colors based on what car they were getting out of and where they were in the dance number, then based on who the dancers and actors were. We worked very closely with choreographer Mandy Moore.
HG: What was it like to have old Hollywood inspiration while still keeping it modern?
I wanted it to feel like it had one foot in the contemporary presence and one foot in the past. Maybe that’s why I ended up getting the job. It came very easy, and naturally to me. I was really careful; I avoided bust darts and under-bust darts to avoid it looking too much like a period dress for Mia. I felt very strongly that when she went to work, instead of being in a skirt, that she was in pants. The approach was like if I was pulling in a store.
HG: Were there any challenges?
MZ: I couldn’t find anything that matched the image I had in my head. That’s why we ended up making Mia’s clothes. Also, I had very specific colors in mind. At the time we were shooting, the summer of 2016, the ’90s were making a comeback and it wasn’t the right silhouette for this film. The challenge was not finding the things I wanted in stores. I think I found one dress at the store that was right for the hilltop party scene, that was inspired by Sweet Charity and the rest were ones that we built.
HG: Is there anything else you’d want our readers to know?
MZ: I loved making the movie and I love watching it as a filmgoer, it’s one of my favorite films. It kind of makes my heart sore. So I hope that everyone who didn’t see it in the first go round gets to see it and enjoys it.
La La Land is out now on iTunes and will be available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on April 25th.